Saturday, October 11, 2014

Wobbly Church: what does it mean to be Catholic today?



I suspect Paul VI was the last Italian Pope, if we discount the short reign of JPI; it strikes me he had Italian virtues and vices, a touch of 'Futurism" and a bit too prone to trust those who would betray him and not a very good organiser.
St John Paul II was Polish philosopher, so Polish in fact some suggest his encyclical are in part only decipherable to someone with an understanding of his brand of philosophy.
Benedict XVI was a German, a Bavarian, so anxious to avoid dictatorship that he appointed his enemies to key positions, to the point that his Papacy fell apart.
Francis is an Argentinian who has witnessed so much bad government, he is conscious of the dangers and seems to want to avoid the failure of his predecessor with a neuralgic fervour .
I am sure this poor summary but my point is that the Church in the last 50 years has wobbled from one point to another reflecting particular the concerns of Popes. Presumably when we have an African or an Asian Pope it going to wobble even more. Nowadays I meet priests who supported Benedict's liturgical initiatives and now have no time for them. They were Benedictines, they have become Franciscans. In a sense they are 'loyal Catholics', but with each Papacy they change, and will continue to change. Under Benedict they fought Relativism, under Francis they tolerate it.  We see that in parishes, a change of priest, often a drastic change of direction, the result is rarely growth, and often serious confusion, a loss of faith that results in lapsation. In the past the Pope was distant figure, who had no impact on the lives of the faithful but when the Papacy is writ large, in fact huge as this Papacy seems to be, and if the next Pope and the one after that are equally huge, and if the contrast between Popes is so great, can merely being 'in Communion' with Pope be the guarantor of Catholicism? For some already being in Communion with Francis means no longer being in Communion with Benedict, or Pius or Leo. The Petrine ministry belongs to the See of Peter, presumably, rather than to the individual who occupies that See. Teaching might not change but its presentation seems to be moving with revolutionary violence, that risks shaking the Church to pieces. The most affected are those who could be termed 'Conservative Catholics'. Trads hold on to Tradition, Liberals to Liberalism but when the tree is shaken so violently what do the Conservatives hold onto, are they going to be swept away in the tsunami?

Even for  Liberals there is problem, what holds them in the Church? Is it that the Church somehow does good, gives aid and education, produces an environment where 'human flourishing'', to use a catch phrase, takes place? We are really talking about 'cultural Catholics', united to the Church by 'works' rather than faith in Jesus Christ and his teaching? That might work for a generation or two, but in the Church there aren't many young liberals, they have all joined Greenpeace or become Feminists or are campaigning against fracking or for LGBTetc rights. The cultural ties and folk memory that bound their grandparents to the Church do not bind them.

I really am beginning to think that the Papacy, which Vatican II saw as the unitative, if it becomes innovative becomes self-destructive. The very purpose of the Papacy is to conserve that which was handed on to it. In the first millennium the faith of the City of the Two Apostles stood still whilst the world revolved, its lack of innovation made it the touchstone of orthodoxy during the Arian and Iconoclastic crisis and enabled it to be the memory of the Tradition of the whole Church. If the Church of Rome becomes the source of innovation can it also be the touchstone of unity? If not where can we find that unity, which after all was promised us by Christ? Can it exist outside of unity with Rome? The answer Orthodoxy and 'ultra-Catholics' come up with is that it exists within the Tradition itself, are ordinary Catholics going to come up with the same answer?

32 comments:

Woody said...

Yes.

Steve Calovich said...

St Paul the Apostle foretold the rebellion in the Church and even gave the remedy - tradition. If you want to be part of the solution today, join a Latin Mass Parish.

hughosb said...

For all his greatness, St John Paul II has left us a mixed blessing in elevating the papacy to pop-star status. When a bold pastor occupies St Peter's Chair, and can teach the Faith clearly and powerfully, then it can be for the good of us all. When it occupied by someone who does not have these qualities then doubt and unclarity spread like contagion.

Peter, whither goes thou?

Left-footer said...

There is, for me at any rate, a risk of ignoring this Papacy and retreating to the redoubt of Scripture (not sola scriptura) and Church teaching before 1958. Not a good idea.

Jacobi said...

Father,

It’s quite simple. Speaking as an ordinary Catholic, RE classes in the 50s, (not that we worried much about these things), Catholics are required to accept and believe Scripture, Revelation, and Tradition, as interpreted and expressed in the Ordinary Magisterium. That was the answer for RE exam, and still is, or should be!

