Animating Parish Senior Groups conference


Caritas Westminster hosted a day at Westminster Cathedral Hall on Thursday 20 April in partnership with other CSAN Members, St Vincent de Paul Society and the Irish Chaplaincy as well as Caritas Plymouth. The purpose of the event was to strengthen those accompanying senior members of our parish communities to continue the vital work they are engaging in, and to consider how their services could support greater numbers of those feeling distant from parish life. The impetus for such an event was in part responding to the synodal process which highlighted the need to include older people, as well as affirming dignity in seniority, and the need to generate ideas and (re-)introduce new programmes to parishes.

The day was bookended by prayer, with inputs from +McAleenan (Chairman of the Caritas Westminster Board) and +Mason (Bishop of the Forces). Bishop McAleenan reminded us of the association in the Scriptures of older people and wisdom, and the instances of God using older people to bring about his purposes (Genesis 5:5; Genesis 5:24; Genesis 22; 2 Kings 2:11; Luke 2:25-38). He suggested that old age was conceptualised too stereotypically and challenged listeners to attend to the nuances of this life stage. Rather than assuming old age is characterised by human and social inadequacy, Bishop McAleenan reminded us that the experiences and the lives of older people are as many and as diverse as the number of people themselves. The enemy of appreciation of those in later life stems from a mentality of efficiency which masks the social nature of humanity and as a result, risks harming our relationships with one another.

Bishop Mason concluded by affirming the Church’s distinct mission, which unlike an NGO, relies on the power of God to orient our best efforts to serve our fellow brothers and sisters and not reduce social action to mere ‘do-goodery’. Rather, by engaging in good works, we are responding to the God who loves us and fulfilling our baptismal calling to bring to Christ to others.

The conference’s keynote speaker was Debbie Thrower, Founder and Pioneer of Anna Chaplaincy. Anna Chaplaincy is an accompaniment service that specialises in caring for the emotional and spiritual needs of older citizens. In particular, Debbie stressed the urgency of the attending to the pastoral needs of those in later life in our parishes and local communities where society tends to overlook and explained how Anna Chaplaincy does this. She suggested that many older people are experiencing an identity crisis, resultant from a great reluctance to face our own senescence.

Meriel Woodward, Assistant Director of Caritas Westminster, said:

Collaborating with CSAN and other partners has been a very enriching experience. From feedback received, participants really enjoyed the event; most plan to take the learning back to their parish to either inform their current volunteering, or to help shape new activities or projects. There was an overwhelming desire for more opportunities to network and share ideas.  We are really keen to ensure older people are involved in the life of their parishes, and will be circulating a full program of events for the remainder of 2023 shortly.

As Debbie Thrower reminded her audience, attending to the elderly is a blessing, a privilege, and a responsibility.

New homeless project opened in Birmingham


After 17 months of fundraising and renovations, and over £500,000 of investment, Tabor Living celebrated the transition of its services from a smaller site at St Anne’s, in Digbeth, where it has been based for five years to a new facility at St Catherine of Siena, Bristol Street in the centre of Birmingham. 9 new emergency bedrooms have been created as well as 10 ‘next-steps’ rooms to support those who are experiencing homelessness, this is doubling their existing provision.

Tabor Living is a collaborative project between a number of partners including Fr Hudson’s Care and the Archdiocese of Birmingham, who are both members of the CSAN network. Tabor Living are pleased to increase their accommodation and support offer to those experiencing homelessness in the city, they will also continue to operate their 3-bedroom move-on house, Tabor Cottage, nearby.

The launch on Wednesday 19 April saw Andy Street, West Midlands Mayor, officially open the new project alongside Archbishop Bernard Longley and the Tabor Living Project Manager, Sharon Fear. On Sunday 23 April, organisers also extended their celebrations with a Mass of Thanksgiving led by Archbishop Bernard Longley and offered supporters the opportunity to have a tour of the new building.

