A Telling Letter in The Tablet

In the latest issue of The Tablet (22 August) there is a letter from the composer and former director of music for Portsmouth diocese. Here it is:

inwood

Melanie had suggested that children be taught more traditional Eucharistic hymns because of their (undeniably) fuller theological content and catechetical utility. Mr Inwood is clearly not impressed, perhaps because if all parishes switched to traditional hymns there would be little work for him to do.

Continue reading “A Telling Letter in The Tablet”

A welcome change

Sandro Magister has alerted us to a change, promulgated on 22 February this year, in the Rite of Baptism for Infants. While Magister paints a compelling and not improbable picture of the personal reasons for Pope Benedict’s decision to make the change, the underlying basis for the decision is not so hard to discern.

First, the change. It concerns the minister’s ritual welcome of the newly baptised. From 1973 till last February the particular text read:

The Christian community welcomes you with great joy.

The text in Latin, and thus in all translations, has been amended to read as follows (in English):

The Church of God welcomes you with great joy.

This is not so much a correction of an error as a clarification not just in wording but in meaning. The “Christian community” option no doubt reflects the prevailing ecclesiology of the 1960s that sought to downplay the hierarchical and institutional elements in the Church’s identity, and emphasize the Church as the People of God. To this extent “Christian community” is hardly wrong.

However, one suspects that it might also have been influenced by the debate about the identity of the Church of God, which came to an unsatisfying climax at the Second Vatican Council in its constitution Lumen Gentium, section 8, where the Church is said to “subsist in” the Catholic Church governed by the Pope. The debate about this phrasing endures to this day, arising from the (deliberate?) ambiguity of the word “subsist”.  Is the Church of God to be identified with those Christian churches in communion with the Pope, and no others? Or is the Church gathered in communion with the Pope to be see rather as the fullness of the Church’s identity, with separated communities sharing an imperfect identity with this Church of God?

The question gains extra spice from the fact that any Baptism made in the name of the Blessed Trinity by means of the sprinkling of water (or immersion into water) is considered valid by the Catholic Church. Into what does such a Baptism insert one – into the general Christian community, be it the fullness of the Church under Peter’s Successor, or into one of the imperfectly-ordered Christian denominations having an impaired identity with the one Church of God?

The previous formula allowed the easy inference to be made that Baptism was made into the more general Christian community, not to be strictly identified with the Catholic Church. However that makes no real sense theologically. Christ founded a Church, built on the Rock of Peter, and it is into this creation of His that he commanded his apostles to baptize disciples of all nations, and it was this Church that Christ commanded to be One. Thus Baptism can only ever be into the Church of God, which “subsists in” the Church in communion with the Peter’s Successor, and not into to some amorphous “Christian community”. So we can say, then, that “Christian community” is not an adequate synonym for “Church of God”.

In fact, on this logic, every valid Baptism, be it Anglican or Lutheran etc, inserts one into the Catholic Church and makes the newly-baptized a subject of communion with the Pope and the one Church gathered in communion with him. As politically incorrect as many may still find it, the logic is clear: every baptized person has an impaired and deficient Christian identity while he or she is outside communion with the Catholic Church. This highlights the importance of the Church’s missionary effort, not just towards non-Christians, but also towards those who are deficiently Christian.

So Pope Benedict’s little change has huge significance and clarifies a question perhaps deliberately (at times, by some) confused. When we baptize anyone, he or she is baptized into the “One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church” which is always and of necessity in communion with Christ’s Vicar, the Rock, St Peter and his successors. Which raises the question: what of those ministers who do not intend to do this?

But that is another issue…

Pax.

Atheists say the darnedest things: on canonising popes and councils

In the past week, Ian Slade of London wrote a letter to the Editor of The Times. He wrote:

In the past, centuries elapsed between Pope Saints – St Pius V, died 1572, and St Pius X, died 1914. Now we are to believe that every pope since 1958 (1939 if one counts Pius XII) was of exalted sanctity. John XXIII, imminent canonisation; Paul VI, imminent beatification; John Paul I, case (sic) opened; John Paul II, imminent canonisation.

As an atheist I cannot comment on the medievalism of miracles or their holiness. However, it does seem odd to laud those under whose guidance the practice of the faith, numbers of clergy and moral authority of the Catholic Church have all but collapsed.

