Thursday, 24 October 2013

Better late than never? The plague of 1984ism.

Yesterday's Canberra Times carried an op ed piece by Monsignor John Woods is administrator of the Catholic Archdiocese of Canberra and Goulburn, on why the Territory's same sex 'marriage' laws are a bad idea.

A tad late one might think, given that the law has actually been passed.

When to fight?

Yes, Mgsr Woods did actually pen something similar in the Archdiocesan newspaper a few months back, but to say the campaign against the Act has been muted is to put it kindly.

There are of course several reasons for that.

The diocese has been without a bishop for some period now, with Archbishop-designate Prowse scheduled to be installed next month.

More fundamentally, many of the clergy and most of the people in ultra-liberal Canberra are at least sympathetic to the gay cause, not to say outright supporters of the legislation.  You will certainly not hear any denunciations of the practice of homosexuality, or the subversive 'gay lifestyle'  from the pulpit here!

Still, as a reader commented on a previous post, there is a potential teaching moment here, so perhaps Msgr Woods' natural law defence of marriage is a case of better late than never.

How to pitch the fight

All the same, I do wonder whether there is really any value in soft-soaping the reasons for our opposition to it.

The classic example of this has of course been at the Federal level, with Prime Minister Abbott's claim that the High Court challenge (launched today) to the ACT legislation reflects a constitutional issue (ie national consistency under the Commonwealth's power to legislate for marriage) rather than a moral one.

That is a pretty strange claim from the party that has consistently supported States rights to opt  of national programs over the last several years.

But reflective, it would seem, of the Orwellian media suppression and doublespeak that seems to becoming the mark of this Government - such as the attempt to suppress reports of refugee boat arrivals, and the classic instruction that asylum seekers are now to be officially referred to as 'illegals'.

Perhaps this approach may gain some results in terms of control of the public discourse.

Yet the objective of Catholics working in the public sphere should surely not be to win the battle by any means foul or fair, but rather to change hearts and minds.

It would be nice if there was someone - anyone - actually trying to fight the good fight on the idea that if our country is to have a future other than as a rundown old person's home supported by a mainly Islamic migrant workforce attached to the quarry for China and farm for Indonesia, it needs to protect the (traditional) family and encourage people to have children.

Tuesday, 22 October 2013

In Sodomite Canberra today..**

The Legislative Assembly of the Australian Capital Territory, Australia's national capital, is likely to pass same sex 'marriage' legislation today. [UPDATE: It has now passed.]

It is unlikely to last long, as the Federal Government has already signalled it will challenge it in the High Court; if that fails, it could also be overturned by the Federal Parliament.

Dictatorship of the minority

All the same, it is helpful that Christian (including Catholic), Jewish and Islamic leaders (calling themselves representatives of the 'Abrahamic faiths' have released a common statement opposing the move:

"Seventy percent of Australians identify with an Abrahamic religion – Christianity, Islam and Judaism. As leaders of several of these faith traditions, we have gathered to share our concerns about the ACT Government’s proposed same sex marriage legislation. We are concerned for the long-term risks of such a Bill for our society.

While affirming the inherent dignity of all human beings, our faith traditions also affirm the traditional concept of marriage between a man and a woman as being for the good of the individual, the family and society.

We invite the wider community to join with us in calling for the Bill to be subject to community consultation through the normal Legislative Assembly Committee process.

Imam Adama Konda, Canberra Islamic Centre
Arnold Cummins, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints
Pastor Sean Stanton, Australian Christian Churches, Canberra
Bishop Trevor Edwards, Anglican Diocese of Canberra and Goulburn
Pastor BJ Hayes, Canberra National Adventist Church
Monsignor John Woods, Catholic Archdiocese of Canberra and Goulburn
Rabbi Shmuel Feldman, Rabbi for Canberra and Region."

How many will 'marry'?

Let us leave aside for a moment the broader effects of undermining traditional marriage, and just consider exactly how many people this proposed legislation is set to 'benefit'.

On the local ABC news last night it was claimed that 'hundreds' of couples would utilise the legislation.

Well if they do, they surely won't be Canberrans, since hardly any same sex couples have made use of the ACT's civil partnerships legislation since it was introduced in 2008.  In fact the last figures I've been able to find are to June 2011, by which time a total of 88 couples had registered.  But more than half of those were heterosexual couples, not same sex!

And that is not surprising really, since Census data released by the ABS a few months back show that same sex couples constitute only 1% of all couples in Australia, viz some 33,700 couples in total.

Canberra, it is true, has the highest proportion of such couples in Australia - but we are talking tiny numbers, 0.5% male couples and 0.6 % female.

So why is public policy being designed around the claims of a tiny minority?

Sunday, 20 October 2013

Latin Prayer of the Week: De Profundis



I want to turn this week, in this year of faith series on common prayers we should all know, to one of the psalms, De Profundis ('Out of the Deep'), or Psalm 129 (130).

This psalm actually features in the Introit for today's Mass in the Extraordinary Form, but that is unsurprising as it is used fairly frequently in the liturgy.

It is probably best known though, in two particular contexts: as the six of the seven penitential psalms; and as a prayer for the dead.

It is relatively short, so certainly not that much of a challenge to memorize.  And there is a partial indulgence attached to the recitation of it.

The Text

The Latin:


De profundis clamavi ad te, Domine; Domine, exaudi vocem meam. 
Fiant aures tuæ intendentes in vocem deprecationis meæ. 
Si iniquitates observaveris, Domine, Domine, quis sustinebit? 
Quia apud te propitiatio est; et propter legem tuam sustinui te, Domine. 
Sustinuit anima mea in verbo ejus: speravit anima mea in Domino. 
A custodia matutina usque ad noctem, speret Israël in Domino. 
Quia apud Dominum misericordia, et copiosa apud eum redemptio.
Et ipse redimet Israël ex omnibus iniquitatibus ejus.

You can hear it read aloud in Latin here.

The English:

Out of the depths I have cried to you, O Lord: Lord, hear my voice. 
Let your ears be attentive to the voice of my supplication. 
If you, O Lord, will mark iniquities: Lord, who shall stand it. 
For with you there is merciful forgiveness: and by reason of your law, I have waited for you, O Lord. My soul has relied on his word: My soul has hoped in the Lord. 
From the morning watch even until night, let Israel hope in the Lord. 
Because with the Lord there is mercy: and with him plentiful redemption. 
And he shall redeem Israel from all his iniquities

For those interest, I've written a lot more about this psalm here.

