Monday, 24 November 2014

Mancunian Rhapsody

I return to the blogoscope fresh from a trip to Manchester, my ville natale as the French say: my home (birth) town. I'm always happy to go back home, and Manchester itself has improved no end since I were a lad. The regeneration really got going in the mid-1990s when the IRA blew up Marks and Spencer - was it their sandwiches they objected to? - and reinvestment in the centre, doubled by Commonwealth Games money, helped the city upgrade from scruffy provincial town to new-moneyed spiv. It's vastly more pleasant these days than it was in the 1980s. It's also vastly less authentic; a body now suckered with so many parasites, it is hard to know where the parasites end and the host begins.

Some things, however, do not change, not least the Holy Name on Oxford Road. I say it has not changed, but that is actually not quite true. Its former community of priests have now removed to St Chad's across the city, with their embryonic Oratory. The Jesuits have taken repossession of the church, though the only sign of their presence I could detect on Saturday was the newly erected 'ad populum' altar and some colourful if rather pointless banners hanging on the pillars.

But the substance of the church, so beautifully kept under the former management, remains. The church was designed by Joseph Hansom, architect also of the Oxford Oratory, of St Walburge's in Preston and of Arundel cathedral. He knew a thing or two about churches did Hansom. The Holy Name has a vastness that the Oxford Oratory simply cannot boast. It could quite easily pass for a cathedral in many cities. The walls were left unplastered and the brick work remains to this day sharp and clean. The walls practically sparkle in the sunlight. Gothic and neo-gothic architecture is supposed to draw your soul up, and this is exactly what the Holy Name does. The eye cannot resist following the lines of the stone, from floor to ceiling and from nave to apse where the magnificent high altar sits.

As I say, that 'ad populum' altar is a recent addition and looks about as pleasing as - to quote somebody sometime - a carbuncle on the face of a well-beloved friend.

One wonderful thing about the Holy Name is that while it was built for panoramic grandeur, it does not fail to please when we zoom down to the level of detail. One extraordinary detail of the church is its pulpit which surely post-dates Hansom's original work but is magnificent all the same. Five of its hexagonal sides bear mosaics of martyrs of the English Reformation. To the left and right, martyrs from the first fall of Henry VIII, including Sts John Fisher and Thomas More, and then in the centre, St Edmund Campion S.J., one of the glories of the Jesuit order. If you have never read 'Campion's Brag', his plan for bringing back the faith to old England, then stop what you are doing now and go have a read. You will of course find some of the more embarrassing beliefs of his age - proselytism, confutation of error, and that kind of thing - but try your best to look beyond these failings.

My favourite mosaic on the pulpit, however, is that of St Thomas More.
He looks grim and tired. He is unshaven for months. The axeman's tool hangs over his shoulder. And yet he endures and looks out on to the congregation, daring them to be merry. He still wears his chain of office, even though his first indignity was to be stripped of his office. There he is, marked with 'HR' for 'Henricus Rex', a thorn in the side of the English State. How we would all much rather be blooms than thorns!

You might wander around the Holy Name for twenty minutes and never think to pop your head into the discreet row of side chapels that line the epistle side of the church. If you were so thoughtless, however, you would miss one of the church's most beautiful treasures: the chapel of Our Lady of the Strada (or Our Lady of the Way). The image is an imitation of the one in the Gesu in Rome. The restoration of the altar was undertaken in the time of Fr Matus who is now with the community at St Chad's. I call it a restoration but I have no idea what the chapel was like before it had its last makeover, or indeed how it was originally. But however it was, it is now - to my untrained eye - a small piece of heaven.

But I'm talking too much. Just feast your eyes on it for yourself.

Heaven knows who has put that weird book in the middle of the mensa. You can't get the staff these days.

I'm only touching on some of the church's beauties. There is a little French corner where St Bernard and St Joan of Arc guard the way to a Lourdes grotto. There is also a Holy Souls altar with the souls themselves depicted in stone, being drawn from the fires of Purgatory. So much faith; so little flap.

The church is indeed like the faith. You can spend hours there and think it is all about the glorious heights and depths, and then enter the Strada chapel and forget about the rest. You can think you have understood its Counter-Reformation pomp, and then be staggered by the stark courage of the its pre-Counter-Reformation martyrs. There's none of your moralistic didacticism here. Just gentle instruction. None of your symbolism-explained-to-a-state-of-catatonic-boredom. Just mystery, effacement, light and shadow. None of your polyester prosody masquerading as early Christianity. Just mature, humble and confident faith before the transcendent God. Above all, there is no suspicion of the past. The church lives and breathes an atmosphere that surpasses time and the temporal.

