Friday, December 31, 2010

Bishop Burns: Paedophiles and Clericalism

One Bishop I know lives in the age of the Inquisition and will happily tell his priests, and anyone else who will listen to him, that complaints have made against them but then will neither tell the priest of the substance of the complaint nor who the complainant was. It can be like Spain during the Inquisition!

The bishops' role is primarily to be the foundation of unity and love within their diocese, principally by being the "Father in God" to their clergy it is sad when he becomes the source of suspicion and rumour.

Here is a rather strange sermon from one of our Welsh bishops, Bishop Tom Burns of Menevia, it starts off reasonably well, if a little confused, then becomes a rant.

Now which was the Roman Emperor who used to publish laws but in a way that no one was able read them? It is full of accusations which are made but not really identified. The 50 plus priests in his diocese must wonder if they are guilty of "clericalism" which he connects directly to paedophilia.
The link was sent to me by one of his priests.
The sermon seems designed to create an air of suspicion and a culture of mediocrity.
The concerning passage begins:
For priests who offended, [through the abuse of minors] I'm not sure that their abuses grew out of the rule of celibacy; abuse happens within otherwise good families too. I'm more convinced that it grew out of the clericalism of the past.
He does not quite identify what he means by "clericalism". He certainly does not identify it as that gross distortion  by his brother Bishops who covered up sins against God and crimes against children. Nor does he see it as that distortion faith by individual priests or bishops under that cover all of abuse of the faith, the Spirit of Vatican II, nor is it the absence of transparency of the Episcopal Conference.

He says, "clericalism risks raising its head today ..." it seems to imply he is having a go at young clergy, especially those who see themselves in the Benedictine and JPII mould!
... among those who again are looking for identity in status, not service. They want to be treated differently. There are those who set high standards of morality for lay people, while they blatantly violate those same standards themselves.
Status rather than service would be very sad but younger clergy seem to identify themselves as first of all serving God and by their service of him, serve their people. Immoral clergy have always been a scandal and Bishops have a duty to root them out. The moral standard is set by Christ and his Church, not by individual priests, except by their sanctity. If he knows of those who "blatantly violate those same standards themselves", which he seems to imply he does, he must act, we have had enough of cover up and double standards.

There are those who go to extremes to express the Mass in a particular way, whether it is in the Ordinary Form or Extraordinary Form, in a so-called VAT II rite or Tridentine Rite, through the "People's Mass" or the "Priest's Mass".
I am not sure what he is saying here, I hope he is not saying that those who care about the Sacred Liturgy are paedophiles or exponents of clericalism. As far as the EF is concerned, how can you go to extremes, it is so controlled?
Some want to put the priest on a pedestal, whilst the people are consigned to be privileged spectators outside the rails.
 Pedestals? Who is he getting at? Doesn't Redemptorist Sacramentum speak quite clearly about people having clearly defined spaces and places in the Sacred Liturgy? Invariably it is laypeople who put priests on pedestals, most priests know they are sinners and hate anything that hints of a pedestal.

Flamboyant modes of liturgical vestments and rubrical gestures abound.
Ah yes, I hate potato printed chasubles, is that what he is talking about? But rubrical gestures? If they are rubrical then they are correct, it is the non-rubrical gestures that is problem.
Women are denied all ministries at Mass: doing the Readings, the serving, the Bidding Prayers, and taking Communion to the Sick.
 If he hadn't mentioned the Usus Antiquior earlier you might think he was talking about that, and of course all the Eastern Rites, where the sanctuary was reserved to men. Any priest has a right to restrict serving to males only and if a priest can take Holy Communion to all his sick, he should praised not linked to paedophilia!
To many in our Church and beyond, this comes across as triumphalism and male domination.
And to many, it might be seen as reflecting the male nature of the ministerial priesthood and an opposition to a particular form of feminism that is becoming rife in England and Wales and seems to be a deliberate move towards encouraging female ordination.
This clericalism conceals the fact that the Church as an institution has often acted in collusion with what I can only regard as structural sinfulness. It has paid dearly for it and is untrue to its humble Founder, Jesus Christ.
I always get worried by those who talk about "the Church as an institution", it stinks of "that Pope", "those Bishops" "that Curia" and as for "structural sinfulness" well, prostitution, slavery and poverty are "structural sins" but structures only become sinful because of sinful people.
There seems to be a bit of that 1970s fallacy that Christ instigated a Church without hierarchy here.


Paulinus said...

Taxi for Burns!

Richard Collins said...