Friday, 18 October 2013

Laicizing priests: both/and not either/or please!

I linked, a day or two back, to a piece over at New Matilda on the Reynolds case of a priest laicized for what appears to be a combination of heresy, disobedience and facilitation of sacrilege.  I gather the story is likely to get another run in the Fairfax papers this weekend too, so I thought I might say a little more by way of context.

The story over at New Matilda attempted to contrast the swift action against Reynolds with the alleged slowness of the Vatican to act on abuser priests.

But here is the thing.  What we need is tough action on both fronts, both against those priests who abuse the sacraments and those who abuse others sexually, for they are both manifestations of the same problem, a fundamental rejection of God.

Secularist incomprehension

Part of the problem of course, is that the secular media, and indeed many Catholics, don't understand that the Eucharist is literally the very body and blood of Christ.

The early Church was plagued by accusations that it practised cannibalism because of the fervour of this belief; these days all too many see it as something purely symbolic.

But the Church itself has never wavered from its teaching on transubstantiation and the importance of reverence for the Eucharist.  That is why celebration of the Mass by a priest who is suspended from his office is such a serious crime, as are liturgical abuses such as the 'help yourself to the chalice which I'll leave on the altar' style of Mass.

Such crimes are, moreover, in effect punishable only by the Church, for the last state instigated prosecution for blasphemy in this country was a century ago.  Unsurprising then that the Church should act swiftly on such matters, particularly when they become a public scandal.

Abuser priests

By contrast, sexual abuse of minors is a crime in both ecclesiastical law and the laws of the State.  Laicization and other appropriate ecclesiastical punishments should certainly be pursued vigorously by the Church, but the State has a role too.

It is hardly fair to blame the Church alone for a failure to act when, on the face of it, they were, at the very least aided and abetted in covering things up, at worst, as the recent NSW revelations make clear, positively encouraged to do so by the police, courts and others.

And in fact, the Church does, albeit somewhat belatedly seem to be getting its act together on this front, at least as far as the actual perpetrators are concerned: evidence given to the Victorian Inquiry makes it clear that action in long neglected cases has finally been taken, and one assumes that in preparation for the Royal Commission, that is happening everywhere else as well.

More action required

That said, there are still clear areas of inaction on the part of the Church that need to be addressed.

First there is the festering sore of priests who may not be guilty of any crime in civil law, but who certainly have and are committing sexual sins, albeit with adults.

Secondly there are those lurking heretics and liturgical abusers who aren't quite so blatant as Reynolds was about making their views public, but who nonetheless continue to subvert the Church's teachings in word and action.

And thirdly, and most seriously of all in my view, is the situation of those bishops and senior clerics who facilitated the cover up of sexual abuse.

Priests are required to set an example to us, for they are the public face of the Church, and act as another Christ to us, a channel of grace.  When they fail to teach and act in the mind of the Church, they imperil souls, and not just their own.

The cover up

In Australia, some of the evidence of outright malfeasance on the part of bishops and others has already come to the surface.  Much more is likely to hit over the next months and years as the Royal Commission rolls on.  If the Church is ever to recover its credibility on this issue, it needs to get in front of the game, and act now.

Many have claimed that they were simply acting on instructions from the Vatican, reflected in the 1962 document Crimen Sollicitationis.  I'm not convinced that claim holds up.

A reader kindly sent me a useful analysis of that document by canonist John Beal, published in Studia Canonica in 2007.

Professor Beal is no apologist for either the document itself, which he acknowledges is less than pastoral in its tone, or for the secrecy surrounding it.

But he makes a couple of important points.

First, far from preventing laicization, it in fact attempted to make action against offending priests easier by softening the traditional rules of evidence and abridging due process.

And secondly, there is little evidence that it actually influenced the behaviour of diocesan officials, simply because most were unaware of it!

Beal's conclusion is that the problem was one of organisational psychology; of ignorance and disdain for canon law, not a problem caused by the state of the law itself.

Certainly the persistence of a culture of reluctance to act and failure to truly confront the situation even since the reforms made by Pope Benedict XVI lend support to that view.

Unfortunately, too many of those implicated in the cover up in Australia are still in positions of power.  Until that changes, don't expect the way the Church deals with these issues to.

Pitching to a post-modern world: AB Porteous and Australia's millions of MIA Catholics

One of the great debates at the moment, prompted not least by Pope Francis' fresh take on the subject, is how best to avoid the utter annihilation of the faith in the West.

Pitching to a post-modern world

While some of the debate is the predictable liberal twaddle, some of the debate is, I think, extremely healthy and worth at least taking seriously.

I'm talking about questions such as, acknowledging that the pro-life cause is supremely important in its own right, does it convert people?  Can the renewed emphasis on the transcendentals, such as beauty in the liturgy help turn the tide?  Does the answer lie in institutional reform - creating parishes that genuinely foster the spiritual life, and ensuring bishops who put the interests of the faithful before the financial and reputational interests of the institution for example?  Or does the answer lie, as Pope Francis seems to be proposing, in emphasizing practical charity as a means of demonstrating God's mercy and forgiveness?

What all of these positive suggestions have in common, I think, is firstly an acknowledgment that there really is a problem, and secondly a recognition that the Vatican II paradigm is simply not cutting it in a post-modern world.

It is deeply disappointing then, to read a blog post by one of Australia's younger and newest bishops, Hobart's Archbishop Julian Porteous, advocating not something new, but rather wanting to treat the texts of Vatican II as if it were Scripture itself.  His post, entitled 'The Spirit and the Council', is yet another of those 'the Council was a great grace' jobs, and contains another kick at traditionalists.

A new Pentecost?

Astoundingly, after canonising the Council, the Archbishop concludes his piece by claiming to detect the signs of that 'new Pentecost' or 'New Springtime' arising from Vatican II in the increased fervour of assorted 'new ecclesial movements'.

Now certain people, including several popes, have been claiming to see the signs of the new Pentecost for some decades now. 

Frankly, those signs seem pretty elusive to me.

We all know the figures. 

