Thursday, May 30, 2013

Dull and Boring Clerics

I have just listened to a very dull podcast by the Anglican Bishop Michael Nazir-Ali entitled, British Christianity dies while Islam thrives. Why? The title is exciting the content, not at all. Tim Stanley begins by presenting some rather impressive statistics and asks some rather good questions, Damian Thompson makes a few sharp observations, such as he can't think of a single thing either the present Archbishop of Westminster or the former Archbishop of Canterbury has said that he remembers. I am afraid the dullness comes not from Tim or Damian but from the Bishop, whose responses to their questions are both predictable and vague.

British Christianity dies while Islam thrives. Why? The answer could be Nazir-Ali  unwittingly provided the answer himself, we bore people and have nothing memorable to say.

Nazir-Ali is certainly not superficial but here he is decidedly dull. Unlike his interviewers Tim and Damian, he is not a natural or shilled communicator, it is not his fault, unfortunately  most clergy are not unlike him. Perhaps the problem with clergy is we are all too used to speaking to an audience that is reasonably deferential and hears us in an uncritical way, that is until it is too late and they are no longer there the following Sunday. I felt the Bishop wasn't really listening to the rather interesting questions put to him, which is another problem we clergy fail to address. Damian suggested that Islam is comparatively simple in its theology in comparison to Christianity, that it gives simple directives on how to live, and rather interestingly he raised the issue of how Islam seems to give a focus to anger, none of which received any considered response, just an answer most Christian clerics would give.

It is a shame that those commissioned with proclaiming the "Good News" all seem such bad and unconvincing communicators, we need to learn to use the sound-bite, we need to learn to focus our message, we need to learn to answer the question people have rather than pursuing our own interests. It is intersting that in a visual age our liturgy has become so visually dull.

Pope Francis in his daily Mass sermons or at least in the commentaries really does communicate well, lots of sound-bites and catch phrases that are often amusing and ideas that resonnate with modern anxieties such as the economy and unemployment, and that rather evocatively, if vague, "the poor". This really does resonnate in a world where youth unemployment is over 50% in many cities.

Aidan Nichols OP is at pains to point out that Apostle are sent out to "preach to the nations" an English bishop reportedly said that his colleagues did not engage in battles they could not win, which certainly seems to make a mockery of any martyrs struggle, though in most cases "war" is not called for, just a lack of ambiguity and clear teaching. Their failure seems to be that by not engaging in a any struggle they can so often appear to have nothing to say to anyone, even those who listen to them carefully, their own people. It is worth considering how the French bishops have gained considerable respect by actively becoming involved in the marriage debate, even the Irish bishops have earned a some credibility in their teaching on abortion. Pope Francis hasn't yet engaged in "war" but he has offered sharp and focussed criticism of the ills of contemporary society, often by contrasting the minds of politicians with simple clear and unambiguous Gospel imperatives.

Perhaps what we clergy need most, and in fact the Church in general, is some help in teaching us to communicate, perhaps Islam scores because it simply says "believe this", "do that", as Christ does and Catholics once did, before we got into, like the CofE, "on the one hand, but on the other hand, whilst on the third and forth hand ..."

Perhaps Tim and Damian should be invited to teach Bishops how to communicate but on the other hand... and then ... whilst it could be said... and despite... and yet... and then... And then there are more important things like global warming, feedback from Mgr Stock on the ACTA meeting, getting in with Stonewall etc.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

"They need the Mass, don't worry about the rubrics"

It is all very easy for some of us to get wound up about rubrics and liturgical niceties, or lack of them. Some clergy simply don't seem to understand liturgy, some do; compare and contrast Pope Francis and Pope Benedict.

I love our present Pope, I love what says, I love his delight in people, his call to go out to the poor, his revelling in being a priest but liturgically the old adage "as lost as a Jesuit in Holy Week" comes to mind. I think what he said about his need for Mgr Guido Marini as his Master of Ceremonies is an insight into his deep humility. There seems to be doubt about the translation, "I prefer him to even benefit me by his traditional formation and at the same time, so he is formed in the same way by my emancipated formation", quite what is meant by "emancipated formation" I am not sure. Personally, I imagine a grin and a slight hesitation, even an "err...", before the Holy Father pronounced the phrase. On informal occassions the Pope's facial expression should always be reported along with his words.

One of the things that Pope Benedict taught us is that the Pope can be "several persons", I mean he can as Pope still write as Joseph Ratzinger the scholar and enter the debate on how to interpret scripture, offering his own personal view rather than a Magisterial interpretation. In the same way Pope Francis seems to be doing the same at his week day Masses in Santa Marta, where his homilies aren't Magisterial but paternal advice about the spiritual life and discipleship. Here they are obviously extempore, full of hesitations, here he is doing what he feels comfortable doing, celebrating Mass with friends, not quite bothering too much about rubrics, not bothering too much about theological precision, which is one of the reasons, probably, why the texts are never made available and just reported in terms of "the Holy Father said ...".

He is a Jesuit, as one of my parishioners who was a penitent of Fr John Edwards SJ says, "having Francis as Pope, it is just like having Fr John as Pope". As much as I personally loved Fr John, he was rigidly orthodox but his liturgical understanding was putting it kindly "idiosyncratic", or should we call it "pastoral", as of course was that other great and saintly Engish Jesuit, Fr Hugh Thwaites, who 20 years ago trying to persuade me to celebrate the Traditional Mass amid my protests that I didn't understand the rubrics said, "They need the Mass, don't worry about the rubrics". So typical of a Jesuit!

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

The Devil's Work!

Christian's, or at least Catholics, use words to denote specific things, which tend to get corrupted by the world at large and devoid of much theological truth.

