Saturday 27 March 2010

How on earth ...

... can this trip be justified? [follow link, and then use the "previous posts" calendar to find the post for 15th March 2010, to find my source]
By the time you are reading this I will (BA permitting) be in the air to Los Angeles. .... With me will be 18 school chaplains, Heads of RE and Parish Youth Co-ordinators, all from within Brentwood Diocese, and all travelling to the Los Angeles RE Congress, an event where 35,000 people gather to hear the world’s specialists in Youth Ministry discuss vibrant and insightful ways to help young people engage with faith, and to help those adults working with them to deepen and strengthen their own spirituality. So now that when you hear “he’s in Los Angeles” you know that this is, in fact, serious work ...

Jessica Hausner's Lourdes - or, what blogging is about

Blogging does have a danger - that of talking to oneself. Or, rather, that of only reading or engaging with blogs that say exactly the same things as you want to say yourself. It can be - and some bloggers are more deliberate about this than others - an attempt to engage in a dialogue with contemporary culture.

One of the interesting things about Jessica Hausner's film Lourdes is precisely that it represents an engagement from a non-religious point of view with a phenomenon that is religious. I have already posted about it, but have been finding it quite interesting to see other blogs commenting on it too. And not saying the same things as I have said about it.

Unusual take on "Lourdes"

I think I offer another point of view

Lourdes: an exercise in theodicy

Lourdes: a new movie

Jessica Hausner talks about Lourdes

Odds and Ends (from which you can find my earlier comments)

Friday 26 March 2010

Mis-reporting ....

A headline in The Times today: "This Pope does not do mea culpas, but it may prove his only way out". And the last paragraph of the report to which that is the headline: "It is not in the Pope's nature - he abhorred the 'mea culpas' issued by John Paul II, his predecessor - but it may be the only way out".
In her name, I openly express the shame and remorse that we all feel. At the same time, I ask you not to lose hope. [Pope Benedict XVI's Pastoral Letter to the Catholics of Ireland, n.6]
From a report in The Times today: "But instead of being defrocked and the police called in, it is alleged that Father Murphy avoided justice and remained a member of the Church after a key intervention by the Pope - then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger".

At the time Archbishop Rembrandt Weakland wrote to the Vatican in connection with the case of Father Murphy, the civil authorities had already investigated Father Murphy and had not proceeded to a prosecution or conviction. So the suggestion of "non-reporting to the police" is a complete red herring, and one that it is quite incorrect for victims groups to be taking up and promoting in the media (cf reporting on p.6 of today's Times). It would be interesting to know whether or not there are any criticisms being addressed to the police and legal authorities who dealt with the civil investigation, as, prima facie, there seems to be questions that could be asked about that investigation.

I listened to Archbishop Rembrandt Weakland's interview as broadcast on Radio 4's "PM" programme yesterday. For the next six days, you can listen to it on the BBC i-player, from this page. I found Archbishop Weakland's words to be largely an account of the events involved, and not in any way an attempt to attack the Pope. His interview, and the statement from the Vatican, give a clearly compatible account of the events.

Neither of them, either together or separately, justify the accusation (which was not made by Archbishhop Weakland in his PM interview, and has not been made by him so far as I am aware in any other context) that Cardinal Ratzinger knew about the case and took no action, and thereby engaged in an action of covering up of abuse. What Archbishop Weakland sought from the canonical process at the Sacred Congregation for Doctrine was the laicisation of Fr Murphy, and his motivation for that, expressed very carefully in his PM interview, was a pastoral concern for the feelings of the deaf community to which Fr Murphy had exercised his priestly office (this is an interesting aspect of Archbishop Weakland's interview to listen to). Archbishop Weakland does not articulate it in his interview, but there is also a sense that this would have been an act of justice towards those who had been affected by Fr Murphy's abuse. The outcome of the canonical process, described more fully in the statement from the Vatican than in media outlets, was NOT a lack of action. It was not the laicisation that Archbishop Weakland sought, but neither was it inaction. The outcome was to ask the diocesan authorities to reinforce ecclesiastical restrictions that were already in place against Fr Murphy. According to ZENIT's report of the Vatican statement:
The meeting participants noted that there were also "not enough elements to instruct a canonical trial," but nonetheless stated that the diocese should remove the offending priest from the celebration of the Eucharist and consider "penal remedies."

So what are the criticisms that are implicit in the account of events in Archbishop Weakland's interview? One is delay in response from the Sacred Congregation for Doctrine to his letters and request for a canonical trial - but Archbishop Weakland recognises that everyone involved in those times failed to act as quickly as they should have done, including Archbishop Weakland himself, who recognises in the interview that he should have moved on Fr Murphy something like ten years earlier than he did.  It is also apparent in his PM interview that Archbishop Weakland would have liked Fr Murphy to have been laicised before his death because of the pastoral implications of this for the deaf community, but that the Vatican dicastery chose to suggest other penalties instead. But all of this is taking place many years after the civil authorities have decided not to prosecute a case against Fr Murphy.

