Sunday, December 22, 2013
A New Ultramontanism
We seem to have returned to many of the issues most of us had hoped had died on the vine 30/50 years ago, a priest ordained a little after me suggested we were living in 'time warp'. Senior clergy are thrashing about with moral issues, like communion for divorcees, communion for dissidents politicians, (there is a very good article here on politicising the Eucharist) lay groups that strove to overturn settled issues are given fresh fuel, it is almost as if some bishops are deliberately pouring petrol on the smouldering embers that in the last few decades many of us thought had almost burnt themselves out.
The people who seem to be discomforted most are younger priests, it doesn't just seem to be here in England or North America but world wide, I can only speak anecdotally of course but those I know and correspond with who are either young themselves or involved in formation tell me that many young clergy are wondering where the roller-coaster is going to end, or even if it is going to come of the rails and crash.
There is a crucial difference between the formation of older and younger priests, there is a divide which was really the publication of the Catechism. Priests and seminarians of my generation would swallow any old line about what the Church taught. Vatican II, an imminence work, unlike every other Council issued no Canons hence every word got Canonised. With Trent or VI the demand was a negative one, to reject those things condemned, VII demands not just the positive acceptance of the whole caboodle but in a way in which the specialists told us.we had to. The Catechism at least gave us a tool to unlock it and to interpret it.
I can understand the Pope thinking that those issues which people like me assumed were settled have actually not been, maybe today or tomorrow they need to be. Could it be we have just papered over cracks and in reality there are deep fissures? Possibly in places like South America, these issues were not settled, maybe the Church pulsates to a different rhythm elsewhere; military coups, dictatorships and juntas meant the Pope's homeland simply sees things differently but many younger clergy in North America and Europe, at least, I think thought God was beginning to give his Church peace so we might stop the post-Concilliar ad intra controversies and at last begin the work of evangelisation.
Though we are urged to look outwards, 'to the perpheries', what seems to be happening is that everyone both in and outside the Church is looking at the Pope, more so than any of his predecessors, he has become the sole 'specialist of the logos'. It appears as if the only indispensable person in the Church at the moment is the Bishop of Rome, he alone can control the velocity of the roller coaster and which particular track it will follow. He alone has the master-plan. What did he mean yesterday by the Curia no longer being 'inspector and inquisitor'? What seems to be happening is that we are dispensing with one one form of Ultramontanisn to more closely another one. Magister had an interesting article in which he spoke of 'the monocratic, centralizing form in which Francis is in fact governing the Church.'
It is not my intention to criticise, just merely to say I am still uncertain where I am being led and to express a degree of concern. The thing is that we have had John Paul II and Benedict XVI, we have had the Catechism, Vatican II has been studied and reflected upon for 50 years, the Church cannot go back to the chaos and anarchy of my youth. The state of flux which clergy of a certain generation look back on with fondness has been superseded. To impose on the Church of today a model of fifty years ago seems folly. The 'modern world' rejoiced over in Gaudium et Spes is the world of our grandparents generation there is new 'modern world' a world of mass and immediate communication, a world that is hostile to the fundamentals of Christian teaching and yet seems to hunger for it.
Since writing this I have read a piece by the good Fr Hunwicke, which in part, says similar things though coming from a different angle. What is particularly worrying is the effect of this new Ultramontanism on ecumenism and ecclesial unity and coherence in general.
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