Friday, November 07, 2014

Faith Departed?

 Catholic Bishops and Anglican Bishops
It is easy to cast stones at dear old Mother Damnable but we tend to think we Catholics are a bit different. There was an article last month that claimed 2% of Anglican clergy didn't believe in God and 16% are agnostic, it went on to say
Clergy were significantly more likely to hold unorthodox beliefs the older they were and the longer they had been in the ministry. Nearly 90 per cent of those ordained since 2011 believe in God compared with  only 72 per cent of those who became priests in the 1960s, the research discovered.
I think actually more older clergy tend not to believe or have lost their faith.

Perhaps the fiasco  at the Synod has challenged such a one sided view, it is worth remembering the substantial agreement that ARCIC has reached (until the CDF got hold of the documents) to realise that between the CofE and many Catholics there is hardly the difference of a cigarette paper's depth.

A friend of mine has taken over a parish which was run for a decade or so by a priest who had lost his faith and last year those splendid young Irish Domicans expelled an ancient biblical scholar who had for years gone around saying he didn't believe in God and trying to undermine the faith of others. Many younger clergy had speculated that a recently retired bishop was really an atheist or at best agnostic. During the abuse crisis it struck many as odd that abusing priests could ascend to the altar or pulpit and offer the most Holy Sacrifice or preach as if nothing had happened, not believing could be the only excuse.
I loathe clergy meetings, after a bit of praying at the beginning God tends not to get a look in when we make plans for his Church and his people. I had somehow hoped that meetings of Bishops might be different, and Synods in the Holy See would be even more different but as it turns out ..., well look at the mid-term document of the Synod: God was decidedly absent, deliberately excluded.

There are some pretty obvious signs of non-belief; being content to remain in mortal sin is pretty obvious, never speaking of God might be another, perhaps having cob-webs in the episcopal chapel or not having one another might be another, never praying unless there are others there to be led is another, finding people with faith tedious or not being able engage with them presumably is another sign. The surest sign of a priest or a bishop without faith is the fruitless of his parish or diocese, no vocations, emptying churches, a lack of love or concern for the liturgy and most of all for the reverent celebration of Mass, a lack of concern for souls and morality, and above all a lack of growth, a lack of holiness. 'By there fruits you shall know them'.

I am told if you want to be a priest nowadays psychologists have devised some pretty tough tests, just to make sure you are telling the truth, and not a pederast or mad, surely it would not be too difficult to devise some test for faith. I would love to make it a rule that only priests with faith could become Pastors of a parish and certainly only priests with burning faith, that catches others alight could become bishops. I don't know how you ensure that, any ideas?
Lord, give us holy priests and even holier bishops!


Tristan said...

Dear Fr Blake,

May I gently ask you to rewrite your post? I do not think the actual wording of the survey suggests that the clergy quizzed were agnostic or atheist.

See the survey data, page 23 here:

They were asked if 'No-one can know what God is like' well, mystics and theologians have wrestled about that for a while. The whole via negativa and all that.

When they were asked 'I am not sure ‘God’ is more than a human construct' I would not read that as atheist, but rather a critique of a theological construction of 'God' - if the average person in the pew of an RC church was asked what 'God' was like, you'd get some pretty strange answers, I'm sure.

The following question, about different paths to God, well, yes, that's disappointing, but you'll find liberal universalist members of the Roman Catholic church if you look hard enough.

Independent said...

I am reminded of the old comment that clergy are like manure as spread over a large area they may do good but in a heap they stink.

JARay said...

Questionnaires are, more often than not, deficient. When faced with such a document I often say to myself "That's a silly question" and "I wouldn't put it like that" and "I'm not answering that question". What exactly was the point of this questionnaire?

Sadie Vacantist said...

The last two ordinaries of the diocese where I reside struck me as having "issues". The most recent of the two probably believed out of necessity as he was homosexual but he was rarely at ease. His predecessor was just a non-believer but his late predecessor was a man of faith and possessed palpable holiness. I know nothing of the new man but at least he is bright.

Egbert Brie said...

