Sunday, February 06, 2011

The Centre does not Hold

Apparently one tenth of Irish clergy and a third of German theologians are calling for radical change in the Catholic Church. The normal type of dissident thing: voluntary celibacy, ordination of women,  openness to gay unions, presumably openness to contraception, abortion etc., less or no interference by Rome, etc. etc. etc. It is the same old stuff.

Both Ireland and to a lesser extent Germany are experiencing a huge hemorrhage of laypeople from the pews. I can understand, even sympathise with, Irish clergy who look around them and see all that has been built up by previous generations lying dust and ashes, and feeling that the status quo just doesn't work, that continuing on the present path is disasterous.

For Catholics elsewhere there may be less scandals, less need for society to shake off  DeValera Church/State legacy but the situation is similar,  the status quo simply doesn't work. There seem to be three possible answers:
  1. do nothing except to contain problems, which seems to be what the Irish bishops are accused of and  is I suppose the conservative position.
  2. Leave or distance oneself from the sinking ship, which is what most laypeople tend to do, in which case the Church becomes irrelevant except for rites of passage
  3. If one loves the Church then one moves either towards the "left" or the "right".
The movement to the "left" it strikes me is a really a continuation of the very things that have caused our problems, it is position favoured by the liberal establishment, an embracing of the modern world whilst rejecting social injustice, it is based on theology from below, concentrating more on the humanity of Christ, its celebration of the liturgy tends be a celebration of the community, it is democratic and best both theologically, morally and liturgically: Popes, saints, lay theologians and personal whim are all the same, except that personal whim tends to win out. It is attractive at first but then as in liberal protestantism it cuts mankind off from God. Scripture, Tradition, the Magisterium, the Heirarchy are not there to reveal God because ultimately even God is a human construct.

The movement to the "right" looks either to the pre-Concilliar period or further back, seeing VII as continuity. It stands in contradiction to the world. It sees God as directly communicating through the Church, which is a divinely given structure. Scripture, Tradition, the Magisterium, the Heirarchy are all there to reveal God. It is anti-popularist, God is an objective reality who has a right to man's service.

What is agreed on is that the centre does not hold, there is a need for change and reform, "the right" understands this as well "the left" but it will claim that God has revealed himself once and for all in Jesus Christ. That the Church needs purification but this comes from penance and catechesis by a return to, not a jettisoning of Tradition. One of the things "the left" calls for is the appointment of bishops locally, it seems to be something the Pope would be very much in favour of but only if the electors are likely to appoint Catholics who are capable of passing on the fullness of that which is revealed.

Ultimately the question is about God and our understanding of Him.


santoeusebio said...

Is there not a track record for certain German Catholic theologians? Gitta Sereny in "Into that darkness" documented the complicity of some Catholics in Hitler's euthanasia program. She claims that Hitler asked the Catholic hierachy about a report he had received and got no reply. See Wikipedia:

"In January 1939, however, Brack commissioned a paper from Dr Joseph Mayer, Professor of Moral Theology at the University of Paderborn, on the likely reactions of the churches in the event of a state euthanasia program being instituted. Mayer – a longstanding euthanasia advocate – reported that the churches would not oppose such a program if it was seen to be in the national interest. Brack showed this paper to Hitler in July, and it may have increased his confidence that the "euthanasia" program would be acceptable to German public opinion.[48] (When Gitta Sereny interviewed Mayer shortly before his death in 1967, he denied that he had approved of killing people with disabilities, but since no copies of this paper are known to survive, this cannot be determined.)[49] This turned out not to be the case. In fact the T4 program was the sole example of an action by the Nazi regime which provoked large-scale public protests.

It was impossible to keep the T4 program secret, given that thousands of doctors, nurses (including Catholic nuns[50])..."

Nicolas Bellord

B flat said...

