Tuesday, December 03, 2013

Messy Church

Is there a new Franciscan Ecclesiology? It seems as if orthodoxy is now no longer a requirement in the Catholic Church that we should recognise 'what is' rather than insist on 'what should be'. Pastoral realism seems to be what Pope Francis is insisting on. Every bishop, every priest, every informed lay person knows that there is great gulf between 'what is' and 'what should be'.

The Pope talks about not refusing baptism to the children of those who are not married or divorced and remarried, this might be an issue in Argentina but I know of no priest in England and Wales who would refuse baptism on that issue. The vast majority of those I marry are living together before marriage, some chastely but most, I assume, not. Contraception, or even early stage 'contraceptive' abortion are as normal amongst Catholics as non-Catholics according to various surveys. Those in 'irregular unions' or 'same sex unions' seem not to understand the Church's teaching, or have rejected it. Many priests who might want to adopt a position on these issues know that they would not be backed up by their bishop and that their brother priests are happy to turn a blind eye, it is  difficult to be the odd one out, and effectively put people in 'bad faith' or in a state of simple confusion if most bishops and priests are 'pastoral'. The Church is after all about Communion, we are not Presbyterians, where individual priests do their own thing without reference to the head of the local Church. We are 'in Communion' with Christ and his Church because of our Communion with our Bishop, every Mass is an act of Communion with the local Bishop.

Sandro Magister speaks of 'a Federal Church' and draws on two issues raised by Francis' Exhortation, a) Synodalism and local bishops meeting in their Episcopal Conferences and exercising doctrinal autonomy, b) Enculturation and the de-Westernisation or de-Helenisation of Catholicism, both of which were opposed by rigorously by Benedict XVI.

Benedict represents the tidy centralised Church, Francis the messy decentralised Church, 'Go back to your dioceses and make a mess'. The great problem is that the we Catholics have no experience of a decentralised Church, like David Cameron's 'equal marriage' it is an untried experiment. Already, as Magister points out, priests are being sent home from the Roman dicasteries, heads of certain formerly powerful dicasteries have not been appointed. The CDW is one example, in a decentralised Church, presumably the local bishops will decide on how liturgy is celebrated in their local Churches, and dare I suggest, following the principle of lex credendi lex orandi, what doctrines are celebrated.

As Catholics we believe that no Bishop even the Bishop of Rome can change doctrine but any Bishop can choose to ignore certain doctrines or simply downplay them.

I am not sure what is going on in the tussle between Mueller and Zollitsch both sides claim to have the Pope on their side, perhaps both do, perhaps the Pope just wants them to sort things out between themselves. It is interesting that no pressure, as far as we know, has been put on the German Bishops to change their permission to issue abortiofacients in German Catholic hospitals. Our experience over the last 50 years is that what starts in Germany spreads to the rest of the Church.

I am anxious about the phrase 'genuine doctrinal authority' Pope Francis hasn't explained it. Could it mean that German bishops might decide to establish a rite for the ordering (rather than ordaining) of deaconesses on their 'genuine doctrinal authority', can it be kept in Germany? What will stop them from allowing inter-communion with Lutherans, or for that matter Concelebration with them, which already happens in some places in Germany, why should it not spread to other national Churches?

The problem is that doctrinally in many parts of the world doctrinally the Church is in a mess, unlike the Orthodox Church we Catholics do not have a strong sense of being part of an ancient Tradition or even much sense of Unity, indeed our 'Tradition' has been to throw out babies with bath water.


Liam Ronan said...

William Butler Yeats (1865-1939)

” Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: a waste of desert sand;
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Wind shadows of the indignant desert birds.
The darkness drops again but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?”

Anil Wang said...

Genuine doctrinal authority has never been a part of any local Church, east or west since the start of the Church. However, ecumenical councils have been a part of Tradition since the beginning. We don't know what Pope Francis has in mind, but if the curia is turned into a global synod that discusses doctrine that later gets approved (or rebuked) by the Pope, it might not be too bad depending on the implementation.

For instance, if all "superpowers" had the same authority as mission countries, I can foresee the Germans being rebuked by the "non-aligned powers" with the rubber stamping of the Pope, leaving the Germans in a very unfavour position. Currently they can silently work their heresy in the background through the "magesterium of theologians" and then offer open defiance when they think the Pope is weak and claim "we're not being disobedient, we're just negotiating or acting ahead of everyone else". In a revised set up, they're have to claim "those foreigners are rebuking us, but we're German and know better"...something that doesn't play well with the liberal press.

Aurelia said...

