Saturday, 1 August 2015

Cynicism, silence and love: a story in three movements

Damian Thompson has written an interesting piece reacting to the nomination of Fr Robert Barron to the episcopacy. In it he reflects on Fr Barron's media savvy operation, his Youtube channel and web presence, all of which puts him streets ahead of most bishops (or bishops-elect) when it comes to operating in a digital culture. I hope Thompson is right about Fr Barron being able to soothe angry American conservative Catholics. My own impression of Fr Barron goes back to his 'calm down, calm down' moment during the tumultuous Synod of 2014 when, just before Cardinal Pell blew his towering Aussie stack, Barron was assuring us that this Synod was just like a sausage factory. Still, anyone can make a mistake, and if Fr Barron brings to his ministry a little bit more realism than his ridiculous sausage factory moment, I'm sure he will be a faithful shepherd.

Thompson also seems to think, however, that the Catholic blogosphere has calmed down by virtue of blowing itself out - "bloviating", I believe Fr Barron has called it. It became too burdensome to write spikey opinion every day and everyone just became tired, not to say weary, of the nutters such fora can attract. Well, I'm sure there is a little bit of truth in that.

Speaking personally, I find my blogging has slowed down because, unlike in 2007 when I had bags of time for it and other pursuits, I now have practically no time for anything outside of work and family. Blogging requires focus, research, rumination; at least it does in my book. Such an endeavour is difficult to sustain when at any moment you can be interrupted for nappy changes or story-reading duties.

I have to confess, however, that there is another reason for my silence under this papacy about which I blogged quite heavily in its first eighteenth months. I say this now by way of a confession and also by way of trying to explain how I am coming through what I feel has been a tremendously difficult time. This is me at my very worst, so please read through to the end of the tale before you judge me. It might be of use to some readers. And if it isn't, well you can pray for Pope Francis and for your poor blogger.


The Synod last year broke many things. But most particularly, it broke my human faith in the sincerity of the pope. I was prepared up to that point to believe that, somehow, human explanations existed for the calamitous blend of moralising, unilateral rule bending (ultramontanists can remove that snarl from their lips right this minute) and bizarre sponsorship of some of the worst parties to don a cassock.

But the Synod was different. The Synod seemed - to my human eye; dico humane - to show Pope Francis in hyper-cynical mode. He appointed the most appalling specimens to drive the Synod agenda, and drive it forward (or backward, I suppose) they did, to the open fury of many bishops and cardinals. When the most offensive parts of the Instrumentum Laboris failed to secure the right support, the pope insisted on their being kept in the final documentation anyway. All this I could understand, even if I was horrified by it. Horrified, simply horrified.

Then came his final address to the Synod... As if the whole world could not see that he himself had poured out the petrol that set this Synod aflame, he delivered a final address (admittedly in his usual finger-wagging style) ticking off everybody on all sides of the debate. Maybe this is thought clever among Jesuits: start a fire, enjoy the conflagration and then reproach those who question whether it should have been bigger, as well as those who thought lighting fires was just plan stupid.

I'm afraid I was more horrified by this address than by anything else. It seemed like a stupendous monument to manipulation. It was simply abusive. It was spiritual bullying. Francis looked to be using his power - openly, overtly, with a transparency that shocked me to the core - simply to shut down criticism of his abuse of power.

And this was our father in Christ? My heart closed down.


As one very wise writer once said, 'Si je cherche querelle au monde, c'est que, jusqu'au nouvel ordre, je lui fais encore confiance.' Which loosely translated means that if I fight with you, it's because I still believe in 'us'. After the Synod Francis was still the pope, and of course I still owed him due reverence and obedience. But by the end of the Synod I regarded him as a pontifical bully of the worst kind; in the great and distinguished tradition of pontifical bullies. Of course he had his cuddly side but what did that matter? All bullies do.