First, let’s get the pedantry out of the way otherwise it will only distract from the primary focus. The first sentence of his second paragraph is both casuistical and unclear (though these often go together).  He avows he will make no comment on the “medievalism of miracles”, but surely this casting of miracles as medieval is itself a clear and highly prejudicial comment? And as to his use of “holiness”, syntactically he seems to use it in reference to “miracles”, but this would be an unusual usage. Normally atheists question the veracity of miracles, not their holiness. In light of his first paragraph, it seems more likely that he was using “holiness” in reference to the popes in question. It would make more sense to me; and it highlights the importance of good grammar and syntax.

However, our primary focus should be on his substantive point: why recognise with such high honour those under whom the Church has declined in such dramatic fashion? It is a question deserving of an answer. Mr Slade has a point.

First, as a point of fact, the Church did not decline under all these popes. Without resorting to statistical analysis, it would be generally accepted that the first half of the 20th century was, by most measures, a time of growth for the Church. Especially in countries in which Catholicism was something of an outsider, such as Britain, America and even Australia, Mass attendance grew steadily, as did vocations to priestly and religious life, missionary activity and charitable outreach. The revival after the Modernist crisis and the emergence of the liturgical movement revealed a vigour in the life of the Church that is often sadly discounted. Some might argue that in some of these areas of vitality were sown the seeds of later malaise, but that is another story.

Secondly, it is not quite so outré to believe that every pope since 1939 (or even earlier) has been of remarkable holiness. They were all men of remarkable gifts and character, selfless in the service of the Church and striking in their freedom from vice. They were good and devout men. They were not all necessarily free from the odd imprudent decision or strategic error; and maybe some addressed some problems without recognizing the greater gravity of others. Yet sanctity is not measured by success according to empirical measures, nor does it attempt to ascribe near perfection to a person, nor does it require that a person never make a mistake.

Holiness is the perfection of human charity (love in action, not love as a sentiment) through cooperation with the grace of Christ without which we cannot become holy. This perfection is articulated in and augmented by devotion to doing God’s will and acknowledging his glory, and by serving our neighbour (cf CCC #2013). The holy person is one whose life is entirely oriented to God, and to God through service of others; that holy person thinks of himself or herself last.

Unlike, say, some of the Renaissance popes, the popes of the last century seem indeed to have been men who clearly lived in devoted service of God and His Church. They may have made some mistakes in matters of prudential government; but they were not selfish or self-aggrandizing men. They were men of God, though with feet of clay.

That said, certainly one could say that from Paul VI’s pontificate the Church has suffered a great decline by most measures, such as Mass attendance, vocations, marriages etc. Paul VI especially reigned over a particularly disastrous period in the Church’s history. He promoted liturgical reforms that went far beyond the mandate of the Vatican Council, reforms ostensibly aimed at allowing the people to be more involved and to make the Mass more easily understood; yet the people’s response has been to abandon Mass attendance en masse. He presided over changes in the life of the Church, especially in religious and priestly life, aimed at a greater openness to the world; yet millions of Catholics, and tens of thousands of priests and religious, embraced the world and left the bosom of the Church. The pontificates of Bl John Paul II and Benedict XVI did much to stem the decline, and in latter years even begin to reverse it, but even they had their own small imprudences.

In all, despite their personal qualities, there seems little mark them out for such honour in the current context. It was a general rule that a cause for canonisation would not be introduced until 50 years has passed since the subject’s death. Yet that rule is increasingly honoured in its breach. With Mother Teresa one could see a compelling argument both for her holiness, and for the witness value her life, and her canonisation, would offer the Church and the world. But one reason for the rule was to allow an authentic cultus to emerge from possible emotive hype. So John Paul II, a man of evident holiness and whose last years were a poignant yet powerful testimony to the role of the Cross in the life of a Christian and to the value of human life in general, has found himself approved for sainthood less than 10 years after his death. With Bl John XXIII another rule has been broken, quite legally, by Pope Francis, namely the requirement for a second miracle.