Everybody knows that the dice are loaded
Everybody rolls with their fingers crossed
Everybody knows that the war is over
Everybody knows the good guys lost
Everybody knows the fight was fixed
The poor stay poor, the rich get rich
That's how it goes
Everybody knows
Everybody knows that the boat is leaking
Everybody knows that the captain lied
Everybody got this broken feeling
Like their father or their dog just died

J said...

We still have Priests like you, Fr. Blake.

Jacobi said...

Yes Father, we are in a sorry mess and it’s been coming a long time.

What is at stake now is orthodoxy, the very essence of Catholicism, that is, compliance with the established teaching of the Magisterium.
On the pastoral front there is a profound difference between pastorally dealing with grievous sin, and there are many ways of doing that, and publicly accepting it. Public acceptance slides into heresy.
The priest, his bishop, and the Pope, have no authority to change doctrine. All are all responsible for preserving the Truth, that is, Christ’s Truth and his alone.

Synodalism referring to local administrative matter is perfectly OK, but in doctrinal matters it is not permissible and will, sooner or later, slide into heretical schism. For instance permission to use abortifactants, the murder of a full and complete human being to be, is an invalid permission, and is grievously sinful on the part of the bishops. Furthermore, continued use by the laity remains grievously sinful, and is not absolved by the invalid permission of bishops

As for enculturation, the goal of the liberal/Modernists in the Church, that is the same as Secularisation, the acceptance the standards of the atheistic world, and abandonment of the teaching of the Magisterium.

Sadly, the possibility of open schism in Catholicism is becoming more real by the day.

Oh yes, we do live in interesting times, don’t we!

Frederick Jones said...

It all sounds very like the C of E. So long as those espousing the doctrines of The Tablet are not only tolerated but given positions of authority then the Catholic Church is a comprehensive church , certainly de facto if not de jure. Edward Norman once pointed out that the C of E has a perfectly definite deposit of orthodox christian doctrine but has no mechanism for ensuring that it is taught. Is the Catholic Church in the same position? or is that it just lacks the will to set its house in order?

Comprehensiveness, which if tolerated implies that the matters in dispute among the factions do not matter, plus lack of the will or the capacity to enforce authority is a recipe for inevitable decline.

If no truths are absolute and all is relative then a teaching church becomes a social service agency, with a religious discussion group provided to give it a non-secular flavour.

How very like i is to the C of E.

Anonymous said...

Good grief. And this afternoon I read from a reasonable source speculation that HH plans to call a council to implement the last one.

I don't expect that to happen. Francis brushed against heresy in his Exhortation. Next time, I fully expect him to fall over and break his leg on it, and in the not too distant future.

And should that happen, how do I see it playing out? I hope to see the Burke's, Ranjith's, and Piacenza's electing a little old German professor to finish the job he started.

Exsurge, Christe, adjuva nos.

Anonymous said...

Where did you read that, Jon?

Deacon Augustine said...

Expanding the role of episcopal conferences to include their acting as a seat of doctrinal authority would be to turn the Church into a multi-headed hydra with schismatic tendencies erupting from all sides.

There is a reason that episcopal conferences have no standing in canon law and sacramental theology, and that is because they have nothing to do with the divine constitution of the Church. They are a novel creation of the last 50 years which have no precedent in the Latin tradition.

I do not trust our bishops acting in herd modality, independent from Roman oversight, to be faithful teachers and guardians of the Catholic Faith. History is littered with the failures of episcopal heresy and schism and our lot, collectively, are so enamoured of worldly approbation that they seem to care little for the approbation of God.

I don't always trust Popes either, but at least with the Pope there is the protection of infallibility that will prevent him formally promulgating heretical doctrine. We have no such protection from groups of bishops unless they are teaching as a universal college in union with Peter as its head.

I was speaking with a Greek Orthodox friend a few years ago about how they had managed to stay united in their faith despite autocephaly. He put it down to the adherence to tradition amongst all the believers - lay and clergy - and the fact that a diocesan synod could remove a dodgy bishop, as his had done. He didn't think it could work for us Latins because tradition had largely lost its value for us and we have no similar way to deal with erring bishops.

Our Lady of Good Success-pray for us. said...

A new horizontal church=world utopia awaits...except that utopia is a worldling's fantasy and The Church cannot ever be the world and vice-versa.

Happily, with the internet, the new evangelisation cannot erase the History and Tradition part of the History-Tradition-Scripture trinity of the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic - it's gone global and it's too late - we all know about it. The practice of Tradition part may be rare as four leaf clovers (I actually have one), but that can change.

Anonymous said...

My great fear with all this talk about synodality is that, if actually implemented, it will have the effect of innoculating the Church against further reform at precisely the time when it is needed. It is as if, having seized and exercised power brutally, they are now prepared to burn the whole thing to the ground rather than peacefully cede control to their enemies.