But my point is that I didn't believe in 'us' anymore. Je ne lui cherchais plus querelle. In the last ten months, we (I mean Pope Francis and I) have shared ecclesial and canonical bonds. But in all other ways I have felt more estranged from the pope, from the Church, than at any time in my life. I can take a corrupt pope. I can even take a doctrinally confused pope. But a pope who uses his power openly to steer a Synod into a crisis and then blame others escapes all my capacities of understanding or charity.

Well, frankly, that's a first-world problem, don'tchaknow? I know, I know. But, well, there it is ...


So, I've prayed for the pope, but I can rarely bring myself to talk about him because I suspect I'll only say something to embitter an already embittered situation. Some people move on in these situations. I'm afraid I have not had the defences to do so. I work in a world that has no time for me. I never knew I would live in such a Church. Why care when the wages of caring are such as these?

I am unjust to feel Francis's behaviour taints all the clergy. Some of them must be feeling as horrified as I am. But so few of them let the mask slip. For some that is a matter of prudence. For others it is a matter of theological repression. God knows what problems that will cause in the long run. I hardly dare speculate.


So is there an end to my tale? Well, yes and no.

No, because we do not yet know what will happen in the October Synod. I am prepared to witness any stunt - any stunt! God help us all.

And then, in another way, yes. As so often in these dark and dreadful times, wisdom leaped out at me yesterday from a page of Georges Bernanos. I am not so convinced by his account of freedom but I am by his account of the meaning of non serviam. I translate freely:

Naive people are easily convinced that we are attached to freedom by a kind of pride expressed in the non serviam of the Fallen Angel [...] but [one] should know that non serviam is not a refusal to serve, but to love.

This did not sink in immediately. But, as the day wore on, its terrible implications became apparent. My loss of belief in 'us', in Francis and I, was not a refusal to serve: I'm bound to that by obligation. But maybe, just maybe, I have allowed the cold and poisonous shock of last year's Synod to stop me loving him like I should.

It's one thing to love someone who you admire. It is quite another to love someone who you think is ready to trample over you with his papal boots on. Of course I have continued to pray for him in all this time. But have I been really refusing to love? Have I been offering a silent non serviam? And how have I not known this?


There you go. I said this would be confessional. There is the challenge for me, at least as we approach the Synod. I have not the time to read all the documents. I may not be able to avoid the terrible spectacle that awaits us. But, as my master Bernanos implies, if I do not await what is to come with charity in my heart, then I am lining up to join the ranks of the Fallen Angel.

Unlike Thompson - by his own telling - I have never used the blogosphere simply to mock and jump all over those I hold in contempt. But all my restraint will be worth nothing if I do not look even on those I consider grave enemies with the eyes of Christ.

Ah, yes, that! If only I had read the Gospels well, it would not have taken me ten months to realise the bleedingly obvious.

Telle est la vie des hommes.

Sunday, 19 July 2015

July 4th, +15

America will not have noticed but I failed on July 4th to post my annual appreciation of Uncle Sam. It was quite remiss of me. And while I realise America can get on very well without my admiration, something in me breathes deeply a love for a land I was lucky enough to call home for a few short albeit eventful years. And love must speak its name.

I'm calling it 'America', knowing full well that this is Anglo speak. I'm inclined this way for two reasons, one of which is that that is how the Mother Country most often refers to her former colony. But whatever one calls it, it remains - like all true persons - a complexity, a paradox, easily perceived but much less easily understood. Gabriel Marcel would have called it 'a mystery' rather than 'a problem'.

I still remember flying into Minneapolis just about 24 years ago this autumn. We travelled in over the Canadian border and I learned immediately why Minnesota is called the Land of Ten Thousand Lakes. Nothing will erase from my memory the moment when the airplane banked on its final approach and the sparkling towers of downtown - unremarkable by American standards but dazzling to my British eye - shot up out of the flat suburbs. That was perhaps only one version of urban America staring up at me from 1,000 feet, but it was thrilling all the same.

