How would you describe your identity and beliefs in relation to religion?
I have been brought up as a Catholic, but I think the way I see my religion is how other people have had an influence on me. I think my grandmother was a great influence in that she lived her life as a very, very good Christian, a very humble lady. This was the only grandmother I really got to know who had a big influence on me. So, I would say I am a RC, I believe in God, in Jesus, His Son, the Holy Trinity… and I believe that we need to go into the world and do good works. We need to be good disciples and followers of Christ, not necessarily speaking about our faith. It is more about action.
When I was in university I was probably the only one in the house who would get up early on a Sunday and would go to church and probably because that was an important part of my life. I found that as I matured and grew older, the way we teach our faith and what our priests say in the pulpit on a Sunday has changed very much. When I was a child I very much feared God. I see my faith now as a friend and nothing to fear. I went to confession much more when I was a child and when I came from confession at night I would keep asking myself ‘did I say enough prayers for my penance?’ And I think there was too much fear amongst children, perhaps just me…
I didn’t get a deep understanding of religion from my parents instead what was expected of me to be a good christian…. My understanding has grown throughout my life. I still have vivid memories of my late father reading his bible in bed. He was not a Catholic but a German Protestant. He was an amazing father who was definitely a follower of Christ.
Is GB an equal and tolerant society, particularly in relation to religion and belief?
It is a very difficult question to answer (whether GB is an equal and tolerant society) because I would imagine that in smaller communities like Bridport I think people are tolerant, but I am not sure people are tolerant particularly because of the growth of extremism, which unfortunately gives a bad name to religion.
Are there challenges to living in accordance with your beliefs? If so, are they social, legal or political?
Some of the challenges I face as a Catholic are religious, because some of the Catholic teaching, such as contraception, is difficult to put into practise. In areas like that I think it is very hard to follow that path. I don’t think that in our church communities people have deep discussions about issues such as contraception. We have the rules and regulations to understand the moral issues, but we don’t have deep discussions. Recently in the Catholic diocese of Plymouth, but I guess all the dioceses in England and Scotland and Wales were targeted too, we parishioners were all asked our opinions regarding the way we see the Church. I feel that is a step in the right direction, but I don’t think there are many forums locally for people to talk about their faith truthfully and openly
I suppose I could say that because there have been so many priests who have been abusive or who have harmed young people I personally feel ‘how could a Christian society let this happen?’ There are challenges coming from outside, but my challenge is internal too: ‘how can I belong to a faith which allowed this to happen?’ I have learnt in my life that you have to speak the truth.
Has the Roman Catholic Church influenced human rights?
I believe the Catholic Church does lots of good charity work. I believe Catholic organisations do great work in the field. That is how we have contributed to human rights.
You have SPUC as a society which supports the unborn child, and I think they do good work in that area trying to safeguard not only the unborn child, but also what went on in days gone by, when mothers were pregnant and the children were put into institutions or taken away… terrible… how could that happen? I think there are good organisations that help. Are you familiar with SPUC? We call it the White Flower Appeal and I think they are good because they build homes, they help to support the babies… whether or not there is enough information out there I don’t know. How do young people who are in that position… how do they know where to go? I mean, it is so easy for doctors, having been in that situation myself with two difficult pregnacies, to refer you to the hospital for a termination. Where are the leaflets to help support you on the alternative path? I know doctors must be impartial, but are there enough Catholic doctors there?
Do public bodies respect human rights?
I do think HRs are, generally speaking, respected by public bodies. And there are lots of people in this country who try to challenge what is going on in our country in terms of HRs. I really think the Government is trying its best.
Does the State get the balance right in intervening in religious practice?
I think they take the stance of impartiality, because we should have freedom to decide whether we want to practise at all. I think it is the Catholic faith itself, and others, the bodies which should promote themselves, not the State.
Think of the current situation which we find ourselves in with so called religious organisations like ISIS; religious extremists who want to convert the whole of the universe, but not in a humane way. I believe that all Governments and nations, the European Governments and others, should come together to stop something which is wrong. I think we have a moral obligation to safeguard individuals. We cannot do it on our own and we need the support of national and public authorities.
Is living in a democracy a positive thing? Does it make it easier for you to live in accordance with your faith?
I think we live in a very democratic society. It is easy for me to live in accordance with my Catholic faith. There are no barriers and that is very important.
Do you believe that you have a duty to vote?
I feel I have a personal responsibility to vote. I think everybody has a responsibility to vote. Before the May 2016 general election we had instruction which came from the Plymouth diocese, to pray that people we were going to vote for , actually we would be voting for them for the right reasons. You don’t really hear MPs talking about religion. Don’t we say that we should not discuss Politics and Religion? Religion is really off the agenda, it is not really on the political agenda, unless it is extremism.