In his Pastoral Letter to the Catholics of Ireland, Pope Benedict refers to a need to establish the truth of events that have occurred (n.5). I listened to Archbishop Weakland's interview with this sense of what he was doing in that interview.

PS. Another aspect of today's media coverage is opportunistic efforts by liberal minded Catholics to attack the hierarchical structure of the Church, in favour of lay authority. According to a letter in today's Times: "If the Church in Europe and North America is to survive, never mind prosper, the laity need to throw off clergy-induced infantilism, raise their heads above the parapet and demand a new reformation". I have been a Catholic for more years than I can remember (decode: cradle Catholic who didn't lapse in teenage years), and have yet to really encounter the infantilism referred to here. Perhaps someone could show me some of it ...

Thursday 25 March 2010

Odds and ends

As Jessica Hausner's film Lourdes goes on general release in England, there are some more reviews appearing in the electronic media. My own comments can be found here and here, but it looks as if Ann Arco is taking a rather different approach to the film than I have. UPDATE: Ann Arco's interview with Jessica Hausner is now on the Catholic Herald website. Andrew Brown's review of the film is here.

The anniversary of the martyrdom of Archbishop Oscar Romero has prompted a number of commemorative celebrations. Thinking Faith, the Jesuit on-line journal, has published a homily preached at a memorial Mass in  St Mary's Cathedral, Edinburgh. The majority of the homily is a description of the situation in El Salvador, and of some of Archbishop Romero's action in response to it; it offers only brief reflection on the charism itself of Archbishop Romero. Welcome is the fact that the homily does not propagate the "sudden conversion" model of Archbishop Romero, an interpretation of his life that I do not think is justified. The homily does ask a pertinent question about the stance of Archbishop Romero's fellow bishops in El Salvador at the time, a question that it is quite legitimate to ask. And it suggests an unwelcome criticism of the attitude of the Holy See to liberation theology (one thing Archbishop Romero was not was an exponent of liberation theology!) and small Christian communities.
But unfortunately also, the lack, so far, of official Church recognition of Romero’s murder as truly a martyrdom causes sadness and dismay to many. The lack of progress towards beatification and canonisation is hard to fathom, but perhaps it is unimportant. Millions of ordinary people who, after all, are the Church and provide a sensus fidelium do not doubt that he is a saint.
The recognition of Jerzy Popieluszko's death as a martyrdom is a clear precedent for Archbishop Romero's death to be similarly recognised. I do think that the progression of the cause for his canonisation is important - the devotion of the people is one of the components of evidence that can be used to support the cause, but it does not replace it as Bishop Taylor implies. Canonisation allows the liturgical cult of the person in the Church and manifests the glory of God in the world and for the good of the world. So I too am disappointed that there is said to be "lack of progress" in Archbishop Romero's cause. I am not sure that the cause is being prosecuted as effectively as it might; and I wonder, too, whether the dissenting stance of some of those who admire Archbishop Romero is a hindrance to his cause.

UPDATE: Bridges and Tangents gives an account of Archbishop Vincent Nichol's homily about Archbishop Romero - which appears to be a much better reflection on Archbishop Romero's charism.

Wednesday 24 March 2010

2 busy ...

..... 2 blog.

Sunday 21 March 2010

Office and person in the light of Pope Benedict's letter

A conversation yesterday has prompted me to return again to the theme of a distinction between "office" in the Church and the "person" who might occupy that office. Roughly speaking, this distinction asks Catholics to keep a respect for the dignity of the "office" - that is, for the dignity of the place and being of the Bishop, priest, religious superior - in the Church. It also asks them to be realistic and honest about the people who might fill those offices - in other words, the failings of the people who are Bishops, priests or religious can be the subject of appropriate condemnation. Maintaining this distinction is to an extent an act of justice towards those very many Bishops, priests and religious - the large majority - who have not been guilty of any sinful or criminal conduct, or of covering it up, in the context of the child abuse scandals.

A group of people who might consider this distinction are those who have been scandalised or upset, even to the point of abandoning their practice of the Catholic faith. Yes, you are quite right to express your indignation and horror at what individual Bishops, priests or religious have done and to expect a redress - as Pope Benedict expresses it in is letter, confession and penance within their Christian life and the verdict of appropriately constituted tribunals in the civil arena. But the distinction between "office" and "person" allows you at the same time to keep your regard for the "office", for what I might call "bishop-ness" or "bishop-hood" - and so to keep your practice of the Catholic faith. Though the following passage from Pope Benedict XVI's letter is addressed most immediately to those who are direct victims of abuse, I think those who are victims through their being scandalised can also read it in the light of their own situation:
....... It is understandable that you find it hard to forgive or be reconciled with the Church. In her name, I openly express the shame and remorse that we all feel. At the same time, I ask you not to lose hope. It is in the communion of the Church that we encounter the person of Jesus Christ, who was himself a victim of injustice and sin. Like you, he still bears the wounds of his own unjust suffering. He understands the depths of your pain and its enduring effect upon your lives and your relationships, including your relationship with the Church. I know some of you find it difficult even to enter the doors of a church after all that has occurred. Yet Christ’s own wounds, transformed by his redemptive sufferings, are the very means by which the power of evil is broken and we are reborn to life and hope. I believe deeply in the healing power of his self-sacrificing love – even in the darkest and most hopeless situations – to bring liberation and the promise of a new beginning.

