Friday 31 December 2010

Bishop Thomas Burns

Bishop Thomas Burns is causing much comment because of his re-published sermon in this year's Menevia Diocese Yearbook. You can read about it here:

and here:

and here:

One of the things he criticises in his priests is the following:
"Flamboyant modes of liturgical vestments
and rubrical gestures abound."

Here is HIS LORDSHIP himself in completely non-flamboyant and understated mode, posing for a photograph with a dressed goat and a soldier in 19th century costume.

And here is My Lord Bishop in a gold off-the shoulder number,wearing his pectoral Cross over his cope instead of underneath as laid down in the Ceremonial of Bishops.

And again is His Excellency wearing a purple hat and silk belly-band in an aircraft hangar.

Once more, the Right Reverend Bishop in a very inconspicuous hat and understated collar,
bravely flouting the much-loathed rubrics by omitting to wear an amice (contrary to GIRM No. 336) and again wearing his pectoral Cross over his chasuble instead of underneath as laid down in the Ceremonial of Bishops. ("The pectoral cross is to be worn under the chasuble, dalmatic, or cope, but over the mozzetta." (CB 61))

And, of course, no man of the people following in the humble footsteps of the Lord is complete without his own coat of arms.

Wednesday 29 December 2010

We few, we happy few, we band of brothers

Father Gary Dickson commented on my post about Christmas and Holy Communion and brings up some points that strike me over and over again. I hope he won't mind if I use what he says to bring to light my own thoughts and experiences.

He says:
1. "My long-time irk that where priests are in short supply we rush to replace Holy Mass with 'Services of the Word with Distribution of Holy Communion'. This is a favourite solution in our Deanery. "
Services of the Word to replace Mass are envisaged very strictly for Sundays (NOT weekdays). Pope John Paul II reminded us that where they occurred, there was to be intense prayer for vocations so that priests and the Mass could be provided. Any shortage of priests was NOT to be interpreted as a message from the Holy Spirit encouraging lay-presiding. Such services are meant for MISSIONARY areas where it really is impossible for a priest to get there on a Sunday. I have heard some priests recently rejoicing at the prospect of lay-led services on a Sunday in leiu of Mass taking place just up the road, the distance of a brisk walk or short car journey.

Ironically, when it's Father's day off, true lay-led devotions that could be encouraged: the Rosary, the Office, Divine Mercy, Novenas and, Litanies are rarely suggested, although this is what happened in my previous parish when I was away during the week. Of course, these devotions don't involve a lay person dressing up as a quasi-priest and standing at the altar.
To make it completely clear that such sercices are NEVER envisaged for weekdays and even on a Sunday only in very special circumstances with the express permission of the bishop, here is the quote from the Interdicasterial Instruction Ecclesiae de mysterio. (On certain questions regarding the collaboration of the non-ordained faithful in the Sacred ministry of the priest by eight dicastries of the Holy See. August 15th 1997).

Article 7

Sunday Celebrations in the Absence of a Priest
1. In some places in the absence of priests or deacons, non-ordained members of the faithful lead Sunday celebrations. In many instances, much good derives for the local community from this useful and delicate service when it is discharged in accordance with the spirit and the specific norms issued by the competent ecclesiastical authority.
A special mandate of the Bishop is necessary for the non-ordained members of the faithful to lead such celebrations. This mandate should contain specific instructions with regard to the term of applicability, the place and conditions in which it is operative, as well as indicate the priest responsible for overseeing these celebrations.

2. It must be clearly understood that such celebrations are temporary solutions and the text used at them must be approved by the competent ecclesiastical authority. The practice of inserting into such celebrations elements proper to the Holy Mass is prohibited. So as to avoid causing error in the minds of the faithful, the use of the eucharistic prayers, even in narrative form, at such celebrations is forbidden. For the same reasons, it should be emphasised for the benefit of those participating, that such celebrations cannot substitute for the eucharistic Sacrifice and that the obligation to attend Mass on Sunday and Holy days is satisfied only by attendance at Holy Mass. In cases where distance or physical conditions are not an obstacle, every effort should be made to encourage and assist the faithful to fulfil this precept.

Which brings me to Fr Gary's next point:

2. "It was my very part-time parish secretary who reminded the meeting that we are obliged to attend Mass on Sundays, not to receive Holy Communion on Sundays."

I find again and again that people's understanding has shifted from the obligation to attend Mass to a right to receive Holy Communion. Firstly, no-one has a right to receive Holy Communion, it is always a profound gift. But we do all have an obligation to attend Mass if we possibly can. If you say this these days you are condemned for being a legalist but this is not so. The attendance at Mass brings a person into community with the living Body of Christ, the Mystical Body which is the Church. Without that actual human contact, our Faith begins to mean nothing. You cannot be a Christian by yourself - where two or three are gathered in my name... This is apart from the fact that it is actually good to recall that we do have a relationship of obedience to God, we owe Him worship. An act of self sacrifice of our time once a week is a reminder that self sacrifice is at the heart of our Faith and something we are asked to imitate.

