Saturday, 26 February 2011

The endgame of the SSPX

Bishop Fellay, superior general of the SSPX, has given an interview in the USA during which he answers fifty-four questions about the SSPX's doctrinal discussions with Rome, Assisi III and the beatification of John Paul II. You can find it in English here. He thinks that if they had their time again, they would still enter these discussions. But, he also observes that by and large they have produced no meeting of minds. The only danger, he says, of coming to the discussion table is that of feeding illusions about where the Church is really going. He hopes in the long run, nevertheless, that the kinds of critique of Vatican II issued recently by Monsignor Gerardhini and others will come to enjoy a much wider reception.

I note with a sense of déjà vu and disgust that the mimetic cudgels have been taken up in the discussion about this issue posted on The Catholic Herald's website. On the one side, high-minded papal loyalists cannot say enough about how disobedient the SSPX is, or how proud. On the other side, SSPX tub thumpers jeer about the hierarchy's tendency to wink at all rebellions apart from the SSPX's, and the busted flush of Benedict's papacy which has seen him gravitate from liturgical traditionalist to Assisi tribute act in a mere four years.

This outcome was inevitable, however. [redacted] The same principles of endgame which I said were relevant to the potential Motu Proprio on the SSPX apply also to the doctrinal discussions; I was right then, and I'm right now [end of redaction]. What was needed from the beginning was an endgame mechanism which both sides understood and agreed upon. If you start moving with no idea of how to recognise the end of your journey, then the likelihood is that you will never get there. Now, as far as we know, neither Rome nor the SSPX had agreed upon the principles by which they could end this process. We can speculate about the exact terms but they appear to be as follows:

- for Rome the endgame is when the SSPX accept the authority and Catholicity of Vatican II and agree to refrain from treating their own theological views as the rule of faith.

- for the SSPX the endgame is when Rome accepts that the SSPX's analysis of Vatican II is correct, and when it begins taking practical steps to correct its errors.

Now, these are two irreconciliable principles on which to be having a discussion about Church doctrine. Indeed, in a way they are redolent of many doctrinal disputes which have at one time or another arisen in the Church. But ultimately, the endgame can only be what the endgame always is in the Church.

It is not logic, rhetoric, philosophy or even theological history which is the final criterion of this process. It is not the forensic comparison of previous magisterial texts with newer ones. It is not the process of assessing measurable fruits on one side and the other.

Yet neither is the final criterion a mindless assertion of authority. Neither is it the burying of all that is good, true and holy in the adversary. Neither is it the adoption of some techno-omnipotentist mentality which imagines the Church will behave like a marionette if only the hierarchy are bossy enough.

The final criterion is what it has always been: the final criterion is the faith of the Church of Rome articulated by the Bishop of that holy, ancient See. This is not primarily a juridico-canonical category - though it is that - so much as the corollary of a charism which the Church perpetually needs. We are not talking about a production line of infallible statements here, but just the practical acceptance that the Magisterium of the Pastors (notably of the chief pastor) has priority over the Magisterium of the Theologians (be they in the SSPX or Tubingen); it is the practical acceptance that all charismatic action in the Church (which we might kindly interpret the SSPX's action to have been) must be subject to the hierarchy. Under that umbrella there is immense freedom to criticise, debate and discuss. With that umbrella, indeed, we can have a thumping great debate about the new liturgy, religious liberty and ecumenism, as long as the rules of charity, honesty and patience are observed.

But without that umbrella there is never ANY endgame to ANY doctrinal discussion. Without that umbrella, discussion is only over when I, me, moi, your truly - or every individual from Bishop Fellay to Hans Kung and Mrs Miggens of The Tablet - say it is over.

In other words, without that criterion in the Church we are condemned to fragmentation. This is the lesson of history.

But who is listening?

Wednesday, 23 February 2011

The petition again

I've noted some interesting reactions to the Summorum Pontificum petition in the last few days and not always what I would have expected. Yesterday, I spoke to some SSPX supporters who were proud to have signed the petition. Their justification: they are sick to death of the absolutist tendency of some SSPX priests. On the other hand, someone has anonymously commented on the Petition post below, stating that they cannot accept No.s 1 and 2, since it must be all or nothing.

So what do 1 and 2 say?

We the undersigned...

1. Express our profound gratitude to Your Holiness for your personal liturgical example to the Universal Church. You are a true homo liturgicus whose love for the sacred liturgy is an inspiration; it teaches more clearly than words the centrality of the liturgy in the life of the Church.

2. Thank Your Holiness for your gift to the Church of your 2007 Motu Proprio Summorum Pontificum. Since 2007 it has brought forth many fruits, including greater unity in the Church of Christ and a widespread enrichment of the liturgical life of the Church.

Okay, I can see why a hardline traditionalist might struggle with both these proposition. I can see why someone with a very literal mind might also struggle with No. 2. But, there is no doubt this petition ought to be backed.

Essentially, the Church does not operate by petition like this, but in another sense, it often does. Canonisation used to be the effect of petition: it still is in some senses. Likewise, popular consultation also used to be part of the process for the election of popes and bishops. One can see why democratic tendencies have got a bad press in recent years in the Church, but we cannot suppress the paradox for the sake of clarity.

'Widespread enrichment' in No. 2 is also perhaps a little embellished. But it depends how we understand it. Lord knows what graces have flowed because of Summorum Pontificum! How can anyone else calculate?

