The reason may have been wrong, but the sentiment was right: on Piero Marini

A couple of weeks back the (then) inexplicably-expedited audience that one-time papal MC Archbishop Piero Marini was granted with Pope Francis caused my heart to sink. Was he to make an (unwelcome) comeback in that role? Some took me to task (especially by email) for being too negative towards him, and I did feel a little more inclined to give him the benefit of any doubt.

But my heart was right to sink, it is just that the reason it should sink has turned out to be different. Note that Marini is President of the Pontifical Committee for International Eucharistic Congresses. He has been in Costa Rica for an Eucharistic congress there, quite rightly. He gave at least one interview, not surprisingly. Did he stick to his portfolio and a few general asides? No chance.

In an interview with a Cost Rican paper, reported on extensively by the National Catholic Reporter, he forged into foreign territory, on two particular fronts. The first, and lesser, was payback to Benedict XVI who did not keep him on as papal MC. No dignified silence from Marini. The second was to contradict Church teaching on a contentious issue. Charitably we might think that he made the silly assumption that simply because one is asked a question, one has to answer it. One doesn’t; and one shouldn’t when it goes against the official teaching of the Church, especially when one is a Vatican official. It isn’t rocket science. Unless of course he had a particular motive…

You can read the article on the NCR link above, but in short he failed on two fronts. The first was from the outset, with thinly veiled criticism of the pontificate of Benedict XVI. Mind you, the questions seemed aimed and eliciting unflattering implications from Marini, and he obliged wholeheartedly:

For you, what has the change in the papacy meant?

It’s a breath of fresh air, it’s opening a window onto springtime and onto hope. We had been breathing the waters of a swamp, and it had a bad smell. We’d been in a church afraid of everything, with problems such as Vatileaks and the pedophilia scandals. With Francis we’re talking about positive things; he puts the emphasis on the positive and talks about offering hope.

Can you describe the atmosphere that prevails now in the Vatican?

In these first days of his pontificate there’s a different air of freedom, a church that’s closer to the poor and less problematic. He doesn’t like living surrounded by great paintings and gold.

So under Benedict XVI there were only the foul vapours of a swamp, negative and without hope, repressed and disdaining simplicity and the poor.  They then ask a remarkable question, leading on from the matter of Francis apparent poverty:

Does it suggest that priests ought to get out of the sanctuaries and share with those in need?

Without a doubt. The new pope has said that pastors ought to have the smell of their sheep, which means living their lives and faith from within the community.

The question itself is ridiculous. First it suggests that priest being in the sanctuaries of their churches (offering Mass, baptising, shriving) is somehow detrimental to priestly life.  Secondly, it suggests that a priest who faithfully carries out his sacramental duties (which only he can, not any old social worker or pastoral worker) is somehow withholding something from those in need. Marini’s answer shows a profound lack of sympathy with his fellow clergy, while otherwise it lacks any substantive meaning at all.

Then they ask him about Bl John Paul II:

In your 18 years as master of ceremonies for John Paul II, what did you learn from being next to a man who was so admired?

I learned his simplicity. He was a very simple, spontaneous person, with great ideas to share with people. He liked to stay with the faithful after Mass, chatting with them. He had worked in a mine, and therefore he knew the reality and the needs of the people.

Is there any conversation, phrase or memory that you’ve held onto with special affection from John Paul II?

I remember we were at World Youth Day in the Philippines, when John Paul II celebrated my 52nd birthday. I had never before blown the candles on a cake, and he brought together a number of people for me to celebrate. He was very friendly, cheerful and spontaneous.

A worthy tribute to a holy pope, but it is what he singles out that should be noted. Not his holiness, his resolute conviction and faith; rather Marini emphasizes his simplicity, human touch, friendliness and his knowledge of the people. He is doing so with rhetorical intent. In light of the previous thinly-veiled hatchet job (if a hatchet job can in fact be veiled at all) on Benedict XVI, the points he highlights can justifiably be read as saying more about what Benedict was not (in his opinion) than about Bl John Paul II.

But he comes of out the shadows to take a direct swipe at the emeritus pope:

Pope Benedict XVI used Twitter as a means of communication, do you think it was effective?

For my part I wouldn’t have used Twitter, but the pope was advised to do it. The church shouldn’t be antiquated, but you also have to exercise a bit of caution.

Poor Benedict: damned if he did; damned if he didn’t.

But the second failure is to have spoken as he did on the explosive subject of same-sex unions:

Costa Rica has opened a discussion about what it means to be a secular state. What do you think of these decisions?

This is already a reality in Europe. A secular state is fine, but if it turns into a secularist state, meaning hostile to the Catholic Church, then there’s something wrong. Church and state should not be enemies to one another. In these discussions, it’s necessary, for instance, to recognize the union of persons of the same sex, because there are many couples that suffer because their civil rights aren’t recognized. What can’t be recognized is that this [union] is equivalent to marriage.

For a start, I am not sure at all that the Church sees a secular state as “fine”. It can tolerably and even profitably work with it, all things being equal, but approve it per se… not so sure about that. This opinion reflects the Church’s view more faithfully. Marini is right to state (the obvious) that the state and the Church should not be enemies, but then immediately proceeds to offer a single example of conflict between Church and state in which he implicitly pitches the Church as the aggressor: to keep the peace “it’s necessary” for the Church ” to recognize the union of persons of the same sex”. In this conflict between Church and state he feels the Church should betray its principles in order to repair the state’s failure to protect the civil rights of individuals in a way consistent with Christian morality. If Marini is ever put in charge of the New Evangelization, it is doomed.

Perhaps my liturgical criticism of Marini was not totally justified, though it was always partly so. However, here Marini parades as an egoist, harsh as that is to say about a curial prelate. What an official working with Eucharistic congresses is doing speaking out on topics beyond his brief and contrary to the Church’s teaching is hard to see, except in a negative light. He has queered the pitch for those whose responsibility it actually is to speak on such contentious issues.

Given the debate noted earlier in the NCR article about what Pope Francis’ position on same-sex unions has been in the recent past, one can only wonder if there is an attempt to nudge the Pope in the direction of accepting civil unions for same-sex couples. Note the thread of thought: wonderful JP II who was in touch with people and their needs; wonderful Pope Francis who is also very simple, a man of the people who wants priests to leave their churches and roll in the earth with the rest of humanity; and nasty Benedict XVI so out of touch, so lacking in the common touch, so negative, who made the Church a swamp. Am I the only one who sees an agenda here?

Archbishop Marini has behaved disgracefully, and indeed (in the canonical sense) scandalously. I, too, smell a swamp creature at hand, but it isn’t Benedict XVI. If the Curia is to be reformed, then perhaps we now have at least one firm idea of where the administrative razor should be slashing.

May God be merciful to Marini, and let us pray for him, a bitter man.

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]