30 December 2012

Bring On 2013

There's a bit of a something in the air at the moment: some of the Bishops have chosen their Christmas pastoral letters to attack the Government on the subject of same sex "marriage" and, while some of their brother Bishops carry on sending "What I did on my holidays" or "Home is where you learn table manners" letters, it's interesting that some, at least, have stirred.  Richard, at Linen on the Hedgerow, thinks that the Bishops' Conference should have spoken as one, but on balance I'm glad to see this lack of a single statement as evidence of a growing split between those leaders of the local churches who can read MENE MENE TELE UPHARSIN and react, and those who can't or won't.  And anyway, you can imagine what the Eccleston Square staffers would have produced: a sort of Tablet-lite attempt to explain the Church's teaching in a way that won't offend their friends in Millbank and Palace Street, written by somebody with a post-graduate certificate in sociological waffle, and which certainly wouldn't rouse the lumpencatholics to anything like action.

By a happy coincidence, a new Archbishop of Canterbury is about to take office and we will finally have a chance for some real ecumenism: there is no earthly prospect of structural Christian unity any more, and this ABC, an evangelical, is unlikely to rate coming up with agreed statements as particularly important on his to-do list.  This means that we should stop trying to find lowest common denominator ways of working with other Christians - in effect apologising for being Catholics - and working with them only where we can and it makes sense to do so, rather than trying to do so everywhere.

And this means that Catholic opposition to same sex "marriage" can be based on a Catholic sacramental understanding of marriage, instead of trying to argue backwards from a hypothetical "harm to the family unit" future; similarly, our discussion of proposals about Sundays can be based on a Catholic understanding of how the Sabbath can be kept holy, rather than on some sort of heretical Sabbatarian wish to keep it glum and enjoyment-free.  Lowest common denominator ecumenism has led us to soft pedal our opposition: let's put our foot down!

It means that the effective monopoly of the Bishops' Conference Conference over Catholic life can be broken, and that Bishops can regain control of their dioceses.  Can we expect five or six dioceses to announce that they are restoring the obligation to observe Holy Days on their proper date from Advent 2013 on, for example?  Might dioceses run their own education policies?  Might we try to push more and more Catholics into the medical profession to make anti-life policies unworkable?

The one thing we haven't got in place and ready is a coordinated communications policy: Catholic Voices seemed like a good idea at the time but seems to have disappeared.  It is possibly too identified with Eccleston Square anyway.  But we need something, both at diocesan and national level, which will form and put forward Catholics able to argue Catholicsm as an integral whole, as a challenge to the secular world, and as our opposition to the policies being pushed by the government. The model has to be the Catholic Evidence Guild of the 1920s, but where is our Frank Sheed?

Something is in the air, and I suspect the Nuncio has a lot to do with it, and I'm really glad.  2013 could be an exciting year.

25 December 2012

Sartre, Of All People


This amazed me: an extract from a letter sent home by Jean Paul Sartre from a POW camp at Christmas in 1940. 

But today is Christmas, you have the right to demand to see the crib. Here it is. Here is the Virgin and here is Joseph and here is the Christ Child. The artist has put all his love into this ensemble but you might find it a bit naive. See, the figures are dressed up but they are stiff: they look like puppets. They certainly were not like that. If you were like me whose eyes are closed ... But listen: you only have to close your eyes to hear me and I'll tell you how I see them within me. The Virgin is pale and she looks at the child. What should be painted on her face is an anxious wonder that has only appeared once on a human face. Because Christ is her child, flesh of her flesh and the fruit of her womb. She carried him for nine months and gave him her breast and her milk became the blood of God. And at times, the temptation is so strong that she forgets that he is God. She hugs him and says “my boy!”  But at other times she is still and she thinks God is here - and she feels a religious awe for this silent God, for this terrifying child. Because all mothers are from time to time brought short before this rebellious fragment of flesh which is their child and they feel exiled from, even though close to, this new life which has been made from their lives and are occupied by alien thoughts. But no child was ever so cruelly and quickly snatched from his mother, because he is God and he exceeds all that can be imagined. And it is a hard trial for a mother to be ashamed of herself and her humanity before her son. But I think there are also other fast and fleeting moments when she feels both that Christ is her son, and that her little son is God. She looks at him and thinks: "This God is my child. This divine flesh is my flesh. It is made of me, he has my eyes and the shape of his mouth is the shape of mine. He looks like me. He is God and he looks like me." And no other woman has had her God to herself. A little God she can hug and cover in kisses, a little warm God, all smiles and breaths, a God who lives and can be touched. And it is in these moments that I would paint Mary, if I was a painter, and I would try to capture the tender air of boldness and timidity with which she moves her finger to touch the sweet skin of this God child whose warm weight she feels on her knees and who smiles at her. That’s Jesus and the Virgin Mary.

