I cannot help but feel very angry that since the letter from the Archbishops of the four Provinces of England and Wales we have heard nothing officially from the Bishops or the Bishop's Conference on "gay-marriage". In the last few days I have received communications from several individual priests urging me to write to my MP or to the Prime Minister, I have also received emails from a few non-Catholic Ministers of Religion and a local Rabbi, and as it is Brighton from a group of Gay Christians who recognise the redefinition of marriage as an attack on the stability of the family but from the hierarchy there is only continuous silence.
Many of our Bishops are holy and all are good men but I am convinced it is the Episcopal Conference structure that keeps them from giving any leadership to the Church and the country. However if the problem is not the Conference then we do need to ask serious questions of our Bishops but they are not questions I can ask publicly as a priest.
A Curial Bishop once told me that a few Episcopal Conferences in the world give leadership but most frustrate it. In our case the Bishop's Conference certainly frustrates the accountability of individual Bishops to their Presbyterates and their people, an accountability which was in the vision of Vatican II, in its strengthening of the bond between a Bishop and his diocese. The principle of subsidiarity meant that Bishops spoke collectively only when really necessary and for "pastoral good". However what we have is that every action or more often inaction is based on collective responsibility, which means no Bishop takes responsibility for much more than minor administrative tasks in his own diocese. Little is their responsibility, all is the collective responsibility of the Bishops Conference or particular Commissions of the Bishops Conference. The Pope spoke about this in the past particularly in the 80s in the Ratzinger Report.
The decisive new emphasis on the role of the bishops is in reality restrained or actually risks being smothered by the insertion of bishops into episcopal conferences that are ever more organized, often with burdensome bureaucratic structures. We must not forget that the episcopal conferences have no theological basis, they do not belong to the structure of the Church, as willed by Christ, that cannot be eliminated; they have only a practical, concrete function. (The Ratzinger Report, 59-61)For years there have been mutterings about a rift been our Bishops Conference and various Dicasteries in Rome, this perhaps is an inevitable part of the life of the post-Concilliar Church, individual bishops are successors of the Apostles in their own right and not merely delegates of Peter. However the rift is more likely to come from the reliance on a process which seems designed to frustrate decision making.
Recently Archbishop Mennini suggested our Bishops should look at France for a model of action and leadership on the defence of Marriage. Sandro Magister gives a brief description of what is happening in there under Cardinal Vingt-Trois leadership.
Whether or not there will be the type of mass demonstration in our country as in France is uncertain, we tend not take to the barricades quite so easily but there seems to be a growing degree of unease about this issue as even the secular media begin to understand the implications of any new law that might be forced on the country by Mt Cameron. Few of the professional political class are willing to be stand out from the pack and risk being called "bigot" or "homophobe" or to be seen as out of step with the sacred cow of "equalities legislation", there is void that is crying out to be filled. Even in Ireland the poor beleaguered discredited Irish Bishops are taking to the streets and giving a lead in the current aborttion debate, they too are an example to our own Bishops.
No one would have bet on it. But after decades of invisibility and torpor, the French Catholic Church has returned vigorously to the public scene. It was a minority and a minority it remains, in a country where less than 5 percent of the population goes to Sunday Mass, and where baptisms of children are increasingly rare. But it is one thing to give up, to and another to be creative. That of "creative minority" is the future that pope Joseph Ratzinger himself has assigned to Catholicism in secularized regions. The Church of France is putting this to the test. The turnaround came all of a sudden. One sign of foreshadowing was, in mid-August, the prayer that the archbishop of Paris, Cardinal André Vingt-Trois..., had raised to Our Lady of the Assumption: "May children and young people cease to be the object of the desires and conflicts of adults, in order to enjoy fully the love of a father and mother." A furious controversy exploded, in a France on the path to legalizing marriage between persons of the same sex, with the possibility of adopting.
There is a point when failure to act or to speak becomes a scandal to the faithful, I think we have reached this point. The silence seems to indicate tolerance of the impending change in the Law or even assent, which is obviously not the position at odds with the Catholic Church. What can we do? The answer is sadly most probably nothing, because any decision to act depends on a collective decision.
Perhaps one might suggest that the Conference is negotiating quietly behind the scenes but again and again this seems to be inaffective, access doesn't not necessarily give influence, and indeed under the last Labour Government or this one, the Church's influence has gradually grown less and less.
Let us heed the words of our Nuncio and learn from the French Bishops