"I lost my faith", said a lady sometime ago, "I went to Mass at St X and Bishop Y was there and he said it was very unlikely to be true that the three kings came to Bethlehem and anyhow we didn't have believe it". "Well it occurred to me if we didn't have believe that, Father, we don't we have to believe anything. So I started questioning everything I did believe and I decided I didn't believe in anything, even in God". Remove one brick an the Temple falls. I have known priests and even bishops, sad individuals, who seemed to delight in destroying faith rather building it up.
As a priest I am conscious of how frail God's gifts are, how slight our grasp on them can be, we hold on to them by gossamer threads, which are easily broken. Faith is easily damaged, maybe because it is the most supernatural gift of all, it can thrive in prison and under torture but it is the most vulnerable to damage through the Church and her ministers. Religious practise is often the last thing to disappear, for clergy they will always drag themselves to the altar, not being strong enough to dig or too proud to beg, but once faith goes, so does hope and eventually the practice of charity breaks down too. Mgr Charamsa is perhaps an example of this.
Those things which were once a joy can become a terrible burden. Prayer once a delight becomes a bed of thorns, a mess of distractions, poverty or simplicity of life once happily embraced becomes a condemnation to bleak hopelessness, chastity a constant reminder of emptiness.
At the Synod and now afterwards I wonder if some senior clergy are deliberately setting out to destroy, to take away just one or two bricks so the whole Temple collapses, it is as if their own faith has left them and they resent other people's faith.
Priests and bishops are supposed to build up faith, not break it down. If we do, "It would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck and he were cast into the sea than that he should cause one of these little ones to sin".
I know we priests can easily live in our own little bubble and meet only people who share our views, I know a very few Jews, a few Muslims, a few Orthodox but the majority of people I know are Catholics and Catholics of a particular sort. I was thinking last night I do not know any Methodists, or Quakers, or Unitarians, or for that matter Jesuits! Most of the priests I know all seem to be unhappy with the direction the Church seems to be being nudged into taking. Priests tend to be reflective and introspective, we have learnt to keep our own counsel, most don't blog, most don't write to newspapers, even Catholic one's. Most are unlikely to write to their bishop or even talk much to him, especially about their concerns for the Church, especially if he is unlikely to agree with them. But then so many bishops seem equally confused.
Following the Synod, some who might be in the know, like Cardinal Nichols, hint that change is in the offing, see his recent Pastoral Letter on the Synod on the Family. Other Bishops, Cardinal Pell for example, assure us that there will not be, or cannot be change in doctrine, perhaps they are a little less definite nowadays about changes in pastoral practice, and even less definite about about changes to the faith itself. We can tell ourselves that the Church is unchanging, that Christ is with her until the end of time, but we have seen the Church changing a great deal in the last fifty years since Vatican II. At one time we were told the Mass was unchangeable, when the Mass changed, our belief in the Eucharist was unchanging but as I have said before, compare the Eucharistic faith of the children of Sts. Louis and Zelie Martin with the South American child whose bishop spoke approvingly of him at the Synod, who broke the host in half to share with his divorced and remarried father.
A friend was at one of those Catholic literary lunches and met a writer for that 'Catholic' weekly, who said, 'I do hate the Catholic Church, don't you?' She then continued, 'I do think Pope Francis is so good for the Church'. It seems like madness to me but then there are those in the Church who do actually hate it and want its ruin or destruction. Judas after all sat table with Christ and the bishops. After Simon made his profession of faith and is called Cephas, Peter, the next time Jesus addresses him, he calls him Satan, 'Get behind me, Satan, for your thoughts are man's, not God's'.
From the Patristic exegesis of Pope Benedict which tended to build up faith, we have moved to dark world of confusion and ambiguity. From letting Truth go free to defend itself we have moved into a period where there are truths and then there are truths. Uncertainty and confusion are not of God, they damage faith, they do not build it up. In this environment the old debates about the Papacy of Bellarmine and Suarez have suddenly taken on a new life, maybe not with intellectual giants like 'people who disagree with the Pope because they don't like him', Cdl Wuerl or elitist American academics (why do they always want to address emotions and never address arguments?) but with many ordinary Catholics, clergy especially, thinking laity too. It is not something new for Catholics to ask, what if the Pope... is misguided, is in the pay of the Spanish, French or Austrians, is captured by Muslims, is a heretic, is evil, is suffering from megalomania, or is going senile or mad, these questions were asked before and are being asked now by people trying their best, for the good of the Church, to understand the mess we appear to be in. Under Pius XII the question was what if the Pope is captured by the Nazis or drugged by Communists.
The apparent cruelty and still unknown charges against the Franciscans of the Immaculate, the extraordinary speech in Paraguay, accusing the Paraguayan government, and specifically the president, of the abduction of Edelio Morinigo, which he put into a context of the worst atrocities of the Nazis and Communists, Morinigo in fact turned out to be a policeman abducted by rebels against the government, the agreement to accept that extraordinary Marxist crucifix and decorations in Bolivia, the support of child abuse covering up bishops like Bishop Juan Barros in Chile or Cardinal Danneels who was invited to the Synod apparently as a reward for his support in the Conclave, his returning again and again to the journalist Scalfari, who apparently misreports him, his packing of the Synod with pro-Kasperians, his apparent manipulation of both the extraordinary Synod last year and the ordinary Synod this year, his promotion of the now arrested Chaouqui and Vallejo Balda (Chaouqui, if you remember, was bought in to manage the papal image and public relations), these are some of the reasons questions are being raised quite openly in the Italian press and increasingly by the media elsewhere. It was these incidents that raised concern over the Holy Father's health and in the rather overblown Italian style, the suggestion of a brain tumour, but this was the most extreme end of concerns and perhaps the most easily dismissed in order to scotch others.
It is of note that Lifesite carries questions about the influences of the Pope's involvement with the 'gay mafia', and at least raises in my mind question of his own complicity with the St Gall group, no-one has suggested, yet that he attended the St Gall meetings. It seems from the reports that was merely passive, their candidate', but then there were all those faxes or emails sent from the Congregation of Bishops to the office of the Cardinal Archbishop of Buenos Aires by Mgr Fabián Pedacchio, who is now the Pope's Secretary.