Monday, August 01, 2011

Breaking the Magic Circle

It is pretty obvious that the Vatican II experiment has failed! The Council that sought to make the Church truly missionary ended up by making it self serving and introspective. Not the Councils intention but in Europe at least it is the result.
Spain, Portugal, Ireland, Austria once the most faithful of Catholic countries have become deserts. George Wiegel, worth reading, looks at Ireland and suggests that even if the number of dioceses are significantly reduced, it is most probably impossible for Ireland to find good native bishops amongst the homegrown sons of Eirin.

The problem is the Magic Circle syndrome, like selecting like, faithful servants of national Churches appointing their faithful servants. It is indeed a circle, symbolised by the post-Concilliar stance at the liturgy, bishops, priests and people looking at one another celebrating, as if it is worth celebrating, their own community. It is self celebrating, self serving. It lacks the faculty of self criticism and self evaluation. Ultimately it lacks direction and vision and is incapable of redirecting itself. It is by its very nature conservative and illiberal and therefore intolerant of criticism. Like any self perpetuating group it easily becomes totalitarian and ultimately unjust.
This we have seen in Ireland, and elsewhere.

Breaking the Circle seems to be a priority, in Ireland it needs to happen now, as Wiegel says.

Some of the Irish clergy, as much in panic or desperation as anything else are suggesting electing bishops by clergy and laity. The problem with that is the most popular candidate is unlikely to be the best. Mandates given can be taken back. Although election by popular acclamation is an ancient model, it only worked when clergy and laity held the faith, or when the Bishop was expected to be a political figure. In Ireland that will merely perpetuate the problem and eventually lead to a schismatic national church, even more self serving than what exists at the moment.

Wiegel suggests sending in foreign Bishops. In the past the lineage of the Catholic Archbishops of Canterbury was peppered by Greeks and Italians, it was not unusual, perhaps it was easier in a Church with a single language. In Ireland it might be a temporary solution. The Pope's solution for Ireland, set out in his letter was first of all a year of penance, a visitation, then a mission be held for all bishops, priests and religious.

It is well worth thinking of this as a solution for other Churches:
Penance reminds us that the solution for our problems lies in Christ and perhaps it is a way of breaking down the sese of we are okay, the problen lies elsewhere.
Visitation is a way of reconnoitering and evaluating the present Church structures, it presumably is about looking for future bishops.
Mission is a way of changing minds and hearts and underscoring the Catholicity of bishops, priests and religious.

The problem with our present structures is that they are essentially feudal, a Bishop is Lord in his own domain, in reality against him there is no appeal, except to a Roman dicastery which is understaffed, often not very efficient and generally dependant on the Bishop's good will. The Bishop's Conference structure was supposed to be a counter to this feudalism but is actually part of the problem.

Perhaps there needs to be a permanent Visitation of dioceses, a group of proven senior foreign bishops, who have an ongoing interest in the local Church, getting to know the local Church, and therefore offer advice on future bishops, being able to offer critical and supportive advice to the bishop, being able act as a court of appeal if necessary, ensuring proper procedures are followed and being able to offer some gentle fraternal correction to the clergy.
There is a need for accountability.

Again a regular Mission to the bishops, clergy and religious also seems a good idea, actually to break through a self approving theology, that often goes for "ongoing formation". Now, we are perhaps in a situation where such a Mission might actually pass on the Catholic faith, rather than some destructive alternative form.
There is a need for an outside voice.


Crouchback said...'ve hit a number of nails squarely on their heads.

Well said.

Et Expecto said...

Breaking the Magic Circle

In the next couple of years, eight of the bishops of Englang and Wales will reach the retirement age of 75. Also, one see is currently vacant. This provides the opportunity for the magic circle to be broken.

Could I suggest that readers of this blog put forward names of suitably qualified priests that they think would make make good bishops. The list could then be sent to the nuntio for his consideration.

Richard Collins said...

Definitely a need for accountability and for performance (can't think of a better word).
Thank you Father.

the owl of the remove said...