Despite the recent upsurge in vocations, more priests are dying or leaving in Australia than are being ordained.  

The proportion of Catholics who attend Mass is down to 10.6% and the collapse in practice shows no signs of bottoming out.  

In fact, some recent research by Peter Wilkinson, published in The Swag, reminds us that in 1954, the Sunday Mass attendance rate was round 74%.  It has declined steadily ever since, to around 30% in 1978, to its current level of around 10.6%.  

And between 2006 and 2011 only one diocese - Parramatta - managed to hold back the tide against the continuing plummet in Sunday Mass attendance rates (its Mass attendance rate actually increased marginally, from 15.9% to 16.1%).  Everywhere else, though the numbers of Catholics mostly rose, the proportion attending Mass fell, with at least 13 of our 28 geographical dioceses now having Mass attendance rates below 10%.  

Or mass apostasy!

Just to drive home how dire the situation really is, let me draw your attention to another new figure provided in the August newsletter of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference's Pastoral Research Office.

The PRO have highlighted that the number of baptized Catholics who have defected from the faith, that is, cease to identify as Catholic in the Census, amounts to around 200,000 people over the last decade.  The defectors come from all age groups - but surely the most alarming calculation is that this translates into around 72,000 young people leaving the Church each year, a rate up from 60,000 a year in the previous decade.

My take on it is that if you add together past defectors, plus the number claiming to be Catholics but not ever actually turning up to Mass, and the real number of Catholics Missing In Action is now easily well over five million.

In fact if you do the sums, Australia's practising catholics now amount to only 2.7% of Australia's population.

The hard reality is that Catholic numbers - and most especially Mass going numbers - have held up to the extent that they have only because of the effects of immigration.  The problem is that the children of migrants seem to rapidly assimilate into 'no religion' status just like everyone else.

Some, of course, comfort themselves with the notion that our schools (and other institutions) continue to thrive, educating around a fifth of the nation's children.  But as Eureka Street pointed out this week, a Catholic education or background, even on the part of 'practising' Catholics, seems to be no indicator at all of how politicians (and others) approach the moral challenges of life, in the public square or out of it.

By their fruits...

Now none of this can possibly be news to Archbishop Porteous, for his new diocese is one of the strong contenders for the title of most parlous of the country.

The ranks of those refusing to identify their religion or claiming no religion whatsoever in Hobart Archdiocese (ie Tasmania) is a staggering 38.5%.  The proportion of catholics in the population of the diocese continues to fall (in 2011 it was down to 17.9%).

Only 7.1% of those nominal Catholics bother to turn up to Mass regularly.

And a full half of its ever declining number of priests are retired.

Tasmania has, of course, long been one of the most liberal, pro-Vatican II dioceses in the country - Archbishop Guildford Young boasted of having anticipated in the Council in the Rahner inspired reforms he made to the Mass there, and his successors have continued down the path he set.

So to me at least, these figures attest to the utter failure of the 'updating' paradigm that Archbishop Porteous advocates for, and points to the need for a rather more fundamental rethink of how the Church should pitch itself to a post-modern world.

Instead, in his post, Archbishop Porteous claims a 'providential' status for the Second Vatican Council.  He says:

"In the debate surrounding the interpretation of the Council, we need to consider the presence of the Holy Spirit both in the Council and in the Church. It is an act of faith to declare that the Holy Spirit guided the Council Fathers...In this regard it is not the “spirit of the Council” that is important but rather what the Spirit is saying to the Churches via the Council." 

But do we have to believe that?

The decision to call a Council is a prudential decision, one of governance, not doctrine.  It is not protected by the charism of infallibility.  And it was a pastoral council, or a 'council of faith' as Lumen Fidei puts it: one primarily about pastoral practice.

The standard doctrine, as stated in Vatican II itself, is that the Holy Spirit protects Councils (in union with the Pope) from outright doctrinal error when it comes to infallible declarations.  Most theologians (outside the SSPX) would go a step further and argue that it also prevents outright error (as opposed to poorly argued and stated propositions and failures of prudential judgment) in its non-infallible texts correctly understood.

But as far as I read the churches teaching on this matter, we don't actually have to believe that the Holy Spirit inspired the texts or guided the individual decisions.  Rather that is a matter for discernment.

The challenges of a post-modern world

Archbishop Porteous canvasses Pope Benedict XVI's explanation of why Vatican II has not been a success, namely the desire of some to interpret the 'spirit of the Council' quite aside from what it actually says.

However he neglects to mention Pope Benedict's other line of attack on Vatican II, namely that it was all about addressing the challenges posed by 'modernity', directed at the world as it existed before 1968, and doesn't in fact address the challenges of a post-modern world.

Instead, Archbishop Porteous argues that the texts have timeless status, its prescriptions valid forever.  Indeed, he seems to want to place the texts of the Council on the same level as divinely inspired Scripture:

"It is true that the surface understanding of things can often blind us to the deeper action of God’s Grace. For example, we can be so preoccupied with dissecting the human meaning of a text of Scripture that we fail to hear the voice of God speaking to us today through the text. The text may have been written in a particular time in history, yet as a work of the Spirit it has power and efficacy in every age.

The Fathers of the Vatican Council addressed the challenges as they saw them in the 1960s. The texts are rich and have had a deep impression on the Church. However, it is possible that below the surface of the texts lies the greater work of the Spirit. It may be that the Spirit in inspiring the Fathers was about a more profound work. This work may only come to be seen many years after the texts were written. Even now we may just be beginning to glimpse what the Spirit has given to the Church through the Council."

Really?  If the texts of a Council truly have the same timeless status as Scripture, then why aren't we giving equal time to those of Trent or other Councils?

Personally I find rereading the documents of Vatican II shows just how much a product of their time they really are: they repeatedly show how hopelessly, naively optimistic the Council Fathers were on so many fronts; and how flimsy and flawed the 'new theology', how inadequate the anthropology and philosophy on which so much of its thinking was based.

'Updating' and the tradition

Perhaps the biggest problem of all with Archbishop Porteous' piece, in my view, is his interpretation of the value of 'aggorniamento' or updating.