My best memories of the church are between me and God, but my enduring mental picture of the place is taken from halfway down the nave, looking up towards the sanctuary where the Blessed Sacrament used to be exposed every lunch time (and may still be for all I know). The life of the noisy city and its nearby university would swirl around the outside of the building, but within all was peace and contemplation. Here was a moment of eternity carved in stone beside the headlong rush of urban pointlessness. Here God's grace was crouched like a tiger waiting to pounce, while the denizens of Manchester slouched past, their spiritual shoes on their uppers and weary of their commercial devotionalism. I've met some of those ambushed by the church over the years. It never lets them go quite fully.

The church was threatened with closure thirty years ago and somehow survived the chop. The Jesuits are back there now, but for how long? Of course, it is all just a pile of brick and mortar, and the universe would not end if it all came tumbling down, got cleared away for some new university development, or else found itself bought and transformed into a student club where'yoof' pursue their own piss-poor version of the transcendent.

But in its precarious situation, under Jesuit management, I cannot help wondering if the fate of the Holy Name is some sort of symbol. Of what exactly? I'll leave it to discerning readers to work that out for themselves.

Monday, 10 November 2014

Bad company

I've been writing this blog for the comfort of the demoralised for over a year now, but if that is what you are in need of, tonight at least, try to find it somewhere else. I am bad company this evening.

I have very little time to follow the latest vagaries of the Church universal, having more than enough to juggle with here in the Church domestic. The bad thing about involvement on social media though is that you get all the headlines without necessarily having the time to look at what is beneath them. It's like having the Daily Mail on a recurrent loop. Why be content when you could be having a crisis?

My apologies, I have begun in a facetious mood but that is only to avoid my other mood tonight - and for a few weeks in fact - which is that of incipient anger. God forgive me! The anger of idiots fills the world, as I am fond of quoting from the ever-quotable Bernanos. I suppose we would all know more peace if we were closer to God.


So, what is annoying me so much? Several things, actually. First, it is all the bleating voices telling us that nothing bad is going to happen in 2015 because the Holy Spirit is looking after the Church. A fine spiritual attitude that is: if I cling to God, nothing bad will happen? What, I think to myself, you mean like crucifixion or anything bad like that? I know God won't fail us, but what makes you think you won't fail God? I usually do. Look, I'm just going to put this in plain language and if you don't like it, skip a line or two. We're in a big puddle of shit and we haven't got the shoes for it. I know God has resolved to bring us to sanctity along this path. If that doesn't trouble you, you haven't understood.

Then, you get those who are telling the rest of us to get a grip. Talk of schism is ridiculous, they affirm. To maintain this line, all you need do is ignore the facts and get a little shirty with those who cause you the most anxiety. And, that's it! You certainly needn't worry about whether those kicking up a stink have got it right or not. You just have to prefer the darkness of your own colon.

And then, there are those who are offering us false hope. I just saw a piece at Rorate about how the priesthood is collapsing in France and the traditionally minded will soon be riding to the rescue. Well, maybe in France …Meanwhile, here in the UK the Birmingham Oratory's Solemn High Mass on a Sunday (Birmingham being the UK's second largest conurbation) is still rather patchily attended in comparison to their 12pm Family Mass.

In the last three weeks I have been to two traditional Masses in the Oxford area to direct the schola. At the first, my family and I made up about half the congregation, and at the second there were only a few more. Except for London where maybe the traditional scene has the momentum of a capital city with around eight million people, I just don't see that much vibrant life in the traditional movement here. The seething crowds at the opening of Institute of Christ the King churches were one-day wonders. I see a small number of traditionally minded people living often heroic lives of generosity, and doubtless God sees and rewards what they do in abundance. But I don't see some vast renaissance. Contrast the Brum Oratory's meagre congregation with the 4,000 charismatics who gather once a month for a convention in West Bromich, fasting and adoring the Blessed Sacrament, spending the day in prayer, queuing for hours for confession, and, yes, probably getting a little giddy during the liturgy.