And Joseph? I wouldn’t paint Joseph. I would just show a shadow at the bottom of the stable and two bright eyes. Because I do not know what to say about Joseph and Joseph does not know what to say about himself. He adores and is happy to adore, and feels a little like an exile. I think he suffers without admitting it. He suffers because he sees how the woman he loves looks like God, how much she is already at God’s side. Because God has burst like a bomb into the intimacy of this family. Joseph and Mary are separated forever by the exlosion of clarity. And Joseph’s life, I imagine, will be about learning to accept.

15 December 2012

Mr Inwood's Survey

On behalf of the Portsmouth Diocese, Paul Inwood has interpreted the results of a survey about the new translation of the Mass.

Rather than question the statistical validity of the survey, let's take take the figures he provides as absolutely representative of Catholic opinion in Portsmouth and what do they tell us?  I think they are saying three things:

First, that after only four months of a new translation and new Mass settings, fewer than half of those surveyed had negative attituides towards the new translation.  I wonder what the equivalent figures would have looked like in April 1971.  (By the way, why has it taken so long to publish this survey, which seems only to have been uploaded on 12 December?)

Second, that there was a major failure by the previous Bishop, his Vicars General when he was ill, and by the diocesan clergy, to ensure that the faithful were prepared to welcome the new translation enthusiastically.  Given the reasons for adapting the translation, and the years of work that have gone into it, isn't it insulting both to question the need for it, and to suggest that the faithful of Portsmouth could have knocked something better up themselves.  (Should there be signs saying "Welcome to Portsmouth, the Home of Good Translation" in the same way as there are signs saying "Welcome to Oldham, the Home of the Tubular Bandage".)

And third, what tolerance of a sort of congregationalist pervision of Catholicsm has led all of these people surveyed to think that, in this case, their views count as though they are votes, and that because they have opined, the Church should "listen" (ie do what they want)? What sort of leadership has characterised this diocese for so many years if this is a fruit?

12 December 2012

The Bishops, Again


In a discussion about the farewell address by Bishop McMahon on Brentwood reported here I said that part of the problem with the Church in England and Wales was that the Bishops were trying hard, not to be part of the Establishment, but to be part of the mainstream and I promised to try to illustrate what I meant.

Well, think about this. 

This is how modern Catholic Cathedral building was thought of in England and Wales the 1930s.

 By the 1960s, it had become modern.

In the 1970s, it even flirted with a sort of muscular feminist style.

But in 1990 it has become Anglican.

Brentwood is less a Catholic Cathedral than a homage to the Anglican churches built by Wren.  How has the English baroque become an appropriate point of reference for Catholics?

The answer is that after Vatican II the Church in England and Wales ditched the alliance between prelatial clericalism and working-class Irishness which marked the first hundred years after the Restoration of the Hierarchy in 1850, but replaced it by an alliance of two middle-class Bishops, Hume and Worlock, and an activist middle-class laity empowered by the 1980 National Pastoral Congress, with ecumenism as the highest pursuit.  As Clifford Longley put it just before Cardinal Hume’s death:

 As a Benedictine monk, Hume represented a way of being Catholic that set off deep resonances in the English psyche entirely different from those associated with working-class Irish Catholicism.

This home-grownness was precisely what English Catholicism needed at that point in its history. Many of its lay members had themselves joined the ranks of the English middle classes in previous 50 years, not least as a result of the success of Catholic secondary education since the 1944 Education Act. (Two individuals who symbolize this success are Cherie Booth QC, wife of the Prime Minister Tony Blair, and Bishop Vincent Nichols, Bishop in North London and undoubtedly Cardinal Hume’s favourite Bishop of that younger generation. John Birt, Director General of the BBC, went the same school as Nichols. All three are products of the post-1944 Education act Catholic grammar school system in South Lancashire.)