He does, it is true, reject the idea that the Church should adapt to the times:

"At the present moment there is a fresh awareness of the purpose of the Council in having continuity with the past. In the wake of the Council many of the most vocal were declaring that a new day had dawned for the Church. This view tended to be readily accepted by many. Many Catholics thought that the Church was adjusting to the times. Changes were being made to enable the Church to be more relevant. The narrative of the day proposed that the Church was catching up with the modern world and would adapt itself to modern thinking. Those who pursued this path have not shown evident good fruit."

And yes, he does argue that we need to "engage with our times" while being in the world but not of it.

But I really find this paragraph problematic:

"In this regard a correct understanding of the nature of Tradition is important. Those who have rejected the Council outright have claimed that the Council had not been faithful to Catholic Tradition. However, Tradition should not be seen as a collection of beliefs and practices fixed once and for all. To freeze the Tradition by making it begin, or end, at a certain fixed moment means making it a dead tradition. Tradition is a living reality because the Holy Spirit is an active agent leading the Church into all truth."

Here is the issue: actually the Tradition surely is fixed in a certain sense.  Revelation ended with the death of the last Apostle, and the Church's job is to pass on the deposit of faith, not to change it.

The Church doesn't suddenly develop new beliefs: rather new doctrinal formulations simply crystallize what has always and everywhere been believed, as the Church gradually 'fully grasps' the significance of Revelation (CCCC 9).  We can find new ways of explaining the faith appropriate to a particular time and place, but that doesn't amount to changing what we believe!

And the  Apostolic Tradition, as the Compendium of the Catechism points out, actually is transmitted through practices such as 'institutions, worship' and so forth.  Indeed, Pope Benedict XVI said in Summorum Pontificum:

"As from time immemorial, so too in the future, it is necessary to maintain the principle that “each particular Church must be in accord with the universal Church not only regarding the doctrine of the faith and sacramental signs, but also as to the usages universally received from apostolic and unbroken tradition.  These are to be observed not only so that errors may be avoided, but also that the faith may be handed on in its integrity, since the Church’s rule of prayer (lex orandi) corresponds to her rule of faith (lex credendi).”

Certainly some things can change.  Yet it is not simply a case of 'retreating to the past' and 'clinging desperately to what existed before', as the Archbishop seems to be suggesting, when we treasure the patrimony that has been passed down the centuries.  As Pope Benedict explained in his letter to the bishops on Summorum Pontifucm:

"What earlier generations held as sacred, remains sacred and great for us too, and it cannot be all of a sudden entirely forbidden or even considered harmful.  It behooves all of us to preserve the riches which have developed in the Church’s faith and prayer, and to give them their proper place."

Time to move along

There is, in my view, absolutely nothing to be gained by continually rehashing the debate over Vatican II, whether to sing its praises or to agonise over its destructive impact.

We can't of course altogether ignore history, but fifty years on we need to take a hard look at where we are now, and what can be done to confront the issues of the world today, not the world as it looked in the early 1960s.

I'll have more to say on that anon.

Wednesday, 16 October 2013

The SSPX displays its true colours?

There are two big news items today featuring the SSPX.

The first is Bishop Fellay's denunciation of Pope Francis as an out and out modernist.

The other is their decision to give an unrepentant Nazi war criminal a funeral Mass after the diocese of Rome had denied him one.

Frankly, the sooner the Pope declares them to be in formal schism the better so that the rest of us are not caught up in the legitimate criticisms made of them.

Shut up and pray?

I'm not sure I'd go as far as Patrick Archbold over at the US National Catholic Register and tell them to just shut up and pray.

There are those who claim that whether a teaching is Magisterial or not, to take a different view to a pope (or bishop or priest?) is 'presumptuous'.  I'm not one of them.

The challenge, it seems to me, is this: how to we find the proper balance between respect for the Office of Pope or bishop or priest, and appropriate docility to the 'munera' (gifts) of teaching and governing that flows from ordination and Office; proper acknowledgement of the expertise potentially gained by a priest through his study and training; and a healthy faith that engages our reason and intellect, not denies it.

Personally, I don't think there is any problem with critical comments such as those increasingly being offered by neo-conservatives such as Dr Robert Royal (who was one of my theology professors) on this, who reportedly said:

“We had one of the greatest living intellectuals [in Benedict], and now we’ve got a guy who doesn’t think clear expression is important." and "Francis is “a remarkable man, no one would deny that,” But I’m not sure if he cares about being accurate. He gets into an [evangelizing] dynamic with people and that seems to be the most important thing. . . . In some ways it makes people very anxious. If you do this, what’s the next thing?"

But I do think the latest SSPX remarks go far beyond the bounds of respectful criticism of the Pope.  In short they seem to lend support to a sedevacantist position.  Take this comment for example:

“If the present pope continues in the way he started, he is going to divide the Church. He’s exploding everything. So people will say: it is impossible that’s he’s the Pope, we refuse him. Others will say: “Wait, consider him as Pope, but don’t follow him. He’s provoking anger. Many people will be discouraged by what people in the Church do” and will be tempted to “throw it all away.”

Mind you, it is hard to see where else the SSPX can go now but sedevacantism if the reported summations of the points of disagreement with Rome are correct.  Apparently the SSPX aren't prepared even to concede that the Novus Ordo was legitimately promulgated, or anything but evil.

And then there is the Nazi funeral..

In many ways the biggest blow to the credibility of the SSPX though, is surely the decision to grant a funeral Mass to an unrepentant Nazi war criminal, thus lending weight to all those claims of anti-semitism in the organisation.

According to CNN:

"The Diocese of Rome said in a statement that Priebke's lawyer was asked to hold a "small, private" funeral in the Nazi war criminal's home rather than in a church.

"The prayer for the deceased was not denied," the diocese said in a statement, "but rather a different manner for the ceremony was decided." Pope Francis is the titular head of the Rome diocese but has little involvement in its daily affairs.

Priebke's lawyer rejected that proposition, according to the diocese.

Instead, the conservative Society of St. Pius X stepped in, agreeing on Tuesday to hold a funeral Mass in their church for the former Nazi."

And the rationale offered?  A claim that any baptised Catholic has the right to a Christian funeral:

"A Christian who has been baptized and who has received the sacraments of the Confession and the Eucharist, regardless of what have been his crimes and sins, as he dies reconciling with God and with the Church has the right to have a Holy Mass celebrated at his funeral," the group said in a statement.