"Hell" for example, means a state that is eternally seperated from God, humanities ultimate loneliness. It tends to get glossed over by images of a medieval torture chamber, which actually for those who love God might be considered light relief compared to the horror of perpetual exile from his presence. Hell is doctrine that is based on our freewill, we can choose to say yes or no to God and his reign.

"Possession" means to be taken over by the rule of the evil one. It does not necessarilly mean spewing green vomit, swivelling heads or walking on the ceiling. We could say that where Christ is not made present then the devil is, or as Pope Francis has said, "If we are not praying to Christ, we are praying to the devil", because he came to usher in the Kingdom Heaven reclaiming it from the Prince of this world. Traditionally Jesuits spirituality stressed very much that if you do not stand under the banner of Christ then you stand under the banner of Satan.

"Exorcism" means literally to "pray out", in the "old rite" before something was sanctified, it first had to be freed from the pollution of the realm of sin, that included everything from water to babies. It was based on the simple assumption that if something didn't belong to Christ specifically, it belonged to Satan. In the " new rite" exorcisms are removed from any Blessing, and are limited only to baptismal preparation (where culturally appropriate). The Sacraments above all are Exorcisms, the actual Rite of Exorcism is only a special Sacramental to prepare for Confession and the worthy reception of Holy Communion, of course a bad Confession is sacrilege and unworthy reception of Holy Communion leads to our "condemnation", and is certainly the work of the devil, and a direct co-operation with him.

Exorcism has been in the Catholic news lately; various diocese appointing numbers of Exorcists, the Rome Exorcist calling for every priest being free to exorcise who he will, and the big one, did the Pope exorcise the man in the wheel chair? To this, well yes and no. At one level making the sign of the Cross over something is an exorcism, as is mentioning the name of Jesus or saying the Lord's Prayer, the very presence of a holy object or substance, a medal or Holy Water or blessed salt or the light of a blessed candle could be considered an exorcism, Rogation processions were essentially exorcisms.

In Brighton today as people stop believing in God the vacuum tends to be filled with the "spiritual", there are all those shops selling "spiritual" things, from rather camp images of the Sacred Heart through to everything necessary to celebrate a Black Mass or to invoke Satan in a woodland clearing, and everything in between. Even mainstream bookshops are full of rather dubious books. It is terribly dangerous.

"If we are not praying to Christ, we are praying to the devil". Our societies obsession with self, with power and money, with sex and sexual exploitation, with pornography, with unreality of the drug culture, with betrayal in marriage and public life, with the break down of relationships and above all the destruction of the family and our new untested experiments in human ecology and our obsession with atheism are all areas where we are "praying to devil". Direct co-operation with evil is diabolic, it separates us from Christ. We can argue that these things do not possess us but the certainly do both obsess and oppress us, they are the evils that we pray the Father to deliver us from - sed libera nos a malo. There is a fine line between obsession and oppression and actual possession.

The Church has done much in the last 50 years to play down the battle between good and evil, the words of the Pope on so many occassions should cause us to ask if we have been somewhat premature.

"If we are not praying to Christ, we are praying to the devil" and if we do not belong to Christ, who do we belong to?

Monday, May 27, 2013

Two Gods

Sheikh Amed Magghabri (left) and Rev Isaac Poobalan (right) at St John's Episcopal Church which is also being used as a mosque
picture source

The Woolwich muderers were converts to Islam, if memory serves more than a few other Islamic assassins are converts too. Being Muslim is more or less self defining, the credal proclamation of "God is Great and Mohammed is his prophet" is all that is necessary; beards, circumcision, prayer, pilgrimage, mosque attendance or anything else are desirable "additions". In Islam though there are scholars and scholarly opinions there is no body to define orthodoxy, except the local Islamic community, in the West there are perhaps more diverse and isolated extremes than in traditional Islamic countries, though even in these countries, which were once marked by a degree of tolerance are now moving towards a bloody extreme. Perhaps there is a reaction to the secular "westernisation" of the West.

On Trinity Sunday it is worth comparing the two Gods: the monotheistic God of Islam and the Trinitarian God of Christians. The doctrine of the Trinity isn't about mathematics 1+1+1=1 but about relationships, in his oneness God is a Community of Persons. He is in his very nature dynamic and although he has no need of his creation, it is his nature to desire a relationship with his creation. The Christian God is not a solitary being who delivers positive law through his "prophet" so that we might become abdullah, servants/slaves of God, but rather he embues us with his own divine nature and makes us a "new creation". Indeed at the heart of Christianity is not obedience to divine positive law but theosis, humanity becoming by adoption, infusion by the Holy Spirit, what Christ is by his Divine Nature. We become Sons.

Pope Benedict's Regensburg address is important in understanding the fundamental difference between these two God's. The question of the Emperor Manuel II still stands, "Show me just what Mohammed brought that was new, and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached.” In the best interpretations of Islam God is merciful, even compassionate, towards human failings but he is always distant. God sharing human experience, temptation and death is obviously entirely alien to the Islamic God.

The Regensburg address not only draws attention to the difference in the understanding of God but consequently also the difference in understandings of man. The Christian God through his desire for intimacy enables man through reason to understand the the very mind of God through the Natural Law, hence humanity even untouched by revelation can by reason grasp something of the mind of God.