 The 'signs of the times' of that transitional period included the appointment of Basil Hume to Westminster and Derek Worlock to Liverpool (both in 1976 and 1975), the consolidation of the Bishops' Conference of England and Wales, the programme of Consultation and renewal that led up to the National Pastoral Congress in 1980, the visit of John Paul II to Great Britain in 1982, and the impact of the early years of that papacy on the Church generally.  It would also include the remarkable convergence of doctrine under the auspices of the Anglican-Roman Catholic International commission, and the unprecedented change in ecumenical relations in Great Britain that followed.


Give or take the sort of minor rebuffs already mentioned, the Hume-Worlock approach to Church leadership has tacitly been endorsed by Rome in a whole series of episcopal appointments to the English Catholic hierarchy which gradually replaced the contemporaries of Heenan with those of Hume and Worlock; men of the temperament of Heenan with men of the temperament of the latter two.

It is reflected in the quasi-Synod, the imitation House of Bishops that the Catholic Bishops’ Conference has come to be: not just the uncanonical pooling of Episcopal authority, but the more insidious search for compromise, as though it is a virtue as important as truth; not just the growth of an ecclesiastical civil service in Eccleston Square, but the parallelism of the diocesan structures which have been built in its imitation.  Worst of all is the striving for what they seem to perceive as an analogous place in society to the CofE’s: getting “one of ours” on Thought for the Day, for example; or the pursuit of regular meetings with junior ministers in DFID: what I described in an earlier post as the desire to be part of Society instead of being a Society apart.

The worst part of this has been the cost: for if, as seemed to be the regularly proclaimed thesis in the 1980s, there is no fundamental difference between Catholic and Anglican, then there is no longer any need to do the things which previously marked us out as different.  Out went Friday abstinence, not because it was a bad thing in itself, but because it made us stand out.  So did going to Mass every Sunday.  Catholic schools stopped being schools in which Catholicism was taught and became schools for Catholics and anybody else who wanted a place: sacramental preparation became the preserve of lay volunteers in parishes.  (But weren’t we all pleased when HM the Queen talked about “My Cardinal”, and attended Vespers at the Cathedral and appointed Cardinal Hume to the Order of Merit.)

The only good thing I can think of to say about the compulsory presentation of a Bishop’s resignation letter when he reaches 75 is that it hastens what Fr Z calls the biological solution; that it brings closer the time when the generation of Bishops nominated by Hume and Worlock gives way to a newer generation.  But a new generation of Bishops is not the solution to the problems caused by their predecessors: it is only the point at which what looks like a sisiphean task of reclaiming the Church might begin. 


06 December 2012

Patronised By The BBC Again

Encouraged by the argument in Caroline Farrow's blog here, I complained to the BBC about their commission of a comedy series about three men who set up an assisted suicide business.  My point was that there is something depraved (I didn't put it as baldly to people who wouldn't understand) about wanting to choose the most shocking subject possible in which you can claim to find humour: that the search for the "laugh at any cost" is fundamentally not a search for humour but solely for subjects not previously laughed at, and usually for a good reason.  Veterans of BBC Complaints will appreciate that I didn't do this expecting to change minds (ho ho ho!) or even to make the BBC think there might be a problem: I knew that what would come back would be a patronising spew of liberal establishment value-inspired drivel which would patiently explain to me why I was wrong, and allow the author to snigger behind my back about the sort of fossilised Daily Express reader he no doubt takes me for.  (That "he" should maybe be "s/he" but in my experience women aren't are seldom anywhere near as good at plonking patronising as men.)

So the reply came and didn't disappoint any more than I knew it would anyway, but as part of its clever-clever attempt to put me down, it claimed that the comedy about assisted suicide would treat its subject seriously in the same way that Arsenic and Old Lace dealt with the subject of old lady poisoners, or Kind Hearts and Coronets dealt with aristocratic murders.