I think people have the moral obligation to vote… so, why shouldn’t it also be a legal duty? It is not acceptable that when we have an election and it rains, less people vote … Is that fair? What would the people who didn’t vote have said had they voted? I must also say that postal voting has increased the number of people who do vote, because you don’t actually have to come out any more and you can vote two or three weeks beforehand. I think people should vote… I don’t know if they should be fined though…
Should Parliament have the final say in making and changing law? Would you like to see an empowerment of the judiciary?
We have a Home Secretary who will have a say about whether someone can be released from prison and I think that unless that person on the top has incredibly good knowledge on Law, I think the judiciary should be given more powers. Aren’t they the experts? I think they should be given more powers.
Is a majoritarian understanding of democracy a problem for minorities? Are there barriers for some groups in participating in our democracy?
This is a very cosmopolitan society. You hear when people go to France, they have to do like the French, but it has not been said that when people come to the UK they should do what the British do… It seems that minority groups who have settled in Britain today have more powers than people who have been brought up in this country. I am not saying this in a bad way, but the racial issues are really important, but there are also people frightened to say anything in case they are regarded as discriminatory. I think PC has gone too far. I believe that the Government has… I know people talk about the nanny state, but I am a mother and if I were in Government I would want to make sure that if certain food is not good for my children, I would want to know about it and let other people know too. I think that minority groups are overprotected, but perhaps they have to be… We have so many migrants now… I don’t think there is anything wrong with that. If we are human beings we have to help disadvantaged people, who were persecuted in their country. How could we live with the thought that we didn’t really help those people, that we didn’t allow them to come in? However, I don’t think that many people realise that or think like that…
Is it problematic that members of the House of Lords are not elected?
I think the current composition of the Upper House is problematic because if you have been a very influential individual whilst you have been a MP in the HofC you are more likely to be appointed in the Lords. So, I think the Lords should also be elected.
How do you feel about bishops in the House of Lords?
I don’t have any problem with bishops in the HofL. You need to have people with high moral standards. They bring different concerns and raise awareness that others can’t, from a humanity point of view as well.
I am happy that the CofE would speak on behalf of other faiths. Pope Francis doesn’t want to live in the Vatican, he wants to be part of the population… Actions speak louder than words. It is what you do, not what you say, but actually when you are a peer you also have to speak! I would say that I feel very well represented anyway.
I am happy with the establishment of the CofE. It doesn’t have any negative impact on my life as a Catholic. In fact, it helps to keep religion somewhere in the public sphere, in the country. The Pope does things, and so do the Catholic dioceses… and so does the Church of England. It is good.
Do public bodies respect the will of Parliament expressed in legislation?
I can’t think of situations for public bodies ignoring Government legislation. The work of public bodies is difficult, because the area in which they each operate can be very different from somebody else’s area. They should be more empowered to work towards outcomes that are in the best interest for the people that they represent obviously in line with a Framework that is not prescriptive. . So, Parliament lays down legislation and tells public authorities in all different areas how much money will come to them, but I think local authorities should have discretion and should challenge some central decisions, particularly in socially deprived areas.
How do you feel about devolution?
I live in England and I think devolution has been good for this country. I went to a Welsh university and it is great to realise that they keep their traditions alive, and children learn Welsh as a language in school. What is wrong with that? I am finding that people in this country don’t seem to want to keep tradition alive. I can see nothing wrong with tradition. English law for English people… Welsh law for Welsh people… why not? I can’t see anything wrong with it.
What do your beliefs say about the responsibilities which come with power?
I think people with power have to realise that when they have power they have to treat it with respect. I respect people in power but I believe that people in power have to respect their power and must use it in a moral and ethical way, for the good of all people. The key word is respect.
Are Catholics appropriately represented in public life?
I don’t think people bring their faith into their public life. When Tony Blair became a Catholic, it was made public… I do wonder… I don’t really know the reasons why it was disclosed then. I think religion is a very private matter for lots of people, but I am not frightened to say who I am at all. I think you can show the type of person you are just by your behaviour… People who are Catholics can be in many places. What matters is how they act, not what they say. The faith of our MPs is irrelevant. The important element is their humanity. Nigel Farage may be a Christian… I don’t know, but he speaks well and he believes in his cause.
Are the judiciary sufficiently independent?
When there is a threat to independence, you have to raise it as an issue because making an independent judgment is crucial. I don’t really know if our judiciary are independent to be honest. If they are appointed by their profession they are independent, but if they are appointed by the Government, there is really a breakdown of that expected independence.