Dear Father Ray:
Isn't the "permanent visitation" and/or oversight, really the Nuncio's job? The problem is that the Nuncio always seems to be drawn into the "Magic Circle" because he depends on the advice and expertise of....guess who?

. said...

"It is pretty obvious that the Vatican II experiment has failed! The Council that sought to make the Church truly missionary ended up by making it self serving and introspective. Not the Councils intention but in Europe at least it is the result."

And yet... the Church has grown from around 700 million faithful in the reign of Pius XII to over 1 billion today.

I don't deny the effect on Europe, but clearly in other parts of the world it has had its successes.

Philly said...

The Penance never came (unless you count the suffering we're getting), the Visitation was the most minimal possible, and what of the Mission?

George Wiegel makes a good suggestion that native clergy are not going to solve this problem, although he makes an error. The reason that the US had Irish Bishops was because it had Irish clergy and Irish Catholics. By that logic the Irish would get more of the same... oh wait...

The most recent Episcopal appointments have been Irishmen from Roman posts and they have hardly been shock troops parachuted in... unless you were shocked that Benedictine appointments were no better than Johannine-Pauline ones.

If the reduction of Dioceses (3 Dioceses of c. 40k Catholics, 6 Dioceses of c. 80k Catholics) would make management more effective or reduce the staff of Diocesan Curiae then fine. The problem is not the size of Dioceses, it's the problem of finding holy Bishops.

If there's a country with a ready supply of holy potential Bishops to spare then GW would have a good point.

The reality is not that the same old types exist but that Rome appoints the same old types - probably because there is nothing better available - anywhere.

Lepanto said...

The late liberal, Archbishop Worlock, was once quoted approvingly by a priest on the radio as saying that the English and Welsh bishops could block any proposed episcopal appointment that they didn't like just by 'sticking together'. Looks like this approach has worked for them so far.

Anonymous said...

You did miss one point Fr.It is Mary never obeyed one bishop other that the elder brother Peter, appointed by the first born Jesus Christ

Pseudonymous said...

I often think that, in terms of Church governance, we in England were better of pre-1850 under the apostolic vicars.

Evagrius Ponticus said...

"post-Concilliar stance at the liturgy"
Ah, but is it? It's an *allowed* stance, but following clarifications to the GIRM paragraph relevant, is it the necessary stance? I note that the 1970 MR makes reference to the priest turning around to face the people at several points. Hence, the default position in both Forms is (or should be) "ad orientem".

Believe it or not, the priest may face "versus populum" in the EF - if celebrated in a church where to face East, he must face the people, such as in St Peter's, St Paul-without-the-walls, and so on.

Other than that - the bishop as feudal lord is absolutely spot on. We need some sort of hybrid setup, whereby bishops and clergy can be held to account without being constantly bullied over the 'need' for priestesses, etc. Of course, it may come rather low don the list of things the Church needs right now.

GOR said...

While I agree that a severe shakeup is needed in Ireland and a re-drawing and reduction of dioceses would help, I would not agree that there are no priests in Ireland that are episcopal material. That’s too much of a generalization by Wiegel and others and judges all priests by the bishops that have been already produced.

There are problems in: 1. How bishops are selected; 2. In what their de facto functions are; and 3. In the qualities that are expected in potential candidates. The terna assembled by the bishops and often just given rubber-stamp approval by the Nuncio, ensures a continuation of the same type of bishop as before – ‘one of the boys’ and a ‘safe pair of hands’ who will maintain the status quo. That applies to countries such as Britain as well as to Ireland. There are many excellent PPs - dedicated, orthodox men who tend to the faithful and have the spirit of the Gospel - but who have zero, zilch, zippo, chance of ever becoming a bishop. That needs to change.

What is the function of a bishop? Today he is more often seen as a corporate CEO, a manager, an administrator and perhaps even a political or social animal – to be found gracing dinners, social events, fund-raisers and other meetings - rather than functioning as the father to the priests and faithful of his diocese. And that also highlights the third problem.