But that is a long way from the traditional position.  The current Code of Canon Law specifies that 'manifest sinners who cannot be granted ecclesiastical funerals without public scandal of the faithful' should be deprived of a Church funeral unless they gave some signs of repentance before their death.  That doesn't seem to have occurred here, and as a result, there were large demonstrations by those outraged at the event.

And the old Catholic Encyclopedia states:

"..It has further been recognized as a principle that the last rites of the Church constitute a mark of respect which is not to be shown to those who in their lives have proved themselves unworthy of it..."

***The latest media reports state that the Rome diocese had permitted a requiem to be said privately at his house; his lawyer rejected this and wanted a public ceremony, presumably to accompany the pro-Nazi interview he had arranged to be released after his death.

Tuesday, 15 October 2013

Why is the bitter pill defending ex-Fr Reynolds!

It is certainly not news that the UK Tablet, aka the Bitter Pill, provides a fairly consistently anti-Catholic spin, as @MenAreLikeWine1 reminded us on twitter this morning.

But honestly, the continuing defence of ex-priest Greg Reynolds from liberal media sites beggars belief.

The Bitter Pill: Defending the indefensible

The latest is a piece from The Tablet that claims that he was excommunicated for the dog given communion sacrilege, but he wasn't even aware of it until after it had occurred.

Now I don't know if that is the particular incident that led to his excommunication: from what I've read, there were likely multiple occasions when sacrilege occurred, and several good reasons for his laicization and excommunication, not least his continuing exercise of his ministerial functions after he had been suspended.

But the excuse of ignorance just doesn't, in my view, cut it.

If he wasn't aware of what had happened, he should have been.

And the reason he may not have been aware of it was that instead of distributing the Eucharist himself or by using Extraordinary Ministers, the hosts were passed around the room on a plate for everyone to help themselves!  That alone is a serious abuse and clearly facilitated the act of sacrilege.

That Age story

The reality is that Reynolds did actually have a chance to condemn what had happened, and choose not to do.  In fact, on the face of it, he positively supported the story being publicized.

Go and have a read of the original story about this incident in The Age.  Perhaps the spin on it was by the journalist, inevitably Mr Barney Zwartz.  But if Reynolds had been unhappy about it, he could have come out at the time and said so.  Instead we were left with the inevitable impression that the 'inclusiveness' of the event even down to the animals was entirely in keeping with his schismatic and heretical communities ethos.

As I said back in August last year, the real scandal in this affair, in my view, is that Archbishop Hart didn't, apparently, initiate action himself in response to Reynolds' disobedience to his decision to suspend him.

Let's be thankful though, that the Vatican has stepped in, and hope that action encourages our bishops to act themselves rather more expeditiously in the face of such scandalous threats to the faith.

***There is an interesting article on this over at New Matilda which provides some more background on the canonical processes that occurred (though it adds even further to the confusion to the question of the role of Archbishop Hart in the affair).  The article takes the predictable anti-'Temple Police' line.  But is worth reading nonetheless. 

Monday, 14 October 2013

Tradition and Obedience: where is the line?

In my previous post (on Those Interviews) I sketched out some points about the Ordinary Magisterium, and noted that on the face of it, media interviews weren't it.

I wanted to elaborate on a few points today, on just what is and isn't magisterial teaching, and how we deal with so-called 'private teachings' and actions of a pope that appear, on the face of it, to be problematic.

'Private' teaching vs the exercize of the magisterium

Some at both ends of the theological spectrum regularly certain examples of past papal comments that have proved to be erroneous.  The classical example is John XXII's views on the beatific vision, often cited by those wanting to claim cases of past heretic popes in order to justify present dissent and disobedience.

But not everything a Pope says is magisterial.  A lot of what he says will be, purely because he is simply restating previously defined doctrine.  When it comes to new (sounding) ideas or formulations though, as the Code of Canon Law (752) states, the Pope has to be 'exercising his authentic magisterium'.  And, as Lumen Gentium (25) makes clear, we know when that is occurring by the level of authority the document in which the teaching is contained, by the way the doctrine is formulated, or by the frequency with which it is proposed.

So, as Pope Benedict XVI made clear in relation to some of his own interviews and books, the Pope can also propagate 'private' teaching that is not intended to be an authentic exercize of the Magisterium.
Let's go back to Pope John XXII, who, back in 1332, made exactly the same claim in relation to his own views on the beatific vision, stating, when a series of sermons ignited a theological controversy.

His response to his critics was that he was simply trying to begin discussion on a difficult theological issue, and his sermons were only private teaching (a good discussion of the nuances of this particular controversy can be found in Warren Carroll's The Glory of Christendom, Volume 3 in his classic series, pp371-3).  So though imprudent and subsequently defined as erroneous, he was arguably not in fact exercising the Ordinary Magisterium and seeking to bind catholics to his views (nor was he technically a heretic, since you can't be condemned for a teaching that hadn't been formally defined as de fide when you were alive: indeed, if you could be, St Thomas Aquinas would have to be accounted a heretic for his views on certain Marian doctrines!).

The bottom line is that in such cases we are not required to give even 'religious assent' to this kind of 'private' teaching, but are free to disagree with it.

Now it has to be admitted that to use the term 'private teaching' in relation to something a Pope does or says is a bit of misnomer - particularly these days, anything he says and does is going to be in the public domain very quickly indeed.  

And shouldn't the Pope's views, as leader of the Church and its chief spokesperson be given some weight and respect even when they aren't binding on us?

Well yes.

But it needn't be uncritical and unthinking acceptance.

So how do we cope with the challenge posed by such 'private' teachings?

I want to draw your attention to a couple of useful blog posts by others on this subject.

Don't panic!

First Hilary White has a post (over at the always entertaining Orwell's Picnic) that starts off with a warning not to panic:

"I hope everyone feels better today. No silly panicked runnings-off to the Orthodox or the SSP-2.5? 

Good. The sun continues not to set on the Catholic world, and the Faith is still the Faith...

If you are a Catholic, you know what the Faith is. If you don't, trust me, its written down somewhere, using very *very* precise and comprehensible language, leaving NO room for ambiguity or "misinterpretation". Look it up.

Do the work, people. The time of just sitting back and letting the pope do the driving is over."