In fact, all this haste for papal canonisation and beatification is centred on the popes who have presided over the conciliar Church (there is no rush to canonise Pius XII, though he is no less worthy in many ways). Given the point that Mr Slade pointed out in his letter, that these popes have presided over a Church that entered freefall from 1962, one might argue that these popes more than any others should have their causes put in the slow lane rather than the fast one. We are yet to see where the post-conciliar turmoil will finally bring us. We pray that we will finally land on tranquil and fruitful shores. At that point it would seem fitting to consider honouring the popes who brought us to such shores. Until then their reputations are too easily compromised, rightly or wrongly, by association with the general failure of the conciliar reforms. The greater the time since their deaths, the greater the chance of reasoned and reasonable assessment of their sanctity, free from the post-conciliar context that would confuse such an assessment.

However, perhaps this exactly the point. Perhaps in the push to canonise the conciliar popes there is an attempt to associate the compromised conciliar reforms with the good personal reputations of the conciliar popes. If all the conciliar popes are holy, then the conciliar reforms they allowed must be good too. Is it not possible that some might see this as an attempt to counteract the increasingly negative repute of the conciliar reforms with the positive personal repute of the conciliar popes? In other words, does this not allow the whole process to be seen as a conciliar public relations exercise? Cynical, perhaps; unrealistic, not necessarily.

For one, I think the popes of the last century and more are very fine men and Christians, worthy in life and selfless in their service of the Church. I could quite easily accept that they are all in heaven and intercede for us even now before Christ the Lord. However, this haste to canonise them, especially the conciliar popes, is almost unseemly; and the breaking of the 50-year rule, and the requirement of the second miracle in John XXIII’s case, begs the question, why is such corner-cutting haste necessary? What earthly end does it serve?

It is not unreasonable to see in this haste an attempt to bolster the standing of the post-conciliar reforms which, as Mr Slade demonstrated, are seen by so many within and without the Church as having demonstrably failed to achieve their objectives. By canonising the conciliar popes they could by implication canonise the conciliar reforms. This would be a grave disservice both to the pope, by tying their causes to the fortunes of the conciliar reforms; and to the reforms themselves by making it more difficult to assess them in the cool and calm air of dispassionate reason – to question them would be seen as questioning these popes, who after all, would be saints! If this, in fact, the case then the Church’s agony will continue longer, and needlessly. It would be such a shame.

An Evening with Cardinal Schönborn

Last night, as a result of a very kind and unmerited (by me) invitation, I had the enormous privilege of hearing His Eminence, Christoph Cardinal Schönborn OP, Archbishop of Vienna, speak at the National Gallery in London. I had the good fortune to team up with Dr Stephen Bullivant of St Mary’s University College, Twickenham, for the occasion. The evening began with wine and canapés Room 8, now The Dorothy and Michael Hintze Room, at the National Gallery.

Drinks in Room 8 at the National Gallery, taken on my little phone.

This was a felicitous siting of the pre-lecture gathering, and not just because this room holds some wonderful religious works from the Italian Renaissance, by such masters as Raphael and Michelangelo, but because Mr Michael Hintze, of the room’s new name, was in effect the host for the evening. Mr Hintze is a wealthy Catholic businessman who gives almost as much as he gets. Apart from a large benefaction to the National Gallery, he has also donated to the Church, not least to the restoration of frescoes in the Vatican’s Pauline Chapel. He is an alumnus of my old college, St John’s at the University of Sydney, where he recently funded the building of a new residential wing. He thoroughly merits the recognition he received when Pope Benedict XVI made him a Knight Grand Cross of the Order of St Gregory. He is one of that now-too-rare breed of wealthy people who share their wealth with good causes. Thankfully, they do exist – my invitation came through the kind services of another Catholic philanthropist, Mr Graham Hutton… but I digress.

So far I have not had the front to drop Douai Abbey’s name to Mr Hintze – our Library and Archive is still in need of money as it expands to encompass the archives of other monasteries and religious orders, and we could certainly do with a sacristy!

The great and the good present for the evening were way above my station, but I did recognise Lord Williams, until recently Anglican Archbishop of Canterbury and ecumenical confrater of Douai Abbey,  Fr Timothy Radcliffe OP, former Master General of the Dominicans, Mr Richard Fitzalan Howard of the Order of Malta, and Fr John Saward, the eminent theologian. There were a goodly number of younger Catholic servants of the Church present as well, and it all made for a lovely buzz of bonhomie and conversation.