Speaking to you as a pastor concerned for the good of all God’s children, I humbly ask you to consider what I have said. I pray that, by drawing nearer to Christ and by participating in the life of his Church – a Church purified by penance and renewed in pastoral charity – you will come to rediscover Christ’s infinite love for each one of you. I am confident that in this way you will be able to find reconciliation, deep inner healing and peace.
I think that the distinction between "office" and "person" is important for all Catholics in how they respond to the attacks on the Church in the media, particularly those sections of the media that are inspired by secularist ideology. Fr Tim gives an idea of the flavour of this media coverage here. It serves their purposes very well to confuse this distinction, and use (justified) attacks on Bishops, priests and religious who have shown failings in their lives as attacks on the institutions of the Church precisely as institutions. If this is not to undermine the faith of Catholics, or how non-Catholics in general view the Church, we need to be able to articulate a response that draws the distinction between "office" and "person" clearly. Pope Benedict's letter to the Church in Ireland, acknowledging as it does the failings of those concerned and initiating a realistic programme of action in response to them, is an important resource for this. In the world of the media, we can only successfully maintain the importance of the distinction between "office" and "person" when the failings in the area of the "person" are fully and clearly acknowledged.

The calling that we all receive, lay, religious or ordained, in the Christian life is that we, as persons, live our lives in complete accord with our "office". In the terms used by Hans Urs von Balthasar, particularly in reference to the mission of Jesus Himself, we are called to an identity between our person and our mission. Re-establishing this identity in the life of the Church in Ireland is the purpose of the programme of action outlined in Pope Benedict's letter.

Saturday 20 March 2010

Pope Benedict XVI's Pastoral Letter to the Catholic faithful in Ireland

The full text of Pope Benedict's pastoral letter can be found here, at the Vatican website. I was particularly moved by the following section, n.14. I have added the emphases in the text below. It is a programme in which we can all join, whether or not we are in Ireland. And it is a programme that has relevance to countries other than Ireland.
I now wish to propose to you some concrete initiatives to address the situation.

At the conclusion of my meeting with the Irish bishops, I asked that Lent this year be set aside as a time to pray for an outpouring of God’s mercy and the Holy Spirit’s gifts of holiness and strength upon the Church in your country. I now invite all of you to devote your Friday penances, for a period of one year, between now and Easter 2011, to this intention. I ask you to offer up your fasting, your prayer, your reading of Scripture and your works of mercy in order to obtain the grace of healing and renewal for the Church in Ireland. I encourage you to discover anew the sacrament of Reconciliation and to avail yourselves more frequently of the transforming power of its grace.

Particular attention should also be given to Eucharistic adoration, and in every diocese there should be churches or chapels specifically devoted to this purpose. I ask parishes, seminaries, religious houses and monasteries to organize periods of Eucharistic adoration, so that all have an opportunity to take part. Through intense prayer before the real presence of the Lord, you can make reparation for the sins of abuse that have done so much harm, at the same time imploring the grace of renewed strength and a deeper sense of mission on the part of all bishops, priests, religious and lay faithful.

I am confident that this programme will lead to a rebirth of the Church in Ireland in the fullness of God’s own truth, for it is the truth that sets us free (cf. Jn 8:32).

Furthermore, having consulted and prayed about the matter, I intend to hold an Apostolic Visitation of certain dioceses in Ireland, as well as seminaries and religious congregations. Arrangements for the Visitation, which is intended to assist the local Church on her path of renewal, will be made in cooperation with the competent offices of the Roman Curia and the Irish Episcopal Conference. The details will be announced in due course.

I also propose that a nationwide Mission be held for all bishops, priests and religious. It is my hope that, by drawing on the expertise of experienced preachers and retreat-givers from Ireland and from elsewhere, and by exploring anew the conciliar documents, the liturgical rites of ordination and profession, and recent pontifical teaching, you will come to a more profound appreciation of your respective vocations, so as to rediscover the roots of your faith in Jesus Christ and to drink deeply from the springs of living water that he offers you through his Church.

In this Year for Priests, I commend to you most particularly the figure of Saint John Mary Vianney, who had such a rich understanding of the mystery of the priesthood. "The priest", he wrote, "holds the key to the treasures of heaven: it is he who opens the door: he is the steward of the good Lord; the administrator of his goods." The CurĂ© d’Ars understood well how greatly blessed a community is when served by a good and holy priest: "A good shepherd, a pastor after God’s heart, is the greatest treasure which the good Lord can grant to a parish, and one of the most precious gifts of divine mercy." Through the intercession of Saint John Mary Vianney, may the priesthood in Ireland be revitalized, and may the whole Church in Ireland grow in appreciation for the great gift of the priestly ministry.

