03 October 2010
Not Persecuted - Ignored
Being persecuted involves people being martyred: it is distasteful in the extreme to think of the sufferings of Catholics in Pakistan, for example, and think that we are being persecuted. And look at what happened in France in the 1790s to see what happens when a State decides to persecute the Church.
But another thought came to me from a throwaway remark in an American commentary on the Pope's visit linked from Joanna Bogle's blog. It made the point that when the UK media talks about the Catholic Church, it doesn't mean the outfit based in Ecclestone Square: it means the Pope, Rome, the Vatican. It suddenly struck me that the Catholic Church as an institution in UK national life is of as much moment as the Institute of Directors.
Eamon Duffy has pointed out several times that one of the crucial points in the development of the post-conciliar Church in England and Wales came when Friday abstinence was abolished explicitly because it made Catholics different from their fellow citizens: that it marked them out. "We" decided that we wanted to be just like everybody else. (And let's not just blame the Bishops or pretend that it was the only disatrous choice made at that time.)
By removing the things that marked us out, by becoming part of civic society, our influence became that of any interest group. Important, in a democracy, both because practising Catholics are about 2% of the population and are a relatively homogenous group with specific demands on society (like schools, chaplains in hospital etc), and because that 2% represents votes.
But our interests could now be weighed against those of other interest groups, and by taking part in the game, we agreed to be bound by the refree's decision. The reductio ad absurdam of the current position comes when a senior representative of the Church can criticise SPUC for not cooperating with the Government in its aim of reducing the number of abortions.
Why should the press have been so surprised by the crowds who flocked to see the Pope? Why did his message, or at least the manner in which it was expressed, seem so novel and shocking? Why was it bewildering to see so many young people apparently accepting what the old man in white said which explicitly contrasts with what they are getting from every other source of information available to the general public?
Why? Because the Catholic Church in England and Wales as an institution is irrelevant in national life. We aren't being persecuted: we are being ignored.
Posted by Ttony at 10:56