Then, after a brief pitch by the Gallery director, we moved to the Theatre for the Cardinal’s lecture. His subject was the place of Christianity in an increasingly and predominantly secularised Europe. He spoke from notes, of which I do not have a transcript, though a copy of the speech would not have been adequate given that His Eminence made frequent asides and off-the-cuff remarks.

Another cheeky mobile phone photo

So I am largely working from a weak memory in what follows. What does stay clearly in the memory is that his lecture was accessible and insightful. He spoke mainly from a Germano-Austrian perspective, not surprisingly, but the relevance to all of Europe, including the UK, was obvious. He peppered his lecture with references to the thought and ministry of Benedict XVI, quondam Joseph Ratzinger. The Cardinal was a student of Ratzinger and the influence of Ratzinger on his own thought is explicit. Another feature which marked the lecture was the Cardinal’s strong emphasis on pro-life issues. He spoke frequently against euthanasia and abortion, occasionally as an impassioned aside.

His principal focus was not on a Europe facing the prospect of increased Islamization. Rather he focused on the more burning issue facing Europe, secularization. It was clear that the Cardinal saw the force of secularization as the greatest threat to European culture and society. He noted the reaction of one young Muslim to the attempts in many countries to marginalize or remove Christian symbolism and content from society: she had no objection to seeing a European country make explicit its Christian foundations – indeed it reassured her that she was in a society that believed in God in the first place. The attempt by some governments to de-Christianize European society in the name of pluralism actually offends a vast number of those they seek to placate. Apart from the militant extremist fringe of Islam, most Muslims would prefer a tolerant but explicitly Christian society over an atheistic, pluralist secular society any day.

The Cardinal also fired a warning shot across the Church’s bow on this matter. He saw a Church that in many places was conforming itself to the world, accommodating itself to its secular milieu. Such a Church, the Cardinal warned, would have nothing worthwhile to say to society, and in fact the world is far better at being secular than the Church: “A secularized Church is of no interest to a secularized world”. Amen.

One of his asides arose from his treatment of the recent controversy in Germany over infant circumcision, when there was an attempt to ban circumcision. The attempt arose from a denial that circumcision had a religious meaning, and was made in the name of preserving children’s “bodily integrity”. His Eminence then wryly noted the irony that this same deference to bodily integrity is not extended by these people to children not yet born.

The Cardinal’s approach to the issue of same-sex relationships was less robust, or one might say it was more nuanced. He felt that same sex-relationships were a fact in modern European and deserved “respect”. That seemed a little too generous. Certainly in civil terms they should be conceded tolerance: there is no room in Catholic teaching for what could legitimately be called ‘hate crimes’ (in contrast to the expression of an opinion which questions such relationships on moral grounds, so often illegitimately lumped in with ‘hate crimes’ and ‘homophobia’). However tolerance does not equate to respect, and in Catholic terms it is hard to see how to respect something that is more often than not contrary to Christian morality. That said, the Cardinal did mention that when visiting schools he is often asked why the Church opposed “gay marriage”. His reply is always to tell them that the Church does not oppose “gay marriage”, for it cannot oppose something that does not exist! The Cardinal was clear that while civil protections might be accorded same-sex relationships, there can be no question of same-sex marriage. On that point he was unequivocal.

When asked at the end of the lecture what he might have to say to families in light of what he had said about the promotion of life and of authentic marriage, the Cardinal offered a ready and succinct reply: “Grow and multiply”! In this exhortation, which he said was the first commandment we received from God and can be found on page 1 on the Bible, can be found a critique of the shockingly low European birthrate resulting from the contraceptive and abortion culture of modern secular Europe, as well as a reaffirmation that the health of both marriage and society lies in their openness to new life.

