Thursday, 1 December 2016

Four Cardinals and a funeral?

It is axiomatic ("self-evident" according to the Concise Oxford Dictionary) to much of the commentary and reaction to Amoris Laetitia that is visible in the media that:
there is something wrong with Amoris Laetitia;
and there is widespread confusion among Catholics as a result of Amoris Laetitia.
I don't think there is anything wrong with Amoris Laetitia, if it is read for what it actually says;  and I believe that a significant responsibility for the spreading of confusion lies with those who are themselves exerting great effort in decrying the said confusion. Had the great and good kept rather more of their own counsel, I suspect that there would have been rather less legitimisation of such confusion as might have existed.

On the latter point, I think most of the Church's pastors and faithful would see it rather as Aunty does here (but I don't share the sentiments of the comments), or as Bishop Egan described it in a pastoral letter in July 2016:
When Amoris Laetitia was published, there was a controversy about the care of the divorced and remarried. In fact, Pope Francis reaffirms Jesus’ teaching on chastity, marriage, sexuality and family life; he does not change Church discipline. But he does speak in a new compassionate way about those who have drifted from the practice of faith because they have found themselves in marital situations and patterns of behaviour at variance with the Gospel....
Given this perspective, there is a certain bemusement that pertains with regard to the efforts of 45 theologians and, more recently, four cardinals to seek clarification from Pope Francis in respect of what has not in the first place been denied. As far as the cardinal's letter is concerned, I am inclined to characterise Pope Francis' choice not to respond in a similar way as does Rocco Buttiglione - that he has considered it not opportune to respond rather than it constituting a refusal to respond. And in respect of the 45 theologians, I just wondered what, with all the doctorates represented among them, they thought to achieve by writing in the language of censure and the citation of authorities. It is difficult to appreciate their approach to capital punishment, for example, when the question of today is no longer about the exercise of justice by Christian rulers but about executions under Sharia law in countries like Saudi Arabia and the experience of "death row" in the United Stages to which Sr Helen Prejean gives witness.

I find fanciful in the extreme the idea that Pope Francis has in some way declined to exercise his teaching authority because he happens not to have replied to a particular communication from four Cardinals (or, earlier, to 45 theologians). That this has subsequently engendered a discussion - taken seriously in some particular quarters - about a "suspension of the Magisterium", "doubts" and "a formal act of correction" is even more fanciful; and all the more so for its appearance of learning. "Authoritative teaching" might suit the mind set of some; but Pope Francis more gentle style of such teaching does not represent the absence of teaching of which he is accused.

In September, I read the following in a blog post reflecting on the situation since Amoris Laetitia :
...I fear for many Catholics that rather than as Newman says, "I shall drink to the Pope, if you please, still, to Conscience first", we must make a conscious choice between Conscience and the Pope, and that choice will have very uncomfortable consequences for those who feel compelled to follow conscience. The Kasper doctrine which the Pope has signified he favours is for many of us a sign of the distancing of the Church from Revelation and the person of Jesus Christ, that is not what the Church is for ...
At the time, I wondered on the final destination of one whose orientation moves from an adherence to the exercise of the office of the Successor of Peter towards an adherence to a notion of Tradition or of ecclesial life that is in some way distanced from the exercise of that office (though in the blog post cited this was articulated as a choice of conscience). Perhaps we are now seeing the final working out of such a distancing, the emergence of an orientation towards a Tradition distinguished from a Magisterium rather than an orientation towards a Tradition that lives with a Magisterium.

I, for one, prefer to stay alongside the successor of St Peter.

[Postscript: It should be clear that this is not a question of having to like everything a particular Pope does and says. The question is indifferent as to whether I like what Pope Francis does or do not like what Pope Francis does. The question is an objective one about an ecclesial orientation.]

Tuesday, 8 November 2016

The Vatican and China: a new ostpolitik?

I haven't been able to follow the details of the reported rapprochement between the Holy See and the authorities in China. Reuters reporting, from 21st October, appears comprehensive - but a phrase like "... China is preparing to ordain at least two new bishops before the end of the year..." does not inspire confidence in the precision of its content. Pope Francis is reported to be the driving force behind the negotiations, and so is taking the negative coverage for it.

Cardinal Zen has criticised the reported progress towards an agreement, most particularly in an interview published in the Wall Street Journal (but behind a subscription/registration firewall). Reports of his criticism can be found here and here.