Perhaps the Church needs to recognise the enormous distinction between the Christian God and the Islamic God and taks seriously the need to evangelise Islam. "We all believe in one God" is true but it certainly is not the same God, the doctrine of the Holy Trinity liberates, redeems and sanctifies humanity.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Bishop Williamson's Plot

I was sent the same press release as Damian Thompson from Searchlight the organisation that brings to light the actions of the BNP and other far right wing and racist organizations.
I haven't got the same legal team as the Telegraph, so I shall just publish what Damian publishes:

A coup within Catholicism is imminent. The target is The Society of Pius X (SSPX), an ultra-traditionalist group founded in 1970 out of opposition to the Second Vatican Council (1962-65). The plotters intend to make a major step towards their takeover at a conference on the weekend of 1 and 2 June, which we can reveal will be held at Earlsfield Library Hall, 276 Magdalen Road, Earlsfield London SW18 from 9am to 5pm. The key players in this plot are a bunch of neo-Nazis, fascists and others with disreputable backgrounds. Their objective is to replace SSPX’s current Superior General, Bishop Bernard Fellay, with the convicted Holocaust-denier Bishop Richard Williamson. This plot is a very worrying turn of events.
SSPX is no stranger to controversy. Its members have supported the French Front National and given sanctuary to a Nazi collaborator and war criminal. A previous District Superior… removed Nazi sympathisers from the Society, but our sources inform us that they have re-infiltrated it … This has left many decent members shocked and fearful for its future. They do not want to see it fall into the hands of neo-Nazis.
 The full press release gives names of people who are associated with the SSPX and the BNP, it talks about Bp Willamson and his relationship with other right wing holocaust deniers. It is all rather damning.
Not knowing quite what to do, I forwarded the press release to the Nuncio yesterday.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Cutting down dioceses

Pope Francis met with all the Italian bishops, 250 of them and gave them project of reducing their numbers, an interesting insight into the future of his Papacy.

I am sure many will find good historical reasons why they and their dioceses should continue but the Church is not a museum. In the Church whatever shortages there might be there is never a shortage of bishops. But there are diocese in the world where the faith has almost died out, or diocese where there are hardly any priests, or vocations to the priesthood, or diocese where the faith has become so aberrant that it is hardly recognisable as Catholic, should these not be abolished or merged?

The same thing could be said for Metropolitan Sees, especially in Europe, where the incumbent is by custom raised the Cardinaliate. In the UK we have three Cardinals (I include Northern Ireland) which seems excessive, when there are vast swathes of the Church with no Papal elector but much more vibrant Churches.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

The Pope Exorcising?

Is this an exorcism? Fr Lombardi says "no", the Diocese of Rome's exorcist says, "yes".

Whatever is happening is more than a blessing; the priest seems rather anxious to communicate something to the Pope, and the security guard seems almost rude in snatching away the file, the young man seems to be experiencing something, either gasping for breath or crying out.

Though formal exorcisms are rather long and should be well prepared any priest can now use the exorcism from the Extraordinary Form Rite of Baptism, it is relatively brief Rite.

Traditional Jesuits don't know their way round the rubrics of High Mass but part of Ignatian spirituality is the "discernment of spirits", in the past most Exorcists were Jesuits, and Pope Francis does seem to go on a lot about old Nick. So...
 see Rorate

Swivel-eyed loonery and Pope Francis

When the leadership of the Conservative party describes its activists as "swivel-eyed loons" there is obviously a vast gap between the leadership and the party on the ground. There are only two possibilities 1) the party activists will leave and join something else like UKIP or 2) simply carry-on half-heartedly but fight against the leadership and eventually depose it. A third possibility, I suppose, for the leadership, is to change the membership.

There was a time when it seemed that the Church's leadership in this country seemed to see much of its membership as "swivel-eyed loons" who needed to get with the programme. There was a tremendous gulf between the leadership and "activists" and suddenly we found Mass attendance plummeted along with vocations and practically everything else, see the statistics on the LMS site. The response by Hume and Warlock was to attempt to restructure the Church in England and Wales, which still hasn't quite worked, still there seems to be a gulf between the leadership and activists: those pro-lifers, traddies, those expect fidelity to the Magisterium and object to the The Tablet and would avoid Tina lecture. And rather like the Conservative Party (the same could be said for most of the other parties too) the Church seems concerned about internal issues rather than any serious attempt at mission or proclamation of its message.

The problem for both the Church and the political parties at the moment is that they both lack any "big idea", apart from "Equalities". For politicians this manifests itself in gay "marriage" and therefore the unequal ascendancy of the Homocracy; for the Catholic Church it has unleashed a whole raft of "equality" issues that seem to undermine the essential Catholic message of its uniqueness, Divine origin, the priesthood and much else.

In politics and religion the absence of any "big idea" is likely to result in the irrelevance of both. "Equality" in religious terms has led to seeing all religions as being the same and none of any particular value and all worshipping at the altar of "niceness". In politics it will result in the short term of endless legal wrangling but eventually a politics that lacks any distinctions where all parties attempt to impose a rainbow fascism on its citizenry by control of their speech and even thought.

Perhaps Pope Francis is offering a possibility of alternative, a big idea, for Christians to get behind, of reaching out to "the poor". In our present economic situation is it possible that this could actually be an attractive idea for politicians too?

Friday, May 17, 2013

Pius X's Daily "Fix"

I encourage people to come to daily Mass, I celebrate Mass daily, I think going to Holy Communion daily is a good thing but it was not always thus.

St Pius X, that arch-innovator, not only changed the order of the sacraments placing First Confession and First Holy Communion before Confirmation but also made the daily celebration of Mass - and consequently the daily reception of Holy Communion - for priests a norm. Until then daily attendance at Mass was usual but the reception of Holy was not. There are older priests in my diocese who remember ancient priests in my diocese in the 1950s who only celebrated Mass on a Sunday, or when they were bound to do so by the Code of Canon Law because of piety not impiety, trusting in the judgement of the Church rather than their own feelings of worthiness or otherwise.