Sharon Fear explained why the initiative was timely: “One of the reasons we’ve looked at expanding and becoming bigger is because we’ve noticed that there are fewer options for people who are working, but who still need that support for the next move on – that’s where we can help.” She explained that the people they work with “tend to get overlooked because they’re functioning in some ways, but still need support and help”.  Many of the guests at Tabor Living are migrants with restricted eligibility to public funds, who have to ensure they sustain themselves through employment.

Tabor Living has helped over 100 people since its initial launch in 2015, at a time when it was believed at least 200 people per night were sleeping without a roof over their head, within the city It has been reported that this number had peaked at 400 in the summer of 2021, according to Birmingham City Council records, following the cessation of the furlough scheme and the increased cost of living[1].

With a success rate estimated at 75%, Tabor Living expects this to increase with the launch of the new facilities. Archbishop Bernard reflected that they “are on the threshold of Tabor House in its new manifestation here. This is going to be a place of welcome for so many people.” Sharon Fear reflected that, “Tabor has always been about giving people their dignity back and working with them on what they want to achieve. We’re about so much more than just a bed – our volunteers and mentors work with our guests on an individual strength-based basis to support them to achieve their goals and move into more independent living.”

To find out more about the project, please visit https://www.taborliving.co.uk/

[1] https://www.birminghammail.co.uk/news/midlands-news/number-homeless-people-rises-birmingham-22912171

CSAN Leaders’ Alliance Inaugurated


For leadership there is only one road: service. There is no other way. If you have many qualities — the ability to communicate, etc. — but you are not a servant, your leadership will fail, it is useless, it has not power to gather [people] together. 

Address of Pope Francis to Rectors and Students of the Pontifical Colleges and Residences of Rome, 2014

In April, the directors of CSAN charities met together at CCLA offices. This was the first time CSAN members had gathered officially since the rebranding of the ‘Directors’ Forum’ into the ‘Leaders’ Alliance’. The Alliance facilitates leadership gatherings within the CSAN Network, allowing members to meet and collaborate on innovative solutions that can help them realise their goals.

Avril Baigent, representing the School of Synodality, delivered a keynote talk entitled ‘Synodality and the Social Mission of the Church’. The talk highlighted the application of the synodal process in Scripture, using New Testament accounts and the tradition of the early Church to act as a guide in the current deliberations of how the Church communicates the truth of the Gospel in the contemporary world. Avril also facilitated the space to have ‘spiritual conversations’ which prioritised listening over speaking, as an exercise to orient leaders towards leadership ultimately best exemplified in Jesus Christ (Philippians 2:1-1). Our conversations are most fruitful when we approach others with humility (recognising that we do not have all the answers), in freedom (to be open to what God might be teaching us), and with joy (the commitment to seeing God in all things and the resultant peace that follows from this).

The second keynote talk, ‘The Grace of Failing’ was delivered by Andy Keen-Downs, CEO of PACT. Guiding us through 3 examples from his career, Andy reflected on how occasions professional failure can allow us to grow. Speaking in the context of charity leadership, he suggested it is those we are called to serve that will remind us of our role and purpose and encouraged listeners to be intentional about building a team that helps fulfil the charity’s vision. Andy also shared details of a recent PACT project exploring the impact of parents’ incarceration on children and young adults. Responses from focus groups had been dramatized as a way to acknowledge and communicate young people’s experiences to wider audiences.

CSAN also expresses heartfelt thanks to Carol Hill, Director of Catholic Care (Diocese of Leeds), our outgoing Chair who has served in this position for many years, and also to CCLA for hosting CSAN for this event.

Caritas Internationalis General Assembly


On Wednesday 10 May, I joined colleagues from CAFOD and Caritas Member Organisations from all over the world for the opening of the Caritas Internationalis General Assembly in the Synod Hall of the Pope Paul VI Audience Hall in the Vatican.

The 22nd General Assembly was opened by Cardinal Tagle, the outgoing President, who reminded us that Caritas Internationalis is a family with a common mission, namely to serve and accompany the poor, in whom we encounter our Lord Jesus Christ.