As I write I do not know whether an agreement has been reached; and nor do I know the subtleties of its contents, particularly as regards the appointment and ordination of bishops. What I have wondered, though, is whether or not Pope Francis' moves in this area are in continuity with Pope Benedict XVI's letter to Chinese Catholics of May 2007. That letter, as I recall it from the time, had an underlying anxiety to achieve some degree of reconciliation between the faithful of the "underground Church" and those of the "patriotic Church", whilst at the same time being very clear in its affirmation of the requirements of authentic ecclesial communion. It also includes a call for dialogue between the Holy See and the authorities in China. I do find it difficult to believe that any agreement will conflict with the provisions of Pope Benedict's letter (events might prove me wrong?), from which I quote a passage that may well provide some background to the reports with regard to the recognition of "state appointed" bishops (or, in the language of Pope Benedict's letter, the "legitimisation" of bishops appointed without an Apostolic mandate):
Currently, all the Bishops of the Catholic Church in China are sons of the Chinese People. Notwithstanding many grave difficulties, the Catholic Church in China, by a particular grace of the Holy Spirit, has never been deprived of the ministry of legitimate Pastors who have preserved the apostolic succession intact. We must thank the Lord for this constant presence, not without suffering, of Bishops who have received episcopal ordination in conformity with Catholic tradition, that is to say, in communion with the Bishop of Rome, Successor of Peter, and at the hands of validly and legitimately ordained Bishops in observance of the rite of the Catholic Church.
Some of them, not wishing to be subjected to undue control exercised over the life of the Church, and eager to maintain total fidelity to the Successor of Peter and to Catholic doctrine, have felt themselves constrained to opt for clandestine consecration. The clandestine condition is not a normal feature of the Church's life, and history shows that Pastors and faithful have recourse to it only amid suffering, in the desire to maintain the integrity of their faith and to resist interference from State agencies in matters pertaining intimately to the Church's life. For this reason the Holy See hopes that these legitimate Pastors may be recognized as such by governmental authorities for civil effects too – insofar as these are necessary – and that all the faithful may be able to express their faith freely in the social context in which they live.
Other Pastors, however, under the pressure of particular circumstances, have consented to receive episcopal ordination without the pontifical mandate, but have subsequently asked to be received into communion with the Successor of Peter and with their other brothers in the episcopate. The Pope, considering the sincerity of their sentiments and the complexity of the situation, and taking into account the opinion of neighbouring Bishops, by virtue of his proper responsibility as universal Pastor of the Church, has granted them the full and legitimate exercise of episcopal jurisdiction. This initiative of the Pope resulted from knowledge of the particular circumstances of their ordination and from his profound pastoral concern to favour the reestablishment of full communion. Unfortunately, in most cases, priests and the faithful have not been adequately informed that their Bishop has been legitimized, and this has given rise to a number of grave problems of conscience. What is more, some legitimized Bishops have failed to provide any clear signs to prove that they have been legitimized. For this reason it is indispensable, for the spiritual good of the diocesan communities concerned, that legitimation, once it has occurred, is brought into the public domain at the earliest opportunity, and that the legitimized Bishops provide unequivocal and increasing signs of full communion with the Successor of Peter.
Finally, there are certain Bishops – a very small number of them – who have been ordained without the Pontifical mandate and who have not asked for or have not yet obtained, the necessary legitimation. According to the doctrine of the Catholic Church, they are to be considered illegitimate, but validly ordained, as long as it is certain that they have received ordination from validly ordained Bishops and that the Catholic rite of episcopal ordination has been respected. Therefore, although not in communion with the Pope, they exercise their ministry validly in the administration of the sacraments, even if they do so illegitimately. What great spiritual enrichment would ensue for the Church in China if, the necessary conditions having been established, these Pastors too were to enter into communion with the Successor of Peter and with the entire Catholic episcopate! Not only would their episcopal ministry be legitimized, there would also be an enrichment of their communion with the priests and the faithful who consider the Church in China part of the Catholic Church, united with the Bishop of Rome and with all the other particular Churches spread throughout the world.
In individual nations, all the legitimate Bishops constitute an Episcopal Conference, governed according to its own statutes, which by the norms of canon law must be approved by the Apostolic See. Such an Episcopal Conference expresses the fraternal communion of all the Bishops of a nation and treats the doctrinal and pastoral questions that are significant for the entire Catholic community of the country without, however, interfering in the exercise of the ordinary and immediate power of each Bishop in his own diocese. Moreover, every Episcopal Conference maintains opportune and useful contacts with the civil authorities of the place, partly in order to favour cooperation between the Church and the State, but it is obvious that an Episcopal Conference cannot be subjected to any civil authority in questions of faith and of living according to the faith (fides et mores, sacramental life), which are exclusively the competence of the Church.
In the light of the principles expounded above, the present College of Catholic Bishops of China cannot be recognized as an Episcopal Conference by the Apostolic See: the "clandestine" Bishops, those not recognized by the Government but in communion with the Pope, are not part of it; it includes Bishops who are still illegitimate, and it is governed by statutes that contain elements incompatible with Catholic doctrine.