The 2001 letter.

Fr Peter suggests that it is not the smoking gun than many would like to think, and I am inclined to agree with him.

One aspect of my professional life is that of trade union casework, and it can involve supporting colleagues who face allegations. A key principle is that any such allegations are dealt with confidentially - that is, without public discussions - and follow the due processes of the employers disciplinary procedures. There are allegations, though, which require referral to the local safeguarding board for a strategy conference, and/or which involve a police investigation. None of this is prevented by the consideration of confidentiality - it is all accepted as being within the circle of the confidentiality. Why should we not see the request to refer allegations to the Sacred Congregation for Doctrine in the same way, a way that does not imply at all that allegations should be kept secret from civil authorities?

It is also worth noting that suspension from work is, so far as the truth or otherwise of the allegation is concerned, a neutral act. In my professional area, suspension is not automatic on the receipt of an allegation, but is only undertaken when the nature of the case or the circumstances of the investigation of the allegation demand it. As Fr Peter points out, the Catholic Church's practice in England and Wales of automatically placing on "adminstrative leave" (equivalent to suspension in other contexts) priests who face an allegation is in practice a harsher standard than is applied in other contexts.

Friday 19 March 2010

Does the Fatherhood of God matter?

We have recently listened to the parable of the Prodigal Son, as the Gospel for the fourth Sunday of Lent (Year C). The Gospel passage is Luke 15:1-3, 11-32 (you will need to scroll down to Chapter 15).

Thinking Faith, the Jesuit on-line journal, published The Prodigal Father - A Postmodern Homily, commenting on this parable. An original version of the article was published in New Blackfriars, from which I assume that it reflects a line of thought that is abroad in wider theological circles.

At a first reading, this article appears very plausible; it is only a careful reading that enables one to see - and critique - its methodological and theological content. At heart, I believe that it expresses a rejection of the idea of God as Father, a rejection that has serious implications.

Firstly, the questions of methodology. It is certainly the case that a parable from Scripture might speak to our present day situation in a way that has not been the case in the previous life of the Church, and so we might interpret it in a different way. This can be considered as a principle of development of doctrine, in the sense that John Henry Newman would intend, and the encounter of the parable with novel circumstances is something that he would see as prompting such a development. But such a development would be subject to judgement against the seven "notes of genuine development of an Idea" that are delineated in Newman's Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine: preservation of its type, continuity of its principle, a power of assimiliation, logical sequence, anticipation of its future, conservative action upon its past and a chronic vigour. When one reads the first paragraph of Desmond Ryan's article; recognises the methodological twist of the reference to "transactional analysis" in the fifth paragraph; and sees how the vertical/horizontal contrasting in the seventh and eighth paragraphs is presented to caricature different caring/cared for relationships; there is a question as to whether or not the methodology really does represent that of a development of doctrine with regard to the parable. There is not a preservation of type or conservative action upon its past in Desmond Ryan's understanding of the parable.

A second methodological question is very subtly hidden in the article. This is a question about the attitude that one holds towards the content of revelation. The attitude of faith is one of receptivity, of being open to receive what is given in Scripture and the life of the Church. This is not to deny the possibilities of development - see above - but it is to have a certain trust that what is received is genuinely of faith. The phrases (my emphasis added) "hence Christians have constructed this man as a model for God", "We need to push our way back into the story and leave this old moral behind" and "scripture must be reclaimable by all, even by the men and women of this age of suspicion" subtly betray the author's attitude of being closed towards what is received. This parable is received as a parable about the Fatherhood of God, and any development needs to respect that.

One needs to note that the "pathological" forms - priests infantilising their congregations, teachers ignoring the developmental needs of their children etc - cited by Desmond Ryan are not examples of dependent relationships that are normal. They are precisely "pathological" because a priest who does infantilise his congregation is not being a good priest (father), a teacher who ignores the needs of their children is not being a good teacher (father). These examples represent bad "fatherhood" as if it is normal "fatherhood". Most priests do not infantilise their congregations and most teachers do not ignore the needs of their pupils.

The rejection of the idea of dependence in relationships by Desmond Ryan is problematic.

As creatures, we have a fundamental dependence on God, and this is expressed by our recognising God as our Father. It is the acceptance of this dependence by the returning son which makes him a model for us; it is its rejection by the second son which leads the father in the parable to issue to him a call for conversion, a conversion that the first son has already experienced. This fatherhood is what we experience in the life of the Church - the ministry of the priest, of the bishop, of the teacher etc - when that is lived out to its best. This relationship of dependence to God is, at root, rejected by Desmond Ryan in favour self-reliance. It is a rejection of the Fatherhood of God.