If choosing suitable candidate to the priesthood were a business and my family would either eat or starve based on the quality of my choice, I would insist on the following:

1. that he could walk and talk me through what happens a Traditional Latin Mass to demonstrate his love and understanding. We would spend at least a few hours getting to into specifics of what he already knows and understands of each part. Almost like an intense audition. I would record the interview. If he had little understanding & knowledge & love for the liturgy (he would have to give an account of why he loved the Sacrifice of the Mass and why he thought he was worthy to offer it as a priest).
2. I would be very keen to talk about the role of prayer & the Rosary in his life and to ask for tangible proof of whether or not he had ever brought anyone into the Church.
3. After being satisfied with his individual interview I would have need to see what he was like in a group through various discussions and workshops with similar candidates. You want to test for a discerning mind that is socially at ease (i.e. not anti-social) and yet understands that a priest has to sometimes get used to being in a minority of one to speak the Truth and also to be the first scapegoat. Any tests, role-play or psychological games that can demonstrate a mind able to stick to proclaiming the Truth with charity would be very useful. Being a priest calls for tough and manly and kind heroes - it's like the wild west out there!

Long-Skirts said...

Tristan said:

"but you'll find liberal universalist members of the Roman Catholic church if you look hard enough."

Look hard?!! Oh, you don't have to look hard, Tristan. Jesus Christ is God and we mothers who know that have produced sons to be Alter Christuses and they are multiplying...


In the fifth,
Sext or six
Melts the wax
Of candle sticks.

May moon, full,
Begins to wane,
Shadows race
Across the plain

Reaching gulfs,
The ocean tides
Break on beach
Where pride presides.

Cassocked in,
The thickest fog,
Plodding cross
The marshy bog.

Maddening moons,
Through the fire ---
Near the depths
He wends on higher.

Many years,
Breviary tattered,
Deep in mists
His strength unshattered.

'Gainst black storms
Wet linen heavy,
Soul after soul...
Gives his life for each bevy.

And when he is called,
Because souls really mattered,
He will enter Reward...
With his breviary battered.

BTW, my husband is a Clinical Psychologist, Ph.D. who knew to let the Traditional Priests teach the Baltimore Catechism to our boy who is to be ordained next year, June of my husband to death but would NEVER let him try to discern a priestly vocation as both he AND I know how limited psychology is in that field of work where even, "angels fear to tread!" ;-)

GOR said...

Your post, Father, reminds me of an exchange on Yes, Prime Minister back in 1986:

Sir Humphrey Appleby: The Queen is inseparable from the Church of England.

Jim Hacker: And what about God?

Sir Humphrey Appleby: I think he is what is called an optional extra.

Jim Hacker: Humphrey, what's a Modernist in the Church of England?

Sir Humphrey Appleby: Ah, well, the word "Modernist" is code for non-believer.

Jim Hacker: You mean an atheist?

Sir Humphrey Appleby: No, Prime Minister. An atheist clergyman couldn't continue to draw his stipend. So, when they stop believing in God, they call themselves "Modernists".

Unfortunately, the same could be said of some Catholic clergy today…

Annie said...

Egbert Brie,

"I would be very keen to talk about the role of prayer and the Rosary."

I'd go further and make him say them to see if he even knows them.

Long-Skirts said...

Gor said:

On, Yes, Prime Minister...

"An atheist clergyman couldn't continue to draw his stipend. So, when they stop believing in God, they call themselves "Modernists"" true, so true!!


And the Word was made Flesh,
But does that really mesh
With authentic faith and dialogue today?

‘Cause at Eucharistic meal
Which is no big, bloody, deal
We smile and our mistakes are washed away.

We gather round the table
To hear a gospel fable
From Father Bob, the celebrant divine.

Never kneels, he always stands
But he runs to shake your hands,
Then he sits a lot, perhaps a weakened spine.

The ladies and the girls,
Their ministry unfurls,
A Eucharistic minister’s sensation.

With servers and the cantor
They have a playful banter
Then bread and wine, it’s time for celebration.

As the people we all sing
But the bells they never ring
For they took away the Words that made His Flesh…

For a Corpus? That’s too rough,
There’s no need for violent stuff,
That’s as welcomed as a Brit in Bangladesh!

gemoftheocean said...

Nothing sadder than a priest or bishop who has lost the faith. I left one parish (after being there nearly 40 years) when I assisted at Mass as EM (The deacon was out) and the pastor YELLED at me for chasing after a woman who'd walked away without consuming the Host. He said "do that again and you're gone" and I immediately turned and said "I quit now" I put the ciborium on the altar and walked out right then. I didn't see any other valid option I had. If you don't believe in the Real Presence enough to protect it, why the hell are you a priest? Far as I am concerned, he failed job one. NEVER got an apology either, even after a complaint to the bishop. Glad when he was forced out after retirement due to age.