My theme is memory, as Charles Rider says. Why do such things linger in the mind while those of much greater importance have eroded and failed? A thousand trivial details come flooding back now as I pursue my theme. I remember hunting high and low for the toilets on my first night. Wandering along a corridor where everything was labelled, I could find the 'showers' and I could even find the 'rest room' which, without opening the door, I imagined to be some kind of gentlemen's lounge where one could read a newspaper undisturbed. But where was the toilet?

It was painful in the early days, as I watched the natives straining to handle my Mancunian lilt. I adjusted naturally. People back home (should I say 'folks' back home?) said I acquired a mid-Atlantic accent. It didn't last of course. Skin-deep things never do.

I have to confess, however, that much of my perception of America was then only skin deep. It was influenced by the simmering anti-American sentiment I was surrounded by. Of course that sentiment justified itself on doctrinal grounds. But sometimes - as much more experience has taught me - not everyone who says 'doctrine' really understands what it means. 'Doctrine' does honour to Revelation, but it is in no way an excuse not to look at what is around you. Doctrine informs the mind but if God is the God of Revelation and Creation, no experience can ultimately contradict it. It is odd to think now of doctrine serving as a kind of blindfold to experience, rather than as a complement.

Longer reflection on my American experience in later years - which I am truncating now because, as usual, the human needs of my children are at this very second beginning to bellow louder than my duty to the blog readers - taught me some of the secrets behind what I treated then almost as a film set. Leaving a country, like finishing a book, does not mean that one is finished and done with learning its essence.

In more recent years, America has come to mean a host of other things. As a younger cousin of modernity, it has not yet entirely trampled to death the symbolic depths of our social life. For all its talk of pragmatism, it does more honour to the life of the mind than the barren landscape of European academia. For all its destructive role in Vatican II, it has now much greater religious and spiritual depth and fruitfulness than many European hellholes.

It is still way too much in love with its technological roots, although when its empire finally falls - as a very wise man once said - it will be remembered as the civilisation that first set foot on another 'world'. Much of its cultural politics is now being sucked into the vortex of postmodern disintegration, best symbolised by the bizarre hybrid who calls him/herself Bruce/Caitlyn Jenner. Still, we all have faults, people in glass houses cannot throw stones and everyone needs our prayers.

So, America and all American readers, two weeks too late (a delay you will forgive with your customary graciousness, I know), I send you my greetings for July 4th 2015. I wish you lots of things in the years ahead, but most particularly wisdom. Wisdom to judge with the charity of Christ, and wisdom to see the world with His eyes.

You are still a pup in comparison to the old dame of Europe. May you never become the bitch she now is.

Thursday, 18 June 2015

Having said nothing for a month ...

… I fully intend saying nothing today.

Yes, that's right. And here is why. Because today I am filled with an unChristian contempt for all the bullshitters, all of them from East to West who, within 48 hours of the leaking of Laudato Si', are already posting great analyses of the whole bloody thing. Really? It's nearly 40,000 words long! Come on!

No, and no, and no, and no! If you are one of those people already heaping praise on Pope Francis for perpetuating the Catholic Social Tradition, well, go and bury your head in the bloody garden. If you are one of those people who are lambasting him for sucking up to the mad, bad Greens, then, get your head out of your posterior orifice.

This is the internet: a self-appointed place for the Messieurs Whippy of Wisdom. How sick to death I am of the whole bloody know-it-all culture.

No, dear readers, we need at least a week, and possibly a month, to think it all through and tease out all the consequences.

But we cannot have the time, can we? Our age rushes head long into another week, having forgotten what happened last week, and even what happened yesterday. It is largely a tale told by an idiot, signifying nothing. Shakespeare knew it centuries ago.

The worst thing about the internet? It's that you cannot even burn the bloody thing to keep warm. It just consumes things: joules of energy, human souls, intelligence, innocence and a whole load of other things.

Technology is neutral is it? Somehow I think St Thomas would have sided with Heidegger before Maritain.