And, speaking of being annoyed by things, I haven't even read the final document of the Synod yet …


Like I say, the anger of idiots fills the world. I'm calm most of the time. I just begin to grow crimson when exposed to complacency, self deceit, fantasy and what have you. All except my own of course! You can tack so much against the wind, you find yourself going completely the wrong way. You can trim your boat so much, you just ship water and get your feet wet. Your feet and then the rest of you. Then, you can get mired in so many nautical metaphors, you feel it's about time you moved on to the next paragraph. I hope I make myself sufficiently unclear.


I have nothing useful to say really. I told you at the start I was bad company tonight. If you have come with me this far, you've only yourself to blame! I keep telling myself this is all about survival. Prayer is the last revolt which remains standing! There you go: another Bernanos quotation for you.

Scratching around for consolation, I find myself now in a Gillian Welch mood. I reserve this for when things are Tremendously Bad®. As old Gillian sings in one of her finest pieces:

But who could know if I'm a traitor
Time's the Revelator

Time indeed. Time and 2015.

I commend my soul to your prayers. You will be in mine.

Wednesday, 5 November 2014

Pretty vacant

Yes, sorry, rather busy but back soon. I need a 36 hour day really.

Sunday, 26 October 2014

Consolation in the chaos

I have to set out my disclaimer here at the beginning of this post that I have never brought anyone into the Catholic Church; that the few conversations I have had with inquirers have never to my knowledge led anywhere; that the handful of times I might have spoken to those in irregular situations have produced no tangible fruit; and that I greatly fear at my judgment the accusation of having lacked evangelical boldness, rather than having been too harsh on the wayward. But I do not accept that these faults - for faults they are - disbar me from forming an opinion on the bright new age that is being foistered on us. This blog is not a soapbox. It is simply a workshop. With that disclaimer, and a request for your good prayers, I begin my cogitations …


The events of the Synod cast a long shadow across the life of the Church a week ago. It hardly need be said but let it be said anyway. Since then, the long shadow has worked a variety of ills, ranging from gross opportunism to the very worst kind of ostrich-ism and thence to splenetic venting. The analyses vary in their conclusions, from those who declare the Synod to be a triumph, to those who conclude it was a disaster for Francis, and those who consider it was simply a disaster for the Church. Never in the field of human conflict have so many contradictory things been said by so many to the profit of so few.

Paradoxically, however, we don't need to work that hard to know what is going on. The Synod talked about the problems of the family in our day but inexplicably failed to mention some of its key dilemmas, e.g. the collapse of fatherhood into absence or loss of authority, the evisceration of motherhood in a wave of feminine professionalisation, the shattering of marital holiness through the endemic use of contraception, and the epidemic of pornography wrecking the capacity of many to relate in healthy human ways to the opposite sex (where family starts and continues). These problems are near universal in the West; far more frequent than even the divorced and remarried and vastly more common than homosexuality. Instead, the problems on the Synodal agenda looked like a wish list of the worst kind of Tabletista reformer or the biggest kind of liberal contributor.

The myths that subsequently sprang up to protect this little wish list were manifold. We should not be concerned because nobody wants to change doctrine. Oh, and of course indissolubility is beyond dispute. And - I love this one - the doctrine of Humanae Vitae is the authentic teaching of the Church. If you are taking your comfort in such threadbare assurances, well, don't! The people we are talking about here will take a 'doctrinal' defeat, if it means a 'pastoral' victory.

Okay, let me put that more kindly. Never mind what they say; look at what they don't say. Look at what they omit to say. Look at the fact that the Relatio from the halfway point during the Synod was released in several languages, while the final Relatio - the one that was actually voted for by the Synod Fathers and not just cooked up by a committee who were giving each other thumbs up when the most controversial passages were read out - is STILL only available in Italian … a week later.

And please don't tell me this is because someone is carefully working over the translations and polishing them, or they don't want to release them in some languages and not in others, or anything else equally ridiculous.

The corruption threatening the life of the Church is subtle and menacing but wears a friendly, even pious, face. It is prepared to talk high mystical language about the value of collegiality, and then practise ham-fisted chicanery to ensure the 'right' outcome. It is ready to adopt a discourse of orthodoxy but then spin every human problem in such a way that prevents pastors ever saying anything remotely admonitory or cautious about anything whatsoever, unless it is a scruple sanctioned by public opinion I suppose. Sin? Well, we know how little the mid-term Relatio mentioned that, and if you want the mind of those who desired to steer the Synod, read the mid-term Relatio… Unless you understand Italian, that's the only one you can read anyway!