I increasingly hear of people who receive Holy Communion at home because they can't get to Mass and yet they get to the hairdresser, the day centre, the shops, the family party. They will ask relatives to take them to many outings but when asked say, "I couldn't ask them to take me to Mass - they don't go." My own most extreme experience of this was a man who telephoned the parish wanting to know if I would bring him Holy Communion at home. He hadn't been to Mass for years but while he was on holiday in Malta he'd got chatting to a priest who suggested that he get in touch with his local parish! Sure, he had a game leg but it got him as far as Malta.

We seem to have developed an attitude of selfishness and materialism in that something is only valid if we are getting "something" - in this case, Holy Communion.

Fr Gary also says:
3. "How many folk will fulfil their Sunday obligation on Christmas Day night which is the Sunday Mass, or on Sunday (Boxing day) Morning? And will the folk who do not attend either of these Masses present themselves for Holy Communion next week without a second thought? Do we as priests remind then them that if they did not attend their Sunday Obligation they must go to Confession before receiving again, or presume they are in good faith and leave it at that? I shall be presuming good faith, but somewhat uncomfortably..."

Indeed. The missing of Mass seems to be accounted as nothing for many people and yet I have a suspicion that most people who lapse do so gradually. A missed Sunday here and there; life goes on and practice becomes less and very soon it's not even Christmas and Easter and so another family is lost to the practice of the Faith. I do know that there were only half the number of people at Mass last Sunday in my parish as would usually be. Presumably, attending Mass two days on the run is just too much to ask.

I'm sometimes told by other priests that being at Mass is not the be-all and end-all of everything but surely, being at Mass is also not just nothing. The practice of the Faith isn't just about Sunday Mass but I would want to include much else that goes with it. It is at Mass that people are encouraged to pray every day, to look after those in need, to live a moral life, to judge the world around them with a correct conscience, to pray for others, to learn and defend doctrine, to ponder the Scriptures, to worship the Lord. Or at least, I hope all this is happening at Mass.

I was going to say that I have no answers to these things. Rather, I have no understanding of why people think in these ways. While I personally don't have any answers - as a priest I believe that the Church does but in thinking that, Fr. Gary and myself find ourselves in a minority here in this country - and we try to get on with doing what we're supposed to be doing, as Cardinal Piacenza encourages. (See the post below.)

But we should not despair - we should rejoice to hold firm in the face of adversity. I am reminded of a certain speech:

This story shall the good man teach his son;
And Crispin Crispian shall ne'er go by,
From this day to the ending of the world,
But we in it shall be remember'd;
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he to-day that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother; be he ne'er so vile,
This day shall gentle his condition:
And gentlemen in England now a-bed
Shall think themselves accursed they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
That fought with us upon Saint Crispin's day.

Tuesday 28 December 2010

Cardinal Piacenza's Message for Christmas.

Cardinal Piacenza receiving the red hat in November.

Mauro Cardinal Piacenza, the new Prefect of the Congregation for Clergy, wrote to priests and deacons for Christmas stressing the need to take heart and continue in faithfulness to the message of Christ that will always bear fruit, even when it seems all is lost. I particularly liked his reminder that the Priesthood is ontological, that we go on being who we are, doing our usual duties and these will avail us and others of salvation. As the Church in the Western world shrinks, it is tempting to many to throw themselves into ever more outlandish schemes and compromises with the world but these burn themselves out and cannot last. Nothing is so old-fashioned as the most recent fashion to go out of date. We are called back to our roots and to the business of being holy. The Cardinal says: "The Church has nothing more to do than to go on in her own proper duties, in confidence and peace; to stand still and to see the salvation of God."

Our success cannot be counted in numbers but in souls that are actually led to Heaven. I seem to come across many Catholics who are so in name but hold views diametrically opposed to the teachings of the Church, not just on one issue but in many areas. Others who have little clue of the teaching of the Church or of Our Lord in the Gospels. I'm reminded of the case of the lady who, having heard the late Cardinal O'Connor of New York preaching on the Gospel forbidding divorce took him to task after Mass demanding to know "Who said so?". When the good Cardinal told her that it was Our Lord who said it she replied irately, "Well, he shouldn't have!"

I think the Cardinal reminds us of some excellent points.
Here is the article with my own highlights.

Dear Priests and Deacons,

At this time, when the Holy Father has graciously named me as the new Prefect, I would like to take the opportunity to convey a cordial greeting to each and every one of you.

The Year for Priests, recently brought to a conclusion, remains always before us, both in its content and in its model of sanctity, St John Mary Vianney. With regard to its content, it is to be fully assimilated into the environment of the formation of the Clergy, both in the initial and ongoing stages, especially concerning to the central place it wished to recognise of the Eucharist, celebrated and adored; with regard to the model of sanctity that was offered, the heroic participation of the Curé of Ars in the self-giving of Christ for the life of men shines forth, and that witness spurs us continually to offer ourselves to the Lord in the "fragrant sacrifice".