Sunday, 17 May 2015

Lifelike Marching

It is rare The Sensible Bond can bring you frontline reporting of any kind but I write these lines after returning from the March for Life in Birmingham. It was a grand old event, with appearances by Archbishop Bernard Longley, abortion survivor Gianna Jessen and, finally, an animated young speaker whose message was drowned out by a counter-protest, Obianuju Ekeocha.
I'm afraid we missed most of the day due to other commitments. We were alarmed in fact to arrive in Chamberlain Square in the centre of Birmingham to see about fifty people waving pro-choice banners, being stirred up by someone who was explaining that pro-life thought was "just shit". Her words, not mine. Heavens, I wondered, had we missed the pro-life protest and happened on their nemesis enjoying some afters?

Worse in fact! We had happened on a pro-choice protest just lying in wait to pounce upon the pro-lifers when they arrived. The funny thing was that as the pro-life march wound its way into the square, it did so with not really much regard for the pro-choice element who then spent the next hour or more trying to spoil proceedings. The were deftly ignored, although it must be said that from I was standing, nobody could hear a word of the pro-life speakers. The pro-choicers were held back by police, apart from one agitator who finally made an unsuccessful grab for the pro-life microphone, before being led away by a probably bored constable looking for something to do.
It was a very pleasant afternoon of sun in Birmingham. The mood was always lighthearted, in spite of the angry protesters who chanted things like "Keep your rosaries off our ovaries" and "Not the Church / Not the State / Women should decide their fate." To these mellifluous snatches, they added well-articulated criticisms like "religious scum", screamed at the passing lines of mothers with babies and habits of various hues (Franciscan, Dominican and secular). Yes, all things considered, a highly reasoned, subtle and incisive contribution to rational discussion. Funny how convention would determine that it was the pro-choicers representing the voice of reason ...

Tuesday, 28 April 2015

Naughty pleasures, hatred and the loneliness of the long-distance priesthood

One of my naughtier pleasures when I'm down - as I often am these days - is to surf over to Mundabor's blog and see what he is ranting about. I love the man's lucidity, yet I deprecate his venom. For example, I appreciate his latest diatribe on a report provided by Rorate Caeli on the state of the German priesthood. If only half of what the report says is true, then I am even more aghast than I have been in a year of utter ghastliness. But then, Mundabor steps into venomous mode about the German priests in question:

I pity and despise them, because a priest who has chosen the habit and finds himself whining about his “loneliness” whilst he does not even have the time or the guts to be with Christ in the confessional, and in prayer, and in the life of sacrifice he is supposed to live is one who has betrayed the flag a long, long time ago, and is now unable to even remember how it looked like. (my emphasis)

Despise them? Well, it's a point of view. I'm not about to offer lessons to Mundabor in charity but if he isn't ashamed to despise somebody, he isn't half the Catholic he claims to be.

But then, he goes on to say:

I have never seen a good priest that looked lonely in the least. Their vocations and their love of the Lord fills their life.

Well, there, I'm not so sure. Maybe Mundabor has not seen good priests look lonely. Only he can say what he has actually seen. But if, as I understand it, the sense of this paragraph is that good priests don't get lonely, well, I beg to differ. In my experience, that is not so.

Undoubtedly there are many consolations for priests who live their vocations to the full. Being busy as a priest is a boon, and a deep prayer life probably fills many a gap. Good priest friends are precious and the chance to escape with them from time to time is probably essential to many a priest's sanity. Christ withdrew into the mountains with his friends. Why shouldn't priests? St John encouraged his disciples to dance. The bow that is always taut will lose its power.

But we cannot underestimate what a huge sacrifice celibacy remains, and not just because we all find the 6th and 9th commandments tricky. The challenge of celibacy is filling a void not created by lack of genital stimulation but by the sacrifice of the enjoyment of nuptial intimacy with another human being. Of course a priest can raise up his heart in faith to the divine lover, if he is gifted in that way. But there is no one-size-fits-all solution to the demands of celibacy. Everyone called to celibacy must live it as God gives them to live it. They are not all called to the charismatic heights of a St John of the Cross.