Saturday, 5 November 2016

Madeleine Delbrel: Counting on Mercy

Magnificat for 4th November offered, as the "Meditation of the Day", an extract from the writings of Madeleine Delbrel. Magnificat published it under the title "Counting on Mercy". In the English translation of the original text it is the first paragraphs of a section entitled "Those who are unhappy". It is part of a study written by Madeleine, dated 1951, that reflects on what it means to be a missionary in the Church of her times. The resonance of the study as a whole to Pope Francis' ideas of "missionary parishes" and "missionary disciples" is striking, as is the comparison of the passage offered by Magnificat to the evangelising significance of the Year of Mercy. It is also worth recalling, as we read the following words, Madeleine's own radical choice to live among the workers of a Communist suburb of Paris.
We cannot let mercy dry up, as so often happens today. A greater awareness of the economic hardship of the masses cannot lead us to have scorn for other forms of suffering, or to lose interest in them.
Christ's mercy for the poor is one part of a mercy as vast as all the human griefs combined. It is a mercy for sinners, a mercy for the sick, a mercy for those lamenting their dead, a mercy for those in prison, a mercy for all the little ones.
Because of a reductively materialistic notion of poverty, we are often in danger of forgetting that there are people who are poor in other ways than merely economically; there are other little ones than the workers. There are those who are morally or psychologically weak. There are those who are poor in gifts, in appeal, in love. In addition to the oppressed classes are those who are "unclassifiable".
Those who are little, those who are poor, are not only in the working class. And the working class itself is not made up exhaustively of militants, militants who are already rich in hope, rich in heart, rich in intellectual formation.
It is not up to us to correct Christ's heart either - it belongs to all people and we have to give it to all people.
The personal love of Christ. He calls each one by name - he does not call a category. He knows each one of as the Father knows the Son.

As I looked up this extract in my copy of We, the Ordinary People of the Streets, my eye was caught by the following in the last but one paragraph of the preceding section:
All great human activities function as signs. Just as marriage is the most perfect sign of the union of Christ and his Church, and voluntary celibacy makes us live more fully the reality towards which this sign points, human work is a sign of the Church's toil over the world, a suffering and fruitful labour.

Wednesday, 2 November 2016

Pope Francis' homily for All Saints

I have not been able to follow Pope Francis' visit to Sweden to mark the anniversary of the Reformation, due to pressures of work and family events.

However, I have just read the text of his homily for the Solemnity of All Saints which, though it touches on ecumenism only lightly, nevertheless speaks of an underpinning principle of ecumenical activity, that is, of a common search for holiness rooted in the consecration of Baptism.

Like Pope Benedict XVI before him, Pope Francis can provide a lovely turn of phrase:
The Beatitudes are the image of Christ and consequently of each Christian..... 
....meekness is the attitude of those who have nothing to lose, because their only wealth is God..... 
The Beatitudes are in some sense the Christian’s identity card. They identify us as followers of Jesus..... 
To our heavenly Mother, Queen of All Saints, we entrust our intentions and the dialogue aimed at the full communion of all Christians, so that we may be blessed in our efforts and may attain holiness in unity.
I also noted his reference to the foundress (and re-foundress) of the Order of St Bridget, topical both because of Pope Francis' presence in Sweden and because of the ecumenical context of his visit. The charism of the Bridgettines is hospitality and prayer for the unity of Christians and, for me, they represent one example of how the mission to ecumenism represented in the teaching of the Second Vatican Council is lived out, not as some kind of "extra", but as an ordinary part of the life of the Church. (The charism of the spirituality of unity of the Focolare movement is another example of the living out of the ecumenical impulse in the daily life of the Church).

Saturday, 29 October 2016

Proud of our diversity?