Sadly, Bishop Burns has made something of a reputation for himself in speaking out using the wrong words at the wrong time.
At a Requiem Mass for a young soldier killed in Afghanistan his sermon consisted of a diatribe against the shortcomings of the MoD in supplying the needs of the troops. This resulted in the parents of the soldier making a complaint and the Bishop having to make a public apology.

He is noted as being: " a liberal bishop whose recent public addresses indicate he has a dissenting view of Vatican II and opposes Pope Benedict's policies in particular the liberalisation of the Extraordinary Form". [1]
(Extract from

Dilly said...

I just looked up "Latin Mass" + "Menevia" and there is a thriving little revival going on, with regular discreet Sunday pm Low Masses in three centres, with some Sung - and a Saturday morning Cathedral Mass in Swansea.

As a middle aged lay lady busybody myself, I might one day write a short story. The plot would concern a person of similar age and class, but with an exagerrated sense of personal importance who bends a new Bishop's ear about the fact that her Myfanwy is not wanted on the altar, and that she herself is no longer required to go poking around the altar and the parish with the grandiose title of Eucharistic Minister. This fictional character would team up with others who prowl the diocese seeking the ruin of good liturgy and make a ruddy nuisance of herself. Any relation to the situation in Menevia would be entirely coincidental.

santoeusebio said...

Goodness me what turgid and impenetrable prose. But then our own bishop seems to have reverted to his previous vacuous trivialities where one wonders whether he will ever get to the point of feeding his sheep.

Nicolas Bellord

georgem said...

I doubt that many Bishops actually write their own stuff. Like CEOs they probably have a general train of thought and then leave it to a group of people to contribute their bit before one person tries to pull it together.
In this case, it doesn't pull together at all and I believe the bishop has been done a misservice in this instance.
I wouldn't say he meant EF priests=clericalism=abuse. But I am guessing that he meant extreme clericalism of any kind, etc. etc. That he was persuaded to name the EF in this context and others was utterly misguided.
That particular section of his homily doesn't sit at all with the rest. It reads like a list of liberal phobias simply dropped in.
What it demonstrates is that razor sharp thinking is needed by a bishop to understand what language means and how it can be misinterpreted.
Not much of that about, I'm afraid, even at The Vatican. Once the ectoplasm is out of the mouth, it's impossible to stuff back.

Anonymous said...

Bishop Tom is a very good Bishop. Those of us who know him have a great deal of respect for him.
Yes, he speaks his mind and no, he does not suffer fools gladly. Is that a crime?
He deals with complaints and discipline in his own particular way but he is a fair .
As far as I am aware, Fr. Ray has never served under Bishop Tom so how can he or any other passing blogger judge this man?
Bishop Tom does not deserve to be torn apart on this or any other Blog. Far too often the Bishops of E&W are considered fair game. We should leave that kind of thing to the likes of James Preece and his Taliban Catholic friends who-to their shame-have turned Bishop bashing into a sport.
If Fr. Ray or anyone else has anything of value to say, pick up the phone, have the decency and the courage to speak to His Lordship in person.

gareth said...

I read the sermon as trying to make the laymen [and women!] a priesthood, as a married man i have my vocation thank you.

Then there was this veiled attack on the "EF" - when it was clericalism that saw beautiful altars, altar rails, sacristies and more ripped out in the 70s.

More faithful want the EF than ever - yet it is being blocked by petty office politics and weasel words. This is against the wishes of the Pope!

If we should oppose any clericalism we should oppse that of the Bishops which stops the implimentation of the Pope's wishes viz the availability of the "EF" in Parishes.

Dorothy B said...

Very well said, Father.

Mike said...

The Catholic Church in Wales needs a strong Archbishop. Often mediocre men are appointed to Wales. There was even a plot to get Worlock as young bishop appointed to Wrexham so that he would be out of the way. I know the current bishop of Wrexham retires soon, so it will be a chance to put in somebody with a spine.

The current bishop of Wrexham has failed to deal with a bully priest who chastised his fellow clergy, the bishop and the faithful with a vitriolic blog. Also there is a huge crisis with vocations to the priesthood in the diocese. One deanery is staffed entirely by Indian missionary priests.

Fr Ray Blake said...

I can't think of any Bishop who is not "a good Bishop".

If I were a priest of the Bishop's diocese I would certainly challenge him about what he has said privately.

The Bishop himself made this public, I think it has now been published in Menevia Diocese Directory, therefore it is open to public scrutiny, it has a public impact.

Let us not fall into that trap of "clericalism" which says a bishop's public statements should not be questioned, we don't want "pedestals", do we?

Tom Sharpling said...

