Thursday, June 30, 2016

What has gone wrong. It can be summed up in a word: liberalism

It is the startling descent into misanthropy and insult which hurts most. That moment when Gordon Brown called Gillian Duffy a “bigot” was but a scratching of the surface. The demographic most enthusiastic about voting Leave have been dismissed as racist or xenophobic for years, but it is only in the last few days, following the referendum, that I have seen the very legitimacy of their suffrage questioned – the prosperous, well-educated liberal left, summoning Victorian-era paternalism to question the wisdom of giving votes to the ill-educated. 
Of course, this chasm between party and people is of surprise only to those cloistered away amongst the like-minded. Much has been made of the demographic divide between the two competing mindsets prior to the referendum. But turning this into one-dimensional face-off between the haves and the have-nots presumes an irresolvable conflict. That’s too pessimistic: there is a way out of our current malaise. 
But we first need to understand what has gone wrong. It can be summed up in a word liberalism.
This from a Catholic Herald article by Michael Merrick.

In the Church we have struggled with 'liberalism' for the past couple of hundred years, or more. In the last 50 years it has become the dominant Church culture, and it has been destructive. Merrick argues that the Labour Party's embracing of it has alienated it from its core support, the working class, the same could be said of the Church.

A culture that embraces liberalism, tends to loose clarity, it becomes a culture of semantics, cut of from real life, it is always soft and eventually runs out of momentum, and leads people into a mindless reliance on 'values', 'ethos' and a host meaningless terms. Ultimately it is about babel of meaningless terms where a lack of clarity and confusion are considered the ultimate virtue. This seems to be what is coming from the mouth of the Pope and Rome at the moment, it is becoming pretty obvious it is not just intellectual disability but policy.

Liberalism offers pleasing platitudes to the masses but beyond that it convinces no one. In contemporary politics liberalism leaves us with one great theory: Equality, but when one scratches the surface this is entirely meaningless, it is a word and nothing more, it does nothing to combat poverty, social inertia, the disparity between rich and poor, the hopelessness of many in our society, it certainly doesn't address the simmering resentments, the dis-ease with cultural 'integration'. The accusation against Jeremy Corbyn, that he failed to deliver his party's core constituency members into the 'Remain' camp, seems to be exemplify all that is wrong with contemporary politics: rather than being representational it is ultimately about control. The Labour Party seems incapable of realising that it is out of touch with those who once supported it.

Within the Church we have perhaps lost sight of the fact Catholicism is a  'grassroots' movement, Catholicism is that which is believed always, everywhere and by all, it is not something imposed by a central authority but rather infused by the Holy Spirit. During the Henrician schism it seemed the people held fast to the ancient faith, the Bishops -except for Fisher- abandoned the faith and embraced the pro-divorce, pro-king liberalism of the court, it mirrored much of what had happened during the Arian crisis, it was the Church's leadership, the elite, which embraced the heresy whilst the masses held on to orthodoxy - even if it was with a degree of uncertainty.

The referrendum has revealed a gulf between between the liberal elite and the masses, has not the same thing happened (and is happening) in the Church?

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

What a "hagan lio" we are in

Does anyone else see parallels with Francis and Jeremy Corbyn?

The Holy Father famously suggested to the youth at Rio, "hagan lio", make a mess, we certainly have one in the UK at the moment. Everything seems to be rather messy, poor old Jezzer has massive support in the national Labour Party but hardly any amongst Labours MPs and those who were the members of his shadow cabinet. There is a disconnect between the Leader and activists, between activists and party grassroots members and grassroots members and the country. Despite their inability to support Corbyn, one suspects that many ordinary Labour MPs are disconnected from their local Labour Party. Compare the vote from Labour heartlands in the referendum, massive votes for Brexit and yet most Labour MPs were for 'Remain'.