Father, your use of "right" and "left" in labelling the two approaches you characterise is not your invention, and I do not blame you for employing the terms. They are unfortunate, and unhelpful borrowings from the political sphere, whereas the life of the Church runs at a far deeper level of ideas and has far higher stakes.

I wonder if there is not a relatively large number of people in the Church who want to be faithful Catholics without being either controversial or labelled as right or left? Is it not for their souls that you continue to struggle in your priestly ministry, and others too, for their "hearts and minds" in their own way?
Most amusing, and telling, was your phrase concerning the ideas of the liberal establishment:

it is based on theology from below.

Well said!

santoeusebio said...

There is an interesting comment on this at:

Nicolas Bellord

Physiocrat said...

There is surely room for a theologically conservative position that does not accept social injustice?

It is unfortunate but was not inevitable that the conservatives in the church have historically taken the side of the oppressors and accepted economic injustice eg in South America and Spain. Rerum Novarum helped to consolidate that position, despite the efforts of radicals such as the Distributists.

This left the church almost defenceless against the onslaught of socialism in the twentieth century. Unfortunately, matters have not improved greatly, the phrase "the poor are always with us" being used even today as an excuse to do nothing about economic injustice.

Just another mad Catholic said...

The problem for me with the right is the people with whom I share the same theological views (i.e the Kingship of Christ, the Church as the Bride of Christ etc) tend to be very middle-class people who are in favour of the 'Divine Right of Kings',ignoring the frequent abuses of power by kings who love to tell the poor that it is the will of God that means they are poor and that improving their lot is 'worldly'.

As for me on a TEMPORAL plane I am a republican and I have no King but Christ and no queen but Mary

Physiocrat said...

JAMC - Divine Right of Kings was an invention stemming from sixteenth century protestantism.

It may not be coincidental that the freest and most stable and democratic countries in the world are the monarchies of north-west Europe.

England was a republic for a while and it did not work. There is no reason to suppose that things have changed sufficiently for it to work now. The same handful of people still own most of Britain as in 1650 and they would make sure that affairs were arranged to suit their best advantage.

Fr Ray Blake said...

Yes "left" and "right" isn't that helpful, except that the Catholic "left" inBritain tended to ally itself with New Labour, in the states the "right" were in bed with the Republicans.

Trad Catholics should be a little more rebellious, demanding the feeding of the poor, clothing the naked, the rights of the most vulnerable etc.
Christ should upset money changers tables.

Jacobi said...


That one third of German theologians have publicly come out in open defiance of the teaching of the Church is, in my opinion, a good thing.
We have known that before and after Vatican 11 there has been an element of rupture in the Church but they have as a movement stayed in the shadows.
Now they have broken cover and we see them for what they are, and whatever they call themselves, they are not Catholic.

They will in time go their own way but for the rest of us Pope Benedict has shown the way ahead and that is ever deepening understanding of the unchanging and unchangable teaching of the Church - what you call "the movement to the right".

Incidently, because Germany is a country I know well and am fond of, we should not forget the good news that two thirds of German theologians do not, apparently, disagree with the unchanging Truth of the Church!

Bryan said...

This post reminded me of an Irishman I remember from the Parish Church of my childhood. He had big eyebrows and a big prayerbook (probably a Treasury of the Sacred Heart) and I remember ever time I saw him he was kneeling quietly and praying.

St Ignatius offers us some Rules for thinking, judging and feeling with the Church and some of them are very surprising and useful in today's Church.

Link to Fr Hardon's commentary on them:

shane said...

Father what do you mean by the "DeValera Church/State legacy"? I think you may mean the Cumann na nGaedheal government of the 1920s, which was much more clericalist than its successor.

An extract from an editorial in the (excellent) Church and State magazine - organ of the now defunct Campaign to Seperate Church and State:

[...] The early issues of this magazine carried a series of articles on The Rise Of Papal Power In Ireland, explaining it more or less as it is explained here. They were issued as a pamphlet, under that title, on the occasion of the Pope's visit in 1979. Again they were widely distributed for review. One curt notice, dismissing the subject as inappropriate, was published, in Books Ireland.