I agree with georgem in that Bishop Burns probably did not write the sermon. This is evidenced by the acknowledgement note at the end of the text. However,he did deliver it and thus took ownership of the ideas. One consequence of this (and the publication of the sermon in the Year Book) is an open invitation to debate.
Interestingly, thinking about what Robert has said about contacting His Lordship in person, Bishop Burns does not like to be addressed by this title. Liberalism or approachability?

Richard Collins said...

Dilly - it is not quite so rosy in Menevia. One centre, the main one, has just been folded by the Bishop; the other one is a once a month Sunday Mass and, yes, the Cathedral does do a Saturday Mass (in the main).

Anonymous said...

Mike, if you are referring to the priest and blog I think you are, neither he, nor it, could be described as "bullying". Frustrated, perhaps, conservative, certainly. But not a bully, and certainly not personally! Indeed, he is one of the few really trying to apply some of the "Benedictine" vision in the diocese.

Residing, as I do, in Wrexham, I have a great love for +Edwin. He is a kind, good, gentle Catholic Christian. If he has a fault, it is too much niceness (and ecumenism), not enough mettle in liturgical matters, and lack of understanding of the response the Church must make to the problems of the modern world (i.e. the problem of a generation, not an individual).

There are two appointments to be made in Wales in the next year (Archbishop and Wrexham), I really do just ask everyone to pray for those making the recommendations to the Pope!!


Anonymous said...

I have to agree with Mike about the deplorable state of Wrexham Diocese.
Moral is very low. A great contributor to this state of affairs is the priest blogger mentioned by Mike and Mystra. He is well known and the blog concerned was vitriolic! Mystra you are misguided if you believe differently.
He certainly did bully The Bishop, The Vicar General, fellow priests and laity. His ferocious attacks knew no bounds.
His blog disappeared but he never apologised for damage done and characters that were destroyed.
Bishop Regan should have acted swiftly and the priest concerned should have been laicise.
We are short of priests in the diocese and thankful for the CMI priests who work hard among us bringing their own gifts.
Clergy formation is poor and discipline is at an all time low. Bishop Regan concentrates too much on ecumenism, we are first and foremost Catholics. We are in serious need of a strong leader. A man who will not be afraid to bring his priests into line and build up this poor diocese for future generations.

Anagnostis said...

Forgive me, but there seems to be rather a lot of knee-jerking going on here. The bishop's sermon is not, certainly, the most felicitous literary effort in the world; and yes, he's clearly afflicted by the prejudices (together with the jargon) typical of his generation, and consequently blind to those crass manifestations of clericalism that have proved equally characteristic of it ("clericalism", like phariseeism, is almost always a matter of motes and beams). He does, however, speak the truth on a number of points, and the truth should always be welcome.

His impeccably Patristic reminder that the ministerial priesthood and the priesthood of all the baptised are both essential expressions of the one priesthood of Christ Himself is self-evidently necessary (judging by some of the reactions to it). Naturally, I'd reject his "sacerdotalist" understanding of the former, but it's characteristically "Roman Catholic" and ought to be Trad-pleasing, I'd have thought.

He is absolutely right too, to identify the culture of omerta surrounding clerical abuse as a noxious excrescence of clericalism; absolutely wrong, however to identify it with some older and abandoned model. Somebody ought to whisper "Weakland" in the episcopal ear.

Obviously he doesn't like, and doesn't get, neo-traditionalism. He can't help it. He is bearing a "burden of bad ideas" that make it psychologically all-but-impossible to disassociate certain very bad things which ought to be identified and roundly condemned, from a liturgical milieux he's been taught to despise. He needs prayers, encouragement, and thanks for the truth he's managed to articulate nevertheless. If anyone feels traduced or slandered, he ought to thank God for that too.

Adulio said...

Robert - another blogger profile for Austen Ivereigh/Jack Valero

Dilly said...

I am very sorry that Menevia is losing EF Mass Centres. The website I consulted was 2009 - so any losses since then speak louder than any sermon about what is going on.

IanW said...

Speaking as a convert, I've been dismayed to discover that clericalsim is not a thing of right or left in the Church, but a plague endemic across the spectrum. The sexual abuse scandals cited by Bishop Burns as an example of clericalism illustrate this: perpetration and cover-up seem to have occurred irrespective of position on theology and liturgy. Those who use the issue as stick to beat those of a different position are clearly part of the problem.

santoeusebio said...

I must say I am rather surprised to learn that Bishops sometimes do not write their own homilies. Where I go to Mass the priest invariably writes his own and very good they are too.