There is, however, an interesting aspect of Desmond Ryan's article that I think is worthy of further development. There is the terribly ironic attack on the "dominance ... of fatherhood over brotherhood .." in the penultimate paragraph - which seems to miss the point that the relationship of brotherhood that is praised has its origins in the common relationship of fatherhood which is attacked. Desmond Ryan's opposition of vertical and horizontal is clearly false, based on the idea that fatherhood is purely vertical and does not give rise to the horizontal relationship. It is case of a Christian "both/and", not an "either/or". What would be interesting would be to develop a reading of the parable of the Prodigal Son in the light of the Old Testament sibling rivalries to which Desmond Ryan refers in his fourth paragraph. Both sons encounter a conversion to their Father, the first living it in his return home the second receiving it as a call from the Father to join the feast. Could something of this also be seen in the Old Testament stories?

Wednesday 17 March 2010

More on putting abuse cases in context

Again, I link to Dolphinarium, who has a detailed response to a letter in The Times. She makes very ably the point that the child protection regime now in place in the Catholic Church in this country is a strong one.

UPDATE: Again, from Dolphinarium: Response to clerical abuse report - a couple of letters in the Irish Times. The quotation below is in the context of Ireland, where Catholic Bishops are under attack in the media. Whether members of the Garda and other professionals are under similar attack over exactly the same events is an interesting point!
If bishops have to resign, then, in justice, leaders of other professions and statutory bodies who made serious errors of judgment in this matter should likewise resign.

Counting ....

In the time since his last post, Fr Peter has clearly been putting his digits to good use, keeping count of the signatures ... see Secular Shrinkage.

Monday 15 March 2010

Abuse scandals in context

Dolphinarium has done something I have been pondering for a few days now. I was thinking of suggesting that the media should have taken OFSTED to task for giving Haringay Council's Children's Services a "good" inspection rating just months after the death of Baby P. Should OFSTED have been investigated for trying to hide incompetence in child protection? Did they fail to act when they should have acted? But such an investigation didn't happen, did it. 

Dolphinarium has done a much better job at putting the scandals in context. And it will not make comfortable reading for the secularists.

See here, here and here.

Another point worth making. Whilst abuses occurring within the Church are particularly reprehensible because of the moral responsibility of the Church and her particular interest in education, there are abuses occurring in other areas. The recent Vatican note cites the following statistic, (but, from its wording may be comparing the number of proven cases in ecclesial contexts to the number of allegations in other contexts - even if that is the case, I think the general point remains valid):
Certainly, the errors committed in ecclesiastical institutions and by Church figures are particularly reprehensible because of the Church's educational and moral responsibility, but all objective and well-informed people know that the question is much broader, and concentrating accusations against the Church alone gives a false perspective. By way of example, recent data supplied by the competent authorities in Austria shows that, over the same period of time, the number of proven cases in Church institutions was 17, while there were 510 other cases in other areas. It would be as well to concern ourselves also with them.
And the numbers of priests and religious guilty of abuse against those entrusted to their care remains a small proportion, perhaps less than 1%, of the total number of priests and religious in the Church, though, again, that should not lead us to underestimate the gravity of the actions of that minority. See the figures cited in the Avvenire interview with Mgr Scicluna, published online in English translation by ZENIT.

Sunday 14 March 2010

I agree with Rita

I am inclined to agree with what Rita says here. I would perhaps further develop her thought that our Catholic schools are not Catholic in the true sense from the point of view of their educational practice. If Catholic education aims to promote a "synthesis of culture and faith" then all the different areas of the curriculum should be drawn into and presented from the point of view of a Catholic synthesis. This does not mean dogma is taught as science; it does mean that the science lesson relates to the Catholic vision of science. It does not mean Catholic doctrine is taught without any critical analysis or debate with other cultures or with scientific knowledge - that encounter and element of debate is of the essence of building a synthesis of culture and faith and therefore of Catholic schooling seen as an educational enterprise. In the context of sex education, it means that biology needs to be taught in synthesis with the philosophy of the human action, with ethics and with teaching about marriage as covenant and sacrament. In the language of John Paul II, the action of the person integrates the levels of the body with those of the spirit and of eternal life; in the language of Pope Benedict XVI, eros is purified to become agape. My experience suggests that, rather than a synthetic, cross-curricular vision that this requires, most Catholic schools teach their science lessons in this corner and their religious education in the opposite corner, and ne-er the two shall meet. However orthodox the teaching in religious education, it ain't goin' to work if it ain't applied in the science lesson, if the two pull in opposite directions. To put it another way: Catholic schools generally do not have science teachers who are sufficiently qualified and formed in the art of religious education, and vice versa, to effectively deliver sex education in an orthodox and pastorally effective manner.

The text of the letter quoted in this post is of interest, too, though I am not sure the gloss given to it is completely fair.

I feel sorry for Ed Balls and, in his shadow, Vernon Coaker. They seem to have said one thing to one constituency and a different thing to another constituency.  And then sprung it on the unsuspecting public via an amendment tabled at Commons Third Reading - how cheeky was that!

Saturday 13 March 2010

(Anglican) Catholics or (Catholic) Anglicans?