Anyone who does not accept this is in separation from the Catholic Church.

Now heresies come and go and, boy!, don’t we have plenty at present including the biggest yet which St Pius X so precisely warned us about.
The biggest danger, however, is Secularism, something which is seeping into the Catholic mind. The acceptance of “Conspicuous Compassion”*, false “Pastoralism”. The desire to have our cake and eat it. And of course the focus is naturally on sex. As I have pointed out elsewhere no one gets uptight about disorientated gluttons and conmen and swindlers.

My RE teachers in the 50s would not have wished me to have to say this, but frankly, we have not been well served by our Popes since Pius XII.

Your remark about innovative Popes is bang on. The Pope is the Keeper of the Keys, not a glorified PR man responding to the current crisis the international Press decides to generate to keep up income from sales and advertising.

I am inclined to the hypothesis, perhaps thesis?, that we are in the midst of another Reformation. Muggeridge, circa 1985, is the earliest reference I have found to this.

One good thing Benedict XVI did was to coin the word “Continuity”. Somehow, I think the answer lies there.


* Patrick West

ps Father I detect you are getting a bit grumpy these days. They are not trying to knobble you like they did Fr Fin., I hope?

gemoftheocean said...

If the church could survive the Borgias
and all that Avignon business, it can survive Pope Frank. And sucks to the priests who pretended to be all for Benedict's reform of the reform. They must have been a) either suck ups without real love for the reform, just trying to curry favor to be on the "right side" or b) cowards. The are as bad or worse as he-who-shall-not-be-named.

Fr Ray Blake said...

Gem, It didn't quite survive the Borgias, we had something called the Protestant Reformation, if you recall, and so many were lost.

George said...

Part of the remedy is to remember the words of that great Catholic apologist, Voltaire, when he said "tend to your own garden."

Any authority (be he the father of a home, the father of a parish, or the father of a diocese) who uses Rome to excuse his own conduct will be held accountable at his particular judgement.

We must tend to our own gardens, taking moral responsibility for our own spheres of authority.

No one will force his way into Salvation, by stampeding through a loophole or ambiguity found in the deliberations of some Roman synod. There is no safety in numbers. We will all be judged by how well we followed our consciences. There will be no excuse-making before the Judge. Gathering up phony annulments or building up phony arguments about God's mercy will all be swept away in an instant before the Judge.

I will say this, however, truly good and orthodox priests always have surprised me with their pastoral applications of God's mercy. Normally these have been priests who were traditionally formed, or who traditionally formed themselves after seminary, and have been around for a while at the job. There sermons can be very serious and very strict, but their pastoral work (which few people tend to hear about) is almost entirely about mercy. Their private advice often times can be a "scandal to pious ears" -- meaning the pharisee within us all is better off not knowing about it.

Sadie Vacantist said...

I'm always struck by the prologue to "The Godfather" written specifically for the screen by Coppola from what he concedes is a coarse and banal book. During the prologue, the character Bonasera delineates his aggiornamento program to Don Corleone but further admits his project has unravelled. Hence his supplicant's status on the day the Don's daughter is to be married, believing for that reason his request will not be ignored.

Don Corleone's response is at once firm, humble and filled with wisdom. He understands the attractions of aggiornamento, as presented by Bonasera, but also explains that the project was always going to fail. There is nothing frivolous in his assertion but more an exercise in economy and common sense. All this from a fictional gangster.

gemoftheocean said...

But Fr. Ray, who is still standing? The Anglicans are on a downward spiral, and the Lutherans? Hardly a major player on the world scene. This. Too. Shall. Pass.

pascal788 said...

Pope Francis does not behave like a Catholic. Did he not say that God is not a Catholic. Well he is trying to confuse us.
Did he not tell a concubine (phone call from Argentina)that she could go to Holy Communion?
Is this how a Pope should behave? He just seems like a successful cleric who has landed the top job and he loves it.
I feel happier going back in time to the SSPX. Here there is no confusion only stability and tradition.

Pelerin said...

Oh dear - that was a depressing post to come home to after having been 'on a high' attending the Rosary Procession in London today. The Oratory was packed as usual and it felt so good to be Catholic. Everyone sang and prayed with their hearts.

I overheard one man say to another who had not been in the Oratory before: 'It's just like Catholic churches used to be!' I wonder how it escaped wreckovation?

Damask Rose said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Colin D. Corcoran, Jr. said...