More than that, the priest is in such a difficult position socially. No wonder priests get lonely. They are forced to be the listening post of every liar and deceiver out there, not just in the confessional but in their day to day lives. By every liar and deceiver, yes, I'm afraid I mean every one of us. They are obliged to put up with everyone's spin, as if they had not heard it all before. They must be a spectator to everyone's performance, knowing the worst of many, suspecting the worst of others. How alienating that must be! And how one must long for honesty in one's fellow human beings! And how isolating, ultimately, such an experience must prove.

So, of course we should deplore the practice or lack of practice among German priests. The gap between what the Rorate report reveals and the ideals of the priesthood is embarrassingly large, not to say crushingly embarrassing. But even if Germany had the best priests in the world, they would still have the vocation of priests; they would still be up against the loneliness that must invade any honest man forced to be a spectator or a doctor of the world's deceit, or worse, of the deceit of the baptised.

All priest readers, be assured of my prayers. The wonder of your vocation is not that you manage to carry the crosses you make for yourselves. It is the that you manage to carry the cross that we, the faithful, represent.

The older I get, the more I sense how hateful I must be to the clergy. What a bloody burden, what a pain in the behind! They give it away in a hundred ways. In the stock questions that come in place of genuine interest; in their hesitancy to come to dinner; or even pass the time of day beyond the briefest of hellos. Lord, what salt in the wound we "faithful Catholics" must be!

Mind you, the older I get, especially under this papacy, the more I feel utterly, utterly alienated from the clergy at large. From anyone in authority really. With the man at the top so often blathering like a drunk who is being escorted home by embarrassed friends (even if, like a drunk, there are occasional moments of wonderful lucidity), so many good priests or bishops are left trying to spin gold out of Argentinian straw.

And then, there is the preaching. It's like being trapped in some loveless marriage having to listen to another ropey sermon, read out to us as if at some dodgy acting audition, terminated by an embarrassed silence at the end - the silence of those who are underwhelmed. Often I want to snatch the typed sermon from their hands, rip it up and beg them to speak to me from the heart like men! Cor ad cor loquitur, for heaven's sake! Funny how so few priests realise they speak ten times better when they speak extempore.

I know, I know! I am utterly hateful. My only hope is that our mutual prayers might help see us both home to heaven.

Pace, Mundabor, we cannot despise anyone, not even the least of our brethren. We should love even the worst, since God first loved "despicable us".

And all that said, as I remarked yesterday, "It is easy to hate oneself. Grace means forgetting oneself."

Sunday, 26 April 2015

The lanes of memory

This morning we are off to assist at the first Holy Communion of two small boys. We'll do our best to guide our own children through the ceremony, but since the boys are solidly in the squirming phase and my daughter in the '2 minutes-of-concentration-followed-by-5-minutes-of-scrapping-over-a-rosary' phase, the deed will be honoured more in the breach than the observance.

But it all takes me back to my own first Holy Communion close to 36 years ago. The memories are distant, but vivid vignettes still flash through my mind at times. I remember arriving at church in my white shirt, shorts and pumps and white tie as thick as kitchen roll. I remember being shocked that one boy wore brown sandals. Brown sandals on first Holy Communion day! It didn't augur well. The ceremony was Novus Ordo, though reverent enough in its own way. I remember being among the bidding prayer readers, standing in the sanctuary to monotonously bellow out something typed out in purplish ink on a slip of paper, and feeling for the first time what knees knocking together in fear was actually like.

I'm sure my thanksgiving was long and extremely garrulous. I'm sure it was one of the best of my sorry excuse for a spiritual life. Thence back to school for ice cream and jelly, followed by a family meal where we younger ones had to leave the chairs for older guests and sit on a rough wooden bench instead. The splinters dug into my bare, spindle-like legs.


I always find it curious what details stay in the memory. As adults we impose a particular order and disposition on what we do for our children, but subjectivities are subjectivities. I say this concerns children. I suppose it concerns adults too. Several times I have learned - often years later - that I had gravely offended someone by something I said, but without having any recollection of the event, the words or why I would have said what I said.