So the Pope came and he was received with mindless adulation, lay and clerical, with only two noticeable expressions of dissent—this magazine and the Bishop of Cork, who is now taken to be a by-word for obscurantist reaction, Con Lucey.

The Taoiseach was Cork City politician Jack Lynch, who had won an overall majority in 1977 in an election campaign which was unusually Catholic clericalist for Fianna Fail. But, two years later, the Pope did not visit the second city in the state because the Bishop did not invite him. And, some time later, Lucey retired and went off to be a missionary in Africa. He did not ever explain his failure to invite the Pope to Cork, but it is not hard to see a reason for it.

Vatican 2 Catholicism undermined and trivialised the earnest Catholicism of Pius IX on which the Irish Church had formed itself, in association with the developing national movement, since the mid-19th century. That phase of development was not exhausted in Ireland when it was halted by Vatican 2. It was still filling itself out when it was ordered to stop. If the original impulse given by the triumph of Anti-Vetoism in the Veto Controversy was running out of momentum, there would have been evidence of this in the appearance of a sceptical intelligentsia to dispute certain areas of ground with the Hierarchy, and by so doing to provide for an evolutionary transition to a new relationship of Church and State.

What happened instead was that the new Church formed in Ireland in the mid-19th century—by O'Connell's Roman colleague, Cardinal Cullen—was stopped in its tracks by the Vatican, while there was still no social development against it to take its place. The Vatican 2 changes had to be imposed on Ireland. And their imposition devalued the values to which the generations then in their prime had dedicated themselves.

Religious development in Ireland, with which social development was connected, was suddenly written off as an aberration. My Lord Bishop suddenly became Bishop Jack or Bishop Jim. Communion and Confirmation became occasions for display of fashion. Hell was abolished—and Heaven along with it, for all that was said to the contrary. And convents and monasteries were deprived of meaning.

The ersatz intelligentsia, which is now kicking the Church because it is down, did nothing to bring it down. It was the Vatican that undermined it. But that is an inadmissible thought in the fashion of the moment because the futile scepticism which is the outcome of Vatican 2 must have it that Vatican 2 was good thing. (The creature must love its creator.)

epsilon said...

Sounds like these priests need a dose of Sr Briege McKenna OSC

She's wonderful medicine for the feinthearted, she's gentle, kind, firm and faithful.

see links here

Sadie Vacantist said...

Shane ~ it wasn't just "Ireland" per se. The whole of the "Irish empire" was impacted by the Council. This includes the Church in the UK, Commonwealth countries (including missionary territories) and the USA of course.

Sadie Vacantist said...

Shane touches upon an intriguing topic that of ethnocentricism and how it expresses itself within the Church. We had a bizarre situation in the 1950's when theologians and bishops from underperforming ethnic groups were able to set the agenda for the entire Church. They effectively undermined the achievements of thriving ethnic groups and in the case of Britain the disaster was particularly poignant. For not only was Britain within the Irish empire, it had also experienced the launch, in the 19th century, of a wholly independent, indigenous tradition.

It is amusing to recall in Brideshead how Waugh brings the two ethnic groupings together at the book's denouement: Fr. Mackay, from the Scottish branch of the Irish empire, blandly receives Lord Marchmain back into his Church, then makes his excuses and quits the scene. Thus leaving the English snobs to ponder and wax lyrical on the significance of the unfolding events!

AndrewWS said...

Sadie, there is a hint of Untermenschen in your term "underperforming ethnic group". Who or what are "underperforming ethnic groups" and can you give some examples of them?

shane said...