The blog of the Oxford University Newman Society reports a visit to speak by the Anglican Bishop of Ebbsfleet, one of the "flying bishops" responsible for the care of Anglican parishes that do not accept the ministry of women priests. This does make interesting reading. One wonders whether such an event would have taken place before Anglicanorum Coetibus, and can recognise that the said Apostolic Constitution has made possible a greater openness in the relationship between Catholic minded Anglicans and the Roman Catholic Church. Bishop Burnham, for example, appears to have spoken about an "Anglo-Papalist" position that had as its intent working within the Church of England to work towards the unification of the Church of England with the Holy See.

But the post on the Newman Society blog appears to recognise some of the difficulties with the idea of establishing an Anglican Ordinariate in England. The first is whether or not there is a sufficiently single identity among Anglo-Catholics to represent a corporate body that could be the basis of an Ordinariate. Bishop Burnham has seen it as part of his task to promote this unity in his work with parishes under his care; and the blog post's use of the word "idiosyncratic" (I assume taken from the discussion at their meeting - corrections in the comment box if I have misunderstood this) indicates something of the challenge of this. The second, and not unconnected difficulty, is that of identifying an Anglican patrimony that would be distinctive to the Ordinariate. As Bishop Burnham appears to have pointed out, many of the parishes under his care are already using the 1970 Roman Missal (and a pastoral letter on the Ebbsfleet website makes reference to "new texts" appearing, presumably a reference to the new English translations). The third difficulty emerges implicitly in Bishop Burnham's remarks. He observes that it would be typical of the parishes under his care for someone, if they could not attend their usual service on a Sunday, to not go to Church at all. The understanding of ecclesial communion that this reflects is not necessarily that which would be intended in establishing an Anglican Ordinariate. It is, so far as I can see, a question of whether the Ordinariate is seen by its potential members as a Catholic version of the "flying bishops" model, to be taken up if the Church of England does not make an acceptable provision to cope with women bishops; or whether it is seen as a genuine communion with the Holy See and with those other dioceses in communion with the Holy See.  This is a question going back to the intentions of what Bishop Burnham called the "Anglo-Papalist" position in the Church of England. The idea of an Ordinariate creates a possibility of a partial fulfilment of this intention through elements of corporate reunion, but it would be quite wrong to see such a partial fulfilment as an establishing of an "Anglo-Papalist" Ordinariate that can, in some way, keep its Anglican idea of ecclesial communion, what one might call a Catholic Anglicanism.

Whilst it is certainly appropriate to be welcoming towards those like Bishop Burnham who are considering their positions within the Church of England, and the invitation to speak to the Oxford University Newman Society is a good example of this in practice, I think it is important to recognise that an Anglican Ordinariate is about (Anglican) Catholicism and not (Catholic) Anglicanism.

Friday 12 March 2010

This is not made up

This is a quick courtesy email to let you know that as part of their Sex & Relationships Education, Year 8  are having lessons this week on Contraception. This includes teaching about safe and responsible condom use, which is vital in the context of teenage pregnancy statistics in the Borough

The PDC dept will, of course, make every effort to ensure that all condoms remain in the PDC classroom. However you will appreciate that it is impossible to be sure of this with classes of around 32 students. I am aware that a condom made it to the playground today (!!) and I wanted to take this opportunity to apologise if any find their way into your lessons.

If you see any students with condoms outside of their PDC lessons we would be grateful for your support by either dealing with them appropriately or referring them to the nearest PDC teacher!
PDC translates as Personal Development Curriculum. Year 8 are ages 12-13 years. Text above is verbatim and complete, and dates from Tuesday of this week.

Monday 8 March 2010

Is the bishop (or the parish priest) always right?

One can adopt an attitude which says that the priest or Bishop is always right, and it is never right to say that they have done something in a way that they should not have done. This is, in its most extreme form, an attitude which is simply unable to countenance misconduct, or weakness, on the part of the clergy.

Another attitude is rather the opposite. It is one that can never see anything right in what the priest or Bishop does. They are always wrong; the laity must resist, and some other criterion - as often as not acceptance of homosexual activity and the use of contraception as morally licit - replace that of subservience to the priest and Bishop.

Both attitudes can be extended from the Bishop to the Holy See, the first then becoming an unthinking Papalism and the second becoming an "anti-Roman" complex. In both cases, the result can be a playing off of the authority of the Bishop against that of the Pope; the first attitude asserts the authority of the Holy See over that of the individual Bishop, while the second asserts the authority of the local church against that of the universal.

So, what is the correct answer to this question? Or, more exactly, what is the correct course of action that should be taken when we recognise that parish priests and Bishops can do things that are wrong?

Principle 1: A parish priest or Bishop occupies an office in the Church, and have a dignity that belongs with that office. However, they are also fallible human beings who try their best (we hope) to live up to the demands of the office that they occupy. This distinction between office and person has two consequences for the lay faithful. Firstly, they owe respect to the dignity of the office; and, secondly, this respect for the dignity of the office should determine the manner in which they might challenge the failings of the human person who occupies the office. Communicating something that is of concern to the appropriate authorities, ecclesiastical or otherwise, is one thing; running a campaign in the media is another. The kind of simplistic deference which assumes "it is never right to criticise a priest" can confuse rightful respect for the office with turning a blind eye to human failings that should be the subject of challenge. If it is done in the right way, the human failings can be challenged without attacking the dignity of the office itself.