St Theresa of Lisieux was one of the few nuns in her convent who was given permission by her confessor to receive daily. Before the Reformation it was not unusual for a gap of several months to elapse between a priest's ordination and his first Mass, When some of early followers of Ignatius of the Loyola introduced the novelty in Rome of daily reception St Philip Neri introduced the (novelty) of daily Confession.

The Venetian Ambassador to Henry VIII's court remarked on the piety of the English, their attendance daily at Mass and Vespers but even so they seemed to receive Holy Communion only once a year. The Lateran Council of course had introduced the Paschal Precept of annual reception of Confession and Holy Communion but the emphasis was the reception of Holy Communion, Confession was always the preparation for Holy Communion.

I don't know how common Martin Luther's practise in his early days was (if it is correctly reported) that he would interrupt his Mass when he celebrated and go to Confession immediately before the Consecration, even if this a myth, the story illustrates that the expectation was that priest should be in a perfect state of Grace, with no attachment to sin, in order to celebrate, similarly there was the expectation that those who communicated were in a similar state.

Though the Lateran talks about an annual reception of Holy Communion: the ancient Tradition of the Church was that a once in a lifetime reception of Holy Communion was all that was necessary for salvation. In Spain until almost modern times and in the Orthodox world still, even in the Romanised Rites, Holy Communion is always giving as part of the Baptism, after Confirmation, in the case of infants. The pastoral presumption in many places is that although the child may attend the Liturgy all their life they will rarely, if ever Communicate.

Holy Communion does not "indelibly" mark the soul but initiation does, as does a single encounter with Christ in the scriptures, it is life changing.

As good and pious the practise of daily Communion is, it tends to set up a tendency where it almost becomes a necessity to have a daily "fix" to maintain a spiritual life, rather than understanding a single Communion is a life changing event. Pius X would have understood Holy Communion as signifying a state that already existed, of perfect Communion with Christ, we seem to have moved quite some distance from that and seem to be moving further away from it.

Expecting people to receive or to be able to receive daily and at every Mass has made the Church either a place for Saints - and consequently not for sinners or a place were Holy Communion is about ordinariness, and reception without thought or understanding, preparation or thanksgiving, and where attendance at Mass is meaningless without Holy Communion.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

O'Brien Press Release

This afternoon, the Holy See Press Office issued the following press release:
“His Eminence Cardinal Keith Patrick O’Brien, archbishop emeritus of St. Andrews and Edinburgh, for the same reasons he decided not to participate in the last Conclave, and in agreement with the Holy Father, will be leaving Scotland for several months for the purpose of spiritual renewal, prayer, and penance. Any decision regarding future arrangements for His Eminence shall be agreed with the Holy See.”
It would be wonderful to think that this is last we will hear of this particular scandal and His Eminence. The problem is that Bishops' Conferences present their like for nomination as bishops. The Nuncios before Archbishop Mennini seemed to have rubber stamped the names handed to them. The sad fact is that there must be questions over those Bishops who are in place and whose nominations were endorsed by Cardinal O'Brien as well as priests and others who were promoted by him.

When one thinks about the murky character that has emerged of Drygrange when O'Brien was on the staff, the logical outcome is that one must ask questions about every bishop and priest who was associated with it.
Before the O'Brien case there was Roddy Wright the now ex-bishop of Argyle and the Isles who "eloped" with one of his mistresses.

The rather terrifying thought is that possibly Scotland is not alone in its moral turpitude, does it touch the other Episcopal Conferences in these islands and further afield?

Pope Francis has been speaking a lot about "careerism" in the Church, the O'Brien case is certainly the most  blatant example but should one wonder if it is his code for a certain lifestyle? It seems significant that the involvement of His Holiness is specifically mentioned in the press release and it seems impossible to believe that the misdoings of this Cardinal were not a significant blight on, but more especially within the Conclave.

Spreading rumour and gossip is not useful but it does seem that perhaps the past routes to the Episcopacy are pretty shaky and seem to aid and abet a certain type of Bishop from a certain coterie of clergy.

In Scotland it might be sometime before new Bishops are appointed and presumably they will come from somewhere far removed from the O'Brien stable, and only after a long process of vetting, will the same process go on elsewhere?

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

What's the Plan?

I had a discussion with a group of priests recently, we were talking about ageing clergy, clergy in ill health, tired clergy and ultimately parish closures. We spoke about the need for evangelisation and then realised that most parishes and diocese have no plan to evangelise, only to manage decline. Yes, we will carry on our parish catechetical programmes, doing what we have always done, the problem is that what we have always done doesn't really work. If it is done well it leads to gradual decline, if it is done badly the decline is faster.

Michael Voris in the video below talks about the lack of "supernatural faith", I am always uncomfortable with Michael's analysis, it seems so American, so easy. I don't think we need much of a plan, just a vision of Jesus, perhaps the first thing we do is admit that we really do not have any answers of ourselves, except for Jesus, that we aren't even really sure of the question either.

Pope Benedict's "plan" was "reveal the beauty of the face of Jesus", Pope Francis' "reveal the mercy of Jesus". A Greek bishop friend wanted to found a convent of nuns "to reveal Christ's love in community", many Catholic priests and bishops see the way forward as "Eucharist Adoration" (others will speak of "Eucharistic Exposition" which tends place the emphasis on him rather than on our adoring), then others will suggest Marian devotion as the path to renewal, or Lectio Divina, others will suggest the return to the Mass of Ages. Vorris himself seems to indicate the answer is a return to good old fashion catechesis and "ass kicking".