I do not by any means hate the NO, but I would be VERY leery of a priest who did not say the office regularly, or pray the rosary. I also DO think they ought to consider putting back some of the omitted prayers from the TLM. Because I can't imagine a priest even daring to do some of the things they do if they said those prayers regularly.

I was LESS than thrilled of the survey that said only something like 25% of younger US Catholics believed in the real presence as opposed to something symbolic. You have to ask what kind of preaching they've been getting. The Lectionary really should be amended so that the John 6 readings should be done EVERY year, not just cycle B. And if I were able, I'd propose that the Latin Rite add the prayer said by the Eastern Byzantine Rite congregation, just before they receive Communion:

"O Lord, I believe and profess that You are truly Christ, the Son of the living God, Who came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the first.

Accept me as a partaker of Your mystical Supper, O Son of God; for I will not reveal Your mystery to Your enemies, nor will I give You a kiss as did Judas, but like the thief I confess to You:

Remember me, O Lord, when You shall come into Your kingdom. Remember me, O master, when You shall come into Your kingdom. Remember me, O Holy One, when you shall come into Your kingdom.

May the partaking of Your holy mysteries, O Lord, be not for my judgment or condemnation but for the healing of soul and body.

O Lord, I also believe and profess that this, which I am about to receive, is truly Your Most Precious Body, and Your Life-Giving Blood, which I pray, make me worthy to receive for the remission of all my sins and life everlasting. Amen.

O God, be merciful to me a sinner.
O God, cleanse me of my sins and have mercy on me.
O Lord, forgive me for I have sinned without number."

Sadie Vacantist said...

I am not optimistic in the short term. It's not even clear that a priest will now come to my deathbed. Why would he bother? We are being denied our own faith even at the point of death. I guess the Church has been here before throughout history.

What will be required is a massive change in geopolitical circumstances and for healthy secular ideas to seep into our collective consciousness as opposed to the unhealthy ones which have produced this unhappy synthesis.

Nicolas Bellord said...

Sorry Tristan but it is possible to know what God is like to a limited extent and the penny Catechism encourages us to do just that.

The classic definition of an agnostic is someone who says that it is impossible to know about God so surely anyone agreeing with the statement 'No-one can know what God is like' is by definition an agnostic.

If you are not sure that God exists then surely you have no faith.

Jacobi said...

@ Long Skirts

If I may digress a little.

Your “comments” are great. Keep them coming.

Jacobi said...

We have heard recently of how in the bad old days of LATIN, the priest would mumble quickly through the Mass, etc, etc.

Well at weekday ay Mass this week, we had a new priest due to “diocesan reorganisation”. Probably post- Vat II ordination.

He must hold the world record for the quickest Mass ever, Latin or the vernacular.

The Mass was said without any discernible feeling, and in a monotone. Short sermon which was an exact repeat of the Gospel we had just heard. At the Elevation the Host was waved casually, one–handed, in the air.

I receive by mouth and the Host was literally thrown into my mouth along with a thump on the side of my lip. Now under different circumstances, I would have invited him round the back to settle the issue as in the age old custom of my part of the world, but I decided that wasn’t really appropriate.

Mark you, I think he wasn’t quite sure since he disappeared quickly after mass without talking to anyone.

Oh we do live in interesting times.

Thomas said...

When I was younger I did not live a good life, but I certainly believed in God. There was a good deal of attrition and an equal amount of self-absolving and excusing going on. It is true that committing grave sin is tantamount to "atheism of the heart", living as if there was in fact no God by denying the reality of his presence and his rule over your own conscience. This can become a sort of spiritual schizophrenia (and, of course, hypocrisy) as the gap between what you say you believe and the life you lead becomes chronic.
This need not involve actual atheism, and in many people in my experience, it does not. However, I think it runs a real danger of actual loss of faith in many cases because it gets easier to deny God altogether and be rid of the burden of guilt, rather than addressing the true causes of that inner pain and repenting of your sins. But I think there are many people, probably priests, bishops and cardinals included, who try to keep one foot in and one foot out of God's kingdom by seeking to bend the Church (and creation and even "the Mind of God" itself) to suit their own compromise with weakness and temptation.
There are even some people who publicly proclaim themselves to be atheists but secretly hate the God they actually know exists. I have read one humanist campaigner, for example who said that he did feel the intellectual power of arguments for God's existence but simply didn't want that sort of absolute, monarchical godhead to exist, and so rejected it with vehemence (a chilling position to be in, like the demons who believe but hate!). This sort of thinking lies behind Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy, in my opinion.
For myself, I thank God daily that in his immense mercy he eventually led me through (and still is) a painful but joyful awakening to the immoveable Reality of Himself, and therefore the reality of who I am in his presence. I am still discovering who God really is, and it is always different from what I expected or thought. This for me is the true "God of Surprises", but it is all on His terms, not the ones that I lay down or would rather have His Church teach me.