Principle 2: This was expressed to me a few months ago, in a parish based context, as the need to act in a way that preserves the unity of the parish. Much more readily can this principle be applied to a Bishop, who is the centre of the unity of his Diocese. This principle does not mean that nothing can be said; it does require a certain discretion about how it is said. Again, raising a concern with a parish priest or a Bishop is one thing; running a campaign against him is another.

Principle 3: There is also a need to respect the charism of unity of the whole Church. This charism is not served when the authority of the priest is played off against that of the Bishop, and the authority of the Bishop is then played off against that of the Holy See. Where the Bishop is, despite his failings, is where there is the presence of the universal Church in a particular locality, the Diocese.

In the current context of interest - the reaction of some Catholics to the Children, Schools and Families Bill and the Catholic Bishops approach to it - do I think the criticism of the Bishops and of the Catholic Education Service is right? As readers of this blog will realise, this is not a criticism in which I have taken a part. Let me try to apply the above principles to the context.

Firstly, a lot of the reaction on the blogs is based on the interpretation, not only of the Bill itself but of its likely consequences in schools, from one particular source. There is also an interpretation of the response of the Catholic Bishops Conference, and their agency, the Catholic Education Service. I am not sure that I completely agree with the interpretations being offered from this source. In particular, I believe there is a reflection to be had with regard to the politics - politics as judgement of the possibilities of really achieving something - of the situation, and this is part of the picture that needs to be considered. I also suspect that the view of what happens already in non-Catholic schools underestimates how much (from the Catholic point of view) undesirable practice already takes place, and therefore exaggerates the difference that the provisions of the Bill make. The really decisive factor in my view is the situation in individual schools themselves, and not changes in legislation. However that may be, one might still form a view that the Bishops have not acted as strongly as they should have.

I am afraid, however, that I do see much of what has appeared in terms of criticism of the Bishops in the blogosphere as being of the nature of "campaigning" against the Bishops. I do not think that all criticism has to be private, so it is not the fact that the criticism is public that constitutes a problem. I think it needs to be made in a more temperate way, to take a fuller account of the overall situation that is at stake, and to have a greater consciousness of respect for the unity of the Church.

UPDATE: Having just posted this, I found that Rita has posted this: Silence.

Friday 5 March 2010

The poverty of someone on the move

During late Autumn, I found that I was not able to continue with my work on Eucharistic Adoration in my parish, and gently withdrew. One of the nearby parishes has started Adoration all day on the first Friday of the month, and so I am able to pray a holy hour there, without the demands of preparing one for others. (I have no timetabled activities on a Friday so it is often the first day of my weekend!).

Today, I used the passage below from the writings of Madeleine Delbrel as one of my meditations; it is from pp.93-96 of her book The Joy of Believing. I think it is a very good expression of that stage in evangelisation that is described as "presence in charity" - or, in Madeleine's words "passing among things and people".

For a more from Madeleine Delbrel, see here, here and here.

He had very ordinary clothes,
clothes that made no impression.
His eyes looked straight ahead
and had a limpid clarity about them
that left its impact on what they saw.
The whole street was rejuvenated by his glance
and seemed to be existing for the first time.
He carried nothing in his hands.
His flat pockets seemed to have little in them
and his two hands were open
and floated on the air around him.

Maybe he was a little mad,
but he was in himself a lesson in wisdom.
His whole work seemed to consist in going,
in passing among things and people.
He was like the personification of a parable,
like a signal of true poverty.
"For if you love only those who love you ..."
you won't need to keep going ...
they will come to you.
But if you love those who do not love you ...
you have to go to meet them at every moment.

This is the poverty of the man on the move.

So we will find those things interesting
that anyone else is interested in,
and we will find ourselves becoming virtuous
through kinds of heroism
that have never attracted us,
and find ourselves becoming the brethren
of people who are not like us at all.

Then those whom we meet on their journey
will stretch out their hands
for the treasure that will pour from us;
a treasure uncompromised
by our earthenware vessels,
our gaudy baskets,
our trunks or baggage,
a treasure that is simply divinity;
a treasure that will be dressed in everybody's fashion
because it will have ceased
to be dressed in our fashion.

Thursday 4 March 2010

Founders Day/World Thinking Day

This is another delayed post - though less to do with my slow working brain and more to do with my waiting to see if its subject matter would appear elsewhere on the web. One report of the event is here, but I haven't been able to find any media reporting.

The Scout and Girl Guide movements celebrate Founders Day and World Thinking Day on 22nd February each year, that date being, I understand, the birthday of Robert Baden-Powell the founder of the scout and guide movements. Each year the day is marked by a service at Westminster Abbey, where there is a memorial to Lord and Lady Baden-Powell. This year, the service took place on Saturday 28th February.