I have confidence in the judicial system. I know you hear about miscarriages of justice, but there are ways for your voice to be heard. Maybe not everyone gets a fair hearing and it depends on your background and your race. If I were of a different skin colour, perhaps I would answer that question differently.
How does the Catholic Church campaign to change things it sees as problematic?
We Catholics can challenge decisions by petitions. Internet is a powerful media and if we feel strongly about something, we have avenues to follow. I don’t have any evidence that the Church uses internet in order to stand up for something or to make its voice heard. Perhaps I haven’t seen it and I am just being ignorant here.
Have public bodies shown an understanding towards the needs of your faith?
I have been in situations where my Catholic faith had to be catered for. My experience in hospitals was excellent. I had a very small premature baby boy, whom we named Andrew, baptised the day he was born, and it really didn’t matter what your creed was. I know people of other faiths would have also received excellent treatment. Perhaps it depends on each hospital. I don’t know, as this was a long time ago… The chaplaincy system is very important and I am a strong supporter of it.
Is it important to act within secular law?
I am definitely a law abiding citizen. With me everything is black or white. I don’t do shades of grey. I don’t like grey… It must have to do with having German parents. I cannot think of situations in which I have wanted to break the law.
Do you feel that you have a duty to speak for the vulnerable?
Yes. I have heard people say that when they are in hospital they find it very difficult to be in an English hospital where staff are not able to converse well in the English language. So, even white people are now feeling uncomfortable because they are no longer being treated by British people, in the health, school system, etc.
How do you feel about the general increase in police powers over the past 15 years or so?
I think the empowerment of the police is necessary because it helps us to feel more secure. A few years ago the Government was going to introduce identity cards, as in other European countries… so if you were misbehaving in streets, you would be asked to show it. Many people opposed it because they felt Big Brother was watching us. Funnily enough, civil liberties have already been eroded in many ways. I would say ‘how can police do their job? How can people in schools have responsibility without authority? How can you be responsible without having the authority in schools?’ I think the police need to be given that authority to fulfil those responsibilities. Not having the proper authority is nonsense.
Are there any laws which you would like to see changed?
I cannot think of any law which I would prefer to see repealed. The legal framework is keeping me safe. I have some issues with people opposing speed limit laws and requesting the possibility to drive faster, which would put lots of people at risk, while others oppose nuclear energy, which on the whole it is very safe.
Is there anything which you would like to add?
I think that being part of a band, singing and dancing… we are bringing something to the community and we are hoping to make a much more cohesive society. I think people share what they have. Not everybody can afford going to Bridport Arts Centre, for example. I think lots of things should be free. If you think of Covent Garden, with events where they sing outside and they bring opera to everybody. Why should the opera be elite? When you go to Covent Garden you don’t have to dress up anymore. That is great. It is not the clothes what matters, but the person inside. My son,Stephen, taught me something really important. When he was a teenager he got the kissing disease, he didn’t have much energy… He was feeling unwell, he was lying down on a bench in school, and the headmaster told him to stand up because he was making the place look untidy and he also referred to his hair… as my son was going through that typical age with dreadlocks. My son said to me ‘mum, I want people to know me by who I am inside and not by what they see’. You can learn things from your children. Very profound. We need to make a difference in people’s lives. It doesn’t matter where people come from. We must make a difference.
People should never be allowed to offend anyone else. You can raise awareness of potential issues and stress why we need to make issues known, but in a general way. You cannot just offend. I think we should stand up and say what we don’t agree with, particularly if we think that something is morally wrong. It is not necessarily easy. People should have more moral training, which should be incorporated in the school system. Pupils should learn much more about it at an early stage. Parents should have this responsibility, but as they now both tend to work, that responsibility is now in the hands of schools, and the problem, as I stated earlier, is that schools don’t have the authority. I think we could change lots of things.
Ruth Jenkins is married to an amazing man Jon, has three wonderfully kind and caring children, Paula, Stephen, Christopher, a really lovely daughter in law, Kirsten, and a beautiful 2 year old granddaughter, Abi.
She is now semi-retired and occasionally give lectures in accountancy and taxation. How would she describe herself? A fun, lively and socially interactive person in her community! Her ethos in life has been to make a difference in people’s lives and help them to reach beyond where they feel they are going.
Ruth leads several ceilidh bands, is a member of a Morris mixed side called Wyld Morris, and helps run the choir in the Roman Catholic church of St Mary and St Catherine in Bridport, Dorset. She has been the church treasurer for the last 10 years, and is trustee and treasurer of two other charities.