The Catholic Faith requires us to pray for the pope and love him as our shepherd in Christ. I don't mind saying for the record here that his complicity in the dark side of the Synod has destroyed the tiny sliver-like vestiges of human faith I had left in him. I consider this a good thing, for it means that if I hope for something from him now, it is solely by virtue of his office, solely by virtue of his ministry as Vicar of Christ. Whatever we think of him, we cannot simply rationalise what he might do; he is a man but he is also a mystery, as a man and as the Successor of Peter. God's promises reside in men, and the Church is not a machine that runs without free human cooperation. All that said, quite simply I expect nothing from Jorge Bergoglio. But I expect everything from our Lord Jesus Christ whose instrument Pope Francis is. Spare me, please, your accusations of impiety.


And so we must look for consolation in the chaos, and, you know, it is to be had abundantly just by looking around us.
Last weekend we spent some time in Oxford visiting a friend who showed us the chapel of the Dominican Priory of the Holy Ghost. Devotion to the Holy Ghost is a tender thing, and the subtle carvings around the chapel communicate something of the peace that such a devotion bespeaks.

It is a fascinating chapel in many ways. Dominican chapels tend to be very discrete about their devotions, hiding them in quiet corners or unadorned niches (though there are some exceptions to this, like Saint Dominic's in London). On the epistle side of the Oxford chapel is an altar dedicated to St Thomas, though you would hardly know it unless you were looking for it. Not long ago someone came in and knocked the head off the statue.

'We don't know who,' said our friend sadly. 'Surely a Franciscan I said,' darkly, 'or maybe a Jesuit!'

At the next altar along, we came face to face with Saint Dominic. Here, we were told, J. R. R. Tolkien used to serve daily Mass, presumably when he was a student, though possibly when he was a Don.
Well, of course he did. One of the Inklings was a Dominican after all.

Best of all in this chapel, however, were the Stations of the Cross. I confess at first sight they looked particularly unimpressive; a Gill imitation, I mused, or something like that. But then we looked a little closer and here is what we saw:

In the first station, gesturing towards Christ accused, was the gnarled figure of Pontius Pilate, his inner being exposed for all to see. Here stood Christ before his Roman judge, and there sat Pilate, deformed by his sinfulness, and the whole of guilty humanity sat with him. Claw-like hands, pointed ears and a hunched back completed the picture. Through this series of Stations, all Christ's persecutors bear the same deformities. Pilate was an Orc it seemed, and Tolkien, meditating after serving Mass in the sunlit chapel, must have cast his eyes on those Stations and realised that here was an unadorned picture of the deforming character of sin. How solidly unpastoral of him!


The new pastoral agenda of exclusively praising the goodness in irregular marital situations or concubinage: where will it really end up? The problem with it is that it takes as its lodestar the sinner's perception of their own situation. Don't get me wrong; the sinner's perception is crucial. But it is not the lodestar. The Gospel is the lodestar. And the alternative? Well, surely it is not to whack the sinner over their head of course. St Francis de Sales taught us we can attract more flies with a spoon of honey than a barrel full of vinegar.

But the alternative does involve maintaining publicly not some 'ideal' - damn that wording in the relatio! - but the truth about human sexuality. I use that expression but something in my mind tells me what a hollow sound it is acquiring in the current climate. Still, the problem I have is not that priests keep throwing that 'ideal' persistently at sinners and insisting they repent; if anything, the problem is that nobody ever hears it! Here we are presented with some innovative approach to pastoral action but what - someone, please, please, tell me - does it contrast with or replace? Nobody preaches this truth anyway! Tell me, when did you last hear fornication even spoken about from the pulpit or cited as a bar to anything in the Catholic Church today? And, if nobody preaches the truth, and if the Church dealing with sinners must never mention the truth (but focus on the good in the situation), just when will anybody ever hear the truth? Just what is the human contribution to the process of conversion that Cardinal Nichols speaks about, dewy eyed, in his latest pastoral letter? I admire the sentiment, but where is the substance? Or should I simply be holding my tongue, your Emminence?


I don't know the best way to evangelise or even to bring back the wayward sheep. I started this post with a disclaimer about my total lack of talent in the area. It is the worst confirmation of my lack of holiness, I suppose, because really holy people draw others towards God.

