Thursday, March 08, 2012

Was That It?

I published the Archbishops of Southwark and Westminster letter on the redefinition of Marriage without comment. I received the hardcopy of their letter the following day in the post. My secretary assured me it came without a covering letter, in my diocese no-one has said whether it should be read at all Masses or was simply sent for my personal information.

Some people have suggested it is too late and too weak. I’m not too sure about that, but certainly it is perhaps correct to ask whether the Church here really has the heart for a fight. In our effort to get out of the “Catholic ghetto” and to be regarded as “English” rather than an immigrant church, we have downplayed our Catholic identity, possibly to such a level that many Catholics have little understanding of anything distinct about our religion, or if they do they have rejected it.

The majority of Catholics, the official figure is 90%, despite (or in spite of) all the money and energy the Church invests in our schools, do not practice the faith. Neither could we ever dare suggest that Catholics are less likely to cohabit, divorce, abort or contracept, nor are the vast majority of Catholic parents more open to children, than their non-Catholic neighbours, the statistics do not show any difference.

In the latter half of the 20th century abortion and contraception have been issues that have troubled individuals but hardly seem to be a major concern in England and Wales. Co-habitation and divorce seem to be even less of a concern, everywhere these issues are left to a woolly “pastoral solution”, everything depends on the personal convictions of the individual priest.

After members of Catholic Voices have spun the Bishops 2003 statement on Civil Partnership, I am confused by what their Lordships intended to say, I used to think their teaching was clear but maybe not. Milo Mindbender and Co are the official unofficial keepers of the Catholic Voice in E&W but only seem to make the feint voice even more distant and give the real God appointed Voices of the Church a barricade to hide behind. I digress. Even so, anyone but a fool would have realised that the introduction of such partnerships would lead inevitably to the situation we now face. What we have failed to do is prepare our people for any battle over this issue.

I am not part of the dioceses of Southwark or Westminster and lacking any clear direction I will present this letter on Sunday but frankly I think my people are ill prepared to receive it and having received it, I am not sure what they are expected to do with it.

My anxiety is that this letter will be all. That there is no further plan. As an opening salvo it was good but what about the barrage to follow, will it? Or was that all?

It would be good to think that following its publication on Sunday the bishops and leading clergy will be on every television and radio station, that they will write their own letters to every and any newspaper that just might publish them, that they might even start to use modern technology. After years of fudge and drift it, which has not only left Catholics in ignorance and confused but has had an impact on wider society it is time that we had clear teaching on sex, on homosexuality, on marriage, on the duties and responsibilities of Catholic politicians, Catholic Institutions and above all the Clergy to uphold the Church’s teaching.

Fr Richard has a good post on the Public Dimensions of Marriage,
A priest friend emailed me to say I should also have received the following:

To all Parish Priests in England and Wales
01 March 2012
Dear Father
With the agreement of your own bishop, we address this letter to you.
Please find attached a letter from us, as President and Vice-President of the Bishops’ Conference, to be read, and distributed if possible, in your parish over the weekend of 10/11 March. It concerns the Catholic teaching on marriage in the context of the forthcoming consultation by the Government to change the legal definition of marriage.
You will have noted the launch of the Coalition for Marriage, together with its online petition, in support of the present legal definition of marriage. We ask you to encourage your people to sign this petition.
When the Government’s consultation document has been published, it will be carefully studied and a leaflet prepared for distribution in your parishes to assist Catholics in making their own response to the consultation. This leaflet will come to you after Easter, which is time enough as we expect the consultation to run for three months.
We will be grateful if you found space in your newsletter for next weekend for these two points. Below is a standard paragraph which you might consider suitable.
We thank you for your cooperation realising only too well the shortness of this notice which has been determined by the expected publication of the Government’s consultation document.
Yours sincerely
Most Reverend V. Nichols Most Reverend P. Smith
President Vice-President

At Masses this weekend, we receive a Letter from Archbishops Vincent Nichols and Peter Smith on behalf of the Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales. It is a statement of our Catholic faith about marriage and issued in the light of the forthcoming consultation by the Government on changing the legal definition of marriage. In the light of this letter, you are asked to consider signing the Coalition for Marriage’s online petition which can be found at It reads:
“I support the legal definition of marriage which is the voluntary union for life of one man and one woman to the exclusion of all others. I oppose any attempt to redefine it.”
The Archbishops also say that after Easter there will be a more detailed leaflet on the Government’s consultation itself, for distribution in parishes, to assist Catholics in making their own response to the consultation.


Webmaster Gareth said...

I couldn't agree more. We sheep want shepherds!

Supertradmum said...

You are not the only one confused by the response of some of the bishops in England. No names. We, the laity, want more guidance. Now is the time for courage, before it is too late. said...


It is time to stand up and be counted.

Those who are not for us are against us.