Sixupman said...

A parish in the South-West, where circumstance forced me to attend, had a PP who mimicked the CofE with the liturgy. Both he and a locum priest [ex CofE vicar] actually preached against the Magisterium in unequivocal terms.

A priest friend, in Scotland, had his bishop preach at an anniversary of that priest's ordination. He preached against the "Ordained Priesthood" and for the "Priesthood of the Laity" and looked forward to the eradication of the former and the rise of the latter. The diocese of course a veritable desert.

I swear the foregoing to be true!

Long-Skirts said...


November’s frost
Warmth melts the chill
At Mass alone
On Calvary's hill.

Where from its heights
Fierce, sleety, rains
Beat down upon
Stained-window panes.

At the Mass of all times
The Faith's never frozen
"Many are called...
But few are chosen”.

Lepanto said...

Someone I know attended daily mid-week Mass at a Church on his route to work. He did not know the middle aged priest who said Mass. One day, on his way out of Church, the priest stopped him and asked if he had time to join him for a coffee in the presbytery and he agreed. After some pleasantries over coffee, the priest asked him why he was at Mass each day and this person told him that the Church's position and Mass time were convenient to his workplace and start-time. 'Yes', said the priest '.. but I'm asking why would you want to come to Mass every day'. As my friend was giving the priest some of his thoughts about the spiritual efficacy of daily Mass attendance, the priest said, 'And you actually believe all that stuff!'. My friend, surprised, asked, 'Don't you?' and the priest said that he hadn't for years. So the Mass-goer asked him why he was still a priest and he replied 'Well, what would I do at my age?'

I wonder how many of these priests are out there who don't stop strangers to admit their lack of belief and what damage they are doing to themselves and their congregations.

Sadie Vacantist said...


The older amongst us have acquired the same sort of experiences to which you refer: a retired priest who told me that Martin Luther had been right all along; a priest in a Welsh parish who didn't believe in the Eucharist; a former seminary rector (since gone to prison) who mocked JPII as being out of touch with reality. I could continue.

The trick is to avoid these occasions of sin i.e. "refuse to go for coffee" in the context of your own anecdote.

Laura Cameron said...

Father, note the comment by Thomas. He is correct. Great sinners can appear to be atheists, but are believers who are merely fooling themselves. Or, I should say, they are being fooled by the world, the flesh and the devil. When I was young and leading a sinful worldly life, I did believe in God: but my God "wanted me to be happy".

I am a member of that generation which the Biological Solution will soon remove. But now, as the Psalmist says, "I know my iniquity, and my sin is always before me."
In Psalm 94/95 God says, "Forty years long was I offended with that generation". Whenever you pray that Psalm please think of me and my coevals and pray that God has mercy on our souls.

Kristin LA said...

Let me share something uplifting about a priest! We have had a visiting priest for a few months due to another's illness. Fr R seems very devout. He is very reverent celebrating the most holy sacrifice of the Mass; his elevation of the Host is about ten long seconds, which has the effect of so quieting a congregation of several hundred that you could hear a pin drop. I recently went to him for confession and he said prayers of exorcism for me! This was an "ordinary" confession, i.e., I had not dabbled in the occult, but he wanted me to repudiate any spirits that I had allowed to be the cause of persistent sins. Fr also asked if I pray the rosary every day. I certainly believe he does.
I don't want to neglect to praise my pastor, Fr L, who radiates his joy of loving Jesus and Mary and manifestly loves being a priest. I can think of other priests in my diocese who are inspiring and holy in the same way. Father Blake, I have no doubt you are a blessing to your parish.