No, we should all sign the petition, Catholic and non-Catholic, traditionalist and non-traditionalist ... unless we are happy for the situation to return to pre-SP days without so much as a wimper.

Must dash for my train!

Monday, 21 February 2011

Petition for Summorum Pontificum

I cannot imagine anyone who reads this blog has not yet signed the petition to the Holy Father asking that there be no restriction imposed on the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Missal.

Still, for the stragglers - and I'm straggling after a weekend away 'oop north' - here is a link to the petition.

Go on, never mind checking the blogs. Go and sign!

Friday, 18 February 2011


A good news story to end the week: one of the bishops has spoken fervently in favour of marriage! Bishop Mark Davies of Shrewsbury - an old Manchester man, I'd just like to point out - addressed the congress at the end of National Marriage Week. I'm afraid it wasn't in my diary, but no matter: was it in yours?

You'll like this. Not a lot, but you'll like it.

“Yet, despite all the benefits which marriage offers for the well-being of children and society, that our leaders in public life might be reluctant to speak up for marriage tells us something of the state we are in.

“And so we need to remind ourselves of what the Second Vatican Council taught half a century ago, which stands for us today: ‘The wellbeing of the individual person and of both human and Christian society is closely bound up with the healthy state of marriage and family life’.”

He continued: “We have to confess that the situation within the Catholic community often differs little from these disturbing patterns within society as a whole. The good news of marriage has not always been heard or received even amongst us. The substitution of ‘partnerships’ which are not from their foundation faithful, lasting or open to the procreation and education can never replace the plan of God himself.”

Never! How very categorical. Bloomin' well done, Bishop Mark!

Speaking of marriage, I'm off now to attend to my own. Life's not all about blogs you know!

Thursday, 17 February 2011

The nature of leaks, or how's your plumbing?

I have been thinking this afternoon about the nature of bureaucracies, especially in the context of the Church. Certain sections of the traditionalist blogosphere are awash with speculation about the draft of a document for the implementation of Summorum Pontificum. Damian Thompson reported on it this morning, following Rorate Caeli's original piece on the subject. Lawrence at That the bones you have crushed has already begun a letter to the Holy Father, while I note Fr TF is reporting on anything but the story of the day. Interesting that.

So, I'm curious about the real reason for this story hitting the news. I don't think there is any doubt about the existence of the draft. I would also lay money on it being restrictive in the sense reported by Rorate Caeli. So what is this all about?

The instant fear among traditionalists is that this leak - for that's what it is! - fortuitously unveils machinations among curial officials whose opposition to the Extraordinary Form we know well. That is possible. As I said this morning, I'm minded to think that Pope Benedict would never sign a document which would result in the destruction of one of the major planks of his papacy: the reconciliation of the traditionalists. He cannot possibly have come up with the idea! But again, in whose interest is it for this document to be leaked?

On the one hand, one might think that the opponents of restrictions would leak such a document. Not everyone in the curia is an enemy of the Extraordinary Form after all. And it is conceivable that if such individuals got hold of this draft, and saw the way the wind was blowing, they might blow its cover and hope for the subsequent storm to stifle any chances the draft had of getting approval.

On the other hand, it is just possible that this leak has been set up to ensure that some consolation prize is secured for the anti-Extraordinary Rite cause. If the pope does not sign off on these restrictions, then their exposure might push him into approving something weaker but still more restrictive than the current system. After all, it could be suggested to him that if he dismisses completely all restrictions, he will appear to be in the pocket of the traditionalists.

So, we're back to the age old question: cui bono? Who does this benefit? Those who wish there to be no restrictions on the Extraordinary Form, or those who might use impossibly heavy restrictions as a decoy to push through minor restrictions? It's all a question of leverage.

I have no doubt the Extraordinary Form has won the intellectual battle. All its enemies are lost liturgically in a tangle of pedestrian functionalism and somewhat patronising didacticism, not to mention dodgy music. But we must pray: first, for the Holy Father whose hands on the levers of power have looked unsteady since his calamitous remarks to Peter Seewald concerning condoms, and, second, for the curia which could be showing early symptoms of entering a fin de règne recklessness.

Meanwhile, we can always have a laugh.

Start about 58 seconds in:

Summorum Pontificum restrictions? It's déjà vu all over again

News has been posted on Rorate Caeli of the alleged restrictions on the Extraordinary Form contained in a draft version of the long-awaited Roman instruction about Summorum Pontificum's implementation. I'm having a nightmare week at work, so have little time to post about this now, but let me say just a few things:

1). Even if the reports are true, this is at draft stage, and I cannot imagine wiley old Benedict putting his signature to a document which will dismantle the progress of the last three years.

2). If it is true that this draft is the work of people in the Vatican curia who have their sights set on ruining Benedict's initiatives, it is a time for us to intensify our prayers for our shepherd who appears to be surrounded by wolves in sheep's clothing.

3). If, by some stroke of wild logic, Benedict really is intending to truss up the Extraordinary Form again, he knows Church history too well to ignore the judgment Christian civilisation will pass on him.

4). Either way, the liturgical liberals have lost the argument and have nothing other than legal bonds left to control the renaissance of interest in the old rite.

Compare it to the last days of the Vichy Regime. As the Allies prepare their invasion and the Resistance intensify their activity in spring 1944, the Vichy authorities instructed the Milice to get heavy with all Resistants indiscriminately. This was not a surge of Vichy power but, if you will, the evacuation of its diseased bowels before its final demise.