Memory is the poorer cousin of intellect and will in the spiritual life. In many ways, memory is neglected because its abilities are thought to be amoral. One either has a good memory or a bad one. It is a psychological capacity and not a virtue as such.

Yet memory sews up the deliberate acts of yesterday with the person I am today. Memory leads me back to paths I have learned about, even when I have not thought of them for years.

More than that, memory is invested in the kind of synthesis that makes us creatures steeped in the sensory and the imaginative. Often how we remember a thing is directly related to how we felt about it at the time, or the totemic importance certain objects achieved through experience. We talk so casually about the faith being 'incarnational' but not enough about the faith being memorial - I mean memorial not in any sense related to the Mass but related to our recollection. Our faith is not just principles remembered or memorised but experiences undergone, whispers of sound or wafts of odours, insights seized and cherished in a moment of inner vision

And it is surely true that there is some essential relationship between recollection as an active process of remembering and recollection as a passive state of concentration. Something tells me that remembering who we are and what our responsibilities are is directly connected to our willingness to recollect ourselves. Not having the time to be recollected is not having the time to recollect the import things. To recollect then is both a reflexive verb (done to ourselves) and a transitive verb (done to our experiences). Without the former, we risk losing a grip on the latter, and without the latter we are in danger of losing who we are.


Paradoxically, however, this road of recollection and responsibility seems to be a two way street. If we must recollect ourselves, it is as equally important to forget ourselves, to cite those wonderful words of Bernanos at the end of Journal d'un curé de campagne:

"It is easy to hate oneself. Grace means forgetting oneself."

In other words, one can forget oneself and be an embarrassment to oneself and others. Or one can forget oneself and be the self-effacing balm that enables others to flourish. Beati humiles.

Speaking of memory and self forgetting, we learned this week of the passing of Mr Ronald Warwick. Ronald was the author of The Living Flame: the first twenty-five years of the Society of St Pius X in Britain. He was a man of exemplary charm and good humour, in spite of the arthritis that he suffered from. He was loved by his pupils at the SSPX's St Michael's school. I have not seen him perhaps for over ten years but I remember a constantly good natured and erudite man - a charitable man who I think worked very hard not to treat people openly as the idiots he probably thought they were - who could chat happily about the familiar and the abstruse, everything from cigarettes to Charles Lamb. The first generation of traditionalists has been passing away for some time now. And I for one am unconvinced that the title of traditionalist is proof of the ability to remember things are they really were.


Please say a prayer for the two little boys making their first Holy Communion today, and for Ronald Warwick, his widow, daughter and extended family. As for the boys, I have no doubt the attention of several of their siblings and friends is fixed firmly not on the liturgy but on the large-scale bun fight scheduled for after the ceremony. I have no doubt they will be offered myriad cards and object of the most impious and offensive tastelessness. Oddly, neither adult nor childish agendas will determine how these lads will remember the day as such. The boys will be as they are before God in their souls, welcomed into those enormous spaces that Eucharistic belief opens out within a human heart, and all the while still present to the smaller tangible world around them. How God conjugates with any individual's experience is a mystery only dimly captured in the theology of grace and the Gifts. But that He does so - in a way perhaps barely even perceived by the communicant - on first Communion day is a mystery beyond all doubt.

Sunday, 12 April 2015

Effing the ineffable

I read a rather wonderful quotation from Mark Twain this evening:

If you do not read a newspaper, you are uninformed. If you do read a newspaper, you are misinformed.

I hate quoting Twain but the fact is that the old sod was right about a number of things. He certainly said them more pithily than many can. Which is a nice way of saying that sometimes the devil has the best tunes.