What is the heart of these ideas, and all of them seem to work (for some people), is that they turn our eyes from our own efforts to what God does, in that sense it is "supernatural faith", rather the natural faith of Baldrick's "a cunning plan".

"Cunning plans" always come to nothing, and so does mere human endeavour, what we need to realise is that  God's answer to all mans ills and the Church's too, is Jesus. When we place our hope in aything else it is a 'house built on sand', it won't endure. The problem is that we need the vision of Jesus to see Jesus solving our difficulties and triumphing over them. Unless we are rooted in in him we lack supernatural faith, hope and charity too.

The Church today, especially bishops and priests need a good dose of the supernatural, our cunning plans over the last half century seem to underplay that. The vision of John XXIII for Vatican II was that it would be a supernatural experience for the bishops taking part and for the whole Church.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Children's Mass

Is that a mantelletta?
... and look at the silver ware!


A three-year-old Colombian boy has garnered attention across the internet for a video in which he dons priestly garments and “celebrates” Mass, reciting the liturgy from memory.
Samuel Jaramillo, who is an orphan, lives with his grandmother and an aunt in the city of Medellin. When family members posted a video of the boy pretending to celebrate Mass on YouTube, it gained rapid popularity, attracting nearly 300,000 views in just over a week.
His relatives told reporters that last Christmas, Jaramillo did not ask for toys like most kids his age. Instead, he wanted “priest’s clothes” and the objects necessary to “celebrate” Mass.
He has learned to recite the Mass from memory with the corresponding pauses, intonations and gestures of an experienced priest.

It is interesting, in so far as it raises issues of how even three year olds perceive the sacred liturgy.


Deacon Nick raises an interesting point: apparently the General Secretary of the Bishops Conference attended a meeting of A Call to Action, hosted by Hinsley Hall the Leeds Diocesan Pastoral Centre, being a moderate I wouldn't attend A Call to Action and for the same reason at the other end of the spectrum I probably wouldn't attend a Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice, except some of my parishioners did and were quite impressed with the speakers, indeed a friend of mine spoke, and he is far from a ranter.

Deacon Nick's point is: if Mgr Stock can attend an ACTA meeting why could he not attend a PEP meeting? I am not sure what the protocol of arranging such visits is, whether ACTA invited Mgr Stock and PEP did not but as a consequence of Mgr Stock's visit ACTA now expect to meet the entire Bishops Conference, according to Deacon Nick.

Now, in the interest of balance in would seem that Mgr Stock should be available for various groups. Unlike individual Bishops who might attend specific meetings of groups like Latin Mass Society or Faith or Evangelium or even the CTS or Confraternity of Catholic Clergy or a myriad other groups, having the Secretary Secretary of the Bishop's Conference attending "in a listening capacity", not for himself but for their Lordships and apparently promising to report the proceedings to the Bishop's Conference seems to be on quite a different scale of things. Deacon Nick does not indicate who authorised such a visit but presumably in such matters, and with such a group, the General Secretary does not act on his own initiative. This was an official visit not a private or personal visit, as far as the information available, mainly from the Tablet, is concerned.

Now, it could be that ACTA, which in this country originated with a letter to the Tablet and seems have not a few Tablet connexions, has been rather clever in manipulating the media. Let us hope they have not been manipulating Mgr Stock and through him the Bishops Conference. It would be very unfortunate if the Bishop's Conference becomes seen as unbalanced and actually creating dissent. I find it quite concerning if their Lordships are more open to groups on the extreme left than the centre or right of centre groups. Members of ACTA seem to have connexions with far left groups within the Church that seem to be intent on undermining the Magisterium.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Moscow Partriarch visits Beijing

The Patriarch of Moscow has just made an official visit to Beijing and was received by President, Xi Jinping.
Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk, recently paid an important visit to China, where he met the illegitimate Catholic bishop Joseph Ma Yinglin.

So, what is gioing on?
A Roman friend says the only westerner who might be able answer this question is the Nuncio to Great Britain, the former Nuncio to Russia.

Thursday, May 09, 2013

Thursday: The Day of the Two Presences

He came down to earth without leaving the Father's presence, he ascended into Heaven without leaving us orphans.

Their Lordships movement of this Great Feast of the Ascension from the 40th to the 43rd day after Easter, has helped to focus our attention on this day itself.

Today is Thursday, the 5th day; Holy Thursday is the day of the Lord's institution of the Holy Eucharist. For us Catholics the Eucharist is His abiding Presence: This is My Body, This is My Blood. It is not absence but Presence.
That round of meals he had with his disciple and friends is replaced for the discples by this new anamensis of His death and resurrection. His Body and Blood will remain in His church until He comes again.

Today, Thursday, we remember His Ascension, the discples witness, "His being taken up", "his going from them", and yet they return to Jerusalem not sad but "rejoicing".

Why do they rejoice? Because his going is not about his departure but his being with them, "remember. I am with you always, yes, even to the consumation of the ages". Now, wherever they are, he is with them. They become His Body in the world, the Ascension is about Presence not absence.

Today Thursday, is the day of two "Presences". His Eucharist Presence, as the Body of Christ within the Community of Faith for the Church and His Ecclessial Presence as the (Mystical) Body of Christ within the world.

Is it coincidental or are we supposed to connect these two Thursdays, the Eucharist and Ascension?

Wednesday, May 08, 2013

End-a-Life Kenny to be awarded a US Catholic Doctorate

The Pro-abortion Irish Taoiseach, Enda Kenny is to awarded an honarary doctorate by Boston College, Ben Travolta suggests we should write, here is his excellent letter.