And thus will all opponents of the Extraordinary Form be seen by history: at best, advocates of order rather than wisdom; at worst, enemies of the liturgical heritage of the Church.

Monday, 14 February 2011

Return of the Jer-i

Following the scandalous memo published by German-speaking theologians which I, and many others, commented on last week, news arrives of an online petition organised by Germans loyal to the Holy See. The petition numbers 2,300 3,044 signatures and counting, and its text, addressed to the German bishops, is as follows:

For the Church and the Faith in Germany we, the undersigned, submit this petition. We do this in order to affirm that the Catholic Faith in the Triune God is alive, as it was delivered to us by the Apostles and their successors.

A few weeks ago some leading CDU politicians contacted German bishops with an open letter and now we have over 200 theology professors issuing a memorandum saying something similar, but with even more demands.

We want to answer these publically and submit this petition to our bishops in order to correct the distorted picture of the Church in the public. These demands on the bishops cause great damage to the Church, as believers are disconcerted, deceived and led into error.

We confront this dishonest behavior of theologians and politicians, by placing ourselves clearly on the side of our bishops and in union with the Holy Father, Benedict XVI.

Therefore we address, dear bishops, the following requests to you:

1. Treat these demands of politicians, theology professors, press representatives and others with all decisiveness. Catholics, who are continually confronted with such news in their everyday life, need the visible and audible assistance of their shepherds.

2. Please give to our priests and candidates for priestly office a clear signal of support that celibacy is the appropriate way of life for a priest. Honest, straightforward priests need the support of their bishops in these difficult times.

3. As shepherds, we rely on you to ensure that the research and theory that take place at our theological faculties and institutes are conducted with all due respect for the necessary freedom of science in conformity with Church doctrine. We need lecturers and professors who support the Faith intellectually and fairly and who have something to say in the scientific discourse in the universities of our secularized society.

4. Please show yourselves to be also responsible for the students at all levels of theology -- including candidates for the priesthood, the teaching profession and those who seek to advise municipalities on behalf of the Church. As their pastors, please give them a clear signal that the study of theology can be meaningful only within the Church – never, however, against the Church.

5. We ask that you always keep the Liturgy in your diocese in view. Please ensure that liturgical experimentation is terminated. We believers have a right to a proper Liturgy fixed in the rites of the church. The priest is not the master of the Liturgy, but the servant. Liturgy is an expression of the unity of the Church. He who abandons this unity of prayer within the Church endangers the unity of the Church.

6. We ask that you give a clear confession of what marriage and family mean in the sense of the Church. With all due respect to the rights of individuals to select other ways of life, it must be made clear however in society that Christian marriage is a Sacrament. Therefore, same-sex and non-conjugal partnerships can never be on an equal footing with marriage.

7. The dialogue which has been announced must not be a dialogue between the highest floors of the ivory towers of academia and the media. While it is a good thing to talk with one another, the foundation of the Church should never be placed in jeopardy due to such a dialogue.

We submit these requests to you under the firm conviction that your doors are always open.

We have formulated these requests in order to make our solidarity with you, the priests in our municipalities and believing Catholics in Germany very clear.

It is not our intention to request the impossible. As laity, we are very conscious of the reality which characterizes the day-to-day life of the church in our country.

Receive this petition as a sign of our concern. We assure you of our prayers for the heavy responsibilities of your offices at this time.

You can sign the petition here.

Sunday, 13 February 2011

Confusing apples and oranges at the Cardinal Vaughan School

We have friends coming around for munchy-time this afternoon, so I was pottering around the kitchen at 7am in time to hear Sunday on Radio 4. Among other matters this morning it reported on the ongoing controversy at the Cardinal Vaughan School. The basic story, as we know, is that the school has maintained a thorough Catholicity test for parents/children applying for places there, while the Diocese of Westminster is battling to reduce that test to a basic sacramental minimum. The controversy rumbles.

The effect of this change, according to the diocese, will be to open up the school potentially to all Catholic children in the area, not just those with mustard-keen parents. The suspicion from the diocesan point of view (nobody has said this, at least I don't think so!) is that the local middle classes have seen the opportunity to use the CVS as a free school for those lucky enough to be Catholic or sneaky enough to simulate sufficient devotion and commitment.

The effect of the change, according to the parents' group, will be to water down the Catholic ethos of the school and reduce its effectiveness in preparing their children for life as faithful Catholics. The suspicion from their point of view is that the diocese is dabbling in social engineering because the CESEW is stuffed with not-so-closet New Labourites who want a broad, socially sensitive Church, not an orthodox, prophetically exigent one. They also allege that the diocese has body-snatched several governor's posts, in a long-term campaign to dominate the board of governors and thus get the admission policy changed. This matter is currently the subject of a court case.

Well, this is one of those concrete situations where the issues are never as simple as we would like them to be. Still, the objections which I heard cited this morning from the diocese's perspective were pretty thin.

The first of these was that there are many Catholic parents who have lapsed today, and making Catholic schooling available for these children would be an excellent outreach initiative. The second objection seemed to be that the CVS's stringent selection measures would be very hard on, for example, refugees who cannot prove their sacramental bona fides. The third argument was that the CVS parents cannot dominate the school in this way because they are only temporary occupants of what is a diocesan school.