In the end, you must ask yourself who is in rebellion - those who demand change in doctrine made not by a mere man - but Christ himself concerning marriage or those who would defend it. The Church is being rent in two - without tradition she is nothing, without infallible doctrine fully upheld she is nothing, The real aggressors are the progressive that would protestantize her as if their progressivism has resulted in waves of conversions, or increased mass participation. These progressives they are catering to what to CHANGE the CHURCH - Not BE A PART of the CHURCH. It's time for those in open rebellion against infallible doctrine be declared anathemas and removed from public ministry.

Just my 2 cents...
http://catholichusband.wordpress.com

Victoria said...

I am not across the ins and outs of politics whether civil or Church government.

How did Pope Benedict's papacy fall apart?

Anil Wang said...

I take the historical perspective. This isn't the first time the Church has been wobbly and it won't be the last. And after two thousand years of one religious order trying to rip out the throats of others, the Church remains standing.

To answer your question, yes the Church will find an answer, but not the one Orthodoxy and 'ultra-Catholics' come up. It's more complex. The Orthodox for the most part reject doctrinal development, even though all the Church Fathers accepted it. And since there is no living source of authority, no Magisterium, all doctrinal decisions not spelled out in Tradition are left to the bishop. As a consequence, many key vary dramatically from one patriarchate to patriarchate, and sometimes even within one patriarchate. And 'ultra-Catholics' think so highly of the pre-Vatican II Church that they are blind to the fact that all the Vatican II fathers were in the pre-Vatican II Church and were responsible for the Church after Vatican II.

I think the issue returns to the relationship between doctrinal development, the Magisterium, the sensus fidelium, and the Papacy. I think that Pope Benedict's Hermenuity of Continuity is the key. Each ecumenical council or infallible statement must be read in light of each previous ecumenical council or infallible statement and cannot contradict it. But that's not enough. It needs to be made concrete. It is my dream that the next Pope will make it a requirement that all Bishops and priest swear an oath to believe everything in the new Catechism, the Catechism of Trent, Vatican II, and the Council of Trent. And further make the infallible statement that anyone who claims that the new Catechism or Vatican II contradicts or superseeds the doctrines in the Catechism of Trent or the Council of Trent should be declared anathema.

Francis deSales said...

I wish we heard more encouragement on these Catholic blogs, it seems to be constant doom and gloom whoever the Pope is! I am a convert to the faith and love it, I wish there was a lot more coverage of everything that is working in the church, there just seems a lack of faith that Christ is with us generally. While all this naval-gazing is going on most people in the UK are completely ignorant of Christ.

I recently began studying for the diploma in the New Evangelisation at the School of the Annunciation in Devon. It was fascinating to discover all the ways other students are serving the church. Please more building up of the body of Christ and less tearing down. We want and need hope and encouragement.

Bonnie Pavlo said...

This is the first time I read you blog. I found it quite thought provoking. The points you raise have been a source of debate amongst my nearest and dearest. Looking forward to meeting you at Mass. Bonnie Pavlo

Sixupman said...

George [11/10/14 - 18:30] is correct, encapsulated as "lion in the pulpit, lamb in the confessional". But how many of present day clergy have such qualification.

R4's religious programme, this a.m.07:00, highlighted the problem of a completely lost generation to Catholicism. Apparent Catholic youngsters espousing the rubbish indoctrination heaped upon them over the years, reflecting the Franciscus/Kasper school of thought.

Just another mad Catholic said...

Damask Rose

By your standards Theodore and Marie Alphonse Rastibonne should never have been ordained, Mother Miriam of the Lamb of God O.S.B should never have been allowed to found a convent , St Theresa Benedicta of the Cross and her sister Rose should never have been allowed to join the Carmelites etc etc.

Please keep your anti-semitism to yourself, btw what evidence do you have that Paul VI or John Paul 2nds parents were Jewish and that that affected their papacy? Should the Church screen the familial background of clergy in order to make sure that there are no long noses or shylock's hidiing the family tree?

Gosh and there was me thinking we were centuries over the converso's contraversy.

Tony V said...

Damask Rose forgot to mention the first pope. 100% Jewish--oy veh!

Personally I think it was better back in the days of the Papal States. Popes were too busy trying to suppress democratic reforms that they didn't have time to meddle with dogma and liturgy. Once they realised temporal power was slipping away, they began to call councils to proclaim papal infallibility, declare unnecessary Marian dogmas , and finally wreak havoc with the liturgy.

Thomas said...