Cardinal Tagle reflected movingly on his eight years as President of Caritas Internationalis as another formation in being a missionary disciple. We need structures, of course, he told us, but more than that we need a ‘soul’, and the soul of Caritas is the love of God poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit. This is what gives us strength to keep loving as a family when it gets difficult.

The previous six months for the Caritas family had indeed been difficult. In November 2022, the Holy See took the painful decision, following an investigation, to remove the leadership team at Caritas Internationalis. This was a great shock to everyone at the time, but it was stressed right from the beginning that there was no suggestion of financial impropriety or sexual misconduct. The report from the investigation focused on the culture of the leadership. A key role for the Assembly was to elect new leadership, which happened in subsequent days.

The following day, we had an audience with the Holy Father, Pope Francis. Almost 500 delegates from the Assembly filed into the magnificent setting of the Clementine Hall. We did not have to wait for long. Pope Francis was early and was greeted with warm applause. In his hands he held the script of his speech but he told us we could read that at any time and handed it to Cardinal Czerny beside him. He then spoke from the heart about Caritas and then spent the rest of the time greeting each person in the room individually. This illustrated the pastoral approach of Pope Francis: a culture of encounter and closeness, reality before ideas. The text of the Holy Father is, of course, very rich and inspiring and is well worth close study. You can find it here: https://www.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/speeches/2023/may/documents/20230511-caritas-internationalis.html

In the course of the next few days, we enjoyed many inspiring inputs from colleagues all over the world who witness to the love of God in their work with the suffering and vulnerable. We heard from colleagues in Ukraine, working with a population traumatised by war and displacement; colleagues from Sudan working in a volatile situation of conflict and food insecurity; colleagues in Nicaragua working in a context of societal violence and open hostility to the Church. In every case, the love of Christ urged then on (2 Corinthians 5:14).

We had had the ‘statutory’ duties of electing a new leadership team and we were delighted to hear that Archbishop Tarcisio Kikuchi, the Archbishop of Tokyo, was elected as the new President and Alistair Sutton, the Chief Executive of SCIAF, was elected as the new Secretary General. We also approved a new Strategic Framework which will give shape and direction to the work of the confederation moving forward. The vision is clear and compelling: “a just world, transformed to reflect God’s kingdom, where all people in our common home experience the love, compassion and fullness of life.”

This is the Gospel-inspired vision at the heart of Caritas Internationalis in all its expressions at international, national and local level. It is the vision at the heart of all Christians who work for a better world. For more information about Caritas Internationalis, especially the Together We programme to mobilise local communities of care, please visit: https://www.caritas.org/togetherwe/

Raymond Friel
CEO, Caritas Social Action Network

Gender equality today for a sustainable tomorrow


By Jo Thompson, External Affairs Manager, women@thewell (CSAN member charity)

On 8 March 2022 we mark International Women’s Day with the theme “Gender equality today for a sustainable tomorrow”.

The definition of gender equality is, ‘the state in which access to rights and opportunities is unaffected by gender’.

It is important to keep in mind the collective hard work and commitment of women and men who work to rectify inequality, with faith that one day we will achieve true gender equality in the world and a fairer, more just society for women and girls. On International Women’s Day, we reflect on the incredible achievements of women and girls around the world, day after day, week after week, year after year, against all odds. As we emerge from a global pandemic, the full impact of which we have still to comprehend, the need for gender equality is at the forefront of many minds.

Trauma informed support and exit services such as women@thewell understand all too well the inequalities women face daily.  Women entrapped in the sex trade shine a stark light on inequality faced by women, leading to disadvantage, exploitation and abuse. 

CSAN England and Wales Caritas Catholic social action
Picture credit: Claudia Clare

In our daily support service provision, focusing on breaking down the barriers to exiting prostitution, gender equality is the beating heart of our organisation. Demanding more for women, a life to flourish and grow, with choices which come from a place of freedom instead of survival. Providing women with trauma informed advocacy and support to live a life free of exploitation, abuse and disadvantage. Overcoming each barrier levels the playing field and forms the building bricks to exit a life of oppression.