Sadie yes there was always that class and ethnic tension going back decades. In fact only last night I was going back through old Irish papers from the 19th and early 20th centuries. Even though Emancipation and funding for Catholic schools had been acheived by the Irish Catholics, it was shocking to realize how implacably opposed the English Catholics were to moderate reforming measures like Land Reform, Irish Home Rule (a very limited form of devolution within the UK, with much less power than the current Welsh Assembly has) or the episcopal led resistance to conscription during the First World War - with the Duke of Norfolk even speaking at Carson's demonstations and supporting his threat of civil war (a year later he was pelted in Dublin with tomatoes!).

obreption said...

Denial of the sacraments has often been misused by politicians. This has happened historically in Germany. I'm going through Richard Evans' books on the Third Reich, while dipping into a chronology of Edward II of England and his finances from the Vatican. If you cut and paste the Edward II sources (mainly from Dublin) you find nothing much has changed. Professor Ratzinger obviously knows this, but he may be sadly far too late to undo the JP II years and the covering up that has gone on. We can but pray for renewal by the Holy Spirit.

Sadie Vacantist said...


I was further intrigued to hear the ‘German’ Benedict Groeschel speaking on EWTN recently. With no little satisfaction he spoke of the decline of Irish empire in the United States as in “they ran the show when I was a student but no longer”. What he neglected to mention was that with the declining Irish influence, the American church itself imploded as it did in Britain and throughout the Commonwealth.

The Vatican II Übermensch are evidently still going strong, it seems to me, and projecting their arrogance on to others – not that I want to go “all Freud” on anyone …

Fr Ray Blake said...

The Vatican? surely you mean the Lateran during the reign of Henry II.

Fr Ray Blake said...

Sorry, and Edward II, too!

shane said...

Yes, Sadie. The Famine in the 1840s bankrupted the upstart Catholic middle class. Combined with the reconstruction of the Irish Church under Cardinal Cullen, from then on most priests in Ireland were drawn from the peasantry. Contrast that to France, where during the first half of the twentieth century, the Church was associated in the popular mindset with the interests of the rich and powerful, with the working class laity rapidly apostatizing to socialism. Increasingly desperate measures were resorted to in order to reverse this, most notoriously the disastrous worker priests experiment. It's in that context that we have to understand the pressure for 'reform' and why it came from theologians and prelates of the Rhine countries (where Catholicism was under severe competition from socialism). In Ireland, bishops were by and large the sons of small farmers and the Church was not a significant landowner, or very wealthy. Hence there was no alienated proletariat or peasantry; Mass attendance in the 50s was very close to 100% of the population. The ordinary masses loved their religion and associated it with their nationality and historic persecution. That's why in the 60s the Irish bishops seen no need for a council and rarely spoke at it.

obreption said...

Mea culpa. Edward II refers to a lot of Papal Bull in Avignon.

Sadie Vacantist said...

I suspect the War is to be blamed for the shambles of the last 45 years. The idea of 'denazified' German theologians telling the rest of the World how to do religion in 1962 seems now ridiculous but that is in essence what happened.

Ironically, German Catholics didn't vote Hitler in 1932 - a fact their ordained sons seemed to forget within the space of 30 years. These priests were simply not in a fit state to offer anything so soon after the War and should have stayed at home and listened to car workers' confessions.

As for the French, they should have just stayed at home.

Independent said...

The German Church in the 1950's was a repentent church which had seen its prelates colloborating with the Nazis, even the Bishop of Munster being an extreme German Nationalist, and even such a great theologian as Karl Adam espousing racialist doctrine. Like St Peter it had denied its Lord, but like him it repented. The present Pope was there and from his experience knows well the enemies of religion.Who better than he and his confreres to discuss problems in 1962?

It is a mistake to seek to condemn people just because they are German, or indeed French.

pp. Alessandro said...

Translated from the Italian-
"I am a post-operative transsexual Alessandro, formerly Alessandra. In appearance and voice I am totally male. My DNA remains female.
Can I represent Christ at the altar now?"
This has been sent to a "liberal" blog also.