Generally I do not see our Bishop from one end of the year to the next and the only contact he has with me is the occasional pastoral letter - three or four times a year? I would be astonished if a Bishop had to employ somebody to write it for him. I would have thought such was his prime duty in feeding the sheep.

The trend of Bishop's not doing their own thing but relying upon staff and conferences to do the work for them is rather worrying. Just before Christmas the Bishop's Conference started lecturing the laity about domestic abuse (Have you stopped beating your wife?) which I found a bit rich after a year of reading about clerical abuse. Bishop Burns mentions the very small percentage of priests who did abuse. However what about the abuse of our children by sex education of the most disgraceful kind apparently indorsed by 100% of the bishops through the CES?

Nicolas Bellord

P.S. Please let no-one attack me for trivialising domestic abuse - it is however only one of so many serious evils in the world - I just think the Bishops should remove the beams from their own eyes first.

georgem said...

On the subject of language can anyone tell me exactly what Taliban Catholic means?
Is it the kind of phrase which tabloid headline writers like to think is achingly clever but which actually means nothing?
And if it does mean something, then wouldn't one almost certainly have to name the Pope as leader.
By the way, a happy New Year and peaceful 2011 to Fr. Blake and all.

JARay said...

I read James Preece's blog and what he has to say is spot on as far as I am concerned. To have him described as Catholic Taliban says more about the person making the accusation than it does about the subject of the accusation.
Here and now I recommend "Catholic and Loving It" as a blog to read.

Bryan said...

Another Bishop with common sense and who is a Christian - wow things are looking up for England and Wales.

Jacobi said...


A Taliban Catholic is any Catholic to the right of that, now diminishing, sect of Secular Catholicism which emerged sometime in the 1960/70s. It is used to include "Traddies", mainstream Catholics, and all who are loyally struggling on,wondering what further afflictions they will have to endure before the Barque of Peter is once more on a steady course.

santoeusebio said...

"Taliban Catholic" is an insulting term for fundamentalists used I believe by Ozzie Ivereigh and others. The suggestion is that they would use violence to enforce their views. Some of us might have a sneaking desire to see the return of the Inquisition but that is only on bad days. I understand that Ozzie and others are hoping for a new sexual ethic. I have been hoping for this for decades (fornication on Wednesdays, Adultery okay on Thursdays or something on those lines) but the liberals continue to disappoint me.

So I have had to fall back on fundamentalism which I define as saying the Credo (I believe) and meaning it. Yes "I believe" rather than "We believe". The latter means that I recognise that everyone around is broadly agreed on what we believe but personally I have some reservations and I expect everyone else has too.

(To be continued)

santoeusebio said...


But let me quote Ronald Knox: 'Let me direct your attention first of all to the use of the word "I". Surely that's curious, if you come to think of it? Surely saying the Credo ought to be a tremendous congregational act, uniting us in a common profession of faith, and surely at that rate it ought to start "WE believe"? But it doesn't, you see, ever take that form. Go out to Lourdes, and watch from the top of the slope tens of thousands of candles flickering there below, in the torch-light procession. So many of them, they don't look like separate candles; it is just a vast haze of light. And the people who carry them are singing Credo; Credo, not Credimus. And so it is at Mass. If you watch the Gloria, it is we all through, Laudamaus te, Benedicimus te, Adoramus te, Glorificamus te, and so on; we lose ourselves in a crowd when we are singing the Gloria. But when we sing the Credo, we are not meant to lose ourselves in a crowd. Every clause of it is the expression of my opinion, for which I am personally responsible. Just so with the Confiteor; it is always Confiteor we say, not Confitemur, even when we are saying it together. Why? Because my sins are my sins, and your sins are your sins; each of us is individually responsible. So it is with the Credo; each of us, in lonely isolation, makes himself or herself responsible for that tremendous statement, "I believe in God".

I expect you will think that I have been making too much of that, and rather wasting time over a minor point. Believe me, it isn't so. The reason why I want to give you this course of sermons on the Credo is because I want each of you to say it intelligently, thinking of what you are saying, meaning what you are saying, not just copying the girl next you, not just reciting a rigmarole of words which must be all right, of course, or the Church wouldn't make you say it. No, you are to say the Credo as an expression of your own individual point of view, giving it the full homage of your intellect, prepared to explain it to other people; if necessary, to argue it with other people. I, Mary Smith, believe in God.'

But I suppose the past is a foreign country and it is all different now from the days of Knox.

Nicolas Bellord

pelerin said...

santoeusibio - an excellent quote from Mgr Knox which I believe was from a series of talks given to a girls school.