In fact, she proposes a useful strategy to cope with those interesting utterances (it involves alcohol).  I'm not endorsing everything she says there.  But I think the advice to lighten up and not panic over everything we read in the media on the one hand, and to embrace the suffering of the cross on the other, is sound enough.  Do go and read.

Pope Francis to date

The second point to make is that while we owe respect to the Pope, there is no obligation on us to read and ponder everything the Pope has to say (or is claimed to have said via media reports).

Mr Schutz (of Sentire Cum Ecclesia blog) tweeted today on the problem of an overabundance of food:

If you are brought up on a diet of papal pronouncements, what do you do when you find yourself regularly being served 9 courses 4 breakfast?

My advice: avoid obesity and exercise some restraint.  Don't eat it all!

Certainly if the Pope calls on all Catholics to do something (such as fast and pray for Syria for example), we should give serious consideration to doing so.  And if he asks the bishops to take some good initiative, we should support and encourage their efforts.

If he puts out an encyclical or some major statement, we should familiarise ourselves with it.

We should take notice of the broad directions he is canvassing or setting for the Church.

But we don't have to follow him 24/7.

Avoid papolatry

 Nor do we have to imitate his every action.

When Pope John Paul II, presumably in the heart of the moment, kissed a Koran, we didn't all leap to do likewise and nor should we have, for Popes as much as anyone else can fall down on matters of prudential judgment.  Similarly, I really really hope we won't see a spate of washing Muslim girls' feet next Maundy Thursday, or bishops lighting candles at a Jewish Hanukkah ceremony, for example.  

And when it comes to ideas, just because the Pope is a Jesuit doesn't mean we all have to come Jesuits too (or Lesuits as the case may be!).

As Joseph Shaw on his LMS Chairman's blog puts it in one of his series of five posts that looks at how Pope Francis' approach can be reconciled with the traditionalist perspective (to the extent that it can be) and the challenges it poses to us:  

"Neo-Conservatives...place enormous emphasis on the person of the Pope, seeking at all costs to endorse and live by even their non-magisterial statements and philosophical preferences. Pope Paul was a follower of Maritain? Let's all follow Maritain! Bl John Paul II was a Phenomenologist by training? Let's all be Phenomenologists! Pope Benedict likes St Augustine and Scotus? You get the idea." (from Part 2 of his series)

Do read them all of Mr Shaw's useful series (the link above is to the last in the series, which provides links to all of the others).

But what if?

The pessimists of course are convinced that there are past examples of the Ordinary Magisterium of not just being poorly and inadequately formulated, and lacking the necessary context to properly explain them, but are outright heretical.  And some are getting ready to slit their wrists in the face of the next dose of formal heresy that is surely just about to be formally promulgated.

Personally, I remain unconvinced.

In fact there are, I think, some fundamental divides within the traditionalist movement on this issue, which I'll try to articulate in a subsequent post.

Regardless, in the meantime, let's not get ahead of ourselves!

Sunday, 13 October 2013

Prayer of the week: Consecration to the Immaculate Heart of Mary



Today we are especially invited to make a personal act of consecration to the Immaculate Heart of Mary, in unity with the Pope, so I thought I would provide a form of that consecration for your use.

Now I know some traditionalists have issues with the various papal initiatives (and lack thereof) on this subject, but a personal act of consecration at least should surely be encouraged!

Pope Francis and the bishops lead...

Pope Francis will officially re-consecrate the world to the Immaculate Heart of Mary today (October 13), on the ninety-sixth anniversary of the last apparition at Fatima.

The Vatican News Story on this notes that:

"Our Lady of Fatima appeared to three shepherd children in the village of Fatima in Portugal in 1917. She warned of violent trials in the twentieth century if the world did not make reparation for sins. She urged prayer and devotion to the Immaculate Heart of Mary."

I can't find any reference to this as yet on official websites, but according to a parish bulletin I picked up, the Australian Bishops have "elected to unite themselves in the spirit and intention of this great act of devotion to the Immaculate Heart of Mary.  Accordingly, parishes and individuals are invited to make an act of consecration today.

The text

There seem to be a large number of consecration to the Immaculate Heart prayers around the web, and apparently any formula that involves a total oblation is acceptable.  But this one was written by Pope Pius XII, who made the first consecration of the world to the Immaculate Heart in 1942, to good effect:

"Most Holy Virgin Mary, tender Mother of men, to fulfill the desires of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the request of the Vicar of Your Son on earth, we consecrate ourselves and our families to your Sorrowful and Immaculate Heart, O Queen of the Most Holy Rosary, and we recommend to You, all the people of our country and all the world. Please accept our consecration, dearest Mother, and use us as You wish to accomplish Your designs in the world. O Sorrowful and Immaculate Heart of Mary, Queen of the Most Holy Rosary, and Queen of the World, rule over us, together with the Sacred Heart of Jesus Christ, Our King. Save us from the spreading flood of modern paganism; kindle in our hearts and homes the love of purity, the practice of a virtuous life, an ardent zeal for souls, and a desire to pray the Rosary more faithfully. We come with confidence to You, O Throne of Grace and Mother of Fair Love. Inflame us with the same Divine Fire which has inflamed Your own Sorrowful and Immaculate Heart. Make our hearts and homes Your shrine, and through us, make the Heart of Jesus, together with your rule, triumph in every heart and home. Amen."

I'm afraid I haven't been able to find a Latin version of this (if any one knows of it do let me know), so you will have to use the vernacular on this occasion!

Victoria: frontline of the cult of death

A March for Babies attracted around 5,000 people in Melbourne yesterday.

But according to reports in the Herald Sun, participants were subject to violent attacks from a pro-abortion counter demonstration, with MP Bernie Finn claiming that he and others were punched, a US pro-life activist was thrown to the ground and kicked, and those present had things thrown at them.

Attempts on the part of the pro-lifers to calm things down and take an alternative route were unsuccessful and the police failed to make any arrests.

Curiously, the ABC's website contains nothing on the story at all; while The Age has a bizarre story mixing up coverage of several different demonstrations and carrying police denials that they had failed to act.

Not surprising, I guess, in a State where a doctor who refused to refer someone for a sex selective abortion is facing sanctions even up to the possibility of losing his license to practice.

**Life site news has more details.

***And here for an account by Bill Muehlenberg.

Friday, 11 October 2013

Is an interview Ordinary magisterium? I don't think so!