Fr Ray Blake said...

pp. Alessandro,
DNA has never been an issue in the Church to determine gender, it has always been genitalia with which one is born. Therefore the answer is No.
In the case of someone with male genitalia whose DNA is female the answer would be Yes.

Physiocrat said...

PP Alessandro

Queen Christina did quite nicely without bothering with an operation, despite her doubtful sexuality.

She made do with a palace in Rome, became friends with a few cardinals and was a patron of the arts.

Sadie Vacantist said...


What you are giving us is the "History Channel" version of events none of which are believable and straight propaganda.

Read again what I wrote:

"German Catholics DIDN'T vote Hitler in 1932 - a fact their ordained sons seemed to forget within the space of 30 years"

German Catholics had nothing to repent. Their sons didn't so much forget that their parents had not voted Hitler but they had been brainwashed into thinking that they had. Your post indicates that you believe the lies told about them also.

It's only by the grace of God that Josef Ratzinger was not murdered in 1945. The attrocities committed against the German people by the Allies and Soviets (100,000 women alone were raped in Berlin in one year) are scandalous.

Yet all the emphasis in your post is on their "repentance". This war guilt clause proceeded to play havoc with post-War German theology. It was a similar story in France.

The Irish had brilliantly avoided this madness and yet their bishops (tragically) made zero contribution to the Council (Shane who posts here and has his is own blog is very good on this). De Valera is thus castigated by contemporary historians who are themselves brainwashed by allied propaganda.

In our modern World, War is now good and moral, black is white, the corrupt are rewarded and the just punished (Mervyn King said EXACTLY that a month ago in a speech on the economy). Our Lady's Magnificat had been completely reversed and we Catholics end up believing this nonesense along with all the others.

No wonder our parishes are closing.

Unknown said...

Dear Father Ray,

Where is the responsibility of the Church to safeguard our Faith? Since when has the Church confused Excommunication as unjust punishment instead of for what it is 'Christ's Mercy.?'

I hear Heretics, Blasphemers and Pro-choice Roman Catholics holding the highest offices spew their Satanic lies and confuse, obfuscate and mislead us with never a reprimand.

The past Madame Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi is a self-professed Roman Catholic who walks from a private meeting with the Pope and she then uses the authority of her elected office to tell all Americans that Pro-choice is approved by the Pope.

Vice President Joe Biden legislates Abortion-Genocide as a Constitutional 'right' and receives the Sacrament of the Eucharist before the press cameras.

Excommunication is the exhibition of the Mercy of Jesus Christ. It calls the Sinner to repentance and the rest of us learn that there is moral concreteness to the teachings of Jesus Christ.

Yes, I've heard these same old rants of Lucifer four decades ago. I want us to actually fight Satan and not acquiesce to his demands.

Btw I found your blog from LifeSiteNews dot com.

I am your brother in Christ,

ralph marie de largo

Independent said...

S. V. So German Catholics in 1945 had nothing to repent? The Catholic Centre Party which voted for the Enabling Act - the Socialists had the guts to vote against it- had nothing to repent? The Catholic members of the SS who sang "Silent Night" at Christmas in their quarters at Auschwitz had nothing to repent? The Bishops who allowed Nazi processions and banners in their Cathedrals had nothing to repent? The Catholic organisations in the 1930's who talked of the convergence of Nazism and Catholicism - von Papen who was afterward made a papal knight was prominent in one of them - had nothing to repent? Karl Adam who defended racialist doctrine and praised the Fuhrer had nothing to repent? I note that when in his old age he published his collected works he left out that article.

I have never watched the History Channel,I dont believe lies or conspiracy theories, my knowledge of German history is based on a lifetime of study for which I have some qualifications and I can fully document my assertions. However while being very critical of the institutional German Church I would pay tribute to those German Catholics in the department concerned with Jewish emigration who helped to get my wife, her mother, and her brother out of Germany in August 1939. Surprisingly the German hierarchy, except for the Provost of Berlin ,had been silent about the persecution which they and all other Jews had faced and remained so when the Final Solution was put into operation.