With a commitment to working towards full abolition of the sex trade, lobbying and campaigning for the introduction of legislation to protect women sold into prostitution and the wider sex trade remains high on the agenda for women@thewell. We believe that the only possible option to keep women safe and protected is by the introduction of a legal framework that sends a clear message – women are not saleable objects. In a world where prostitution exists, we will never achieve true gender equality. As Fiona Broadfoot, a survivor of internal human trafficking and prostitution says,

‘The UK needs to criminalise men who abuse women through prostitution because it is the demand creates the supply. Without demand from these men there would be no supply of vulnerable women and girls to be bought and sold.’

Experience delivering frontline services indicates strongly that the abolitionist model, alongside provision of holistic exiting services, is essential to break down barriers and enable women to exit prostitution. Shaping a society in which commercialised, one-sided sexual gratification has no place.

During the pandemic, women@thewell and Dr Pat Jones collaborated on a research paper listening to the voices of women entrapped in the sex trade, as well as some of the professional staff who provide support services. The resulting report is unusual in that it is not primarily focused on the facts of the women’s situations, but with how the women make sense of their lives. In particular, it reflects on what freedom means in their own lives and on issues such as safety, survival and solidarity. Listening to the women’s voices enabled an understanding of the damage done by prostitution as a tolerated social structure. The women’s voices are full of anguish, courage, resilience and morality. The report will launch during the sixty-sixth session of the Commission on the Status of Women taking place from 14 to 25 March 2022. More details will follow on our website.

The research had a dual aim – to listen to the women and amplify their insights and stories, while also bringing them into dialogue with Catholic Social Teaching, and theological and political ethics. The report touches lightly on how CST principles inform that dialogue, but also draws on valuable resources from social sciences and other sources.

These are among the women’s voices that society must listen to, in order to effect true progression and change leading to gender equality.

This International Women’s Day let us celebrate together the women we know, and the women we have yet to meet, in the knowledge that on a small or large scale they all achieve great feats.

The views expressed in this blog are not a statement of CSAN policy.

Asylum detention: A weight of responsibility


On the feast of St Josephine Bakhita (8 February), William Neal, Detention Outreach Officer at JRS UK (CSAN member charity) reflects on what it means to accompany those who are held in detention.

Often when describing JRS’s mission to accompany refugees and other forcibly displaced persons, the emphasis is placed on the simple act of being present – of being with rather than doing for. Listening, without judgement and without an agenda, allows us to be open to any person sitting in front of us and to encounter them where they are in that moment. We come to know refugees as people with histories, skills and talents. Relationships are formed over time, and the team come to know refugees as friends, rather than clients or beneficiaries.

In listening to, and sharing in, a friend’s story we are left with a certain weight and certain responsibility. Those we accompany in detention, in Napier Barracks and in the community have faced immensely difficult challenges and times in their lives – lives which have forced them from their homes, separated them from family and involved perilous journeys to eventually end up in the UK – and they will carry a great deal of trauma. Sharing their story may bring to the surface pain which may have long been buried and can be a raw and emotional experience to re-live. In speaking to JRS it may be the first time they have felt able to share all or certain parts of their story, or they may have been required to re-tell it over and over again for various Home Office interviews, solicitor appointments and witness statements; reliving their traumatic past on multiple occasions. We leave carrying some of that emotional weight our friend has shared and, in doing so, we hope that in turn we have lifted some of that load from them.

We also leave with a weight of responsibility.

We carry with us the responsibility to serve our friends, to find the assistance they need in that moment to overcome some of the hardships they currently face. The responsibility to share their stories, to advocate for them and others facing a similar situation so that we can bring about change on an individual and systemic level. A responsibility to make others aware of the harsh reality our friends experience, often hidden from view, so that we become a more humane society that offers welcome to those who arrive in the UK to seek safety.