Dear Fr Leahy,
I am a Catholic.
You can imagine my distress and confusion, therefore, to read that Boston College is honouring the Irish Taoiseach, Enda Kenny, by awarding him an honorary degree and inviting him to deliver the Commencement Address this year.
Or perhaps you cannot.

Maybe you are unaware that on April 30th, Kenny's coalition government introduced legislation with the  title "The Protection of Life during Pregnancy Bill 2013," which seeks to legalise abortion in Ireland on the grounds of preventing the suicide of pregnant women (despite the fact that no medical text suggests abortion as a treatment for suicidal ideation).
Maybe you are unaware that there is no gestational age limit to the measure, so that it will in practice mean abortion on demand, under threat of suicide, through all nine months of pregnancy.
Maybe you are unaware that Catholic hospitals will be forced to comply with the proposed law.
Maybe you are unaware that the bill has no conscience clause protections for physicians, nurses, and other health care workers.
Maybe you are unaware that Kenny has threatened to expel pro-life Catholic TDs from the Fine Gael parliamentary party if they refuse to vote for measure,
However, now that I have brought all this to your attention, my question is this:
Do you still think that it is consistent with the Catholic ethos of your University to honour this man, in this way, at this time?
If so, I would be keen to understand why.
If not, I would be keen to know what you are going to do about it.
Yours sincerely,
Ben Trovato
I suggest others do the same.  His email address is
A commenter on his blog suggests that the  Nuncio to the US Archbishop Vigano should be asked if this invitation is compliant with the provisions of Ex Corde Ecclesiae ( the Apostolic Constitution governing the Catholicity of Catholic institutions of higher education and asserting the authority of the diocesan bishop in such matters).
The Nunciature's email address is

Tuesday, May 07, 2013

Environmentalists, Gays, Feminists say it better!

The Eucharist is at the heart of the Christian polis.
Receiving the holy Eucharist signifies the recipient is in Communion with the Church and also that the Church is in Communion with recipient.
The Bishops are custodians of the Eucharist, they "bind and loose", they are the gate keepers.

In the 1970/80s many writers were saying things like "the Eucharist is not a reward for good behaviour", many Bishop spoke of the dangers of "politicising" the Eucharist, "politicising" in the sense of linking it directly to "party politics". Perhaps Bishops and the Church in general became anxious about blanket decrees of excommunication, such as post-war Italian bishops excommunicating anyone, and on the face of it everyone, who voted Communist. Many Bishops too who witnessed the great exeunt of fellow clergy and religious after the promulgation of Humanae Vitae are still wounded by the experience and fearful of repeating it..

At the same period a new sense of morality inside the Church led by moral theologians like Charles Curran and outside the Church by Existentialists and Deconstructionists made many of us rather fearful of any objective statement of morality to the point where many bishops and priests were happy to speak about secular morality and to adopt secular causes "banning the bomb", "social justice", immigration, religious freedom and plurality. These tend to be socially acceptable, they tend to be about the reform or changing of structures but to neglect anything that involves personal conversion. Essentially they are middle ground Liberal politics and concerned about "them" rather than "us".

What seems to mark this type of moral outlook is that it is "safe", non-judgemental about individuals, it is "tolerant", though mildly critical about social structures, it takes the line of least resistance. In England it seems to characterised by Cardinal Murphy O'Connor's reception of Tony Blair into the Church without any expectation of a renunciation of views that seem out of kilter with mainstream or "institutional Catholicism", as if his personal beliefs expressed in his voting record, his views on Life issues and sexuality are of absolutely no importance. The same could be said of successor, in his failure to speak strongly and consistently about practically every issue that faces the Church in this country today.

In a similar way Cardinal Brady when asked this week about the exclusion of pro-abortion "End-a life", Prime-Minister, Kenny from Holy Communion says that the Irish bishops had not even considered the matter and that he did not want to "politicise the Eucharist", instead he wishes to strip the Eucharist of any meaning of Communion, or Morality and render it a meaningless "symbol".

What Brady seems to be suggesting is that there should be no connection with morality and belief. Pope Benedict stressed the connection between belief and worship, his attempt at liturgical reform, not so much the outward signs, the ornaments, of the liturgy but rather his insistence that the translations of the liturgy really reflected the belief of the Church. What on the face of it he only glancingly touched on was the relationship of morality to faith. This seems to be something Pope Francis seems to be addressing on a very simple level. "Stop grumbling", "care for the poor", "welcome the disabled ", "do a good turn everyday", "be kind", "be joyful", "smile" are the rather prosaic messages of Francis' daily Mass sermons but they seem to indicate an attempt to suggest that faith and morality are intimately connected.

When the Church and its clergy are identified as being far from moral, hypocrite, and as actually being evil, pedrastic, self-serving there is a serious problem. Today Christianity is no longer identified as being about goodness, or being moral. It is no longer, salt that gives savour, or leaven in the lump or light in the world. It no longer seems to have a message that changes lives or societies.

No longer does the Church teach humanity how to live. In fact, today most people do not think the Church has anything to say that is not better said by a whole variety of secular groups ranging from Environmentalist to the Gay or Feminist movements. In fact they say it a whole lot better, without the hypocrisy and kant of many ecclesiastics, take Cardinal O'Brien as an example. The reason seems to be because we have lost the connection between faith and personal morality.

In brief: What I hope this Papacy will address is the gulf between faith and goodness.

Saturday, May 04, 2013

A thought on the English Martyrs

I heard a priest in Verona asking in a sermon, "If we are not being martyred, are we being the Church?"

A weaker, poorer Church is a Church of Martyrs. No-one attacks the strong, and the wealthy can always buy off their persecutors. When we have nothing of value but Christ then we will be willing to lay down everything including our lives for him.