His Eminence’s acknowledgement of Benedict XVI’s teaching was frequently evident and explicit, and emerged especially at the end as he answered questions. In response to a question about ecumenism, His Eminence referred to the Ratzinger Schülerkreis, or holiday symposium, that Benedict XVI/Cardinal Ratzinger has held each summer with his former students for 33 years. Himself a former student, Cardinal Schönborn attends these, and least year’s was on ecumenism. At the end Benedict offered a sort of synthesis of and reflection on the opinions aired by his students. Benedict reflected that perhaps a new approach was needed to the ecumenical venture, one that put doctrinal issues in second place and put Christian witness in the first place. Cardinal Schönborn found Benedict’s proposal remarkable: that ecumenism today should focus first on how we can be Christians together and offer a common Christian witness to a largely hostile and secularized society. The corollary becomes clear with a little thought: there will be no ecumenical progress of substance until Christians can unite in what they have in common: obedience to Christ’s principal commandment of charity and of moral living. Only when we live and act like Christians will we offer anything like a true Christian witness to the world, and only then can we talk fruitfully about the doctrines that separate us. Without the common ground of Christian witness in action ecumenical dialogue has no firm ground on which all parties can stand. While there can be no true love without truth, he seems to suggest that if we concentrate on love first, the truth will make itself clear as a result.

His Eminence also offered an interesting insight in relation to the new pope. Rather than set Pope Francis against Pope Benedict as the secular media and certain elements in the Church are trying to do, the Cardinal said that he saw it quite clearly that Pope Francis is a living “illustration” of the teaching of Pope Benedict. What Pope Benedict taught, Pope Francis is embodying with crystal clarity. In the is light, it is as if the election of Francis was divinely delayed so that the ground for his ministry could be laid in the profound yet accessible teaching of Pope Benedict. Pope Francis himself has made abundant reference to Benedict in his first few weeks. Even Pope Francis’ reluctance to speak about the Second Vatican Council could be seen to reflect Benedict’s call to rediscover the true Council; Pope Francis will engage in this task more by actions than by words. Pope Benedict has provided all the words and tools of thought necessary already.

Talking after the lecture with Fr John Saward, he made the point that even Pope Francis’ general liturgical style could be said to reflect Benedict’s essential teaching on the centrality of Christ and his Cross in the liturgy, as opposed to an unhealthy focus on priest or people. Pope Francis has maintained the Benedictine altar arrangement as far as I can tell, and even his resumption of the Scorzelli papal staff, introduced by Pope Paul VI but made famous by Blessed John Paul II, can be seen to reflect Pope Francis’ repeated emphasis on Christ crucified at the heart of the liturgy, and of the Church herself. In this emphasis he is at one with Benedict. So too his relative sobriety in vesture can be seen as attempting to take the focus off the celebrant. It is a method not everyone might approve but it is at least consistent with his theology. It is an insight that should colour our interpretation of Pope Francis’ spare liturgical style.

May the Lord uphold Cardinal Schönborn in his episcopal ministry in the very difficult environment of modern Austria.

**It was a great way to make a long-overdue first visit to the National Gallery.**

**PS I have received a couple of emails that make me realise I have been a little tough on Archbishop Marini. For one thing, it is true that sometimes one has to wear what is provided in the sacristy. This was apparently the case with the blue and yellow horrors shown in the picture in my post on the two Marinis. This is what was provided by the organisers at Mariazell, not by Archbishop Marini. Fair enough. However, given that Pope Francis is making very clear choices of his own in liturgical vesture, this will be an excuse that might not hold for much longer! There are other issues at which I find myself at odds with Marini primo, but no one can question the lengthy and devoted service he rendered as papal MC.**

Further thoughts on Pope Francis

Things are beginning to sink in all round. Pope Francis is a man who defies a neat single labelling.

Pope Francis I appears on the central balcony

So far in a quick web survey there emerges that in Buenos Aires he took a strong moral line on such matters as same-sex ‘marriage’, to the manifest annoyance of the Presidentrix of Argentina. He is theologically “conservative” but strong on “social justice” (and as Dr Shaw rightly asks, why the “but”?!). He scaled down the episcopal style of life in Buenos Aires, living in a small flat, taking public transport to work and often cooking for himself. He is said to have refused several offers of curial posts, avoiding coming to Rome unless he had to.

Jesuits are notoriously un-liturgical. Many are suggesting that either he will place a low priority on liturgical matters, leaving things be, or he will positively dismantle the restoration of tradition.On traditionalist blogs some are going hyper about Cardinal Bergogolio’s alleged non-implementation of Summorum Pontificum and his hostility to tradition, yet it seems he allowed the old rite Institute of the Good Shepherd to open a house in his diocese. IN Argentina he had oversight for eastern rite Catholics, which suggest that he is familiar with the eastern liturgies.