The commitments, particularly in the field of education, contained in the Labour Party's recent Proud of our Diversity document make it timely to re-post the Catholic teaching below.

Perhaps the proposed changes to the National Curriculum will also include the discrimination against those who oppose the legislative outcomes achieved by gay activists in recent years?

From the Catechism of the Catholic Church:
2357 Homosexuality refers to relations between men or between women who experience an exclusive or predominant sexual attraction toward persons of the same sex. It has taken a great variety of forms through the centuries and in different cultures. Its psychological genesis remains largely unexplained. Basing itself on Sacred Scripture, which presents homosexual acts as acts of grave depravity,140 tradition has always declared that "homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered."141 They are contrary to the natural law. They close the sexual act to the gift of life. They do not proceed from a genuine affective and sexual complementarity. Under no circumstances can they be approved.
2358 The number of men and women who have deep-seated homosexual tendencies is not negligible. This inclination, which is objectively disordered, constitutes for most of them a trial. They must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided. These persons are called to fulfill God's will in their lives and, if they are Christians, to unite to the sacrifice of the Lord's Cross the difficulties they may encounter from their condition.
2359 Homosexual persons are called to chastity. By the virtues of self-mastery that teach them inner freedom, at times by the support of disinterested friendship, by prayer and sacramental grace, they can and should gradually and resolutely approach Christian perfection.
And from Pope Francis' Amoris Laetitia:
56. Yet another challenge is posed by the various forms of an ideology of gender that "denies the difference and reciprocity in nature of a man and a woman and envisages a society without sexual differences, thereby elimination the anthropological basis of the family. This ideology leads to educational programmes and legislative enactments that promote a personal identity  and emotional intimacy radially separated from the biological difference between male and female. Consequently, human identity becomes the choice of the individual, one which can also change over time". It is a source of concern that some ideologies of this sort, which seek to respond to what are at times understandable aspirations, manage to assert themselves as absolute and unquestionable, even dictating how children should be raised. It needs to be emphasised that "biological sex and the socio-cultural role of sex (gender) can be distinguished but not separated"..... It is one thing to be understanding of human weakness and the complexities of life, and another to accept ideologies that attempt o sunder what are inseparable aspects of reality. Let us not fall into the sin of trying to replace the Creator. We are creatures, and not omnipotent. Creation is prior to us and must be received as a gift. At the same time, we are called to protect our humanity, and this means, in the first place, accepting and respecting it as it was created.

Saturday, 22 October 2016

I think I shall miss the Year of Mercy when it ends ....

It can appear that, in inaugurating a Year of Mercy, Pope Francis was being radical and novel in the way in which he wished to encourage us to live the Christian life. Actually I believe that what he has done is draw attention to a dimension of the Christian life that is already present and multiform in Catholic life.