One of my nephews was escorting the Scout banner during the service, and I had the opportunity to accompany another nephew in the congregation. I did not really know much about the Guide and Scout movements, apart from contact with the groups in my own parish in organising events like Evening Prayer for Christ the King, and Stations of the Cross. This year, it being the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Girl Guides, it was the Guides who had the lead in the service (three years ago, a similar lead was taken by the Scouts for their centenary). They showcased the history and the work of the movement.

And I have to say that I was most impressed by what I learnt about the movements during the service.  In an  ordinary and practical way the Guides and Scouts address issues that others would turn into slogans and political programmes. I will quote the promises of the two movements, which were renewed at one point during the service, and then offer some observations.

The Scout Promise is:

On My Honour, I promise that I will do my best
To do my duty to God and to the Queen,
To help other people
And to keep the Scout Law

The Scout Law is:

A Scout is to be trusted.
A Scout is loyal.
A Scout is friendly and considerate.
A Scout belongs to the worldwide family of Scouts.
A Scout has courage in all difficulties.
A Scout makes good use of time and is careful of possessions and property.
A Scout has self-respect and respect for others.

The Guide Promise

I promise that I will do my best
To love my God
To serve my Queen and my country
To help other people
and To keep the Guide Law

The Guide Law

A Guide is honest, reliable and can be trusted.
A Guide is helpful and uses her time and abilities wisely.
A Guide faces challenge and learns from her experiences.
A Guide is a good friend and a sister to all Guides.
A Guide is polite and considerate.
A Guide respects all living things and takes care of the world around her.
At the start of the service, three flags were processed to the altar - the Guide flag, the Scout flag and the Union flag; and both promises include a promise of service to the Queen (this aspect of the promise is, I presume, suitably adapted in other countries). Remembering that the Guide and Scout movements are both international movements, and that both draw members from across the breadth of society, I felt that the way this aspect of their promises was represented in the service, and is represented in the life of the movements, expressed exactly the right approach to having a sense of loyalty to one's nation. I was prompted to reflect on how I viewed the monarchy; one should perhaps see it as a symbol of the country that stands distinct from any particular political allegiance, and our present Queen, Elizabeth II, has lived the vocation represented by that symbol in a very faithful way.
Another aspect of the service that struck me was its approach to religion in the life of the Guides and Scouts, something represented in the promises by the references to duty towards and love of God. This reference to God in the promises can be adapted so that those who are not Christians can address it appropriately in accordance with their religion. I can't find it on their websites at the moment, but I understand that they work on the basis that their members will live fully the life of their own religious communities and that participation in religious events as Guides or Scouts is voluntary. The two movements did, however, seem to be perfectly comfortable celebrating their Founders Day/Thinking Day service in a Christian Abbey and making use of Christian prayers. I am sure that many readers of this blog will be familiar with Guide and Scout groups that are affiliated to Catholic parishes or to other Christian churches (my own nephews are members of a Scout group run by a nearby Methodist church). Again, without making a big fuss about it, the two movements seem to have captured exactly the right approach to the place of religion in the life of society and to the contribution that religion makes to the good of society as a whole.
A third aspect that struck me was the sense of friendship, a sense that was more than just being friends with people you know. I gained a real sense during the service - and it is reflected in the promises - that every Guide or Scout tries to be a friend to every other Guide or Scout, and perhaps especially those in other countries who they couldn't possibly know in an individual way.
The fourth aspect to strike me really grows out from the previous three. It is the sense of service to others and of responsibility in one's own life. Guides and Scouts put into practice in an ordinary way what others would make a fuss about under the headings of "citizenship" or "social cohesion". I have to say, as a personal point of view, and one that is not based on my own living of Guide and Scout ideals, that this sense of service to others appears to me to gain its depth and authenticity from being grounded in the first three points mentioned above: an appropriate sense of one's country, a correct approach to religion in the life of society and the sense of comradeship.
The founding inspiration of the Guide and Scout movements has something in common, I think, with that of the Focolare. The idea of camps familiar in the two movements is rather like the idea of a Mariapolis, particularly as it was experienced in the early days of the Focolare. The dialogue across four generations of a Guiding family that was part of the service at Westminster Abbey reflected the sort of testimonies that would be typical of a Focolare event. The idea of doing a small thing in your own life or for your neighbour, as your contribution to changing the world, would again be familiar to young people in Focolare. At one point during the service, there was also a reference to living in the present moment, between the past and the future - again, a thought that would be familiar to the Focolare. The place of religion in a spirituality that promotes a universal friendship is also something that would be familiar to the Focolare.

Monday 1 March 2010

Pastoral Letter on the Four Last Things

Just to cheer you up for the beginning of Lent, here is the pastoral letter of Bishop Thomas McMahon of Brentwood Diocese, read in parishes on the First Sunday of Lent. It has some considerable catechetical meat for you to chew over!