More than anything else martyrdom will shape the Pontificate of Pope Francis and his successors, early on in his Pontificate he will canonise the 800 Martyrs of Otranto, killed by Muslim soldiers in the 16th century.

For those outside the Church, martyrdom is a futile gesture, it is about engaging in battles and wars that we cannot win, except in the eyes of God.

In Europe and North America today it isn't rack and rope but legislation that strips us of the position in society that we once had.

It is our Bishops that will have the duty of gathering the scattered flock, and of preaching the Truth.
Today we celebrate the Martyrs of England and Wales under Henry VIII all except St John Fisher succumbed, under Elizabeth all the bishops appointed under Mary were imprisoned or exiled, the list of post-reformation martyrs has many priests and laymen, even lay women but only one Bishop

Pray for our Bishops

Friday, May 03, 2013

Curial Reform: start from the top

Simon Peter has a special role amongst the Apostles, he is charged with strengthening the brethren, with feeding the lambs and sheep.  In the first ever infallible statement he speaks on behalf of the other Apostles, when they express confusion, he, speaking for them, says, "You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God". The immediate response of Jesus is "You are the Rock, on which I will build my Church".

Even so Paul is willing to challenge Peter, when he seems to fail to understand the fullness of his statement, "You are the Christ", for example when Peter seems to side with "the men from Jerusalem", the Cutters, the Judaisers, Paul corrects him, even to the point of rebuking him publicly, yet it seems that Paul always wanted to act in communion with Peter.

Historians, suggest the monarchical Epoiscopate, at a local level, seems to take some 50 years to emerge to as the norm, although the Pastoral Epistles seem suggest Timothy and, perhaps, Titus as the overseer of local Churches. The functions of those termed Bishop, Presbyter and even Deacon are unclear in the New Testament, even though as Catholics we are bound to believe they originate with the Lord.

Although I tend to argue against a "Spirit of Vatican One" understanding of the Papacy, the Synoptic Gospels, and in different way the Gospel of John, seem to have a common Petrine thread running through them, they can be described as Petrine. Apostolic Christianity in both East and West is Petrine.

The Church has the Apostles as its foundation, it is through our communion with them, or rather their successors today's Bishops, that we are united to Christ the "Cornerstone". The Dominical model of Church, is actually top down, it starts with the Peter and then the Apostles, the Pope and the Bishops, they are the ones who bring the faith, they are the ones who admit to the sacraments, we have access to Christ through them. We recognise them as authentic Apostles by their communion with the successor of Peter.

The first step towards Curial reform, which seems to be on everyone's lips, surely cannot begin without first of all recognising that the purpose of the Curia which is essentially about Communion with Peter. Its purpose is to assist Peter in being in Communion with the local Churches, in order to fulfill the role given him by Christ to "feed", to "strengthen" and to be "the centre of unity".

Communion however is a two-way street, there has to be a desire at the local level to be "in communion". Pope Francis and his various associates seem to be scattering ideas around like pixie-dust, presumably to stimulate debate and prayer but at some point the Church has to decide what it actually means to be "in communion with Peter".

The Romanitas of the Church is marked specifically by the Cardinals, whose theoretical role "Roman clergy" should be a guarantee of Communion with Peter, in practice this just doesn't happen and has to be backed up by the system on Nuncios. Perhaps rather than naming as Cardinal the Archbishop of principle city a Cardinal ought to be the bishop most skilled in holding his fellows in Communion with Peter and themselves.
The experience of the Church in may parts of the world is that the Cardinals are often set on dis-Communion with Rome, certainly that was the experience in England and Wales with Cardinal Hume.

The rather long and tedious negotiations between Benedict's Curia and groups like the SSPX, which have proved ultimately stillborn as far as unity is concerned have been very fruitful in causing us to question what exactly "Communion" is, in the same way, at the other end of the spectrum the negotiations with the "beyond Jesus" American nuns. Eventually the very simple issue of what is meant "Communion" must be answered. Reference to "aerosol" or "rosewater" Christianity might be an indication that we have to move beyond something so ill defined as self defined Catholicism.

The implied criticism by Cardinal Ouillet, who seems to be one Pope Francis' most frequent visitors, of our own Bishops recently on their Roman retreat might suggest "Communion" is more, even than a congruence of faith.
‘My brother bishops, you face many challenges in your apostolic ministry in England and Wales. Perhaps you can identify with Peter and John as they are dragged before the Sanhedrin to be pressured, threatened and even beaten to stop proclaiming the saving Truth of Jesus Christ. Perhaps you can sense viscerally the pressure to obey men rather than God, to see yourself-as a mere manager or functionary rather than a disciple and an apostle.’
As Catholics we believe in salvation through faith which is "fruitful in good works", this seems to be a major theme in the Pope's teaching.
Cleaning up the Curia, isn't just about competence it must be about appointing men who are "fully converted", who are willing to be real evangelists, who are not slaves to the Law but actually have a real spirit of discipleship with fire in their bellies.
Cardinal Ouillet went on to say:
‘Pope Francis, also makes us feel uncomfortable. One thing I have noticed, even in my personal meetings with him, is that Pope Francis’ sole criterion is Jesus Christ. The Holy Father does not get distracted by peripheral considerations. He goes to the heart of things with simplicity and boldness. You recall that just two days after his election he said to the Cardinal Electors gathered in Rome: “If we do not profess Jesus Christ, things go wrong. We may become a charitable NGO, but not the Church, the Bride of the Lord …. When we do not profess Jesus Christ, we profess the worldliness of the devil, a demonic worldliness” (Homily from Missa pro Ecclesia with the Cardinal Electors, March 14,2013). 
‘Yet the verbal surgery of the Incarnate and Risen Word and of His Vicar has a point: having cut away what is not of Jesus Christ, we can encounter Him and be united with Him in love and intimate friendship. Exposing the weakness and failure is the condition of possibility for creating communion with the Risen Christ and sharing in His Easter joy.
Before anything else, especially in the light of the O'Brien  scandal, reform must start with the College of Cardinals.