It's hard to plumb the depths of the contempt that the person who wrote that feels for the person he imagines to be complaining about an assisted suicide comedy.  It's also hard to number all of the ways in which he is completely and utterly wrong (starting from the fact that both films can be comedies because everybody, absolutely everybody, from writers to actors to production team to directors to film distributors to projectionists to usherettes to filmgoers knows that murder is uniquely evil).  Worst of all, is the moral relativism that produces the clinching (in his mind) argument, put as a mild suggestion, that "we do appreciate that the programme may not be to everyone’s taste but hope that if you do decide to watch it, you’ll reserve judgement until then".

I've thought of the license fee as iniquitous for many years because it forces me to subsidise programmes like this, and forces other people to pay for things like Radio 3 which I listen to.  A compulsory tax on televisions would be one thing: a compulsory tax which then funds a series of TV and radio stations which push a specific point of view is another. 

What I've never thought of before today is how much I resent the fact that apart from paying for the programmes I don't watch, I'm paying for moral illiterates to snigger at my beliefs and to patronise me for it. 

01 December 2012

In Which Somebody Gets Under My Skin

Ben Trovato tipped us off to an effusion from Grima Wormtongue Paul Inwood which got me really annoyed yesterday and has remained as a sort of mind worm all day (a bit of a problem as I have had to work today and have been out and about all over the place).  Inwood has concluded that His Holiness the Pope has been a fool rather than a knave in expressing his (HH the P's) belief that the EF of the Mass was not abrogated by Pope Paul.

The whole question of the precise status of the Traditional Mass: whether it could have been abrogated; how that could have happened; whether those conditions were met; whether an Indult could restore something abrogated; all these questions were the stuff of argument and discussion for most of the period between the introduction of the OF and the publication of Summorum Pontificum.  There were different views, and canon lawyers managed to come to conclusions that (coincidentally) exactly matched their view of whether or not the EF should or shouldn't be celebrated.

But then along came the Supreme Legislator and settled the question with Summorum Pontificum.  The earlier status - between the promulgation of the 1st edition of the OF and the publication of the Motu Proprio - has been decided retrospectively and definitively: the EF wasn't abrogated, and its use is now regulated by two new instructions.

I'm not aware of any issue of Canon Law in this country in which non-trained Catholics seem to feel that they are completely free to make their own minds up and tell trained Canon lawyers that they are wrong, but that is what Inwood has felt free to do in this context.  Canon Law must have been ambiguous, or perhaps there was just no precedent to decide a question of such magnitude as how a valid and licit form of Mass is made invalid and illicit, but that's one of the reasons we have a Pope: to settle this sort of question.  And settled it is.

So why does Inwood engage in this particular battle long after the argument has been settled?  How does he feel qualified to judge the Pope's decision?  On what basis does he feel able to state patronisingly that the Pope must at best have been badly advised?

I have said several times, that a great battle has been joined between those who would conform the Church to the spirit of the age and those who would see it proclaim a timeless message in spite of the spirit of the age.  In England and Wales, the battle is acute because the leadership in the Church - both its Hierarchy and the senior lay people identified as Catholics - seem to be taking a different line from Rome's.  It is perhaps inevitable that the ground for much of the battle is about sex: that's why Man fell after all, the Devil's greatest triumph.

Inwood's foray isn't really about the EF at all, though it suits proponents of the status quo in England and Wales to portray the EF as a Roman imposition on E&W and its proponents as a cross between crazed albino monks and nostalgic 1950s-lovers.  This is part of an existential struggle to define where the Church is.  (Imagine, if you need to know what I'm getting at, that people self-identifying as Catholic can have problems with priests wearing cassocks!)

Antipapalism and anticlericalism have no place in the Church: it should be axiomatic that they are manifestations of views opposed to the Church and intent on bringing it down.  Why those of us who worry about this sort of thing should be concerned, however, is that Inwood isn't some rogue commenter: he is someone whom the Church in England and Wales has placed on a pedestal.  He is paid (and how!) by a Catholic diocese; he is one of the main arbiters of liturgical music for England and Wales; his is a respected voice to which the majority of Catholic national publications listen with respect.

But he is utterly wrong, and I think we should be asking the diocese which pays his wages to invite him to consider his position.