Repeated incidence of modern slavery

When I first joined JRS UK’s Detention Outreach team in 2019, we shared some of those stories when we were invited to give evidence to the Home Affairs Select Committee as part of their inquiry into modern slavery. We related the experiences of Vietnamese men we had accompanied in detention who had shared with us their stories of trafficking and exploitation in the UK. Stories of men who had become ensnared by trafficking gangs after leaving Vietnam on the promise of a better life, of stable employment and income that could be sent back to family they were having to leave behind. Of unknown journeys often tucked away in the back of lorries for days on end which eventually led to the UK. But rather than the opportunities for a better life they had been promised, they said they were taken to houses around the country, locked away, told to look after ‘houseplants’, no payment, no phone, no way out, and the threats of beatings or worse should they try to escape. Eventually our friends would be discovered in the cannabis farms by police, often alone. But instead of being provided with support that would bring an overdue end to their exploitation, they would be charged for drug production, found guilty by courts, convicted to months in prison before arriving in detention to be processed for deportation.

Despite a commitment by the UK to protect and support victims of modern slavery, these men had passed through many hands of a system that had not identified them as such.

At the time, there seemed a genuine willingness to change, such that potential victims of trafficking weren’t routinely detained. It was agreed that indefinite detention would re-traumatise individuals who had been exploited by traffickers, reminding them of the many years of captivity they may have already endured. It seemed sharing our friend’s story had helped to shine a light on this previously hidden issue.

However, the stories of Vietnamese men who have experienced trafficking and modern slavery have unfortunately continued to be a common occurrence in my time working with men in detention through the years.

In 2021 we supported 21 such men. Some shared very similar experiences as those we raised in 2019, others had been detained immediately after arriving in the UK and shared their stories of exploitation across China, Russia and Europe that may have continued in the UK. Even those identified as potential victims of trafficking and modern day slavery are no longer automatically considered for release as changes to the Adults at Risk policy, the policy designed to identify vulnerabilities in detention, has made it easier to maintain their detention. Unfortunately, things look set to only get worse as the UK Nationality and Borders Bill 2021 would bring in measures that I believe would make people seeking sanctuary more vulnerable to trafficking and modern slavery, make it harder to be identified as a potential victim and would penalise late disclosure.

St Josephine Bakhita, pray for us

On February 8 we commemorate St. Josephine Bakhita, Patron Saint for Victims of Modern Slavery and Human Trafficking. We take the opportunity to call to mind our friends in detention and all those who have experienced exploitation. We hold our friends in our thoughts and prayers that such exploitation should end, and ask for strength that through accompaniment we continue to fight for a system and society that listens without judgement to those who have experienced trafficking and slavery, and responds with support, not hostility.

The outlook may look dire but we continue our commitment to accompany those who have been forcibly displaced, who have been exploited in the UK or elsewhere, who have come to the UK in the search of safety.

The views in this blog post are not a statement of CSAN policy.

Napier Barracks


In January 2022, the Home Office ran a consultation on a Planning Statement in support of the continuation of a Special Development Order for a temporary change of use of Napier Barracks in Kent, which is currently being used as accommodation for asylum seekers, up to September 2026. Seeking Sanctuary (CSAN member) is closely involved with asylum seekers arriving in Northern France and Kent. Phil Kerton, founder director of Seeking Sanctuary, here shares his observations on the site and its current use.

I have visited Calais many times over the past 5 to 10 years, as a member of Seeking Sanctuary, and observed the impact of large numbers of exiles encamped around the town, needing supply of food, water, clothing, sanitation, waste disposal, worship spaces and shelter. Drawing on this experience, what can we say about the use of Napier Barracks as an accommodation centre for hundreds of asylum seekers?

The obvious solution is to close the Barracks as asylum accommodation with immediate effect, moving people to safe housing in communities where they can be granted some measure of dignity and start to become familiar with daily life in the UK.