But I just don't buy the package that is being sold here by this strange Synodal discussion. I don't accept that we can just write the negative out of the Gospel and that this will ensure a smooth (smoother? the smoothest?) passage of the sinner towards conversion. It does not add up. It does not even ring true in the light of the Gospel where Jesus practises gentleness and harshness in various ways. Where Jesus never fails to tell the sinner not to sin, even if he refrains from condemnation.

There is an argument to be won before the next Synod. I am convinced - for what my convictions are worth! - that the best way to break the deceit of the times is to test its claims against experience and the Gospel.

For these claims do not stand up. They do not in fact represent a big sea change in what the clergy have been doing these last few decades. They represent only its worst official confirmation and ratification. And that is the strangest thing of all.

Wednesday, 22 October 2014

The Sensible Break

Just had to take a breather from all the nonsense of last week, not the least because of a spousal order to stop looking at that screen!

Back later today.

Meanwhile, a little piece from Noel Coward for those who are feeling desperate about the Synod next year.

Hoorah, hoorah, hoorah! Misery's on the way!

Saturday, 18 October 2014

The morning after the interview the night before


Since I posted this, Cardinal Burke has published a clarification of his interview with Buzzfeed which reads as follows.

As a priest, bishop and finally a cardinal, I have only ever sought to serve Our Lord’s Church in humble obedience to the Magisterium and to the Holy Father. Needless confusion regarding my motives does not help me in this service, especially when substantial questions of principle are at stake. I very strongly believe that one also serves loyally by expressing a contrary judgment, in accord with the pursuit of the truth, and that one only serves faithfully when one has dutifully and clearly spoken, in obedience to one’s conscience.

I did not state that Pope Francis has harmed the Church. Rather, as the now published verbatim interview reveals, I was perfectly clear that it was a lack of clarity about where the Holy Father stands on issues related to marriage and Holy Communion that had caused the harm. It is precisely for this reason that I subsequently said that only a statement from the Holy Father himself could now remove this lack of clarity.

Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear. Is it me or is a 'lack of clarity' an abstraction which simply makes the accusation less pointed?


Original post below

Most readers will be now well aware of the story that broke last night about Cardinal Burke. He has given an interview to Buzz News essentially confirming that he is being moved from the Apostolic Signatura, but more importantly, delivering his judgment on the business of the Synod. Here is one of the juicier sections:

If Pope Francis had selected certain cardinals to steer the meeting to advance his personal views on matters like divorce and the treatment of LGBT people, Burke said, he would not be observing his mandate as the leader of the Catholic Church.

“According to my understanding of the church’s teaching and discipline, no, it wouldn’t be correct,” Burke said, saying the pope had “done a lot of harm” by not stating “openly what his position is.”

"Cardinal Burke Buzz News" is a pretty unique search collocation so I just googled it. Buzz News is running the story of course. So is something called The Puffington. The BBC is also running a story focusing on Cardinal Burke's 'demotion'. Ah, yes, and the Fiji Broadcasting Company too. They are reporting that the Cardinal has been 'demoted'.

But nobody else! The Catholic Herald? Nada. The Tablet? Nada. National Catholic Register? Nothing. But, wait, but wait! The National Catholic Reporter has a story … and look how they start it:

U.S. Cardinal Raymond Burke, a former archbishop of St. Louis known for his rigorist interpretations of Catholic doctrine, has reportedly confirmed ...
(my emphasis)


I'm afraid things are not going to get much better. At best, it will be reported that Cardinal Burke has been 'demoted', but then he will be given a label like a "rigourist" and everyone will understand why. His removal was unconfirmed before the Synod so surely some people will try to make his attack on the pope look like sour grapes.

What I am curious to see is how the commentariat comes out on this. John Allen speculated yesterday about conservatives deserting Pope Francis. That makes him prescient perhaps - unless he knew this was coming - but what line will he take now? And what about all those other big Catholic voices? Will they be feeding Burke to the vultures or will they just try to stifle what he has said with news of the end of the Synod and the beatification tomorrow?

Cardinal Burke has called them all out in a way. But if they ignore it, he will simply be isolated. That said, for this morning at least they are all wrong footed and their silence is eloquent. What do we say, what do we say? When someone of Burke's authority and character makes this kind of a stand, it forces us all to reveal who we really are inside. It does that, or else it must be subject to deconstruction (Burke is a hysteric or just silly) or to refutation (Burke has massively over exaggerated) or it will be said that in doing this he has made it impossible for more moderate voices to join him (Pell and Mueller perhaps?).

