Sunday 31 March 2013

Easter Sunday

Happy Easter!

ALMIGHTY God, who through thine only-begotten Son Jesus Christ hast overcome death, and opened unto us the gate of everlasting life; we humbly beseech thee that, as by thy special grace preventing us thou dost put into our minds good desires, so by thy continual help we may bring the same to good effect; through Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen. 

(Collect for Easter Sunday from The Customary of Our Lady of Walsingham)

Friday 29 March 2013

Good Friday

ALMIGHTY God, we beseech thee graciously to behold this thy family, for whom our Lord Jesus Christ was contented to be betrayed, and given up into the hands of wicked men, and to suffer death upon the cross; who now liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, ever one God, world without end. Amen.

(Good Friday Collect, from The Customary of Our Lady of Walsingham.)

Monday 25 March 2013

French demonstration against same sex 'marriage'

Well, you've got to hand it to the French: they really do know how to protest!

The organizers have claimed a turn out of 1.4 million people, a larger number than that of the previous demonstration on 13 January. The police have estimated the crowd at 300,000, rather less than two months ago (the police estimate will not be finalized until the end of the week). Whatever the correct figure, the 'Manif pour tous' this Sunday, as that of the 13 January, has been one of the four greatest demonstrations on political or social issues in Paris of the last thirty years.

(Le Monde.)

Some good photos (from which the above are taken) at Le Figaro, including shots of the police tear gassing protesters. (Story here (French).)

(OK. I've just looked at the BBC site, the Daily Telegraph, and the Daily Mail and I can't find anything about this in English! Wonder why?)

[Update 26/3: Daily Telegraph article: here
Life Site News article here.    H/T The Bones]

Sunday 24 March 2013

Holy Week

Almighty and everlasting God, who, of thy tender love towards mankind, hast sent thy Son, our Saviour Jesus Christ to take upon him our flesh, and to suffer death upon the cross, that all mankind should follow the example of his great humility: mercifully grant, that we may both follow the example of his patience, and also be made partakers of his resurrection; through Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

(Collect for Palm Sunday, from the Customary of Our Lady of Walsingham)

Monday 18 March 2013

Deadline for Scottish same sex 'marriage' consultation

The deadline for submitting responses to the Scottish Government's final same sex 'marriage' consultation is 5pm on 20 March 2013. Responses are welcome from outside Scotland.

As I have previously noted, Scotland for Marriage have produced a convenient response form which already contains the main points most Catholics would want to make:

The Scotland for Marriage form is here.

The full consultation reply form is here.

Perhaps this is an opportune moment to reproduce Pope Francis' letter on the subject of the introduction of same sex 'marriage' in Argentina:

[Letter of Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, Archbishop of Buenos Aires, to the Carmelite Nuns of the Archdiocese of Buenos Aires (June 22, 2010)]

Dear Sisters,

I write this letter to each one of you in the four Monasteries of Buenos Aires. The Argentine people must face, in the next few weeks, a situation whose result may gravely harm the family. It is the bill on matrimony of persons of the same sex.

The identity of the family, and its survival, are in jeopardy here: father, mother, and children. The life of so many children who will be discriminated beforehand due to the lack of human maturity that God willed them to have with a father and a mother is in jeopardy. A clear rejection of the law of God, engraved in our hearts, is in jeopardy.

I recall words of Saint Thérèse when she speaks of the infirmity of her childhood. She says that the envy of the Devil tried to extort her family after her older sister joined the Carmel. Here, the envy of the Devil, through which sin entered the world, is also present, and deceitfully intends to destroy the image of God: man and woman, who receive the mandate to grow, multiply, and conquer the earth. Let us not be naive: it is not a simple political struggle; it is an intention [which is] destructive of the plan of God. It is not a mere legislative project (this is a mere instrument), but rather a "move" of the father of lies who wishes to confuse and deceive the children of God.

Jesus tells us that, in order to defend us from this lying accuser, he will send us the Spirit of Truth. Today, the Nation [patria], before this situation, needs the special assistance of the Holy Ghost that may place the light of Truth amid the shadows of error; it needs this Advocate who may defend us from the enchantment of so many sophisms with which this bill is being justified, and which confuse and deceive even people of good will.

That is why I turn to you and ask from you prayer and sacrifice, the two invincible weapons which Saint Thérèse confessed to have. Cry out to the Lord that he may send his Spirit to the Senators who are to place their votes. That they may not do it moved by error or by circumstantial matters, but rather according to what the natural law and the law of God tell them. Pray for them, for their families; that the Lord may visit, strengthen, and console them. Pray that they may do great good for the Nation.