The reason Twain's epigram me struck me so much was because I've been reflecting on how many dreadful stories cross our screens these days, how much righteous indignation we are called on to vent, and yet how much, in my own professional experience, the devil is in the detail. There's that devil again! I am not saying, for example, that there is any excuse for the appointment of Bishop Juan Barros in Chile, but what don't we know about the situation? That's the problem. The apparent put down of Chilean "theologian" Jorge Costadoat turns out not to have been quite what it was first portrayed as. Everyone is astir about the pope's alleged blocking of a gay nominee as French ambassador to the Vatican, but what don't we know yet? And don't get me started on Cardinal Daneels (don't read that link if easily shocked) for whom, however, there might yet be an explanation. Let us pray at least there can be mercy.


I've written about the Punch-and-Judy nature of internet debate before, especially in the Catholic world, and of how much it reminds me of the theatre of the absurd. But what I'm getting at in this post is that the steady flow of news in which we now live, like fish in a fast-flowing sewer, is only hypothetically reliable. I suppose the burden of reliability has always accompanied reporting. What makes it so tricky now is that news travels so far and so fast; give a lie 24 hours start and we'll never catch it.

The risks of this kind of information environment are all the greater when we are faced with crises the like of which are barely precedented. This is not just a challenge for people who report the news but also for people, like your servant, who try to interpret it. The certainties of epistemology in the Catholic tradition were forged in the context of the natural world naturally "intelliged". The cultural environment of the internet is another thing entirely, full of false pistes and misinformation, travelling faster and more dangerously than the space junk that orbits the earth at thousands of kilometres per hour. Not all matters are equally (un)certain; Aristotle's adage on that point still pertains. But those unknown unknowns are beginning to haunt my mind.

In a context where we are looking for certainty, the dangers are, therefore, all the greater. It is not that contemporary Church history cannot be understood. It is just that our methods are so partial, our velocity so great, and bizarrely, our memories are so short. That is of course what the legend of Thamus promised: those that write everything down - and what is the internet if not a very long text? - are condemned to forget it.


I make this point with another concern in mind - a concern which has been growing now for some time. The fact is that the powerful get nowhere without riding on the backs of the anxieties of you and me. I have never read Machiavelli's The Prince but I bet there is a chapter in there specifically about this very issue.

For example, I was more than happy last week to lend my name to the letter in support of priests who have called for the upholding of traditional disciplines concerning marriage and the Eucharist. So far, so good. But we are all so innocent. What, I ask myself, just what bricks will be forged, what leverages will be achieved, out of all our anxieties by the mongers of power?

We all get indignant. In our evil times, that is only natural. But there is another breed among us, quite common, who I want to call the enthusiasts of indignation. Need I explain? And what the enthusiasts of indignation - and how many they are! and how extremely boring they are! - do not understand is that the devil (him again) makes work for idle anxieties. We used to think that the biggest problem we faced was that, in the pre-internet age, the truth took decades to get out there. The naive corollary of this proposition is to think that if only the truth gets out there now, all will be well. Publish a book. Write a letter. Picket the nuncio!

Humanum errare est. This is not so. The truth, as far as we know it, is out there about Cardinal Daneels, and it makes no difference. The truth, as far as we know it, is out there about Bishop Barros, and it makes no difference. And the conclusion I am slowly working towards is that the conflict we are in is as much about leverage as it is about truth. It doesn't matter what you know, Danny boy, it matters what you can prove. Prove in the sense of impose.


I'm really concerned about our vulnerabilities. Vulnerable people - and concerned Catholics are showing all the psychological signs of deep vulnerability - are ripe for manipulation. The devil's of course. And that of the powermongers. But our vulnerabilities need the medicine of Christ, rather than the medicine of crisis.

Yes, of course we should write and sign letters. Of course we should write (and read) blogs. But we should not do it because telling the truth will sort out all our problems. When all is said and done, when all the errors are refuted, we will still be left in the swirl of power agendas and manipulative causes.

As I often say to Mrs Ches, it's never about what it's about. We have feared untruth. We ought perhaps to fear calculation just as much. Our indignations make us the dupes of the devil. And our reactions risk feeding fires we that will have no idea how to control.