Is this the face of collegiality?

Via Protect the Pope comes news that an apparatchik of the Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales has written to Catholic peers and MPs to assure them that there are no plans to do anything that might in anyway show support for Bishop Egan of Portsmouth’s re-affirmation of consistent Church teaching, expressed in Canon 915, that those who persist in manifestly grave sin must be denied Holy Communion. Politicians who ignore Church teaching and use their parliamentary office to push through legislation contrary to Church teaching fall under this canon. As Bishop Egan made clear, denial of Communion is not only an act of justice, but of mercy, that being denied the highest privilege of a Catholic they might come to their senses and repent.


Now if Greg Pope, the Head of Parliamentary Relations at the Bishops’ Conference, has actually written with the knowledge and approval of the Conference, then the Conference has hung one of its own out to dry. Is this how collegiality is to be practised – subverting one of their own who has enough courage to stand up to politicians’ time-serving and reiterate solemn Church teaching? If so, there is no better argument against the novel doctrine of collegiality. Far better to go back to the situation of the previous 1900-odd years, and let a bishop shepherd his diocese without hindrance, subject only to the Sovereign Pontiff and the occasional Council. Then the bishop could concern himself with toeing the Universal Church’s line rather than that of a conference all too often desperate to appease the secular establishment.

Perhaps that is the greatest weakness of bishops’ conferences: that they foster national churches with an identity too distinct from that of the Universal Church. History is replete with examples of how such nationalized Churches have acquiesced to the demands of their local governments and sold out the teachings of the Church. The Orthodox churches today are fitting reminders of the inherent weakness of nationalized churches. An even better example is the Anglican communion, founded on the craven submission of English bishops to the murderous and adulterous desires of Henry VIII. Do we want to go that route?!

Under Henry VIII there was a least one bishop who stood for the right, St John Fisher. He, too, was abandoned by his episcopal brethren, and eventually lost his life.  If Mr Pope (the bitter irony of that name!) has indeed acted for the Bishops’ Conference, then it appears we might have another John Fisher today, though we pray that Bishop Egan will not lose his life for it.

greg pope

Of course Mr Pope has a vested interest: in his previous role as a Labour Member of Parliament, he voted consistently against Church teaching in matters such as abortion, adoption and contraception. Yet he has been able to hold two jobs for the bishops’ conference. What teaching does this give the faithful I wonder?

Herod lives still

Today there was no obligatory memorial or feast day to cause us to pass over the ferial readings set down for Mass today. How apt these readings were at the end of a week in which the UK House of Commons has passed a bill to redefine marriage to include same-sex partnerships.

In the first reading (Heb 13:1-8), St Paul is winding up his letter by offering some exhortations to the community. Among them is,

Let marriage be held in honour among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled, for God will judge the sexually immoral and adulterous. (v.4)

In light of this week’s events, what arrests attention is not so much those who defile the marriage bed by acts of  immorality and adultery, but those who effectively encourage them to do so, and indeed, facilitate it. Panderers and pimps used to be the common name for such people. The House of Commons this week sought to join them. It is one thing for a person to sin; it is quite another to encourage others to sin by telling them it is no sin at all. God’s law stands, and no parliament can revoke it. To say otherwise is to lie. Panderers, pimps – and liars…

It is not fashionable to talk today of judgement  nor of hell. These last things are clearly and emphatically taught in scripture and in the consistent magisterial tradition of the Church, and we take a great risk in ignoring them or setting them aside. St Paul in the text above makes it clear that God will judge sinners, even those among the little ones of the world, though we might dare hope in his mercy. Our Lord has a word for the House of Commons too:

but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea. Woe to the world for temptations to sin! For it is necessary that temptations come, but woe to the one by whom the temptation comes! (Matt 18:6-7)

A disappointing manThis week Britain ceased finally to be Christian in any meaningful sense. That there is an established church and a state religion in Anglicanism is of little consequence because the Anglican communion, in its majority and official stance at least, seems intent on aiding abetting the government’s appalling attempt to re-order the divine Order. Even more frightening is the fact that not one of the three main parties stands against this legislation, Tory rebels notwithstanding. What is left – UKIP? The Monster Raving Loony Party? Mr Cameron even had the temerity to indulge in the Orwellian subterfuge of maintaining that he supports same-sex marriage because he believes marriage is so important. It is not important to him at all other than as another object of his pragmatism; there is no principle involved, just another means to an end to be manipulated according to current political priorities, chief among them the need to curry favour with the ascendant factions in society.

Herod - a man of pragmatism not principleSo how fitting it was that today’s gospel was on Herod’s murder of St John the Baptist (Mark 6:14-29). Herod, admiring of the Baptist even as the Baptist opposed him, and acknowledging his obvious holiness and prophetic word, surrenders his stirring of conscience to pragmatism. Rather than lose the favour of Herodias and Salome, two fallen daughters of a fallen Eve if ever there were; and rather than be seen by his nobles to have uttered rashly, indiscreetly and venally and so lose face before them, he consents to a crime that he knows is wrong. In mitigation for Herod, we might say at least that, unlike Mr Cameron, he never attempted to label sin a virtue.

Mr Cameron has assured the churches that no clergyman will be forced to attempt to confect a same-sex marriage (attempt, mark you, because it can never be confected in God’s sight). But James Preece takes up the example of  the 1994 Sunday Trading Act, citing the debate in the Lords at the time in which three Baronesses unequivocally assert that no worker would be required to work on a Sunday, and they would be protected if they refused to work on a Sunday. Just over a month ago a court ruled that Christians do not have a right to refuse to work on Sundays, which means they can be sacked if they do refuse. Moreover the reason his Honour gave for this ruling was that working on a Sunday is not a “core belief” of Christianity.

On the one hand we have a government attempting to re-define the divine institution of marriage; on the other hand we have a judiciary attempting to re-define the central tenets of Christianity. The judiciary is equally guilty of acting ultra vires as the government. So can a Catholic priest reasonably trust the Prime Minister’s assurances that no clergyman will be forced to conduct a same-sex marriage? Today it is pragmatic for him to promise this, but tomorrow it might not be.

This might sound like scaremongering to some, or an overreaction bordering on hysterical by others. But it is a fact that in the last 5 centuries Britain has a record of persecuting Catholics, and not least their priests, for keeping the Faith. The gallows may have disappeared, but we might well fear that persecution is alive and well.

There are far better expositions of the issues involved elsewhere. Some have been linked already in the text. You might also want to read Dr Joseph Shaw, who wields the sharp scalpel of logic with a slightly different focus.

Militant Islam considers the West to be decadent and enmired in immorality. While its methods are appalling and in every way deplorable, it is easy to see how there might be something in their opinion.

Pray for us!

To end on a more hopeful note, let us look to a poem penned by Blessed John Henry Newman in 1832:

The Patient Church

BIDE thou thy time!
Watch with meek eyes the race of pride and crime,
Sit in the gate, and be the heathen’s jest,
Smiling and self-possest.
O thou, to whom is pledged a victor’s sway,
Bide thou the victor’s day!

Think on the sin *
That reap’d the unripe seed, and toil’d to win
Foul history-marks at Bethel and at Dan;
No blessing, but a ban;
Whilst the wise Shepherd**  hid his heaven-told fate,
Nor reck’d a tyrant’s hate.

Such loss is gain;
Wait the bright Advent that shall loose thy chain!
E’en now the shadows break, and gleams divine
Edge the dim distant line.
When thrones are trembling, and earth’s fat ones quail,
True Seed! thou shalt prevail!

[*: Jereboam; **: David]