This bill will be discussed in the Senate after July 13. Let us look towards Saint Joseph, to Mary, the Child, and let us ask with fervor that they will defend the Argentine family in this moment. Let us recall what God himself told his people in a time of great anguish: "this war is not yours, but God's". That they may succour, defend, and accompany us in this war of God.

Thank you for what you will do in this struggle for the Nation. And, please, I beg you, pray for me also. May Jesus bless you, and may the Blessed Virgin protect you.


Card. Jorge Mario Bergoglio s.j., Archbishop of Buenos Aires

(H/T: Rorate caeli)

Wednesday 13 March 2013

God bless Pope Francis I!

We praise thee, O God; we acknowledge thee to be the Lord. 
All the earth doth worship thee, the Father everlasting. 
To thee all Angels cry aloud, 
the Heavens and all the Powers therein. 
To thee Cherubim and Seraphim continually do cry: 
Holy, holy, holy, Lord God of Sabaoth; 
Heaven and earth are full of the majesty of thy glory.

The glorious company of the apostles praise thee. 
The goodly fellowship of the prophets praise thee. 
The noble army of martyrs praise thee. 
The holy Church throughout all the world doth acknowledge thee, 
the Father, of an infinite majesty, 
thine adorable, true, and only Son, 
also the Holy Ghost the Comforter.

Thou art the King of glory, O Christ. 
Thou art the everlasting Son of the Father. 
When thou tookest upon thee to deliver man, 
thou didst humble thyself to be born of a Virgin. 
When thou hadst overcome the sharpness of death, 
thou didst open the kingdom of heaven to all believers. 
Thou sittest at the right hand of God, in the glory of the Father. 
We believe that thou shalt come to be our judge. 
We therefore pray thee, help thy servants, 
whom thou hast redeemed with thy precious blood. 
Make them to be numbered with thy saints, 
in glory everlasting.

[Te Deum from the Book of Divine Worship]

Monday 11 March 2013

Same sex 'marriage' in Scotland: the struggle goes on

Much though I would like to be concentrating on my own sins in the preparation for Easter and on the needs of the Church as we prepare for the election of the new Pope and needful reflection on the state of the Church in Scotland, needs must.

The second government consultation on same sex 'marriage' legislation in Scotland is currently in place and closes at 5pm on 20 March 2013. It's hard to approach this without being reminded of a dog returning to its vomit (although without that canine glee): the last consultation rejected same sex 'marriage' and was ignored by the Scottish government.

However, both because it is important to go down fighting and because it is important to defend the ability of those opposed to nu-marriage to carry on living out their beliefs with integrity particularly in Catholic schools, it is important to respond to the consultation.

The LGBTQI lobby is already upping the ante by suggesting that any attempt to protect anti-same sex 'marriage' views is homophobic:

Yesterday, Tom French, Policy Co-ordinator for the Equality Network, said: “We are deeply concerned that opponents of same-sex marriage are attempting to reintroduce Section 28-style discrimination back into Scotland’s schools. This would roll back equality and have a damaging effect on young people and the wider education system. “We firmly believe that school should be a welcoming environment for all young people regardless of their sexual orientation or family situation. Schools have a duty of care to their pupils and it would be wrong to allow discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in the education system.” (From Scotland on Sunday.)

So please do contribute to the consultation: in particular, note that the consultation specifically allows for views expressed by people outside Scotland. Scotland for Marriage have a shortened response form with suggested answers: although more personalized responses are of course ideal, at the very least, please take the trouble to click on 'send' for this standard response.

The Scotland for Marriage form is here.

The full consultation reply form is here.

Thursday 7 March 2013

Crisis, what crisis?

Much talk of crises in the Church. I wonder why?

In a Church of over a billion people, where events that scarcely cause a blink in other institutions are trumpeted loudly across front pages, it's easy to feel dispirited (if you're a Catholic) or cheered (if you're a New Atheist). As I've noted before, this sort of emotional reaction, particularly where attachment to a leader is involved, is natural. But when it comes to making decisions about what action to take, we need to steady our nerves and think hard before doing anything.

The interest -particularly of the Scottish media- in Cardinal O'Brien is perfectly natural. You can't be a major -the major- religious leader in a small country and expect to pass unnoticed when accused of sexual impropriety. Indeed, the attention generally paid to the Church in the media is a tribute (even if often a backhanded one) to its remaining influence. Couple this widespread publicity with the Pope's retirement, various rumours about Vatican corruption, and ongoing issues such as the declining numbers of priests, and its easy to feel that there's a crisis and something must be done.