The year has given me a sensitivity, for example, to those occasions when the Church's Liturgy makes reference to the mercy of God. The Collect for the Seventeenth Sunday of Ordinary Time, for example, is:
O God, protector of those who hope in you, without whom nothing has firm foundation, nothing is holy, bestow in abundance your mercy upon us and grant that, with you as our ruler and guide, we may use the good things that pass in such a way as to hold fast even now to those that ever endure.
And for Twenty Sixth Sunday of Ordinary Time:
O God, who manifest your almighty power above all by pardoning and showing mercy, bestow, we pray, your grace abundantly upon us and make those hastening to your promises heirs to the treasures of heaven.
Reading recently about Elizabeth of the Trinity, I came across a reference (which I can't at the moment trace) to St Catherine of Siena's praise of Divine Mercy in her Dialogue. This occurs in the section "A Treatise of Discretion" (text taken from EWTN website, and the same as that in the translation published by Baronius Press in 2006):
How this soul wondering at the mercy of God, relates many gifts and graces given to the human race.
Then this soul, as it were, like one intoxicated, could not contain herself, but standing before the face of God, exclaimed, "How great is the Eternal Mercy with which You cover the sins of Your creatures! I do not wonder that You say of those who abandon mortal sin and return to You, 'I do not remember that you have ever offended Me.' Oh, ineffable Mercy! I do not wonder that You say this to those who are converted, when You say of those who persecute You, 'I wish you to pray for such, in order that I may do them mercy.' Oh, Mercy, who proceeds from Your Eternal Father, the Divinity who governs with Your power the whole world, by You were we created, in You were we re-created in the Blood of Your Son. Your Mercy preserves us, Your Mercy caused Your Son to do battle for us, hanging by His arms on the wood of the Cross, life and death battling together; then life confounded the death of our sin, and the death of our sin destroyed the bodily life of the Immaculate Lamb. Which was finally conquered? Death! By what means? Mercy! Your Mercy gives light and life, by which Your clemency is known in all Your creatures, both the just and the unjust. In the height of Heaven Your Mercy shines, that is, in Your saints. If I turn to the earth, it abounds with Your Mercy. In the darkness of Hell Your Mercy shines, for the damned do not receive the pains they deserve; with Your Mercy You temper Justice. By Mercy You have washed us in the Blood, and by Mercy You wish to converse with Your creatures. Oh, Loving Madman! was it not enough for You to become Incarnate, that You must also die? Was not death enough, that You must also descend into Limbo, taking thence the holy fathers to fulfil Your Mercy and Your Truth in them? Because Your goodness promises a reward to them that serve You in truth, You descended to Limbo, to withdraw from their pain Your servants, and give them the fruit of their labours. Your Mercy constrains You to give even more to man, namely, to leave Yourself to him in food, so that we, weak ones, should have comfort, and the ignorant commemorating You, should not lose the memory of Your benefits. Wherefore every day You give Yourself to man, representing Yourself in the Sacrament of the Altar, in the body of Your Holy Church. What has done this? Your Mercy. Oh, Divine Mercy! My heart suffocates in thinking of you, for on every side to which I turn my thought, I find nothing but mercy. Oh, Eternal Father! Forgive my ignorance, that I presume thus to chatter to You, but the love of Your Mercy will be my excuse before the Face of Your loving-kindness."
"In the darkness of Hell Your Mercy shines ..." is the phrase which strikes me most as capturing something of the spirit of the Year of Mercy.

This is without considering the more recent development of devotion to the Divine Mercy prompted by the charism of St Faustina, and the establishing of the Liturgical celebration of that devotion at the beginning of the Easter season.

As I said above, rather than representing a radical innovation, the Year of Mercy draws our attention to a dimension of Christian life that is present already in the history and life of the Church and encourages us to live it with an ever greater richness.

Monday, 10 October 2016

Is there a right to offend?

There is a certain fashion for saying, in its negative expression, that we have no right to be protected from others giving offence to us; or, in the corresponding positive expression, there is a right of one person to act or speak in a manner that gives offence to another. I heard it again the other day, expressed by a BBC radio interviewer.

Now there is certainly a prudential judgement to be made as to whether or not the giving of offence should be proscribed by law, and thereby attract a criminal or civil sanction before the law. This arises because the law would find it difficult to distinguish between legitimate difference of opinion and an offence of giving offence, however the latter might be defined. So the law, at least in this country, does not proscribe offensive language used towards another and, instead, remains silent on the matter.

But does the absence of legal proscription thereby confer its opposite - that is, does it confer a right to carry out the action that it does not proscribe? Many would believe that it does. A reading of the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights would, in my view, suggest otherwise.

Its preamble argues from the "recognition of the inherent dignity .... of all members of the human family", while Article 1 argues that all persons "should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood."

Article 12 reads: "No one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence, nor to attacks upon his honour and reputation. Everyone has the right to the protection of the law against such interference or attacks."

Article 12 has a particular bearing on Articles 18 and 19, which propose the freedom of religious belief and the freedom of belief and expression. Neither of these freedoms can be effectively exercised if people are subject to abusive behaviour or language in their regard; that is, if through attacks on the honour and reputation of their religious or political community, people are subject to mediated attacks on their individual honour and reputation.

Now the content of one person's religion or belief might be such that it is offensive to the religion or belief of another (which is the difficulty that the law faces in proscribing offensive language and behaviour). The expression of difference of opinion in this respect might give rise to offence in a very qualified manner as regards the content of what is expressed. But the recognition of the dignity of the person in the other, and regard for his or her honour and reputation, certainly constrains the manner of the expression of difference. And in this sense, I think the UN Declaration should suggest to us that, no, there is not an unqualified right to be offensive towards others.

Whilst the proscription of the law might extend only to hate crime based on certain protected characteristics, and not to offensiveness itself, there remains the obligation, articulated in human rights instruments, for citizens to maintain the dignity of others, and to respect their honour and reputation. The lack of legal proscription makes the responsibility of the citizen in this regard all the more important.