If those are the functions you expect from a bishop, then you look for candidates that have the qualities to meet them. A good, holy, hard-working parish priest is never going to get a second look in that case. Do you think anyone ever put forward St. John Vianney’s name as an episcopal candidate? Hardly.

RJ said...

I attend the usus recentior Mass. I have never had the impression that we are celebrating each other or even attending all that much to each other, though I am aware that we are worshipping God together.

Not sure about the accountability thing: sounds like your proposal may be coloured by a negative experience with the exercise of authority in a particular diocese. I think the Church would be wary of having interference with the government of a diocese by constant evaluation.

Fr Ray Blake said...

Ist para: maybe I was being hyperbolic but I was referring of course to Cdl Ratzinger's "Spirit of the Liturgy", where he speaks of the sign given by the "closed circle".

2nd para: what I am speaking of here is the Irish situation, primarily but also other European countries and suggesting the model for healing, given by the Pope, could be applied more widely.

Bishops need support, so many of the problems in Ireland but also Belgium, Germany/Austria - maybe not somuch E/W result from Bishops not following Canon Law and doing their own thing, without accountability. That worked in 1600 but not today.

There is a need for a contemporary model of Chuch government, which doesn't compromise the theology of episcopacy; the feudal one doesn't work and is proving disasterous.

Evagrius Ponticus said...


Was it not the case in the medieval period that the bishop was accountable to (or at least, held to account by) the Chapter? Could this be a way out in part?

Of course, it keeps everything very much clericalised, which is an issue, and synod-like structures of priests have, in the recent past, produced nothing but trouble, but still, I wonder...

David said...

Preserve the Church from government by Synod - look where that brought the Church of England! (From a real convergence as a result of the ARCIC agreements to an ecumenical full stop with the ordination of women to the priesthood and, sooner or later, to the episcopate.) The CofE General Synod could, if it had a mind to, decree that the Eucharist could be celebrated with pizza and coke instead of bread and wine - "so much more meaningful and relevant for the young people".

Physiocrat said...

Feudal structures function well when there is a symmetry of duties in both upwards and downwards directions.

When the balance is broken the system fails. The solution to this one is to see where the relationships have become unbalanced, and to re-establish a proper relationship.

Britain's present economic injustices can be viewed as the legacy of the breakdown of the feudal system, with those at the top of the chain abandoning their duties. (Plus ignoring the ordinancies in chapter 25 of Leviticus)

santoeusebio said...

A year of penance? They were invited to offer up their Friday penances. What did they consist of? Penances handed out in confession seem to me to be becoming more and more derisory.

A visitation? A few rounds of golf followed by glasses of sherry?

Perhaps the beheading of Priscillian, Bishop of Avila, for heresy was taking things a bit far but I suspect that it concentrated the minds of the other Bishops who eventually condemned that particular heresy - which apparently encouraged the idea of women priests.

But would not a more rigourous and effective application of Canon Law in dealing with Bishops who get out of line not be a good thing? The cancellation of Cardinal Burke's talk on this was very disappointing. Sacking the odd Bishop for dereliction of duty in not proclaiming the Gospel might sharpen things up.

Nicolas Bellord

P.S. I think describing Portugal as a desert is a bit of an exaggeration. Where I go the problem of attendance at Sunday Masses is often trying to squeeze in the door unless you arrive at least 15 minutes early.

Part-time Pilgrim said...

Dear Fr Blake

Your comments on support for and reform of the Episcope are interesting, but why do you preface them by an attack on Vatican II? Surely you are not suggesting that the Holy Spirit would allow an Ecumenical Council to subject the church to "an experiment".

As EP points out, in other parts of the world, same church, same liturgy, same reforms, the church has grown and I don't think Vatican II had much to say about the relationship between Bishops, their diocese and Rome, so the first part of the post does not seem to connect with the second.

shane said...