I suspect his Jesuit simplicity will indeed see him adopt a simpler papal style, and that he will be vigorous in stamping his authority on the Curia. But for all the mainstream media’s wishcraft that he will simplify the Church by reducing its pomp and grandeur (this on the BBC) and opt for the poor and marginalized, this may be true to a degree, but they may find that he administers a dose of noble Roman simplicity that is far too strong for liberals and progressives. Simplicity for him may well mean, “Do as you’re told and don’t argue”, “Do it my way or no way”, “You are either for me or against me”, “It’s either yes or no, not maybe”. Simplicity can be very direct indeed.

Francis – is it Assisi or Xavier? Maybe it is both – Assisi appeals to all Italians, and certainly chimes with his hitherto simplicity of life; Xavier is a nod to his Jesuit order and to the role of evangelization in the Church.

Rocco Palmo provides a good ad hoc translation of Pope Francis’ first address and it has some interesting moments. Some snippets:

And before anything else, I’d like for us to pray for our bishop-emeritus, Benedict XVI. Let us pray together for him, that the Lord bless him and Our Lady keep him in her care….

Note his graciousness to Benedict, and his use of Bishop Emeritus, not Pope Emeritus. Very promising – Pope Emeritus jars immensely!

And now, together, let us start this road: bishop and people. This [new] path of the church of Rome, which “presides in charity” [over] all the churches. A path of brotherhood, of love, of trust between us. Let us pray always for ourselves: one for the other. Let us pray for all the world, that we all might know a great fraternity. I wish you that this journey as Church, that we begin today and on which my Cardinal-Vicar [of Rome] will help me, might be fruitful for the evangelization of this beautiful city!

Fascinating – he confirms that Rome “‘presides in charity’ [over] all the churches”. What might this mean for his approach to ecumenism? Charity suggests that he will approach the other churches with humility and peace; presiding suggests that he will not shrink from the Petrine primacy one iota. And he plans to bear fruit in evangelizing the city of Rome! Evangelization, very Pope Benedict, very missionary, very St Francis Xavier.

And now I’ll give you my blessing… but first – first, I ask you this favor: before the bishop blesses his people, I ask that you pray to the Lord that he might bless me: the prayer of the people, seeking God’s blessing for their bishop. In silence, let’s please make a prayer for me….

Some are saying that he asked the people to bless him, and horrified they were too! But it seems that Pope Francis asked the people to pray for him that he might be blessed, which is another thing entirely. A bishop asking for prayers sounds mighty healthy to me. And so what if a pope bows to his people: it adds a little more substance to the last of the papal titles, Servant of the Servants of God. Recently I have been asserting that the media presentation of the Vatican Council, and the Council’s reception in some parts of the Church, was marked by a hermeneutic of power, especially with regard to lay activity in the Church, as was evidenced in the reaction to the Bishop of Portsmouth’s restructuring plans. Its antitdote is the hermeneutic of serviceand it seems that Pope Francis will be happy to adopt that hermeneutic himself.

 

Mischief, macro and micro: a pre-conclave distraction

It the nature of an interregnum to produce a power vacuum of greater or lesser effect. In the absence of the authority figure, many start jockeying to advance their own cause, or to influence the accession of the new figure of authority. There is something inevitable about it; but there can also be something mischievous too. Mischief is sued not in the common idiomatic sense of naughtiness, but in its more sober sense of harm or trouble.

An example of such mischief in the wider Church – the macro-ecclesial level (!) – is the irrepressible and amazingly long-lived Hans Küng, self-appointed prophet for the spirit of Vatican II. The Swiss theologian, who has long since lost his right to teach as a Catholic theologian though he remains technically a priest in good standing, is a contemporary of Joseph Ratzinger and, with his more illustrious colleague, a peritus at the Council. As theologian, cardinal and pope, Ratzinger has promoted what the Council actually said, in the light of the continuous tradition of the Church. Küng has championed what he wishes the Council had said, under the camouflage title of “the spirit” of Vatican II, as if the Council has a life outside its officially agreed texts.

The man who would be Küng.
The man who would be Küng.