Before we consider these arguments in turn, it is worth pointing out that they all share in the same fundamentally wrong assumption if the Catholic Church runs an education service, parents should come to it, cap in hand and very grateful for what it manages to dole out to them. Er, no, actually. The parents themselves have the duty of educating their children as Catholics by virtue of their covenantal promises made to God on the day of their marriage. So, even Catholic schools stand in loco parentis. The parents are NOT, therefore, clients of the school; the Catholic school is, in a sense, the subcontractor of Catholic parents. But could not the diocese defend its position on the grounds that it is arguing for the rights of children whose parents cannot or will not act in their defence? No! Because that is a different function from standing in the place of parents who actually, really, actively want a Catholic education for their children.

This becomes all the clearer if we consider the three objections above. Should the Catholic school be a safety-net for children whose parents have lapsed? No! The school is only indirectly a tool for evangelisation; its primary function is building up the faith of those who are already faithful. That is not elitist, anymore than the fact parents feed their own children before feeding anyone else means that they are inegalitarian! If the diocese wishes to evangelise the lapsed, then let the diocese create its own opportunities for doing so, and let it not piggy-back on the efforts of faithful parents to educate their children in an atmosphere of fidelity and love.

As for the second objection, the same logic applies. The school can and should be involved in the corporal works of mercy by welcoming refugees. It is to be hoped that there are no bureaucratc hurdles in this process, such as unreasonable demands for paperwork that might have been blown sky-high back in Sudan. But those are hard cases. The school cannot decide its policy on exceptions! Systems do not fit all individuals. In any case, presumably if refugees could prove their commitment to the faith, what is the evidence to suggest they cannot obtain a place in the school? Again there is a confusion here between two different categories: the Catholic Church looking after displaced persons and the subcontracting of Catholic education to a diocese.

As for the third objection, we have already answered it. The building and services might belong to the diocese, but the educational role that the school assumes is entirely at the service of the parents who want to send their children there. The person who spoke in favour of the diocese was Professor Gerald Grace, a professor of education, so in a sense we cannot say his views are those of the diocese. Nevertheless, his argument is one in which the Catholic Church would absorb parental responsibilities into itself, like some pantomimic State.

If the Westminister diocese wants to set up a school for children whose parents are lapsed or whose family situations are difficult, that is fantastic! What it should not do is confuse that very worthy cause - a blend of the corporal and spiritual works of instructing the ignorant and clothing and feeding the naked - with its duty to provide a Catholic education service which properly corresponds to the wishes of parents utterly committed to raising their children in an atmosphere of Catholic fidelity and love.

Eek, I'd better get back to my roast!

Friday, 11 February 2011

A case of the Munsters? Part II

On Wednesday I posted reflections on the preamble to the recent statement by German-speaking theologians, but I left consideration of their proposals until now. We have seen a summary in the press of their agenda, but let us try and get below the surface as much as we can. The proposals are in italics with my remarks afterwards.

1. The faithful's participation is a touchstone of credibility for the freedom of the Gospel message. Following an ancient principle, what concerns all should be decided by all, and thus we need more synodal decision making. The faithful should have a say in the appointment of priests and bishops. What can be decided locally should be decided locally, and decisions should be transparent.

Well, yes and no. Catholicism always advances through a deeper understanding of the paradoxes of revelation, not through a rushing to one side or other of the paradox. One could argue that, hitherto, overbearing clericalism has in some ways strangulated some of the charisms which God grants individuals for the sake of the Church. Crikely, that is the story of half the saints! But then, one must also maintain that those charisms are not the only source of the Church's life. Not all of that which concerns all of us can be subjected to the judgment of us all (if you see what I mean). Part of the Church's credibility is not only the contribution of all the members to the working of the Mystical Body but also the order of that Mystical Body maintained by its chief members, especially with regard to the handing on of Revelation and the santification of the members of the Church. Some sort of democratic revolution, as proposed here, would only be the opposing vice of a debilitating clericalism.

2. Christian communities must be places where people share spiritual and material goods with each other. But now the life of the community has been eroded. The shortage of priests has led to the enlargement of parishes in which intimacy and membership can hardly be experienced. Historical identity and established social networks have been lost. Priests are "burned out". Believers will stay away if they are not trusted to take responsibility and participate in democratic structures at the direction of their community. The church office has to serve the life of the communities - not vice versa. Therefore, Church needs married priests and women in the church office.

Well, I was with them all the way until 'burned out'. They are right. All this is shocking. Ironically, it has come about in spite of (or because of?) the renewal that their immediate predecessors promised us. So, why do we now need yet more of the same revolution? I must say I also have my doubts about this idea that what people want is some kind of democratic vote in the Church. Yes, many laymen have views about this or that. Some of them feel strongly about the position of the statue of Saint Philomena, or the lack of parking available at the church. Most of them don't like being told to go to confession or do penance, though the Church needs to remind them all the same. But I hardly think the failure of the Church to listen to them is keeping them away. Most people have enough to do in running their own homes. The silliest thing in Proposal 2, however, is the conclusion about the need for female and married ordinandi. How on earth is that logical? The logical conclusion to this proposal is that the Church needs more priests. What we have here is accurate observation at the service of unproven ideology.

3. Legal culture: the recognition of dignity and freedom of every person shows up precisely when conflicts are resolved fairly and with mutual respect. Church law is worthy of the name only if the faithful have real rights. Law and legal culture in the Church must be urgently improved, and a first step is to develop the Church's administrative jurisdiction.

Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear. Here was I assuming these theologians had a sophisticated ecclesiology. Instead, they have some kind of bastardized model of a contractual society with a few wafts of religiosity here and there. In their minds one side of the paradox of the Church masquerades as the answer to all our problems. Yes, the faithful have rights, but they also have duties. Where is the language of duties in these proposals? I'm not sure you will find the words 'rights' in the letters of Saint Paul, but you will stumble across the expression obedience of the faith (or something approximating it) frequently. In any case, this language of rights is also indicative of a fundamental acceptance of the position that all our individualities are alienated and thus must be controlled by coercion. These theologians want ot talk of 'love' but their language of rights is more indicative of where they are coming from.

4. Freedom of Conscience: The respect for the individual conscience means to have confidence in the decision-making and responsibility of men. The Church must aim to support this ability and not become paternalistic. More seriously this affects the area of personal life choices and individual lifestyles. The Church's appreciation of marriage and the celibate life is beyond question. But by the same token we must not exclude same-sex partnerships or remarried divorcees who live responsibly through love, loyalty and mutual concern.

This is pretty bankrupt from start to finish, but let's isolate a few nuggets. Conscience is a question of subsidiarity, not of liberation. Indeed, when the Church presents something to our conscience, in most cases it is simply handing on the imperatives of the Gospel which we must then implement in our own lives (that is partly the subsidiarity bit!). There are large areas of our Christian life in which, according to subsidiarity, we constantly use conscience to guide us in matters where the Church has little or nothing to say: where we live, what job we do, what our hobbies are, the friends we choose - the fundamental stuff of every day living. Ah, but here's the rub. What these theologians want is for the Church not to propose the Gospel in those areas which affect life choices and personal lifestyles. To do this by implying that the Church's action in these areas is paternalistic is, however, a rhetorical decoy. The question is this: if the Church must preach against doctrines, like racism, which deform the dignity of the human person, how can she not preach against homosexual acts or remarriage after divorce which deform or illicitly simulate the dignity of the nuptial relationship? My own guess is that our German-speaking theologians don't mind the Church being paternalistic, as long as her paternalism serves their own principles.

5. Reconciliation: solidarity with "sinners" requires to take the sin in our own ranks seriously. The self-righteous moral rigour of the Church is not good. The Church cannot preach reconciliation with God, without reforming its own conduct. This is the prerequisite for Church's reconciliation with those towards whom it has been guilty of violence, by depriving them of their rights and by perverting the biblical message of freedom into a rigorous moral without mercy.

Oh, this is desperate! Of course the Church must reform itself, but so as to reimpose discipline, not to jettison it! In any case, what we have here again is the 'biblical message of freedom' without any reference to the duties or obedience which are also part of the Church's mission. As for rigorous morals without mercy, I have no idea what this can possibly be a reference to, unless it is simply code for the lamentable situation in which the Church preaches the Gospel Christ commissioned it to preach and not that believed by large numbers of German-speaking theologians. Indeed, the recent history of the Church has been one of reconciliation, an end to excommunications (apart from a couple of famous ones), and the elevation of the Divine Mercy. What monstrous authoritarianism has taken hold in Germany, Austria and Switzerland to have triggered Proposal 5?

6. Worship: The Liturgy lives on the active participation of all believers. Experiences and expressions of their presence must have a place. The service must not freeze in traditionalism. Cultural diversity enriches the life of worship and is not consistent with tendencies of centralized standardization. Only if the celebration adopts the concrete life of faith will the Church's message reach the people.

Yes, the liturgy is about us and celebrating us and our feelings and our emotions and our needs and our culture... Or is it? This view of active participation is inward looking, and hardly engages for a second with what the liturgy reveals to us about God, or with the effects of the sacraments. Of course the liturgy must not freeze in traditionalism. But neither must it be hijacked by a constant fadism! The German-speaking theologians here are once again at the lone end of a paradox. It's no wonder they are struggling.

The Church will begin a dialogue process leading to liberation and awakening, when all are prepared to address the pressing questions. It is through a free and fair exchange of arguments that solutions can be found to pull the Church out of its crippling self-managment. We must not be inactive. Fear was never a good guide in times of crisis. Christians are encouraged by the Gospel, to look to the future with courage and like Peter to walk on water. As Jesus said, 'Why were you afraid, oh ye of little faith?'

Awareness of problems, frank discussion, activity, fearlessness, courage: all good ideas of course! But we might be reading a party political statement were it not for the waft of religiosity at the end. Do these people believe in Jesus? Well, why don't they invite us to pray about it, or would that be paternalistic?

We have at the heart of this document one key phrase on which we must keep an eye: 'the gospel message of freedom'. What does it mean for these theologians? In short, it means that nobody can tell me what to do; the Gospel says anyone telling me what to do is committing violence against me; the Gospel says my part in the Church is like that of a democratic citizen in a Nation State. That, for these theologians, is the Gospel message of freedom. And their view is that the current crisis in the Church, especially after the abuse scandals, comes from a failure of the Church to live out this message of ecclesial liberty.

One hardly knows what to criticise first: the shallowness of thought, the hand-me-down liberalism, the theological language sellotaped over a secular, ethical agenda, the dishonesty in labelling the Church rigorist, and the self-absorption that wishes liturgy to be about us more than it is about God. Let us be under no illusions. Nothing redeems this document from its own baseness. Even its accurate observations are instantly put to work in support of a purblind ideology not of liberation by the gospel but of liberation from the gospel.