I don't ring up the Pope every morning to know what the Catholic faith is. I don't read the Vatican blog to catch up with every word the Holy Father utters. Yet I regard myself as an orthodox Catholic (perhaps "conservative" in some people's way of categorising these things). I fervently believe what the Church has defined and teaches in the Cathechism of the Catholic Church. I greatly value the Holy Rosary and Eucharistic devotion among other forms of prayer. I have concerns and question marks over some things that appear to be happening in Rome, but I am not afraid that the Church is about to fall apart. However, I do agree with Fr. Ray that raising of the papacy to a media personality cult is unfortunate. I have a great devotion to John Paul II, but it was something that seemed to happen, perhaps unavoidably, as a by-product of the impact of his immensely charismatic personality (although it actually began in the media with John Paul I). Actually, touching on a previous post, is we had greater clarity of liturgical and canonical disciplines, we would not be so open to following personalities and ecclesiastical fashions. I do agree that this has been a problem a local level for a long time, with parishes lurching from 'left' to 'right' or vice versa as parish priests change. Some variation of personal styles and pastoral priorities is inevitable and healthy, but the virtual schizophrenia of belief and practice that sometimes happens is unhelpful to the faith of ordinary people, to say the least.

Fr Ray Blake said...

I apologize for Damask Rose's comment, it was so long that it its anti-Semitic nature did not appear in the comment moderation window.

Thank you to those of you who rebuffed her comment which I have removed.

peter edmunds said...

I thought that the adulation of the Papacy began at Vatican I. I remember reading a long time ago that when the Pope went through Rome in his carriage (pre- Vatican I) half the people didn't notice and the other half didn't know who he was. I detect a real fear and anxiety - not just among Traditionalist Catholics but among ordinary types- about this synod and this Pope. We are fearful and full of "doom and gloom". I often wonder now why I converted to Catholicism,thus losing many friends and family members.

George said...

Sixupman,

Yes, many priests need further formation it seems.

But also, perhaps similar to Fr. Ray's comment about priests not saying daily mass regularly in days gone by, from what I've heard and read, priests did not hear confessions (other than in extremis) until several years into their priesthood. There was expected to be further growth/formation after ordination until they were qualified to hear confessions. With the priest shortage today this approach wouldn't work.

Some of the worst experiences in the confessional for me have been with newly ordained traditionalist priests.

Sean W. said...

A real fear and anxiety among ordinary Catholics? That has largely not been my experience. Check out Catholic Answers Forum or somewhere else, where the bulk of posters have already aligned themselves with the theological zeitgeist. The expression of reservations are reserved to the few isolated traditionalists who are quickly blasted as extremists, nuts, uncharitable, Pharisaical, and more-Catholic-than-the-Pope.

Sean W. said...

A major problem for me is that I no longer know whether I am even in communion with the Pope. He is clearly motivated by something that is altogether alien to the faith as I understand it and live it, but he speaks in so slippery a manner that I cannot even understand whether the defect is mine or his, and there seems to be no other "test" for my orthodoxy. The conservative Catholics you mentioned seem to be going the "whatever the Pope says, I believe" route, which is psychologically easy to bear, I guess. But it sure feels like it would be selling out for me to do the same.

T.Cranmer said...

'In a social milieu that encourages the expression of a variety of opinions on every question that arises, it is important to recognize dissent for what it is, and not to mistake it for a mature contribution to a balanced and wide-ranging debate.'

Let all real Catholics follow the teaching of Christ's Vicar on Earth, Francis.

Genty said...

Let all Catholics follow the teaching of Christ.

Joe Potillor said...

God help us...

Fr Ray Blake said...

Sorry DM, I found your comment deeply offensive and one of the ones you are trying to publish now is equally offensive.
Nothing more of yours will be published here.

peter edmunds said...

Sean W: sorry, I think that I was being overly optimistic. When I said "ordinary Catholics" I refer to the bulk of what we could call Conservative Catholics - those who go along with whatever comes from Rome, without any criticism (as opposed to Traditional Catholics who are anxious about official teaching since Vatican II) It's the Conservatives who received everything with delight from John Paul - altar girls -Assisi meetings - they seem to be the anxious ones now,for a change. A very worried Opus Dei numerary told someone I know to pray hard for the Synod that it "doesn't change anything". You are right, the vast bulk of ordinary Catholics are eager and expect change because "With this new Pope,he is capable of changing everything" and The Hills will be alive with the Sound of Music.