It is a mess, I suspect that the Conservative Party is not in a very much better position. Will Boris Johnson be able to heal their wounds or will a "Remainer"? And what about the wounds in the Union, what can heal the resentments of the Scots? Within the country divisions and wounds are being openly discussed, the division between young and old, the comfortably off and the poor, the educated and less well educated. London and the rest of the country, the media and the rest of us.

Some of our immigrant families here are feeling very disorientated, there was a vox pop after the Polish Mass here on Sunday. Some of our Poles have been considering moving to Germany for sometime, many here would see themselves as Polish Europeans, with the language skills to work where they choose. What is significant is their discomfort with how the referendum has been interpreted: as a rise in English nationalism. Yet Poland itself has a highly nationalist government.

What Pope Francis' papacy has done is to reveal the divisions in the Church, in the same way the referendum has revealed the divisions in the country. Vladimir Putin used the 'Orthodox narrative' to rebuild Russia after the collapse of Communism. Despite the turmoil in the Church at the moment, our centre of union will always be the person of Jesus Christ, despite the 'great' German theologians who seem to want to separate us from him, in the next Papacy or the one after that, we will return to him. But the UK or even England, what can unite us and what  can unite Europe? Europe was Christian, perhaps today the only marker that does unite it, is its abandonment of Christianity, yet Christianity is, perhaps, its only salvation.

Perhaps there is a wisdom in Francis' thinking that the way forward is to acknowledge our wounds, simply pretending they are not there has no purpose.

Saturday, June 25, 2016


Europe In normal places most congregations were split at more or less 50% for Brexit, 50% for Remain. In Brighton we seemed to follow, as we do on most issues, the ‘London trend’. Brighton voted remain.

Catholics have always been looked on with a certain suspicion in Britain because it is our nature to look beyond national borders, to not only Europe but to the rest of the world, 'Catholic' means, in its broadest sense, 'Universal'.
In the sixth century the Christianisation of England brought with it union with the Pope, the Bishop of Rome and the then Christian world, not only of Europe, but beyond it. In a sense, the Protestant Reformation of the 16th century brought with it England’s withdrawal from the European Union. The pre-Reformation Church in England was European with at least one Greek Archbishop of Canterbury and most of our clergy were educated in the great universities of the continent.

Even after the Reformation, many Catholics were educated abroad, in Flanders and France, as well as Italy. Catholics had a sense of being not only English or British but also European. Immigration too, not only from Ireland but the rest of Europe, has been a mark of English Catholicism.
Today the vitality of many of our parishes comes from its members who are not just immigrants from Europe but the rest of the world.

The post-war founders of the European Economic Community were more or less a group of Catholic intellectuals (at least three are having their causes explored for Canonisation). The European flag’s twelve gold stars on a blue background is actually a Marian badge. Much of the early legislation of the Community was heavily based on the Catholic Church’s social teaching, in the beginning its leaders were devout Catholics.

One essential understanding they had was one of ‘subsidiarity’, which often appears in documents of the Pope’s, it simply means that power is exercised at its most local level, essentially by the individual, the family or the local community, and central government only comes into play where strictly necessary.

The English Catholic concept of ‘distributionism’ (Belloc, Chesterton etc), which goes back to Pope Leo XIII was very much at the heart of their vision. It said that everyone had a right to enough of a share of wealth and common goods that were necessary for the support of family life and a secure childhood and old age, in sickness and in health. For them excessive wealth in the hands of a few was inimical and contrary to the Gospel.

Pope Francis described today’s Europe as “an elderly, haggard grandmother”, though he stresses the importance ‘unity’ and ‘brotherhood’, the huge numbers of unemployed in many parts of Europe, the gulf between the poor and excessively wealthy, the numbers of homeless and hopeless people, the absence for many of effective justice, is far from the vision of the Catholic founders of the EU.

Pope Benedict spoke of a union that is merely based on ‘wealth creation’ as being bound to failure and ultimate collapse. I am not sure what the future of our country outside of Europe is and neither am I sure what Europe’s future will be. Its failure to have children and the consequence necessity of immigration has made its own future unclear. What I am certain of is the necessity to have truly Catholic voices, familiar with the Gospel and the Church’s teaching in the coming months and years.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

I voted ...