Why did we ever have to accept 'We believe' for 'Credo' in English when at least two other languages (and probably many more)managed to translate it correctly? I look forward very much to being able to affirm my faith by saying once again at Mass 'I believe' in my own language. As Mgr Knox says by saying 'I believe' we are then personally responsible for the statement. It carries so much more meaning than a vague 'We believe.'

The Bones said...

Agreed. 'We believe' can quite easily turn into 'they believe' or even, 'we used to believe'.

JARay said...

Many thanks for that expose of why it is "Credo" and not 'Credimus'. My favourite version of the Bible in English is the Knox version which is in process of being re-published by Baronius Press.

Anonymous said...

William H: I clearly don't know the full history of that blog and its priest-author. I am going from limited personal experience, which has been generally favourable, and can say no more than that (except that laicisation seems a rather radical solution, a bit like cutting off your nose because you happen on a bad smell). It is possible that such vitriol may be one of the products of the low morale you speak of as existing in the diocese, rather than the cause. I do not know.

On the other hand, I think it is too easy to blame Bishop Regan. I do not put him above criticism, but neither do I think the fate of a diocese rests soley with the bishop, unless he actively stifles his good a faithful priests. I would say that the problem here is much more one of complacency and malaise. You say "discipline is at an all time low" and "clergy formation is poor". I know that a Bishop has to take responsibility for these things, but so do priests with their brother priests. And we lay people too, need to take some responsibility. Do we help our priests, pray for them, provide them with what is necessary for true Catholic worship, support them, if we are able do we give material support (time as well) or if competent do we encourage theological and spiritual growth?

We may need shaking up, which will be painful. I only hope it is the right kind of shaking (a strong man is much more dangerous in a strong position than a mild one) and you (and I) do not find that we get what we wish for, but not quite. Indeed, in my more maudlin moments that is what I forsee: a "strong minded" man who has "ideas" and wants to "do things" but just all those things I'd rather he didn't. Well, we must try and keep our chins up, I suppose, and trust in the Lord and that he has indeed out-clevered the clever as S. Paul says!

I still believe there are things happening here in Wrexham, the seeds of things, which just haven't reached a "criticial mass" so to speak. If we get a good bishop - not someone who will march into the Cathedral and start throwing his weight around - but someone on the model of our good Pope, clear of vision, certain of purpose, sure of the Lord's support, understanding of the grave difficulties the Church faces in the modern world, but meanwhile also asking us always to deepen our spritual lives and grow in love for and knowledge of the Lord, generous, kind, gentle, forebearing of faults and forgiving of weakness,then I think we will do well.

Oh and I shouldn't worry about "future generations" too much(the Lord's return will be as a thief in the night and all that) how about for this generation?!

Father Ray, sorry to post this comment here, but I really wanted to say something in reply, and obviously have no other way of doing so!


Anonymous said...

I think that VERY FEW clergy have a mentality of 'clericalism'. There are some clergy who are too fond of 'the good life' - a danger for all of us - though we have to take things in proportion : a good meal from time to time, and a time for relaxation, are good things. Our Lord did this too. Most priests are, indeed, conscious of their sins and the striving for holiness, while, in a loving manner, exercising their service of paternal authority. To label paedophilia with 'liberal' or 'conservative'tags is not helpful, and obscures the issue. Examples from both extremes can be given. However there is a positive 'clericalism' - a priest who is conscious of his priestly vocation and identity as a priest, which he tries, with God's grace, to live out in his life, including efforts to celebrate the liturgy well, with beauty, in fidelity with the Magisterium and Pope Benedict XVI. Purity of intention is an important motive in the exercise of priestly ministry. I, personally, think that Bishop Burn's comments were unfortunate. Perhaps he doesn't appreciate some of the bigger issues in the Church today, including the liturgy. Fr. A.M.

On the side of the angels said...

All so terribly sad....

Bishop Burns's comments are of course shameful, embarrassing, scandalous - and frankly? Disgusting!

Fr Ray: I'm sorry but be prepared for more of the 'Robert' ilk launching virulent attacks upon you.
It will get worse - certain persons [mentioning no names and looking at nobody in particular of course] seems to have decided that it's time to 'take out the Taliban'.

As always - this is a time for prayer, for Truth and for Love.

Richard said...

It is a shame to hear comments like this from a bishop. However, we must pray for our new nuncio. He has to find faithful shepherds for the dioceses of: Cardiff; Wrexham and East Anglia, and over the next 18 months or so replacements for: Brentwood; Plymouth; Portsmouth and Liverpool. A quarter of our bishops' will be replaced so there is a chance of real change. He certainly needs our prayers!

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