Küng is materially a heretic. This is not name-calling but calling a spade a spade. He denies dogmatic Church teaching, and is recalcitrant in that pose. And he is not animated by love of the Church. I remember when I was a baby Jesuit in Australia back in the late 80s. Living with us and teaching elsewhere was a wonderful theologian, a disciple of another and great Jesuit theologian of the 20th century, and who had studied in America in the 1960s. He spoke once of joining the throng to hear Küng speak in Washington, since he was one of the biggest names among the bright young theologians. This Jesuit came away not satisfied or enthused, but disturbed. Küng, he said, spoke with hate not love.

That seems to be confirmed in Küng’s latest diatribe in the New York Times, on 28 February (no link – it is not worth the time). He begins by asking if the Arab Spring that has toppled so many autocratic regimes might reach the Vatican and produce a Vatican Spring. So there you have it: the opening words liken the papacy to an autocratic regime on a par with the brutally repressive regimes now falling (though not always with happier results!). Küng then moves to tone it down by adjusting his comparison to that of absolute monarchies. But, as if a disciple of Goebbels, he knows how the rhetorical devices of effective propaganda. By beginning with the shocking comparison, it will remain in the readers’ minds no matter how much he later modifies it. Of course, it is an insult to those who do live under truly repressive regimes, quite apart from the insult to Benedict XVI, against whom Küng has turned with the venomous fury of the fabled woman scorned. If Benedict were truly repressive, Küng would have been banished to a remote monastery decades ago, or failing that, excommunicated. If only…

It gets no better. Küng traces the sins of the modern papacy to Gregory VII’s reforms which, he asserts, introduced, among other things, “compulsory clericalism”. He does not explain this startling assertion, which is just as well as it is such a rhetorical flight of fancy as to rank with the latest products coming from North Korea. Not sure what I mean? Watch this:

Küng soon moves to the topic dearest to his heart, himself. How else does one read this remarkable passage:

In 2005, in one of Benedict’s few bold actions, he held an amicable four-hour conversation with me at his summer residence in Castel Gandolfo in Rome. I had been his colleague at the University of Tübingen and also his harshest critic. For 22 years, thanks to the revocation of my ecclesiastical teaching license for having criticized papal infallibility, we hadn’t had the slightest private contact.

Before the meeting, we decided to set aside our differences and discuss topics on which we might find agreement: the positive relationship between Christian faith and science, the dialogue among religions and civilizations, and the ethical consensus across faiths and ideologies.

For me, and indeed for the whole Catholic world, the meeting was a sign of hope. But sadly Benedict’s pontificate was marked by breakdowns and bad decisions. He irritated the Protestant churches, Jews, Muslims, the Indians of Latin America, women, reform-minded theologians and all pro-reform Catholics.

So Benedict’s meeting with Küng a sign of hope for the whole Catholic world. That’s how important Küng is, of course. Then the venom really comes out, and with it the lies:

The major scandals during his papacy are known: there was Benedict’s recognition of Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre’s arch-conservative Society of St. Pius X, which is bitterly opposed to the Second Vatican Council, as well as of a Holocaust denier, Bishop Richard Williamson.

There was the widespread sexual abuse of children and youths by clergymen, which the pope was largely responsible for covering up when he was Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger. And there was the “Vatileaks” affair, which revealed a horrendous amount of intrigue, power struggles, corruption and sexual lapses in the Curia, and which seems to be a main reason Benedict has decided to resign.

Let’s be clear. Benedict did not recognise the Lefebvrian SSPX; he lifted the excommunication of its four illicitly-ordained bishops, and did so as an act of mercy and to promote ongoing dialogue with Lefebvrists with a view to reconciliation. Now if Küng had been excommunicated (and he did more than merely “criticize” papal infallibility) his screams and howls would still be echoing. But for those whose views are exactly opposite of his, excommunication is the just penalty. No dialogue for them, no mercy, no tolerance. And to say that Benedict recognised the “Holocaust denier, Bishop Richard Williamson” is a slander so deliberate as to be diabolical. It is the propagandist’s craft in all its sick glory: defining the clearly-deplorable Willamson purely by one of his more distasteful opinions. When Küng finally dies, and the Church grants him a Catholic burial, will that mean the Church approves all his opinions?