As I pointed out at Rorate Caeli, Weigel gets almost everything wrong in this piece. The problem with the Church in Ireland is not the dioceses but the men who govern them. Amalgamating dioceses will do nothing in itself to solve that. While it may be necessary in some instances, because of demographic changes, the excessive focus on it as some sort of panacea for all our problems is a distraction. Small dioceses have many advantages; they allow the bishop to administer greater pastoral care and supervision over his diocese --- the lack of which was clearly a contributing factor to the scandals (and the negligent handling of them) in the first place.

rachel said...

i think the bishops conference is just like a gentlemans club,backslapping an all that but it urgently needs reforming,but i have said this b4 and al say it again,y does it still take nearly a year for a bishop to b appointed.only just recently has Bernard Longleys replacement been announced so we still have George Stacks' and poor Michael Evans' to
do.Y cant the diocese choose thier own Bishop??

Dymphna said...

Father, maybe you should go on a sabtical. You sound so sad lately.

GOR said...

"Sacking the odd bishop..."

Yes Santoeusebio, I noted that elsewhere but missed adding it here to the list of 'episcopal problems'.

My issue was with abusive bishops here in the US who got away 'scot free' with their depredations - and some are still in office. When priests can be suspended with lightning speed at the first hint of an allegation, why not bishops...?

I realize the removal of a bishop goes beyond the remit of episcopal conferences and - as the Toowoomba case revealed - can be dragged out for years. But the Church needs a speedier process in dealing with bishops who are not fulfilling their duties, not to mention engaging in the same abuse for which priests are suspended.

Perhaps Canon Law needs some updating...

Evagrius Ponticus said...

Physiocrat: Not just Leviticus. Amos 8 keeps coming to my mind regarding the banking system...

... And Deuteronomy 24:14-15 Malachi 3:5. For how can a wage be honest if it is effectively created out of thin air and without work? At some point, I must blog about this...

Fr Ray Blake said...

P/T Pilgrim,
No, I am attacking the "Experiment", not VII.

Though what do youy mean by VII?

Sadie Vacantist said...

Vatican II failed because post-War Europe and the "West" in general were living a massive lie. The lie concerned the events between 1914 to 1945.

Physiocrat said...

SV - Europe living a massive lie 1914 to 1945? Tell us more? Only Europe? Only between those dates? Not before or after? This sounds interesting.

Lee Terry Lovelock-Jemmott said...

@ Evagrius Ponticus, Numbers matter not for was it not that Jesus said that in The Gospel of St Luke:

What man of you that hath an hundred sheep: and if he shall lose one of them, doth he not leave the ninety-nine in the desert, and go after that which was lost, until he find it?

And when he hath found it, lay it upon his shoulders, rejoicing:

And coming home, call together his friends and neighbours, saying to them: Rejoice with me, because I have found my sheep that was lost?

I say to you, that even so there shall be joy in heaven upon one sinner that doth penance, more than upon ninety-nine just who need not penance.
Point of the matter is, that our number might have grown but the quality of our faith is the most important thing not numbers and as Latin Catholics, we are failing miserably in terms of liturgy, evangelization and devotional practices.

Lee Terry Lovelock-Jemmott said...

We do need foreign Bishops. It is about time that our Bishops suffer the same way the dear apostles and saints of the last 2000 years have suffered with joy by being sent all over from their comfort zones for the Glory of Our LORD. No more comforts !!!

Ductless Ontario said...

Yes, the Church has grown in baptisms since the 1940's, something that would have occurred anyway. However, the vast majority of Catholics today don't make their Sunday obligation so their stated number is a moot point.

Second, Fr. Blake did not 'attack' the Council. Criticism is warranted at the implementation, the misinterpreted (in Pope Benedict's eyes) "spirit of V2" (i.e. ad populus, Communion in hand, etc.)

The primary role of the Church is to help get souls to Heaven. Prior to V2 most people made their Sunday obligation, believed in the Real Presence, went to Confession, and we had many priests and religious. Fifty years later those numbers are reversed. If by their fruits you shall know them, we can assume the loss of souls alone since V2 is the only measure needed.

Sadie Vacantist said...