JARay said...

I certainly see grave dangers in this synodality.
How long O Lord?
How long?

johnh said...

Excellent piece Deacon A . I shudder at the thought of our Bishops Conference being let loose . Pass the biscuits please............

Nicolas Bellord said...

Deacon Augustine: Bishops' Conferences do have a standing in Canon Law. The provisions in Canon Law are principally administrative ones. After VII controversy arose over whether they had doctrinal authority i.e. not just teaching the faith but actually defining doctrine. Pope John Paul II issued "Apostolos Suos" in 1998 which laid down the limits of their doctrinal authority. They can only lay down doctrine on new matters i.e. something that has not been taught about previously. Even then they have to vote unanimously. If however they can get a two thirds majority it will be valid provided the matter has the approval of the Apostolic See. The overriding authority of the Pope and the College of all the Bishops including the Pope is emphasised at length.

I would have thought that was the end of the matter.

Pope Francis seems to think that the matter should be further elaborated in respect of SOME genuine doctrinal authority (the SOME [alguna] got left out in the English translation). He does not explain how or why this should happen and what he says adds to the list of known unknowns as to what his Holiness actually means.

Our Lady of Good Success-pray for us. said...

if Pope Francis' prime alliegance is to his jesuitness and the 'black pope' (so-called because the superior of the order was almost as powerful as the pope), then maybe we should pray the our new Pope become a pope, a true shepherd safeguarding flock and faith. Since the 60s the Jesuits have no longer been the 'Pope's men', but have been undermining the papacy with jesuitical precision. Pray that Francis converts from the idol of jesuitism to become a faithful Catholic Vicar of Christ.

Православный физик said...

God help us if the Church calls Vatican III, or heaven forbid giving Bishops' Conferences actual authority...

Vatican III with the collection of Bishops' as a whole, there'd have to be a Ranjith or Burke intervention to keep things on track.

Between the Winnepeg statement from the Candaians, to the USCCB supporting every big gov't measure that's existed known to man, it would be a disaster to give Bishop conferences authority...They barely manage what little authority they have now.

Kyrie eleison

EuropeanCatholic said...

Here is a interview with Bishop Fellay, Superior General of the Society of Saint Pius X.

I must confess that it is difficult to find anything to disagree with from reading the interview:


James said...

"The problem is that doctrinally in many parts of the world doctrinally the Church is in a mess, unlike the Orthodox Church we Catholics do not have a strong sense of being part of an ancient Tradition or even much sense of Unity, indeed our 'Tradition' has been to throw out babies with bath water."

## This is a truly shocking thing to say - almost unbelievable. Yet it seems to be true.

IMHO the CC suffers from (among other things):
a wrong-headed and implicitly pagan humanism;
a lot of pre-Christian Romanitas;
a habit of reifying & materialising God & His graces

The Church is too much the Roman Empire, too little the Church of Christ. But it is likely to centuries before the Church gets pre-Christian Roman religion (which was hardly even religious) out of its system. Habits of mind that suit a member of one of one priesthoods are right out of place in a Christian priest. Rome is comfortable with law, clearly-marked authorities, precise formulae - this is far removed from the dynamic religion of ancient Israel, Jeremiah's insistence on interior conversion, and the grace-based character of Christian faith. The Roman mind is very bad at dealing with paradox - but NT religion is a mass of paradoxes. Calvinism, which is very "RC" in many ways, gives a large place to paradox - its theology is all the healthier for that.

If J23 had been dead set on destroying the Church, I don't think he could have been any more successful. If we're living in a "New Pentecost", what would a New Babel be like ? If this be renewal, it badly needs to be exorcised, ASAP. Future generations will look back on the last 50 years with the incredulous horror & revulsion we reserve for the blackest pages of the history of the Papacy. One shudders to think what will be said about the Popes :(

Unknown said...

I'm wondering how to ask the Pope for his blessing on Messy Church now that some Catholic ones are starting up! www.messychurch.org.uk

Anonymous said...

James. the Catholic "habit of reifying & materialising God & His graces" comes from fully accepting the Incarnation - The Word has become flesh. Protestantism has never been comfortable with that central and wonderful (but sometimes messy) Mystery of Christianity.

Our Lady of Good Success-pray for us. said...

@Unknown - a breakdown of their 'messy church theology' could lead one to suspect that the Bishop of Rome and his possie have been peeking over the shoulder of 'messy church' for a while now. I wonder if we'll see the Bishop in a music video doing the worm in white on the streets of Buenos Aires, 'let's get messy, man,' - maybe the Jesuits could copyright a brand new 'messy-mass' that will become the next ordinary form. now the beach ball on the altar is finally starting to make sense.

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