Enough of this man. His scurrilous slur that Benedict was largely responsible for covering up the sexual abuse scandal has been so comprehensively disproved that his regurgitation of it can only be malicious in intent. You get the idea. He is making mischief, and if not trying to influence the cardinals in their choice, he is certainly using this interregnum to condition the reception that will be accorded to their choice:

If the next conclave were to elect a pope who goes down the same old road, the church will never experience a new spring, but fall into a new ice age and run the danger of shrinking into an increasingly irrelevant sect.

The growing throng of committed young Catholics, and a the myriad of us not so young too, might have a different idea of where the “shrinking… increasingly irrelevant sect” is to be found.

bishop_philip-sOn the micro level we might look at the restructuring of the diocese that is being undertaken by Bishop Philip Egan of Portsmouth, my monastery’s diocese. The summary document can be found here. Many of the measures to be implemented which will reorganise and slim down the diocesan bureaucracy have dominated attention, much of it negative. One of the features is the abolition of certain departments, such as Pastoral Formation, with the task of catechesis now being overseen by a new and wider-ranging Vicariate for Evangelization.

The Bishop’s actions are being cast by some in the worst possible light. And again, it is mischief. Much of it has been found in the neo-Anglican journal, The Tablet. Again, rather than link to them, you can get a flavour of things from this page. For example:

Bishop Egan makes it clear that one of the objectives of re-structuring the diocese is to return responsibility for formation and catechesis to the local level of pastoral areas and parishes. Regarding the diocesan role of laity the report states that the three committees of trustees will comprise four members– two clergy, two lay – together with other co-opted members who bring particular expertise.

But The Tablet’s hatchet job on Bishop Egan’s and the trustees thoughtful and simple plan to re-establish subsidiarity to the parishes makes no mention of these review findings, instead it reports alarmist assertions from Fr Sean Tobin and Dr Keith Chappell that Bishop Egan is seeking to downplay the role of the laity.

The Tablet reports:

‘In his parish newsletter, Fr Sean Tobin, parish priest of the Churches of Our Lady, Fleet, with Holy Trinity Church, Cookham, Berkshire, paid tribute to the department for “enabling parishioners to explore and grow in faith”. He told The Tablet that a number of parishioners were upset about the redundancies and that he was worried about who would undertake the work of forming catechists after the loss of the department. […]Under the plans, the department for pastoral formation will be replaced by a department for the New Evangelisation, which will come under a vicariate for evangelisation and will be run by a priest.  Fr Tobin said: “There is a lot of frustration from people as they recognise the great work the department has done over the years. My frustration is over what it says about the role of the laity and the role of the department. There was also not a lot of recognition from the diocese over the work the department has done over the years.” He added that two of his parishioners were among those who had lost their jobs.’

So, the Bishop is reducing the role of the laity. Shock horror. But is he? Lay trustees are still there overseeing the vicariates with clerics. Isn’t the real aim to have clergy and laity working together for the good of the Church, not one assuming “power” over the other? (Beware the hermeneutic of power in any discourse on the role of the laity.) In fact, the Bishop has, to employ unwillingly this power hermeneutic, taken away the power of a few elite lay people in the diocesan bureaucracy and handed it back to a larger number of lay people at the parish level, where the work of catechesis is actually done.

But for a truly comprehensive demolition of the mischief The Tablet is fostering, go read Dr Shaw’s analysis. Particularly interesting in his insight into the self-contradiction inherent in the position take by the Tabletistas. They abhor the alleged centralising of general power in Rome, but support the centralising of local power in diocesan bureaucracies. They demand the Vatican give power to the laity and take it from a clerical elite, but oppose the giving of catechetical responsibility to the laity in parishes and away from a salaried lay elite at diocesan level. Please read Dr Shaw’s piece on his blog. It exposes the mischief clearly.

As the conclave fast approaches, and as we begin to look forward to the end of this interregnum, let us pray all the more fervently that the cardinals elect the pope we need and God wants, and not the man (if he exists) sought by the mischief makers.

Lamb Alert

Yesterday four little bundles of ovine joy were delivered here. One ewe had twin boys, who light of the current situation just had to be called Joseph and Benedict. Benedict is the one who has more papal white about him:

Joseph (left) and Benedict
Joseph (left) and Benedict

Another ewe had twins covering both sexes, and to balance the sacred with some profane, they are now Sonny and Cher:

Sonny (standing) and Cher
Sonny (standing) and Cher

May they graze as safely as we have under our good Shepherd, Benedict XVI.