The Russian Army behaving like beasts, the Soviet system being morally equivalent to Nazism, and Germany losing the lands beyond the Oder-Neisse line in no way excuses the Nazis , their apologists, or their collaborators.

Fr Seán Coyle said...

Sadie Vacantist, I know it's not central to what is being discussed but Fr Benedict Groeschel is of Alsatian origin, not German. He told me so himself when I met him in New York around 1970. God bless.

Sadie Vacantist said...

@Fr Coyle

It's a mute point as to whether Alsations are ethnically German or French. Given that the area changed hands so many times in bloody conflicts it might explain, in part, why the Groeschels moved to the USA.


Thanks for your unpredictable response. Tell your wife and her family to keep an eye on the USA. They are one, perhaps two more crises away from where Germany was in 1930. History does and WILL repeat itself ...

shane said...

Re Irish bishops and the Council. I had to laugh at Archbishop Martin's recent homily to the Dublin Diocesan Liturgical Resource Centre. It really did show how far the Archdiocese of Dublin has fallen.

The Church in Dublin: 1940-1965, Roland Burke Savage, Studies: An Irish Quarterly Review, Vol. 54, No. 216 (Winter, 1965), pp. 296-346.

"To provide the extra priests necessary for his constantly growing diocese, the Archbishop (John Charles McQuaid) almost trebled the size of Clonliffe (then the major seminary of the Dublin archdiocese) and set up a team of diocesan priests to encourage vocations in the schools of the diocese. The number of students in Clonliffe this year is 151; in 1940 it was 99. The number of diocesan priests in the diocese to-day stands at 550; in 1940 the number was 370. [...] In the last twenty-five years the population of the archdiocese grew from 709,342 to 791,379; the Catholic population increased from 630,000 to 725,058 people. Shortly after the war ended in 1945, when building materials began to be again available, the Archbishop set himself the task of trying to plan for the new needs of the expanding city. Thanks to the generous co-operation of the planning and housing authorities of the Dublin Corporation sites were early ear-marked for churches and schools in the newly developing areas in the south-west, the west, and the north-west, not to mention the rapid growth of the Beaumont, Raheny and Coolock areas. To meet the needs of this growing population the Archbishop had thirty-four churches built and had formed twenty-six new parishes. Still looking to the future, he plans to build four churches in the immediate future and has thought out the siting of another seventeen churches to serve what he foresees as the future population development in his diocese [...] Only yesterday a university lecturer who had lived seven years or more outside Ireland remarked to me on the standard of ceremonial in Dublin suburban churches. Liturgy is much more than rubrics and ceremonial but that unsolicited salute to the careful training the young priests get in Clonliffe is worth putting on record. Anyone who has ever assisted Dr McQuaid in sacred functions knows the care with which he watches every detail [...] He has been freely criticized for dragging his feet in bringing in the new changes [...] We priests, perhaps, realize better than most, the puzzlement, the bewilderment, and the daze that the constantly changing rubrics in Mass and Office have caused most of us within the past seven years. Enthusiasts in Dublin for more active liturgical participation are disappointed at the slowness of the pace but the Archbishop's point of view is at the least very arguable: don't interfere too suddenly with the established pattern of things; novelty for novelty's sake is a nine day's wonder; habits that are slowly formed are more lasting [...] In his pastoral last year Dr McQuaid took the occasion to remind the faithful that neither active participation nor even increased Holy Communions should obscure the fact that the Mass was a sacrifice, and only secondarily a sacred banquet or sacrificial meal."

Martin said...

Excellent, you hit the nail on the head Father. I live in Ireland and the Church here is a mess. There are a few good priests, and little incursions of the Traditional priestly fraternities, but Catholic-lite reigns supreme. Well not quite: it oversees the demise of what was once Catholic Ireland.

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