Several reports during the first 17 months of operation have been extremely critical, although improvements appear to have been made in the past 6 months or so. These improvements mainly result from allowing local volunteers to enter the premises or to make contact via Zoom to provide some meaningful diversions to residents. Their efforts are essential alongside Home Office provision, but it is not clear how volunteers can be assured of access in the long term, given the seemingly arbitrary decisions sometimes handed down via the site management team.

My problem in commenting on the Planning Statement is that I doubt if many of my concerns about scrutiny of the quality and consistency of work by contractors and the scope of what they can achieve while keeping costs within a budget can validly be considered by a planning authority. However, we can live in hope, considering that we might reasonably expect the Home Office to check upon day-to-day operations more frequently and stringently than in the past. For example, it has taken many months for a start to be made at removing barbed wire from the fences and providing some cover to the wire netting to give a measure of privacy to those inside.

I consider that the ‘crisis’ in accommodating asylum seekers has mostly been caused by the Home Office’s tragically slow processing of claims, rather than by an excessive number of new arrivals. Recruitment and training of Home Office staff would cut the need for temporary accommodation and allow successful claimants to move on to more conventional stocks of dwellings.

Napier Barracks was run down by the Ministry of Defence for a number of years, never being fully occupied, but catering for small numbers of personnel attending brief training courses nearby. The Home Office failed to address faults in the building before moving people in, and until recently did little to robustly assure their upkeep. The continued use of Napier Barracks should be subject to additional conditions. For example:

  • The establishment of a proper building inspection and repair programme (for example for leaks, electrical wiring and fittings, plumbing, heating, doors and windows), to prevent further deterioration, reporting monthly on progress and subject to independent external scrutiny of thoroughness and quality.
  • Measures to alleviate the military- and prison-like ambience. Internal redecoration is essential if use is allowed to continue for more than a few months – again, with routine reporting of progress against planned actions and external scrutiny of quality. Previous comments suggested that redecoration was not worthwhile when initial consent was for only one year of operation.
  • Home Office assurance that its contractor’s senior staff on site do possess the experience and skills that are needed to run large-scale communal accommodation.
  • Rooms should be provided where confidential face-to-face and phone interviews can take place.
  • Maintaining the sporting facilities at a decent standard, whereby residents might play more sports against various local teams. Following its military adventures in and before the 19th century, Great Britain left a love of cricket in the Middle East, especially in Afghanistan, and village teams in the North of France have prospered by recruiting new citizens to their squads.

The Planning Statement does not provide actual figures for the duration of asylum seeker stays during recent use of the Barracks. It appears that only postulated targets have been provided, without any indication of their reality.

The Home Office should indicate if all the communal buildings and facilities listed in Section 3.4 of the Planning Statement are provided with appropriate services and suitably furnished, and what plans have been made to maintain these provisions and to rectify any faults. The Planning Statement also states that: “the site is in an area of High Risk of unexploded ordnance”. No measures are proposed to quantify and alleviate this risk or to plan for the possible eventuality of explosions.

The equality impact assessment accompanying the Planning Statement states that various “other improvements” have been put in place by the Home Office. Various reports have suggested that a good number of these are provided by local volunteers. If so, what plans are there to assure that they are sustained?

Traffic Assessments in various Appendices to the Planning Statement present lengthy reports of interesting data from various other locations, none of them involving large scale accommodation of asylum seekers, concentrated in one enclosure. Given that the Home Office has placed numerous people in the Barracks for many months and its contractors have monitored arrivals and departures, surely more directly relevant data can be presented and analysed?

The use of curtains to partly or wholly divide dormitory beds has been common. More solid and relatively airtight partitions should be provided everywhere, and the spacing of beds adjusted to reduce the probability of transmission of disease.

If, unhappily, the number of residents remains considerable, the numbers of usable washbasins, showers and toilets should be increased to reflect this fact.

The views expressed in this blog post are the author’s.