I suppose Cardinal Burke believed he had to say something in conscience, but why Buzz News? Why now when it was likely that his protest will be overshadowed by other news? Has he tried and failed to get other cardinals to back him?

I love Cardinal Burke for standing up and saying that the Emperor has no clothes. It remains to be seen whether, from a strategic and tactical point of view, he has fired his gun at the right moment and in the right way.

Friday, 17 October 2014

Myth, speed and foot rot

I made notes for a blog post on the myth machine earlier this week but almost by the hour so many new stories appeared about the Synod, so many new controversies and new commentaries, that it seemed more sensible to wait and watch developments. I'm glad I did. The spectacle of the Synod, its reception and controversies are all illustrative of the dynamics of the period in which we live. The period in which we live incidentally is one of war, and it is as brutal and as revealing as any war we might care to think of. Language is war, as I have argued here before. And this week has seen an extraordinary carpet bombing of the mind. Stay with me. I'll try to make clearer what I am getting at.


The relatio of the Synod was published on Monday. It should have been instantly quarantined like an Ebola outbreak. Instead, its appalling assumptions and half-cock assertions were accorded citizenship rights. Never mind the circuli minores. The real victory of this Synod - for those who believe in that sort of thing - lies in invalidating the condemnation of sinful lifestyles and in placing the logic of that invalidation beyond discussion. From now on the pastoral gait of the Church - moved by the even propulsion of encouragement and admonition - must now become a one-legged hop and a descent into sentimental circularity. I suppose it had been tending in that direction anyway. Don't mention sin; I mentioned it once but I think I got away with it. Of course the 'doctrine' has been left untouched. It's just also been largely shunted into a siding, made into an 'ideal' - I cannot get over that usage in the document - whereas we realists deal with reality.

Accordingly, nobody seems to understand that there is a huge difference between allowing a one-time murderer, now repentant, to approach the altar rail, and allowing a divorced and remarried person to do so. I don't want to comment too much on how this victory was achieved in the Synod since we do not have enough information. It is clear some Synod fathers think they have been manipulated, but how many is unclear. It is clear that information has been tightly controlled to the disadvantage of the conservative line, but how tightly is again unclear. What the circuli minores have surely revealed is that no group was able to say: this relatio starts in the wrong place, develops erratically and dies in a wave of liberal hogwash. We will not have it! But of course they cannot do that now. It has citizenship rights. And the final redaction committee - now with its own positively discriminated Cardinal Napier - will do the rest.


The confusion within the Synod was almost all about who held the levers of power. The confusion outside of the Synod, however, comes from other sources. Two waves of reactions quickly swirled around us by Monday night. The first attacked the relatio deservedly. The other began by defending it on the most spurious grounds. This is where the myth machine really got going. I was reminded again of some word of Bernanos from Nous autres Fran├žais:

“Myths spring up under the feet of the realist, and this imbecile is wrong to be surprised, for they come from him . . . To each new obscene trick of the realists corresponds a myth which is nothing other than obscene trickery itself.”

Which myths am I thinking about? Take your pick. The first was that the relatio was just a working document. You see how language is war? This claim simply forces us to accept all the document's premises; we have to work with it. It's as if the document had said, 'No African has an opinion which is relevant to Europe', and then its authors had defended it by saying it was merely a working document. Obscene trickery indeed!

Myths then started emerging from the mouths of commentators everywhere. Fr Lucie-Smith in The Catholic Herald had greeted the document by arguing that it only said about vice what his Jesuit teachers had been saying in the 1980s. But by the following day - when several important Synod fathers had said the document was a disgrace - Fr Lucie-Smith was back again but arguing this time that the document was appalling .. because of its English! Oh yes, the real shame of this document was its failure to be a work of English prose. My myth alarm rang immediately!

Then came Fr Robert Baron, moving in from the centre right with a metaphor about sausages and sausage making processes. If you like sausages, don't ask how they are made, he argued. Well, Father Baron, most people would like to know that the sausage factory is not putting horse meat in their sausages, or at least insists on industry-recognised quality levels, or just at the very least, ensures that its employees are not taking a quiet dump in the mixing machine whenever they like. But, Fr Baron being a cool realist, would he have understood us?