There is another low in the increasingly large 'kick a traditionalist' genre today, with a piece by William Oddie in the UK Catholic Herald.

Essentially it attempts to use a helpful blog post by Fr Tim Finigan to argue that traditionalist reactions to Pope Francis' assorted comments, especially his round of media interviews, are rejecting the Ordinary Magisterium and that makes them uncatholic.

Well no.

Media interviews are not magisterial teaching

For a starter, what Fr Finigan's post  actually suggests is that the interview comments and other off the cuff remarks that have caused angst with many (and not just traditionalists at that) of late amount to no more than private teaching, with which we are perfectly free to disagree.

Pope Francis' assorted 'baffling and unclear' remarks, at worst claimed to be outright erroneous in the view of some, involve no issue of Ordinary Magisterium at all in other words.

I'm not sure it is quite that straightforward, but there is a real point here.  Fr Finigan's post is a reminder on the one hand, of the need to grant respect to the Office of Pope, and on the other, a useful counter to those ultramontanists currently pouring out posts urging us to treat every word of the Pope's as dewdrops from heaven (typified by Deacon Kendra's recent 'He. Is. Peter. post).

In fact, the evident presence of the dewdrops from heaven mentality notwithstanding, one very positive aspect of Pope Francis' ministry to date is that it seems to be having some impact on breaking down that ultramontanist tendency as conservatives find themselves unable to reconcile their JPII-we-love-you brand of neo-Catholicism with Francis-speak.  Some are starting to express their tiredness and chagrin at having to 'explain' what the Pope is (really) saying - you know the posts I'm talking about, they fall into these broad categories:
  • it was a mistranslation, text was omitted, taken out of context, or the journalist or source misunderstood what was said;
  • the comments can be interpreted as perfectly orthodox if we just understand them correctly;
  • (my personal favourite, proffered by the Vatican PR machine amongst others) the pope was pitching to a secular audience rather than speaking with theological precision (and some add comments to the effect that he is is not a highly skilled theologian like his predecessor/we should consider the 'broad sense' of what he is saying rather than actual words).  
Others, particularly in the pro-life movement, such as Janet Smith, are now openly challenging some of the directions he seems to be trying to set.

This seems to me to be a healthy thing for the Church, a counter to what Pope Francis recently described as the narcissistic tendency.  The role of the bishop of Rome, as Pope Francis likes to style himself, is, after all, first and foremost to confirm his brother bishops in the faith; to guard the Tradition and transmit it.  His other roles are subsidiary to this, hence the lower levels of assent and/or obedience due to them.

Where do you find the Ordinary Magisterium?

That said, there are some proper limits to public debate. But what are the principles we should apply in relation to what Popes say?

Fr Finigan pointed to the traditional approach to formal papal documents, and Vatican II also talks about 'documents'.  But I'm not sure one can really draw the line there these days, given that the papal website (and Acta Apostolica Sedes, the official record of a papacy) do actually include a lot more than just encyclicals and other traditional forms of papal teaching and governance (yep, even that interview is up there, in all its reconstructed after the fact glory!).

The current Code of Canon Law actually distinguishes between three levels of papal statements - infallible definitions, Ordinary Magisterium, and decisions on governance.

There are more infallible definitions than many people (including some bishops!) seem to think.  But it is important to be clear - it is only the actual definition itself that is infallible, not, to use the words of Sheen's revised Apologetics and Catholic Doctrine, "merely expounding, commenting, observing, exhorting or discussing, etc." (p193 of the 2001 edition).  The actual teaching is not the same thing as the theological arguments made to reach or present it.

A similar point can be made about Ordinary Magisterial teaching.  It is, as Fr Aidan Nichols points out in the excellent book The Council in Question, perfectly legitimate to criticise incomplete or unbalanced formulations, and the way conclusions are reached.  It is a rather different matter to publicly disagree with a proposition put forward by the Pope or a Council, even where it is not put forward as a definitive proposition.  Moreover, we need to examine things that look like doctrinal statements in the context of their history: something stated once in an off-the-cuff is unlikely to have much weight.  Something a Pope repeats over and over again in a variety of contexts, is something that should be taken seriously.

Most of the current debate though goes to an entirely different level of papal authority, namely the power of governance. It seems to me that most of what the Pope has actually been talking about is how the Church should pitch itself to a post-modern world.

This is obviously a key area for the Pope to give leadership on, but also one not protected by the charism of infallibility: plenty of popes have made poor, even disastrous prudential decisions on church directions in the past!

Moreover, by putting his ideas out in the public arena in the modern environment, it seems to me that the Pope is actually positively seeking to stimulate debate.

If he goes so far as to legislate to give effect to some of the directions he has been putting out there (no priest shall own a new car, for example?) then we will have a duty to obey, and, indeed at a certain point to stop complaining about the issue (Roma locuta est).

But we are a way short of that point at the moment, and it seems to me that now really is the time to have our say.

The traditionalist problem

Coming back to Dr Oddie's article, is there really a traditionalist problem at work here?  I think not.

It is true of course, that some - though far from all - traditionalists do indeed have a problem with some parts of the Ordinary Magisterium (in particular, to certain documents of Vatican II), and assert the right to publicly disagree with it when they consider it contradicts the Rule of Faith that is Tradition.  That is not a position that I for one am comfortable with, and I'll say more on that in another post at some point, but it surely isn't what is at stake in the current debate.

Perhaps some have gone too far in the vehemence of their critique of Pope Francis, but I haven't seen any outright rejections of Lumen Fidei or the other formal Magisterial documents of this papacy to date.

Some have suggested that some of his casual comments seem erroneous.  If that is the case, then surely we should speak up and ask questions, and seek explanations, albeit in a respectful way?

The most extreme case I've seen is a call to disobedience on a matter of governance (viz the Franciscans of the Immaculate). I disagree with the line taken, but it is a matter of governance, not Ordinary Magisterium.

But there is a lot more to be said on this topic...

Apologies...

Apologies for the lack of activity of late, and a thank you to the person who sent some kind comments this week asking for me to resume!

I've been unwell and suffering from chronic pain, which severely inhibits my ability to write anything worth posting.  I do seem to be on the mend (maybe) however, so I will attempt to turn the assorted drafts and ideas I've been playing with recently into coherent form soon (possibly even later today).