This weekend's letter from our Bishops, ought to be the first of many public written or vocal defences of the Catholic Faith.

If a bishop feels that he is not in a position to defend and publically speak out, then I respectfully suggest the Bishop stands down and lets another priest be approved by Rome, to become Bishop and leader.

Read the letter, Fr Ray, and search for people's opinions and record them. Maybe a box at the back of the church with paper and pen available, for two/three weeks.
A response box.

Encourage people to sign the petition. We have printed copies at the back of our church.

If others do the same we may get a truthful picture about the state of our Faith in England and Wales.

Then you will know how to start rebuilding and start the rescue of our Faith.

We all have a part to play and contribute, whatever our vocation may be.

Time to put God first - politics second.


Fr Ray,
An excellent post and appraisal!

God Bless you.


Paula said...

Fr Blake, I sympathize with the first part of your article.

My husband and I have a young family and are very committed to our Catholic faith, which we cherish and love. We were both raised catholics and attended Benedictine schools in Chile and in England. By the time our children had to begin their education we put them in a local Catholic state school in the southeast of England. This was not for long, we were extremely disappointed firstly by the 'catholic' parents, as you said in your article, most of them did not attend mass and even many of them were not married. We found ourselves outcast within our own community as if being practicing was completely out of order.
The school, despite knowing us quite well, failed to recognize our need as parents to deepen our children's faith. The last straw was when they organised a 'magic' day - a Catholic school doing a magic day.

Yet when the diocesan commision came to do a report on the school, it gave it 'outstanding'. Outstanding? who are we kidding? if the school is failing to include the parents in their pastoral care and the children are never seen in church again the day after their First Holy communion?

Unfortunatelly approaching the parish priest / school chaplain was not better. He dismissed the magic day as harmless and when asked for further in depth preparation for the sacraments of our children he just handed 2 books to pastoral care.

When we told him that we were leaving the school becuase it was a school directed to 'lapse Catholics' he said 'not all couples are practicing like you'. Bad answer. So the quality of the teaching is given related to the how committed the majority of people are? Are we just a number?

The sacramental preparation for Confession and First Holy communion was a joke. At the end I had to take the drastic decision that my children will be better of being cut off completely from such community which was actually damaging their faith. Now they attend a CoE school and we are teaching them the faith at home, but this was a very difficult and painful decision.

As commited Catholics, we were truly not well looked after by the local Church. Our inmost desire has always been to raised our children in the catholic faith and we have been let down by the school and parish priest becuase ultimately they were more interested in pleasing the numbers.

And so I have come to the conclusion that the current muddle with Homosexual marriage is no less the church's own fault. Given the present state of catholic education in England, not fit for purpose in educating Catholics for the future.

Currently in our area, no middle class parent would choose the local Catholic secondary school for their children.

The sacraments of Confession, communion and even confirmation are done far to early in the life of a child. (I did my first holy Communion at 13 and confirmation at 17)and the preparation of 6 months is not long enough. Currently the Bishops conference of Chile stipulates 2 years preparation for communion and 2 years preparation for confirmation.

Then so, if the sacrament of Communion and confirmation are not taken seriously by many, why should the sacrament of marriage do any better?

It´s all at the end very connected.=

georgem said...

I have great fears that the opening salvo will turn out to be no such thing, merely a salvo before the bishops return to their bunker and leave it to Catholic Voices.
What weapons does the laity possess, given that preparation by solid catechesis has been abnegated by the hierarchy over the last two generations?
We have been comprehensively disarmed and the results are clear for all to see, vis. the disturbing post by Paula.

gemoftheocean said...

Paula, wild curiosity, but what on earth have you got against sleight of hand, legerdermain, "hey-Rocky-watch-me-pull-a-rabbit-out-of-my-hat" 'magic?' It's called 'entertainment.' I guess you'd hate one of the FSSP priests at my old San Diego parish who was quite accomplished at this sort of thing along with one Benedictine monk I knew. I expect it also frosts you that St. John Bosco is patron saint of magicians.

FrBT said...


I read your comments with several noddings of my head.
I am disappointed to read the lack of Catholicism in your local High School.

Let me tell you that your experience is not limited to your area(where ever that may be).

I have always said that 'inspectors' who come into a school and are from the diocese are biased. They are the authors of the RE programme (or have a big influence on the syllabus) so therefore they cannot be the inspectors of the same programme.

There is no transparancy, clarity or confidence in such an inspection.

'Outstanding' means nothing to me because the result is not impartial.

Now all these young high flyers who call themselves RE Inspectors do not have the essential knowledge of Theology or Philosophy or the contents of the Catholic Catechism. Some of them have grand titles but nothing in their heads, except to decree an 'outstanding' inspection.

You are now seeing the results of very bad decisions made by the Bishops Conference many years ago which changed the syllabus of Catholic Religion.