Fr Baron's words were typical of the language that tried to capture and tame the conservative reaction to the appalling relatio. He noted that there was hysteria, wringing of hands and bewailing of content and he advised everyone to take a deep breath. We don't want to bloviate. Okay, Father Baron, we'll just sit back, deny the evidence and mutter pieties about the Holy Spirit. Dominus vobiscum. I don't mean to pick on Fr Baron in particular. He just seems to have exemplified a particular type in this whole shebang.

I could mention other myths that sprang up almost by the hour: that the Synod was being fought by those who wanted the Church to be a hospital and those who wanted to erect a firewall; that the alternative to the relatio's right-on sensitiveness was a gruesome orthodox vindictiveness; that all the fuss was caused by the nasty media. Yes, the lies just kept on coming all week.


And then a most interesting thing happened. The internet. It used to take months if not years for contrary opinions to circle the globe. It now takes minutes if not seconds. The Barons and Lucie-Smiths of this world had only just finished slapping themselves on the back for a job well done when the news broke that senior cardinals were calling the relatio a disgrace. A disgrace, if you please! This, dear friends, is the war of transmission. There is no time to set up your position and go to war; the war is coming to you. What I mean is that the speed of developments will expose you for who you are now. No sooner had Fr Baron told us not to worry about the process than Cardinal Pell was reported saying the Synod fathers were sick of being manipulated by the process - and that the relatio was tendentious and skewed. What is a commentator like Fr Baron to do? Where can he go now? Luckily, the avalanche of commentary might allow him to play dead and get away with it.

The most egregious victim of this process - perhaps unsurprisingly - is a man born in the 1930s, Cardinal Kasper. You all know the story but let me summarise it briefly. On Tuesday he spoke to three journalists outside the Synod and said, among other things, that the Africans cannot tell us too much what to do. His comments were reported on Zenit the next day by Edward Pentin, one of those three journalists. By Thursday morning Cardinal Kasper was being labelled as a racist - although I have not seen the story in the MSM. Then came the chicane! Thursday afternoon Cardinal Kasper tells the German media that he would never say such things about Africans and that he never spoke to Zenit: clear implication, I never said those words and I never gave that interview. Zenit - soon to be rechristened the press agency with no balls - then pulled Pentin's interview because, well, cardinals don't lie do they?

If only Edward Pentin had reserved his bullets until he could see the whites of their eyes, we might yet have seen the Catholic commentariat speculating about the appalling journalism that had tried to sabotage a cardinal's reputation: yes, they would have said, here is the last desperate act of cruel conservatism gone mad. Instead, Pentin understandably released the recording of the interview and everyone simply gasped. Has anyone seen Cardinal Kasper since? I merely ask.


We think in some ways our problems are all tied up to the relatio. But they aren't. The relatio is appalling and I dread to think of the mess of potage the final document will contain. But our problems go beyond this. They extend also to the atmosphere of myth and lies that has surrounded this whole business. They extend to the myth and lies that people are prepared to fabricate to protect power, even when no law of God or man says power must be thus protected. The internet has let us see into the heart of the Synodal battle. We would never have known so quickly either of the treachery of the manipulators or of the courage of their adversaries otherwise. And yet the internet is also the platform for the myth makers, the ones whose reflections seem to be firstly at the service of power and not of truth.

The delightful James Preece keeps quoting the line from Chesterton that what really divides us are the vices we are prepared to excuse. And this is surely the case with regard to the Synod. Are we prepared to excuse the manipulation of the process, the dubious nature of the relatio, and the shenanigans behind the scenes? Well, may God forgive everyone his sins of course. But we cannot forget what has happened here. We cannot ignore what the implications of these days really are. And behind it all, yet to breathe a word directly about the Synod's deliberations, stands the Holy Father himself. Let us pray for him of course. Who, after all the fighting in the Synod, will pay for their actions? Who exactly has this Jesuit flushed out from their cover?


A final thought from a friend about the word 'pastoral'. This is another mythical term now embedded in the discourse of the clergy and especially deployed during the Synod. Being a pastor of sheep has come to mean continual, soppy, Hallmark-like sentiments of gentle affectivity (to use a relatio word), or, if you are like Pope Francis, it also means smelling of the sheep (whatever that means? Does anyone yet know?). But if you are a pastor of sheep, you know that sheep are entirely capable of munching on their own faeces or of standing in their own piss and shit until they get foot rot and die of the infection.

So, are you allowed to tell them? Or must you pretend that foot rot, because it is not yet the complete loss of the foot, still contains seeds of footness which could be the basis for future development? Now, there's a thought.