So what is the crisis? Cardinal O'Brien's case, though distressing for all involved, is a side issue. All institutions, particularly educational ones, suffer from the possibility of an illicit combination of sexual importuning and abuse of power. It won't go away although there may be minor structural changes that would help such as a clear method outside the normal hierarchical structure for reporting concerns. The resignation of the Pope, though unusual, is part of the normal rhythm of life and departure: Popes come and go. The Church goes on.

Stripping away the noise, it can be soon be seen that some of the nostrums that are being offered in solution are, in principle, flawed. Firstly, they are flawed because they are nostrums: quick fix solutions for complicated problems. Changing rules on clerical celibacy won't stop the difficulties of reconciling eros and power. It might be a partial solution to falling numbers of priests or to a (putative) culture of homosexuality within seminaries, but it won't be a quick or sure one, and it will undoubtedly bring other problems in its wake. Secondly, and most importantly, they won't solve the main problem -if there is a main problem- which is that of the challenge of secularization.

Secularization theory comes in many shapes and forms, but the central claim is that there is something about modernity which is inimical to traditional forms of religion. This claim (in view of some evidence that religion elsewhere in the world is resistant to secularization in modernity) can be confined to Western Europe: that there is something structural about modern Western European societies that drives out religion. Now it certainly isn't clear that secularization theory is correct or why it is correct (if it is). But the figures on Church attendance and belief in Western Europe do seem to show a steady decline (take your pick from when!).

Is that the crisis? If secularization theory is true, none of the solutions offered in popular discussions will work. Why should clerical celibacy change this trend when it hasn't for the Protestant churches? Why should changing teaching on birth control work either? Moreover, particular stories about declines in church attendance and belief (eg) in Ireland become part, not of a specific reaction to a specific event (child abuse) but a variation upon that common theme of the irresistible decline of religion in Western Europe, a decline only delayed by the peculiar circumstances of Irish society and cultural defence (the linking of culture and religion in a culture under attack from a more dominant culture).

The most plausible candidate for the crisis of modern Catholicism is this conflict between religion and modernity, and the (claimed) inevitable decline of religion. Before Catholics start proposing this or that solution for 'the crisis', they need to come to a decision about whether or not there is some deep incompatibility between traditional Christianity and modernity. If they think there is, then we have two choices: either we accept that Catholicism will have as much difficulty in surviving in modernity as a life of contemplative prayer in a brothel, and concentrate on creating defences for those declining numbers who want to carry on this heroic struggle. (And 'popular' solutions such as changing the Church's teaching on sex will be at best irrelevant, and at worst actually part of that secularization process.) Or we have to adapt Catholicism to survive -and here again, the well known  'popular' solutions won't work either because they've been tried by other religions and have failed.

Alternatively, we reject secularization theory and regard problems with numbers of Catholics not as a structural incompatibility between modernity and religion, but as a specific outcome of a specific Catholic problem. (So, eg, a response to the 'Spirit of Vatican II' and one to be solved by rejecting that Spirit. Or that we have a problem with our attitude to homosexuality that we need to deal with.) One issue with such diagnoses is that they don't directly account for the decline in other religions. But quite apart from that, again 'popular' solutions don't seem plausible. Why should Catholicism do any better 'listening' to the laity, than the Church of England has?

Focusing on the Scottish situation for the moment, rumours abound. On the internet, in the wake of Cardinal O'Brien's resignation, I have come across claims that the Church in one Scottish city is dominated by a homosexual mafia, and that a senior (named) cleric is a 'friend of Dorothy'. Are these true? Who knows? I certainly don't. But any solution to problems in the Scottish Church depends on a clear diagnosis of what those problems are. (One obvious problem is a reduction in the number of priests in the not too distant future and the consequent need for some re-organization as a result.) Until that happens -and of course, diagnosing problems in a large and complex organization such as the Church is rarely as straightforward and clearcut as diagnosing measles- solutions free float in search of a problem to solve.

Frankly, I don't quite know what conclusion to come to myself. Is there a crisis in the Church as a whole or even within just the Scottish Church? Or are there just lots of little difficulties which need lots of little improvements? (So better administration in the Vatican, better catechesis etc. But none of this done with the expectation that it will solve the big crisis, because there isn't one.) On the other hand, if there is a big crisis in the Church, the only plausible one is that of secularization, and nothing that (say) the Tabletista wing is suggesting could remotely deal with that. For what it's worth, I lean to the 'no crisis, but let's just make things better in a piecemeal way' school of thought. But for those who disagree with me, I'd like to see a clearer diagnosis of what they think the crisis is, why their solution will solve it, and how that solution is related to the overall issue of secularization.