Pay Day has come and at a high price.
Can I suggest you teach your children from the Compendium - Catechism of The Catholic Church. You can buy it on Amazon.

Don't give up, keep going and thank you for your fidelity to Our Blessed Lord. If we have parents like you, we will survive.


Seaneinn said...

Fr. I totally agree with you. As a SSA (Same sex attraction) person who thankfully rejoined the Chruch after many years of believing that the Church was wrong I realised that the smile on my face could no longer hide the emptiness of my life.

Though all my life wandering in the desert I went to Mass, I never went to communion. So I made the decision to go to Confession. I have to admit Fr. it was a difficult thing to do but after I received the Sacrament it was like a weight had been lifted of my shoulders. The priest who I went to was very understanding and really helped me to make a good confession. I am uable to describe the joy I felt after receiving Holy Communion I wanted to shout from the roof tops.

Since then I pray and pray both for my own protection and for the Church. That is why I get so frustrated at our Church Hierarchy. When i read statements from the Bishops, read about the soho mass I feel betrayed. I want a leadership who will encourage me not issue bland statements that are "nauanced". Salt that looses its taste is worthless.

I applauded the Cardinal for his bravery for standing up and stating what needed to be said. I realise he was ridiculed for his language but he at least got the message out there. This statement from the English Bishops will be glanced at and forgotten.

I can only trust that God has the plan and pray that the Holy Father Benedict will be with us to offer a light in the darkness.

God bless

Sadie Vacantist said...

The problem is not just with the priests and the bishops, but also with the laity. A failed ecclesiological model has been imposed upon us for the last 45 years and the laity failed to complain in sufficient number and they are still not complaining today.

Mike said...

I wonder. I wonder if, say, even ten years ago Catholics had been asked for their views on so-called gay ‘marriage’ whether they would have almost unanimously rejected the idea as preposterous. And maybe even contrary to Church teaching. But since the passing of the Civil Partnership Act there has been a relentless campaign to change people’s minds on the issue and it may well have succeeded, even among many Catholics.
Now if you were to ask Catholics today what they thought of polygamy they would probably almost unanimously reject it as preposterous and maybe even contrary to Church teaching. But who can say what the position will be in the future after the next stage in the campaign?

Here is an extract from a letter which has just been published in the Scotsman newspaper:
“We fully support the right of any woman to practise polyandry. We also support the right of people to participate in group marriage. People should be free to engage in any form of marriage which suits them, subject at all times to the protection of children and vulnerable adults.”
Ian Stewart
Atheist Scotland

So, how are the attitudes of Catholics on these issues being formed?

Veritas said...

At Masses this weekend, we receive a Letter from Archbishops Vincent Nichols and Peter Smith on behalf of the Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales. It is a statement of our Catholic faith about marriage and issued in the light of the forthcoming consultation by the Government on changing the legal definition of marriage.

In the light of this letter, you are asked to consider signing the Coalition for Marriage’s online petition which can be found at It reads:
“I support the legal definition of marriage which is the voluntary union for life of one man and one woman to the exclusion of all others. I oppose any attempt to redefine it.”

The Archbishops also say that after Easter there will be a more detailed leaflet on the Government’s consultation itself, for distribution in parishes, to assist Catholics in making their own response to the consultation.

Jacobi said...


I really do feel for your predicament. Yes we can sign a petition, which will no doubt just be ignored.

You mention that it is time we had clear teaching on sex, homosexuality and marriage. Well we have. It’s all in the Catechism. What we don’t have are bishops, nor for that matter many parish priests either, who will stand up and proclaim this teaching. So beset are we all with excessive pastoralism.

So the answer is for you - and other like minded priests - on Sunday to read the pastoral letter, but also give a summary of the Church’s teaching on these issues , in particular that homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered 2357-9, and on chastity in marriage, 2349-2350. You might even mention Mortal Sin, God forbid!

But no more. I’m not going to write your sermon. I am a layman after all.

It’s a small beginning and some of your more heterodox parishioners may get up and walk out, but that’s their decision, and the mainstream orthodox Catholics like Paula, in comments, will feel so much better for it – and sign the petition!

Over to you and your like!

momangelica said...

This was sent to me a couple of weeks ago. you might like it.
A couple of weeks ago, our priest gave a homily about contraception. While speaking about the Health and Human Services mandate, our associate pastor, Fr. Jonathan Raia, made a few allusions to the fact that the Church believes that contraception is bad. There were over a thousand people packed into the building, and a slight but noticeable tension developed as he inched closer and closer to the subject. This most controversial of Catholic teachings had been splashed all over the news in recent days, ridiculed and denounced throughout popular culture, and the question hung in the air: “Is he going to go there?”

He did.