What ultimately reveals the paucity of thought behind this document is its failure to recognise that paradoxical nature of Christian revelation. These people call themselves theologians, and yet all their analyses - on conscience, on governance, on worship, etc - are based on one-sided accounts of some mystery which is so much larger in reality.

Every one of these men will have a doctorate and, at least in Germany (I don't know about the others), will have passed their habilitation which enables them to teach in university. So why does this document read like it was written by a clique of jabbering Calibans, leering and whining, unable to cope with the demented picture of the world which their ramshackle ideology presents to them?

I disagree with Peter Seewald's judgment that this document is a rebellion in a nursing home. If these proposals represent the opinions of a third of Catholic theology teachers in Germany, Austria and Switzerland, then let us be under no doubt that in German-speaking lands, a great and terrible darkness has descended.

Thursday, 10 February 2011

Munsters Part II tomorrow

My wife just told me she knew very well I wouldn't blog Part II today. Sheesh, three months married and she's got my number already!

Anyway, Part II on Friday, since I'm not commuting tomorrow

Honestly, as if I were paid to write this drivel!

Wednesday, 9 February 2011


After all that hard work in the last post, a little light relief. This is hypnotic. And it includes the very first virtuoso bone player I have ever seen.

Greeting to Berenike who posted it on FaceTube ;-).

A case of the Munsters? Part I

While I have seen a number of people allude to the recent statement of German-speaking theologians on the kinds of reforms needed by the Church, I have yet to see anything other than a broad-brush account of their views. So, with my non-existant German and Google Translate, I have just been trying to make sense of what these theology professors actually said, as reported in nearly a week ago.

I'm not sure it was worth all the trouble but the memorandum is at the very least illustrative of the capacity certain groups have for opportunism, cheek and mindless repetition of exhausted, bankrupt ideology. Still, I'm getting ahead of myself here. Let's take it bit by bit. I provide you with a precis rather than the garbled Google version. I am making allowances for the problems of the text as I have read it. Here is Part I, and you'll get Part II tomorrow.

The document opens with a preamble observing that one year ago the scandal broke of a high-profile abuse case at the Jesuit Canisius College in Berlin. This crisis, the theologians claim, has thrown the German church into crisis because of revelations concerning the abuse of victims and attempts to hush it up. And this, they conclude, has proven to many the need for reforms.

Well, I'll say. Let us start with a moral theology that has some backbone instead of the various theories that avant-garde theologians have been hawking around seminaries and university campuses these last few decades. Let us start also with an acknowledgement that abuses were not only the result of erstwhile clericalism but also of the let-it-all-hang-out praxis of the 1960s and 1970s, and indeed, the result of a residual clericalism after Vatican II that hid itself under the guise of sandals and rainbow stoles. I'm with them so far, aren't you?

This has raised hopes but also fears for a dialogue about Church structures and the responsiblity of churchmen and laymen with regard to morality and sexuality. Will the chance to escape from paralysis be lost? A free and frank discussion is not easy, especially given the imminent papal visit. So this abuse crisis gives us an opportunity to talk about such things. It is our duty as theology professors to make 2011 a year of upheaval. Many have left the Church or privatized their faith because of these recent events. The Church must understand these people and escape from ossification to regain credibility.

They lost me there. Surely Pope Benedict is preeminently a pope of reasonable discussion. He just believes that the point of discussions is generally to come to a conclusion and stick with it; not perpetuate the discussions until those who whinge loudest get their own way. We must share the theologians' concerns over the lapsed, but why have these people gone? Have some theologians not often sold them ridiculous expectations of the extent to which the Church must and can change? And is it not, therefore, the builders of these expectations rather than the Church who are responsible for these losses? I agree that credibilty is something the Church must regain, but there is all the difference in the world between credibility and acceptability (which, I suspect, is what the code word 'credibility' means).

The Church must not be afraid of outside criticism in this reform process. And the public must be involved if the Church is to win back credibility. The Church is not an end in itself but it there to preach the Gospel. This involves recognising all as God's creatures, their freedom of conscience, rights, and a commitment to law and solidarity with the poor. Thus love of God and neighbour are concrete.

Well, I understand how those things relate to love of neighbour, but there is not much about love of God there. These theolgians might reply that love of God is utterly implicit in love of neighbour but that is insufficient for us to explain the necessity of the theological virtues whose proper object is God, not creatures. I'm not separating the two; I simply find them dangerously conflated in what these German theologians are saying.

Vatican II was ahead of the game in recognising people's maturity, responsibilty and freedom. Moreover, society needs this Gospel-based critique, especially where the dignity of man is not respected. Thus this message of freedom must now shape the actions of the Church and invites dialogue about a number of areas.

Well, this sounds like a spin on the Council rather than the Council itself. If we are looking at what should happen in the Church we must refer to Lumen Gentium. This document, however, at a quick glance - and using its English translation - contains the word 'duty' twenty-two times but the word 'freedom' only nine times. Is it possible that in setting up 'gospel freedom' as a guide to Church reform these theologians have missed something crucial? I merely ask the question.

Are you dying to know what they actually think ought to happen? Well, I admit the press have taken most interest in that bit of the document, and it will hardly come as a suprise. I aim to cover it in a post tomorrow.