At Versailles in 1919 the USA stood back and allowed the biggest Empires in the World to punish Germany for aggressive imperialism.

A war to liberate Poland in 1939 saw Poland living under oppressive regime until the 1980’s. A war which could have been avoided but has been turned into something good and venerable.

Who need religion when you have WWII?

The Pian papacies of the first half of the 20th century protected the Church from this secular madness. The protection disappeared completely in 1965. Curiously enough a year in which the USA also lost its way and established a blueprint for contemporary America: war and big government spending. America is now bankrupt and the Catholic church in a state of terminal decline.

George Bush worshipped before a bust of Churchill - specially installed in the Oval office - before starting the Second Gulf War. As long as these cults of WWI and WWII prevail, religion will continue to collapse.

Mack said...

The Irish and English Bishops are compromised -at the least all have covered up shamefully -

The complete humiliation and condemantion of the Organisation and every individuals within them
- with no ifs and buts
and no excuses would be the first sign that recovery is possible

" when the wicked man turnest away from his wickedness -----he shall save his soul alive" Ezek

"The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit -----a broken and contrite heart O God thou wilt not despise" Ps Li

Fr Ray Blake said...

The English Bishops? Any evidence?

Part-time Pilgrim said...

Dear Fr Blake

By Vatican II I mean the Council itself and the documents it produced. What do you mean by "the experiment"?

Physiocrat said...

SD - the 1919 settlements sowed the seeds of subesequent troubles but the events you are referring to have their origins long before, centuries, in fact.

You cannot isolate events within an arbitary set of dates.

Fr Ray Blake said...

P/T Pilgrim,
I mean what I say, the results.

You say, "By Vatican II I mean the Council itself and the documents it produced."
Previously you say, " Surely you are not suggesting that the Holy Spirit would allow an Ecumenical Council to subject the church to an experiment.
Do you mean all of the documents?
Which documents? Surely not all of them, the Church has no precedent of regarding every utterance of a Council as being inspired. If that is so it is first Council to be regarded as such in the history of the Church.

As far as VII is concerned so much of what was said was forgotten within a year or two.

Part-time Pilgrim said...

Dear Fr Blake
In my previous post I was suggesting that the work of the Council (in fact any Council) would be inspired by the Holy Spirit. In saying this, I am not trying to raise the documents of the Council to the status of Holy Scripture. I am making a simpler claim, I think for the Church itself.
In your original post you say the council "..ended up by making it (the Church) self serving and introspective". This may or may not be fair but blaming the introspection (or any other problems and there are many that do beset the Church in Europe) on the council is problematic. If an Ecumenical Council can actually cause these problems then that raises serious questions about the nature of the Church. Is it possible that the Church could make such a huge mistake? Jesus promised to the apostles the guidance and support of the Holy Spirit (John 14:16). An Ecumenical Council is the successors to the apostles formally meeting. If the decisions of such a meeting can cause serious harm to the Church, does the promise have any meaning and can the Church claim to be Apostolic?
Yet the Church is Apostolic so I conclude that the Second Vatican Council did not cause the problems that the Church in the West faces; that in fact the Church would be in a worse state if the Council had not happened.

Richard said...

A good article, Father.

But the very fact that we are discussing this as a new idea shows how inwards-looking the Church has become - this whole problem has been a standard issue in management theory for over 50 years.

If the people at the top of an organisation are inadequate, then they will usually promote people who are like themselves (but slightly more incompetent), in order to keep a cosy, easy life.

The only solution is for someone outside to do the appointing - which companies try to do by having senior appointments made by independent non-executive directors.

The problem is that those outsiders also tend to 'go native' (which some say the Nuncios have done), supporting the management rather than thinking of what is best for the organisation.

So these days big companies use external consultants to 'headhunt' senior management from outside

The equivalent of that in the Church would be a roving visitation - a group of extremely able people who go from country to country (so that they don't have time to 'go native'), meeting priests as well as bishops, seeing which ones are doing well and which are doing badly, and recommending new bishops accordingly.

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