You can hear the whole homily on our parish website here. In the second half of his talk, he gently but unflinchingly explained that the Catholic Church teaches that contraception is wrong. He gave a bit of background about the reasoning behind this stance, cleared up some common misconceptions, and pointed people to resources where they could find out more about methods of Natural Family Planning. As he spoke, the thought came to mind:

Read more:

StevieD said...

It may be a sign of the times that I am surprised that the bishops have said anything at all on the subject. My guess is that they are embarrassed at having to say anything and that this is the first and last 'salvo'. It is up to the priests and laity to make the appropriate protests to their representatives. The mitred members of the establishment are not going to help us further.

Nicolas Bellord said...

Well they do say that they will be doing more. Let us exercise the theological virtue of HOPE.

Mark Lambert said...

Father Ray, it made me so happy to read what you posted here. You hit it spot on. Those of us who love the Church and believe her teaching are constantly marginalised and made to feel like extremists. Meanwhile, people who have no training, comprehension or faith hold positions of responsibility for catechises in our dioceses. It would be so wonderful if, as you say, the bishops picked up the call to arms outlined in this letter and launched into the battle. What a great opportunity to evangelise! What a great opportunity to put forward the wonderful teaching of the Church! It is my prayer that we will start to see some passion from our shepherds!

Nicolas Bellord said...

Catholic Voices have produced a briefing paper on the Marriage question. They seem keen on their reframing and write as follows:

"The impression has been created that the case against same-sex ‘marriage’ arises out of
religiously-sanctioned disapproval of homosexuality. This frame, which has been encouraged
for obvious reasons by advocates of same-sex marriage, is false for a number of reasons."

Although they do not repeat their former support or "recognition" of civil partnerships they certainly do not criticise that legislation. I believe what they say above is wrong. For me, at least, the Marriage question is about a further institutionalisation of gravely sinful behaviour i.e. same-sex sexual activity. If you accept CPs as being a good thing I am afraid you will lose the argument about redefining CPs as marriage. Their reasoning is just too ethereal.

GOR said...

I think the issue here points up a problem with episcopal conferences. Pronouncements from these bodies carry little weight, are easily dismissed, and frequently seen in the same light as political party platforms. Who remembers the content of ‘Party X’s’ political platform at the last election? Who cares?

Episcopal conferences give cover to individual bishops. Once the conference or one of its myriad committees has delivered a position paper the local bishop can sit back and think “Well, that’s it then. Job done. Pass the mint sauce, Canon James.”

And who is the audience for these pronouncements? The letter is directed to be read in parish churches at Sunday Mass. So the audience is the x% of Catholics who still attend Sunday Mass. And presumably they are the most faithful Catholics, as they are still practicing, and still have some vestige of what the fullness of the Catholic Faith really entails.

So are their excellencies not merely preaching to the choir - albeit a choir that is somewhat confused…?

FrBT said...


Yesterday I stayed up late to watch Question Time on the BBC from Guilford.

I waited for the topic of the proposal of the redefinition of marriage to come up in one way or another.

It did.

I was very disappointed to hear Mr Will Young (the singer)who was so rude about His Eminenece Keith O' Brien. His comments were disgraceful and he is a very disappointing young man.

Eric Pickles MP and Caroline Flint MP support gay marriages. There were two Panel members who for their own mixed reasons did not support gay marriages.

This is what the Christian Faith is now facing. We will now see the true picture of how people value and uphold Christianity in England, Wales and Scotland.

I think that there is a lot of work to be done, and it will take two or three generations to put matters right.

That is if people start to put matters right, this includes the Bishops and Priests.

If Westminster thinks that they have done as much as they can and consider doing no more (other than producing this letter)then I think there will be a mighty uproar and there will be a reshuffle in God's Cabinet urged by The Holy Pontiff Himself.

This weekend is crucial for the Catholic Church. I have urged my parishioners to pray The Holy Rosary to Our Lady of Walsingham.

To my Brother Priests, may I be permitted to say, read the Archbishops' Letter slowly and clearly. Talk to the Mass Faithful. Support the petition against the redefinition, put notices in your churches, parish newsletters, Catholic schools (oh yes don't forget the youth).

Pray to The Holy Spirit to help us all.
Come Holy Ghost Creator Come...

Remember: If you are not for Christ than you are against Him.

Alb, Stole, Chasuble and Rosary.
We move on nearer and nearer to The Cross with Our Lord.
Let us move forwards - not backwards.


Lynda said...

The analysis of this issue by "Catholic Voices" is far from perspicacious, far from logical, far from persuasive. It makes me think whoever wrote their statements doesn't understand what the issue is - the granting of public recognition and status to intrinsically unnatural sexual relationships, which are harmful to the individuals concerned and society as a whole, and purporting to treat and value such relationships in the same way as marriage, the natural and intrinsically good institution upon which the family and society is founded.

mon cheri blair said...


Oh, hang on a second... I seem to have misread the article.