But just before I sign off I have to reflect on the staggering not to say brazen arrogance of the affair. They believe dialogue will not happen with the papal visit on its way. What they mean is they won't be able to have the kind of dialogue they want. And that is why they are shouting about all this right now.

I can claim no expertise in German ecclesiastical affairs, but this statement, signed by a large number of theologians, is surely significant: a significant threat and a significant opportunity. To my untutored eye this looks like a roll of the dice by a desperate intellectual class (and given the number of signatories, this document can surely lay claim to a certain representativity). The problem, however is this: how many bishops might back it? Indeed, how many secretely or not so secretely actually adhere to the fundamental lines of this screwed-up agenda? Therein lie the long-term dangers for the German church.

On the other hand, it is an opportunity too for the pope as much as for the cause of true reform in Germany. If nothing else these theologians are unveiling the very paucity of their thought and, in the same moment, the very baseness of their opportunism. This document is not so much a call for reform as a signal that they are short of answers beyond the mess of liberal potage you can read in any of the centre-left newspapers read across Europe. The theology of the preamble is short on faith and big on ethics, in ways that will surely not have escaped the Vatican.

Now, it is one thing to let the enemy set one's agenda, but it is quite another to find one's enemy revealing their weaknesses before you go to visit them. The pope must be rubbing his hands with glee. There is nothing this pope does better, or likes more, than instructing the ignorant. We must pray he finds German minds open.

And so to those reform proposals ... tomorrow.

German theologians gather to write their memo.

Tuesday, 8 February 2011

Jacques et Raissa Maritain heading for the altars?

Here is a story I have not picked up on until now: the Maritains are being considered for investigation into their sanctity with a view to their being raised to the altars.

The report is short on detail but raises some interesting issues, such as their joint path through matrimony towards holiness. Any thoughts?

Monday, 7 February 2011


There are, as far as I'm aware, only half a dozen people who read this blog. That's grand. The older I have become, the more hostility I have felt towards the club mentality of those with acceptable views. Various examples spring to mind. For life in academia these days, to be bien pensant (right thinking) is almost a more important qualification than a PhD. When I attended the Portsmouth Diocesan Pastoral Gathering in 2005, my announcement to the table of six delegates at which I sat that I attended the Traditional Mass (as we called it then) led to an atmosphere that made me feel about as welcome as a fart in a space suit. On the other hand, when I once helped out a schola at a traditionalist gathering, my suggestion that they sing a vernacular hymn at Communion (they had been short of ideas for a Latin one) was greeted with the sort of silence normally reserved for those who, in otherwise polite company, drink water with their soup, or refer to their 'serviettes' instead of their napkins.

Anagnostis - who will probably be the last, lone reader of my blog when all others have fled in boredom and disgust - asks me under a post below about the origins of irresponsiblity. I'm not sure I can even begin to adequately answer the question, at least so framed. But there is no doubt a link between modernity and irresponsibility, of that I'm quite sure. Let me explain.

Responsiblity seems to be something which see-saws throughout the changing phases of modernity. For example, Lutheran sola fide and Calvinist predestination, both of which I view as among the first shards of Reformation modernity, begin by placing responsible agency outside the individual and almost totally in God. The consequence: in the short term, intense asceticism, while in the long term, a disincentive for human behaviour (because my destiny does not depend on me in any meaningful way). We see a contrary movement in the advance of Enlightenment rationalism which seeks to take back all that responsibility into the hands of man (having previously given it over entirely into the hands of God). But that too is irresponsible in the same way back-seat driving can be irresponsible. But lo and behold, the age of reason is followed by the age of nineteenth-century science which attempts first to explain our thoughts by our chemical make-up (Taine) and then describes how our very identities, where we believe responsiblity lies, are a duplicitous sham (Freud).

Now, we are not responsible: our badness is society's fault (Rousseau), or it is the fault of our parents (Freud again) or it is the fault of our alienation (Marx) or it is the fault of the bad faith with which we refuse self detemination (Sartre). Genes are now thought to determine almost all we are or will ever be, and the rest is the fruit of cultural symbols which in themselves are merely the comforting, polished turds of a delusional civilisation. We are finally Straw Dogs, as John Gray, declares. 'Responsiblity' is one of those constructs which hides from us our real identity as pure, self-interested animals.

And as we have broken down the old, organic patterns of our culture, we find increasingly a sublimation of responsibilty into society-wide bodies. Schools educate our children; care homes take our elderly; bureaucrats rule the spending of our taxes; the media is responsible for our leisure; industrial farms grow our food and everybody buys rather than makes clothes - all of which must have happened in one way or another in the past, but not in a way that made our predecessors the professional consumers that we have become. All the time our responsiblity is sucked out of us from above and only returns to us in ways that we find unsustainable. Even the authenticity which our culture, above all others, seeks is anthropocentric and, thereby, sterile.

And that, if I may come back to one of my first points, is why I'm wary of clubs and club mentalities, and matey back slapping and partisan mistrust, and the binary construction of our social circles, as if we were already invited to make the division of the human race which belongs to God alone at the end of time. All these are an excuse for not taking responsiblity. All these are an excuse which allows us to believe that some code other than the love of God will enoble our choices and make them beyond reproach.

Does that answer the question, Anagnostis?