I am not too sure today's referendum is about 'in or out'. It is about trust, do we trust Dave and the stream of his predecessors who have appeared defending Remain or do we trust Boris, Gove and Nige. All of them seem more than dodgy. I don't trust any of them.

There has been talk about 'repatriating democracy'  - in or out that isn't going to happen, our government will not concede greater democracy. Brexit Catholics have been emphasising subsidiarity but again it is highly unlikely that Westminster will concede anything to a strata of government below national level, it is not its nature.

There is a vast gulf between those who govern and those who are governed, whether it is Europe, and it isn't just the British with a problem with Europe, or the US; who could make a choice between Hilary and Trump, there seems to be a vaccum in leadership, a governing class that is concerned only about its maintenance of power.

Our beloved Holy Father has often criticised careerist bishops but the problem in the world is careerist politicians where politicking and the exercise and the maintaining of power itself becomes all consuming. Such leadership hardly evokes trust in those who are led, because of course there is is no vision to which we are led, it is ultimately hopeless.

Today after much pondering I voted to Brexit. I loathe the little England vision of my fellow Brexiteers, and yes I think we are setting off on something unknown. If we go, the result will be revolutionary, I hope there will be a new politics, with new party alignments, I hope there will be more scrutiny of government. I voted 'out' because I am afraid of where Europe will be five or ten years time. From the European press it seems that 'in' Europe the future is as uncertain as 'out'. As someone with a certain anarchist tendency Britain's leaving I hope will encourage European nations will consider leaving too.

For wealthy nations in the North West of Europe I am sure we have become wealthier but as a Catholic there must be more to our lives than the creation of wealth which has been placed increasingly in the hands of the few. Elsewhere in Europe, and yes, beyond its immediate borders poverty and unemployment, the creation of an underclass seem to be part of the European project, it is not good for the future.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Brighton's new attaction

The view from my sitting room window - it is the 'i360', Brighton's latest attraction. The chimney-like structure which has taken over year to erect it now has a shiny glass pod for passengers that will slowly ascends and descend, they have been practising.

Its a grey shiny doughnut that goes up and down a dull grey stick of Brighton rock.

Today through the mist one can look out on grey Brighton to the north and to the south, out at sea, to the wind farm which minces our incoming birds.
Not quite as exciting as the Blackpool Tower, or even Portsmouth's Spinnaker Tower or even Weston's Dismaland - where is Banksy when you need him?
Is it going to be another Brighton bar? Apparently not - you get have to go through airport style security first

Saturday, June 18, 2016

In or Out?

I've been listening to my parishioners ....

.... and I am still undecided

Friday, June 17, 2016

Animal Clergy

With characteristic charm our beloved Holy Father has described priests who refuse to baptise the children of single mothers as 'animals'. I would not refuse baptism for that reason, I do say that I expect to see parents or parent at Mass, that is about the only criteria I ask for.
My friend Fr Alexander Lucie Smith makes the very reasonable point:
By the time the engaged couple present themselves, saying they want to get married in Church, it is already too late to start preparation. Preparation for marriage needs to start before the couple have met; it needs to start in childhood, or even, to be on the safe side, at birth. After all, whom you marry is the most important decision you will ever make.
The problem is that the child of a parent who doesn't practice or live according to the Church's teaching -sometimes actually rejecting large portions of it- is unlikely to practice the faith or live it. Statistics prove that they are themselves unlikely to be able to make a stable marriage themselves, thus in a sense proving the Pope's second point which simply rocks the whole structure of Catholicism, that majority of marriages are invalid.
Perhaps we really do need to be more rigorous in our baptismal preparation. Though we might not decline to baptise, perhaps we should defer it. Perhaps using the baptism of children to encourage parents to marry, to form a stable relationship in which to educate or bring up a child is not such a bad thing.
Maybe the Church, and couples but especially children might be better served by a few animals.

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...