‘The Common Good’ 25 years on


Clive Chapman, Director of Mission, CSAN

St Mary’s University, Twickenham, organised a Study Day on 26 January 2022, marking 25 years since the publication of ‘The Common Good and the Catholic Church’s Social Teaching’ by the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales. Technological advances since then made it possible for me to join the formal proceedings virtually, though social engagement space on this occasion was limited to those present physically in London. It was a great delight that CSAN and Catholic charities were much in evidence at the event; my own CEO, Raymond Friel, gave one of the speeches.

This was for me an anniversary celebration tinged with a little lament: what appeared to have been the principal public discussion on a Church document aimed at wider and deeper civic engagement, had become an academic matter, centred on leafy South-West London. Was this in itself a sign that voices from ‘the margins’, notably absent in the original document, were no more central to institutional discourse on Catholic public voice today? The day was, however, what it said ‘on the tin’, a study day – and quite reasonably an opportunity to promote higher studies. On another level, the university could be seen here taking on a role as a repository of professional knowledge – how such documents are developed, the challenges and how these are addressed, and why these documents are unusual/infrequent. This long view and experience is in short supply for work needed to form ‘concrete demands’ of Catholic domestic social action today, revealed particularly in the ongoing challenge of securing support for even basic national infrastructure, and levels of participation by Catholics under the age of around 50. The university setting was perhaps fitting for an independent critique of practice, but it would have been good to hear more from current practitioners on the state of current practice.

Why has it taken 25 years for the knowledge accrued by those working in 1996-97 to be transferred to today’s practitioners? Clifford Longley, the document’s author, revealed that he had been under a duty of confidentiality at the time, in his relationship with the Bishops’ Conference. He was now in a position to share some insights on the editorial, ecclesial and political contexts for the relative success of the document.

Pat Jones, the sole woman on the editorial group at the time, highlighted the unease and urgency that propelled action and eventual unanimous support for the document from the bishops in England and Wales (though not, as Clifford noted, without a backlash from the bishops in Scotland). However, she noted too the absence of experience of Catholic charities such as those in membership of CSAN. On reflection, the document now seemed to her cautious and moderate, perhaps reflecting the tone of global Catholic voice at the time on social concerns, and with relatively little reference to Scripture compared for example to Fratelli tutti.

For Clifford and Jon Cruddas MP, the document was timely, capturing the zeitgeist of a moment at which the impact of policies of a long Conservative administration (within wider forces of globalisation and distortions of capitalism) came under more intense questioning. Jon summarised a sense that public policy had been dominated by a ‘winner takes all’ approach to outcomes.

Pat pinpointed some of the challenges for the work of forming a Catholic public voice, both within Catholic ecclesiology and the messy process of dialogue in which the Spirit is active. An emphasis in the tradition on the see-judge-act/social action of individuals downplays the sociality of faith and importance of collective representation that are also characteristically Catholic. Pat praised the contributions of Catholic charities in innovating, expanding and discerning, but their collective impact was falling short on account of fragmentation. There remained insufficient infrastructure capacity to resource parishes to develop civic engagement. Pat helpfully challenged us all that without more attention to supporting these conversations, Catholics could struggle to make much more progress together as credible agents of change alongside others’ efforts. Francis Davis went further, in a withering assessment of most diocesan annual reports, that suggested to him a low priority in their structures and spending on the preferential option for the poor. I think that assessment failed to acknowledge the voluntary nature of most Catholic social action on the ground, which is also led in the main by women.

Pat also took issue with the lack of courage in some official statements – a dodging of the ‘concrete demand’ by staying in the comfortable realm of broad principles, while others had called for very specific policy changes (typically on issues overseas). Pat sensed that the focus of Catholic voice on domestic social concerns in recent years ‘has turned inward while people are suffering’, for example in social care; a national Catholic voice on social security reform is a particular gap. For Pat, this comes down in large part to how well policy work is resourced in national Catholic offices. This is one factor, but the relative energy directed into environmental and migration concerns in recent years, along with the research CSAN has sponsored on Catholic parishioners’ attitudes to social care, tell a different story about what is possible when the voices of religious congregations and a plenary resolution from the bishops are followed through into fresh action locally. As Pat noted, many of the bishops’ most powerful and specific statements were only possible because there was a policy specialist retained in the Conference to put them together.
Several speakers noted important Appendices to the document, ‘Catholic Resources’ listing examples of Catholic organised action, and suggestions to help discussion of the document in parishes. Raymond highlighted the priority for CSAN of gathering and communicating the story of Catholic social action today.