Sunday, 6 February 2011

Gary Moore, RIP

Sad news arrives tonight with the death of Gary Moore, one of the great rock/blues guitarists of his generation. He was 58. Moore was one of the first gigs I went to see as a slightly greasy, head banging teenager (hard to imagine, I know). Sometime in the show - I'd like to think it was near the end - he climbed the theatrical scaffolding at the back of the stage, stood in front of a bright spotlight and his guitar practically sang us the following track.

To the mercy of God, then, Gary.

Friday, 4 February 2011

Bishops, communion, the local and the universal

I'm afraid I just don't understand Fr Ray's posting of Thursday Anaxios. Fr Ray tells the story of a woman deeply scandalised by the actions of her own bishop. While sympathising with her, he reports:

Though I could understand her feelings I told her that if she was not in communion with her own bishop then she could not claim to be in communion with the Holy See.

Fr Ray goes on to apologise for not speaking up on this lady's behalf, which is typical of his kindly heart. But, it is the theology represented by the quotation I just lifted that troubles me. Surely, that statement has to be highly nuanced from a theological perspective but let us take a historical starting point. The fact is that down the centuries, numerous heretics and schismatics have started their careers under the shade of a mitre. One early example that springs to mind is Nestorius whose heresy led to the solemn declaration of the divine maternity of Our Lady. Now, it was precisely a layman who was the first to challenge Archbishop Nestorius publically on this issue. In fact, he took Nestorius to task, so I understand, during a sermon which Nestorius was preaching.

Now, wasn't this brave individual expressing his non-communion with his bishop in that very moment? And should we conclude that in that very moment the price of fidelity to the gospel was infidelity to the Church? Surely not. Surely, the issue of communion with one's bishop is posterior to one's unity with the universal Church. Wasn't this the very point over which Cardinal Ratzinger clashed with Cardinal Kasper some years back? The former held that the universal Church was prior by nature to the local, while the latter held the contrary position. Perhaps I oversimplify the issue, but I think if we insist on the principle of being in communion with one's bishop in order to be in communion with the Holy See, we are effectively prioritising the local over the universal. One could even ask who exactly is my 'local bishop'? Is it the bishop of the place I am domiciled? Or is it the bishop in those places where I assist at Mass? And how is my unity to the Church determined by such a pure accident of geography, especially when that principle is not itself indefectible?

I'm not for a minute here suggesting that the local bishops are merely the branch managers of the Church universal. But in this sense they definitely are: that all local churches are defectible parts of the Church! They are branches that fall off or that can be lopped off. The local church undertakes the various missions of preaching, sanctifying and ruling which derive from the commission of the Apostles, but none serve the role of the Rock save one.

So, what about this maximalisation of the local church? Call me a cynic but I cannot help but wonder at the convergence of this kind of thinking with a period in which bishops have collectively shown as much irresponsiblity as any previous generation, if not more.

But it seems to me there is a third way between the sedevacantist position of Fr Ray's interlocutor and Fr Ray's own position: that if the price of one's communion with the bishop appears to be a rupture with the Holy See, then it is too high a price to pay. Or, to take another parallel situation, the Nuremberg defence, in criminal law as in canon law, is surely no defence at all.

Wednesday, 2 February 2011

The supernova of liberal Catholicism


There has been a lot of comment this week over Tina Beattie's contribution to the Sunday programme on BBC Radio 4 last week. Fr Ray compares her to a future mother-in-law who has just met her son's new bride; James Preece highlights some of her befuddled logic about likemindedness; and William Oddie wants to know who she thinks she is.

But Oddie also arrives at this conclusion:

Those who think like Professor Beattie are in the ascendant [among Anglicans] and are in the process of suppressing those in their Church who think in a Catholic way.

In the Catholic Church, of course, the fact is Beattie is simply not something young, fresh and ascendant, neither theologically nor sociologically. What she represents is a classic stage of all revolutionary movements when mature upstarts treat their own categories as procrustean dogma. That is why she has the cheek to take a pop at the Ordinariate!

On the other hand, there are very few young Catholics who are consciously liberal à la Beattie. When they do adopt a line of doctrinal flexibility (or should that be 'flabibility'?) - as evidenced in Mark Dowd's programme back in September - it is generally because they never knew the doctrine in the first place. Beattie herself might plead the same, though her professoral status surely gives her responsibilities in that department.

And that's another thing. I cannot help thinking that some people might be bothered about Beattie because he is suffering here from an old British class instinct. Still, Beattie isn't professor at Oxford for crying out loud! What she does have is media leverage, possibly through her contacts, but above all probably because she both wears an establishment-recognised hat, and apparently shares many of that establishment's convictions. Am I the only one who cannot remember Beattie ever once defending an emblematic Catholic doctrine in the public sphere? Please remind me if I have forgotten.

So, the Beatties of the Church are far from in the ascendancy. The great irony of the 'tradition' (yes, hear the ironic ring) of liberal Catholicism, which Beattie appears now to epitomise, is that since Humanae Vitae it has both consumed many of its potential successors and broken the principle of magisterial authority which could have made it different from any other self-secularising strand of Christianity. I don't know where Beattie personally stands on H.V. either personally or professionally. For all I know, she might have ten children and be a defender of Evangelium Vitae ... Still in many other respects Beattie is part of a supernova; or to take another astronomical metaphor, we can be sure that sooner or later liberal Catholicism will collapse in on itself.

And so what if they have the microphones? As the great Andrès Segovia once remarked, people who use microphones just sound like they are in a tin box.