In the meantime though, can I commend to you, in these difficult times, a commitment to reading Scripture in the mind of the Church?

When we are beset by error all around us, and challenged by ideas that we find difficult to judge, Scripture, understood in the light of Tradition, provides an important guidepost.  And opening ourselves to the word of God in prayer each day is surely one of the soundest supports for our spiritual life and continuing formation.

In this light, I've written some notes on 'lectio divina' or prayerful study and reading of Scripture in the Benedictine tradition, over at my other blog, Saints Will Arise.

And I'm also posting over there each day (save for Sundays and major feasts) a portion of the Gospel of St John, together with some notes (mostly commentaries by the Fathers) to help you meditate on it.  I'm working on the basis of getting through the entire Gospel over the quarter, but you can obviously take it at your own pace.

Lectio Divina can, in theory, absorb many hours of a monk's time.

But even us laypeople, can, I think, gain a lot from even fifteen minutes work at it, so please do consider giving it a go. 

Sunday, 6 October 2013

Latin prayer of the week: Asperges me


In this series on prayers in Latin we should know by heart, I've now looked at all those contained in the Compendium to the Catechism (I think!), so I thought for the last few weeks of this Year of Faith I'd look at some of the other key prayers which we should know, starting with a few using the psalms.

Psalm 50, the Miserere, is one of those psalms that it is really useful to know, firstly as it is the most important of the penitential psalms, so worth knowing as a way of expressing contrition.  But sections of it are also used liturgically in various contexts, such as at the Asperges before Mass and after Compline (in a monastery).

Accordingly, today a quick look at the first few verses of Psalm 50, particularly in the context of the prayers used before Mass.

The Asperges ceremony

The Asperges, or sprinkling of the congregation with holy water, is technically an  option in the Mass of Paul VI on Sundays and Solemnities, but I'm not sure I've ever seen it used in that context outside a (reform of the reform) Papal Mass.  That is unsurprising really, given the Novus Ordo's seeming desire to present itself as the liturgy of the saved, rather than of sinners.


It is an ancient tradition though, one taken over from Jewish ceremonies of Atonement, and shared still with the Orthodox.

Taking place before any other prayers for Mass, it nicely sets the scene, as the Catholic Encyclopedia points out:

"Its object is to prepare the congregation for the celebration of the Mass by moving them to sentiments of penance and reverence suggested by the words of the fiftieth psalm, or by impressing on them that they are about to assist at the sacrifice of our redemption as suggested in the psalm used at Easter time."

The text used for most of the year is as follows:

ASPERGES me, Domine, hyssopo et mundabor: lavabis me, et super nivem dealbabor.   Miserere mei, Deus, secundum magnam misericordiam tuam.  V.  Gloria Patri, et Filio, et Spiritui Sancto.  R.  Sicut erat in principio, et nunc et semper, et in sæcula sæculorum.  Amen.  Ant: Asperges me, Domine, hyssopo et mundabor: lavabis me, et super nivem dealbabor.

V.  Ostende nobis, Domine, misericordiam tuam. 

R.  Et salutare tuum da nobis. 

V.  Domine, exaudi orationem meam.

R.  Et clamor meus at te veniat.

V.  Dominus Vobiscum.

R.  Et Cum Spiritu tuo.

Oremus.

EXAUDI nos, Domine sancte, Pater omnipotens, aeterne Deus: et mittere digneris sanctum Angelum tuum de caelis; qui custodiat, foveat, protegat, visitet, atque defendat omnes habitantes in hoc habitaculo.  Per Christum Dominum nostrum.  R: Amen

A translation:

Thou shalt sprinkle me with hyssop, O Lord, and I shall be cleansed; Thou shalt wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.  Ps:  Have mercy upon me, O God, according to Thy great mercy.  V.  Glory be to the Father, and to the Son and to the Holy Ghost.  R.  As it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be, world without end.  Amen.  Ant: Thou shalt sprinkle me with hyssop, O Lord, and I shall be cleansed; Though shalt wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.

V.  Show us, O Lord, Thy mercy. 

R.  And grant us Thy salvation. 

V.  O Lord, hear my prayer.

R.  And let my cry come unto Thee.

V.  The Lord be with you.

R.  And with thy spirit.
Let us pray.

GRACIOUSLY hear us O Holy Lord, Father Almighty, eternal God; and vouchsafe to send Thy holy Angel from Heaven to guard, cherish, protect, visit, and defend all those that are assembled together in this house.  Through Christ our Lord.  R: Amen

The verses in context

It is useful, I think, to look at the context for the psalm verses, from those around them, for they make clear that God's mercy requires our repentance, but also tells of the reasons for our hope:

Miserere mei, Deus, secundum magnam misericordiam tuam; et secundum multitudinem miserationum tuarum, dele iniquitatem meam.  Amplius lava me ab iniquitate mea, et a peccato meo munda me.  Quoniam iniquitatem meam ego cognosco, et peccatum meum contra me est semper. Tibi soli peccavi, et malum coram te feci; ut justificeris in sermonibus tuis, et vincas cum judicaris. Ecce enim in iniquitatibus conceptus sum, et in peccatis concepit me mater mea. Ecce enim veritatem dilexisti; incerta et occulta sapientiæ tuæ manifestasti mihi. Asperges me hyssopo, et mundabor; lavabis me, et super nivem dealbabor.  Auditui meo dabis gaudium et lætitiam, et exsultabunt ossa humiliata.

And here is the Knox translation of them:

Have mercy on me, O God, as thou art ever rich in mercy; in the abundance of thy compassion, blot out the record of my misdeeds. Wash me clean, cleaner yet, from my guilt, purge me of my sin, the guilt which I freely acknowledge, the sin which is never lost to my sight.  Thee only my sins have offended; it is thy will I have disobeyed; thy sentence was deserved, and still when thou givest award thou hast right on thy side.  For indeed, I was born in sin; guilt was with me already when my mother conceived me. But thou art a lover of faithfulness, and now, deep in my heart, thy wisdom has instructed me. Sprinkle me with a wand of hyssop, and I shall be clean; washed, I shall be whiter than snow; tidings send me of good news and rejoicing, and the body that lies in the dust shall thrill with pride.