Bishop Richard Moth, Chair of the Department for Social Justice in the Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales, concluded the day by starting with a wide view. He recalled the enactment of Catholic social teaching over the last two centuries; the role of the Catholic Church in founding schools for the poor in the 19th Century; the quiet work of visiting people experiencing isolation undertaken by the SVP; the work of organisations such as Pact and the National Board of Catholic Women, and Catholic involvement in starting housing associations and credit unions. He emphasised the root of social action in the interior life and on the person of Christ. Without this rooting, social action becomes prone to pride and a distorted sense of service. He gave a great example of one man’s initiative and organising to help save a local market that would otherwise have been lost: the central place of local action.

Bishop Moth considered that there had been significant progress in bringing the fruits of Catholic thought and action into a positive influence on public affairs.

This blog post is not a statement of CSAN policy.

“Orange the world: End violence against women now!”


As we begin to emerge from a global pandemic, research and data is not yet able to fully measure its impact on the globe. However the UN have identified a shadow pandemic, formed with emerging data and reports from those working on the frontline with evidence that women and girls experiences of violence and exploitation have increased. 

This year the United Nations marks its 16 Days of Activism against Gender-based Violence on the 25th of November until the 10th of December 2021, with its global theme set by the UN Secretary – General’s UNITE campaign is “Orange the World: “End Violence against Women Now”

The campaign sends a clear message that the mission is to see an end to violence against women and girls, and that the need is now. 

“The UK needs to criminalise men who abuse women through prostitution because its demand creates the supply. Without demand from these men, there would be no supply of vulnerable women and girls to be bought and sold.” 

Fiona Broadfoot
Survivor of International Trafficking and Prostitution

Women@thewell is a frontline provider of support and exiting services, based in London, supporting women, whose lives are affected by prostitution both on street and off street, including women who have been trafficked into the sex trade. 

As with data from the shadow pandemic, women@thewell identified trends across support services highlighting a demographic shift in those in need of our support, supporting women who pre pandemic would not have typically experienced exposure to exploitation in the sex trade. We believe this is a direct consequence of economic disadvantage, and that the women we supported through the pandemic shine a bright light of clarity on the links already identified in the sector- between economic disadvantage and exploitation and abuse. 

Our mission is to work towards full abolition of the sex trade, lobbying and campaigning around legislation that protects women. Now more than ever we believe this is the only way to keep women safe and protected. Under an abolitionist legal framework, society recognises that women are not saleable objects and should have choices, which come from a place of stability, not mere survival. 

As Fiona Broadfoot, a survivor of international trafficking and prostitution says, “The UK needs to criminalise men who abuse women through prostitution because its demand creates the supply. Without demand from these men, there would be no supply of vulnerable women and girls to be bought and sold.” 

Our experience delivering frontline services indicates strongly that this model, alongside provision of holistic exiting services – is essential to break down the barriers and enable women to exit prostitution. Shaping a society in which commercialised, one sided sexual gratification has no place. 

The UN Trust Fund to End Violence against Women, the only global grant-making mechanism dedicated to ending and preventing all forms of violence against women, has announced a special fundraising challenge, Give25forUNTF25, marking 25 years of grant-making to support women’s organisations around the world.We believe that female only support and advocacy services such as women@thewellplay an essential and imperative role in the fight against violence against women and girls. 

During the next sixteen days, we celebrate the hard work and commitment by individuals and organisations across the globe – who advocate for change and the end to violence against women each and every day. 

Jo Thompson 
External Affairs Manager