Monday 4 March 2013

Cardinal O'Brien: let's grow up a little

Well, it's not that much fun being a Scottish Catholic just now, is it? Cardinal O'Brien's admission that there is some substance to the allegations against him didn't really come as much of a surprise to me: they did have the ring of truth about them and, quite apart from any question of the propensity of leading Catholics to be caught with their pants down, I've stopped being surprised by the sex drive of men and what it brings them to.

I don't have much more to say on the Cardinal O'Brien affair specifically except that we do eventually need greater clarity on what he actually did: the best thing he and the Church can do now is to be open about what happened. Other than that, I shall be praying for the Cardinal and those who have been hurt by him.

On a more general point, however, we are having a torrent of commentators suggesting this or that needs to be done as a result of Cardinal O'Brien's antics. I'll deal with the 'crisis' in the Church in a later post, but what many commentators are failing to address is the structural problem that simply is impossible to rectify.

The Catholic Church has two aspects that make it particularly vulnerable to scandals like Cardinal O'Brien's. First, it has a clearly articulated, counter cultural view of ethics. Broadly, it says strong things that people don't want to hear. Second, it has the appearance of a chain of command: there is somebody (the Pope, a bishop) where the buck appears to stop.

Taking the first of these, the current cloud of misery surrounding the Church reminded me of the 'back to basics' debacle that hit the Conservative party under John Major. Having articulated a vision of a Britain returning to family values, the party was hit by a string of scandals (listed here) which made the party subject to the charge of hypocrisy. (Admittedly we haven't yet had a Cardinal waving a pickaxe at a protester -as did Allan Stewart- but it is surely only a matter of time.) Politicians as a result have abandoned any sort of moral crusade precisely because it leaves them with the inevitability of being 'found out'. (Or in Major's own case, not being found out whilst enjoying Mrs Currie.) But the Catholic Church does not have the luxury of abandoning the teaching of ethics.

Turning to the second, as the estimable Thirsty Gargoyle has long pointed out, the appearance of the Catholic Church as a monolithic structure with clear lines of command and control is largely an illusion:

The crucial thing about Church that contrary to popular mythology it is incredibly decentralised, and communication is almost always a bottom-up rather than a top-down phenomenon. With the all-important exception of doctrine, given the teaching authority invested in the Pope as successor to Peter, the flow of information goes from the parishes to the dioceses and from the dioceses to Rome and does so on a voluntary basis: the quality and comprehensiveness of the information being supplied is wholly in the hands of the supplier.

Putting it another way, in the normal course of things the Pope knows only what the bishops choose to tell him, and the bishops know only what their priests choose to tell them.

The control works in one field alone (and even there with mixed results): the teaching of doctrine. But because there is that appearance, the immoral or criminal behaviour of one man appears  peculiarly damaging. Unlike other organizations which can shrug it off because it happened in only one isolated team, the appearance of the structure inevitably leads to the question: what was the Pope doing about it? Moreover, the problem is diachronic as well as synchronic: no one thinks (say)  the BBC is responsible today for what happened in the organization in 1960. But the Catholic Church is regularly held responsible for far earlier events. 

While the Church has a hierarchy, and while it teaches ethical truths, it cannot be insulated from the sort of criticisms that are following the Cardinal O'Brien case. Of course, there may be specific lessons to be learned: how to manage the media; how to deal with complaints of abuse; how to run seminaries. But unless the Church is willing to abandon an ethics based on reason and the episcopal and Petrine ministeries, the inevitable grubbiness of human beings will always leave it open to attack.

I don't expect non-Catholics to behave kindly in the current circumstances. The Church in Scotland weighed in heavily against same sex 'marriage' and will get a good kicking from its opponents: the scandal has given them a rhetorical advantage and they will use it. But for Catholics, we need to grow up a little. The Church teaches the truth: its leaders do not just make up its moral theology and philosophy on the hoof. When Cardinal O'Brien came out against same sex 'marriage', he was articulating a position that, from the Catholic point of view, is as straightforwardly factual as the claim that human beings need food and water. He could not change his mind on that anymore than the next Pope could change the Church's mind on contraception and abortion: they are the articulators of a truth and not its inventors. Those truths will not change, and so long as the Church teaches, as sure as light follows day, some of those who teach the truths will fail to live up to them. 

Catholics should know that and be prepared to live with the consequences. No reform will ever cure that fundamental problem of a teaching hierarchy, and nor should it try to.