Were those "wolves" which Pope Benedict feared most feared members of the College who should have been his closest collaborators?

Wednesday, May 01, 2013

Resonding to Sweatshops

Speaking on the tragedy in Bangladesh Pope Francis said,
“That [38 Euros] is what the people who died were being paid. This is called slave labour,” he said. “Today in the world this slavery is being committed against something beautiful that God has given us – the capacity to create, to work, to have dignity. How many brothers and sisters find themselves in this situation!
“Not paying fairly, not giving a job because you are only looking at balance sheets, only looking at how to make a profit. That goes against God!
“There are many people who want to work but cannot. When a society is organised in a way that not everyone is given the chance to work, that society is not just.”
I haven't found that any official site, yet.

Primark, and apparently Tescos, sell clothing made in this factory, now I don't know if any of our Bishops have written to either of these companies to tell them what the Holy Father has said or to say their own bit about the scandal of British companies not caring for their producers overseas. I hope after their next plenary meeting they will decide whose responsibility it is and sit down with the relevant commision and write.
The problem is it will be October before something appears on the Bishop's website. The letter I published earlier today from Bishop Egan will get to the public either through the dioocesan site or via blogs like mine, not through the Eccleston Square site of the Bishop's of England and Wales. It is a very good letter, it should be reported, it is unlikely to be picked up nationally because journalists don't trawl through diocesan websites. There is need for the Bishop's of E&W press office to report what is being said by our Bishops, which sometimes can be quite exciting and relevant, rather than the created news of the various commissions.

On Beards and Equalities

Good for Bishop Philip Egan.
The Equalities and Human Rights Commission have issued a document: Religion or belief and the workplace and Bishop Egan takes his scalpel an in less than a page cuts it ribbons

Rt. Hon. Baroness Onora O’Neill
Equality and Human Rights Commission
3 More London Riverside
Tooley St
London SE1 2RG 
Dear Baroness O’Neill, 
From Rt. Rev. Philip A. Egan, Bishop of Portsmouth 
I write to you with the best wishes of the clergy and people of the Catholic
Diocese of Portsmouth, and the promise of our prayers, as you chair the
Equality and Human Rights Commission. The EHRC has a very difficult task with
its statutory remit to promote a ‘modern Britain where everyone is treated with
dignity and respect’. This task is certainly one that Catholics support. However, I
also want to express to you some concerns I have as a bishop and pastor about
the recent document issued by the Commission, Religion or Belief in the
Workplace. Unfortunately, I believe some aspects of this document are
problematic not only for us Catholics, but for all Christians in our country and
indeed, for the Christian patrimony of our British culture. 
First, it seems to me that the document has a philosophical flaw in that it fails to
differentiate adequately or robustly between what constitutes a religion and
what constitutes a life-style or moral conviction. The result of this is that, for
instance, vegetarianism, environmentalism and even having a beard (p. 3),
becomes equated with the ‘great’ religions of Judaism, Hinduism, Islam,
Christianity and so on. Although unintended, this is surely offensive? 
Secondly, the document is based on the thesis that every religion or belief must
be treated as absolutely equal and identical, rather than respected as essentially
different and complimentary. In other words, a totalitarian or absolutist concept
of ‘equality’ is at work. A consequence of this is that minority religions such as
Druidism will be treated disproportionately and this will tend to obscure or
dilute the religion of the majority, Christianity, in any policy-making. In the long
run, this will subvert the core and essence of our national culture. 
Thirdly, as the Queen traditionally acknowledges in her Message each
Christmas, Britain is a Christian country. This is not only because of the number
of those who practice of profess in some manner the Christian faith, but moreimportantly because of the self-evident Christian patrimony of our laws,
institutions, social mores and traditions. Indeed, even the secular values
espoused by the EHRC itself (e.g. tolerance, respect, dignity, freedom of belief)
are arguably derived from underlying Christian values. They have vibrancy, not
simply because of the law, but because of the implicit adherence of the
populace to its Christian heritage and ethos. 
Finally, Catholics fear the ‘dictatorship of relativism’ that arises when
governments and legislators impose ethical guidelines and patterns of
behaviour upon their citizens that are not demonstrably derived from the
natural law and right reason. Without its basis in right reason and the natural
law – which Catholics believe was confirmed in the divine revelation of Jesus
Christ – British law and social policy will be dominated increasingly by pressure
groups. This will lead to social disintegration. Instead, we believe that
governments and policy makers ought to foster the traditional religious identity
of our culture, that is, our Christian patrimony. This will truly assist greater social
cohesion, and the very respect and equality that the EHRC espouses. 
I recognise the complexity of all these issues but I raise them out of duty and
concern. Please be assured of my prayers for all the members of the EHRC and
for God’s blessing on your important work. Indeed, I pray, through the
intercession of St George, for the peoples of our land that the Holy Spirit will
bring about a greater social cohesion, with real respect and love for one’s
With my best wishes to you and your Commission members,
Bishop of Portsmouth
cc Priests and People of Diocese of Portsmouth

The Lord’s descent into the underworld

At Matins/the Office of Readings on Holy Saturday the Church gives us this 'ancient homily', I find it incredibly moving, it is abou...