Even in the face of the storm of the "worldly sea," Jesus of Nazareth repeats to his disciples, "Do not be afraid!" To the temptation of activism and of the fitful searching after solutions that are human, and all too human, He beckons us gently, "Remain in my love" (Jn 15: 9).

As the Holy Father Benedict XVI pointed out, "If we continue to read this Gospel passage attentively, we also find a second imperative: "abide", and "observe my commandments". "Observe" only comes second. "Abide" comes first, at the ontological level, namely that we are united with him, he has given himself to us beforehand and has already given us his love, the fruit. It is not we who must produce the abundant fruit; Christianity is not moralism, it is not we who must do all that God expects of the world but we must first of all enter this ontological mystery: God gives himself. His being, his loving, precedes our action and, in the context of his Body, in the context of being in him, being identified with him and ennobled with his Blood, we too can act with Christ" (Allocution at the Pontifical Roman Major Seminary, 12 February 2010).

Dear friends, it is precisely this primacy of the ontological over the ethical, of the "abiding" over the "doing" that is the guarantee, and the only guarantee possible, of the fruitfulness of our apostolate!

In the face of prevailing secularism and rampant relativism, Blessed John Henry Cardinal Newman reminds us that, "Christianity has been too often in what seemed deadly peril, that we should fear for it any new trial now. So far is certain; on the other hand, what is uncertain, and in these great contests commonly is uncertain, and what is commonly a great surprise, when it is witnessed, is the particular mode by which, in the event, Providence rescues and saves His elect inheritance. Sometimes our enemy is turned into a friend; sometimes he is despoiled of that special virulence of evil which was so threatening; sometimes he falls to pieces of himself; sometimes he does just so much as is beneficial, and then is removed. Commonly the Church has nothing more to do than to go on in her own proper duties, in confidence and peace; to stand still and to see the salvation of God" (Biglietto Speech, 12 May 1879).

With these sentiments of profound, radical fidelity to the Lord in the Church and in history, in the Lord of my and of your sacerdotal existence, I ask a particular remembrance in your prayers, while I assure you of my pastoral concern, entrusting each one of you to the powerful protection of Her who, by virtue of a most special title, is the Mother of Priests: the Blessed Virgin Mary.

You can read it on Zenit here:

Wednesday 22 December 2010

Christmas and Holy Communion

Fr Z has some timely reminders about going to Holy Communion and our attendance at Mass. Here are some of them.

First, if you are not in the state of grace, don’t just go to Holy Communion anyway. That’s a sacrilege and a mortal sin. Those of you who are lax about Mass attendance need to remember that not going to Holy Mass on Sundays and other days of obligation, when you could go, is a mortal sin. Go to confession and then make your good Holy Communion. We all know the bit about making a perfect act of contrition… maybe you can do that and maybe you can’t. That’s up to you. But God cannot be fooled. If you know you shouldn’t receive then don’t.

Second, if you know you cannot go to Holy Communion that does not mean you are excused from going to Mass. You still have the obligation to attend Mass on Sundays and days of obligation even if you can’t receive. That’s why they are called days of obligation. It is your attendance that is obligatory, not Communion.

Third, observe the Eucharistic Fast, which is one hour before Communion not one hour before the beginning of Mass. If you want to fast longer, fine. One hour is the law, unless you are sick, etc. etc. Remember, to receive Communion we have to be disposed in our souls (by being in the state of grace) and in our bodies (by observation of the fast which pertains to our state in life).

The full post can be read here:


Tuesday 21 December 2010


Just for information about Masses over the Christmas period.


Midnight Mass

9am - Mass

11am Sung Mass in the Extraordinary Form

Sunday 26th December

8.30am - Mass

10am - Mass

11.30am - Low Mass (EF)

Freezing Visit

Icicles on the Presbytery

The Parish received its quirennial visitation from the Auxiliary Bishop of Liverpool, Tom Williams, this weekend. He travelled on Sunday morning from Liverpool in temperatures of minus 13. I sat in choro whilst Bishop Tom offered the Ordinary Form Masses. Having changed into his full purple cassock, he then took his turn in choro while I offered the Traditional Rite Mass at 11.30am - he preached at this and all the Masses (thus needing a second sermon to accommodate the differing readings!) Our numbers at Mass were down on the usual because of 6 inches of snow and freezing conditions but at least the church was nice and warm - and we didn't need to huddle around the ample charcoals in the thurible for warmth!

Auxiliary Bishop of Liverpool, Tom Williams

Thursday 16 December 2010

Interesting new blog

Those of you who are interested in things liturgical (and who isn't?) should have a look at this new blog:

Regarding the use of the 1962 liturgical books the Pimpernel and I are of one mind:
"Our first response ought to be one of obedience, a traditional hallmark of Catholics to the rulings of competent authority in all things but sin. We may like the third confiteor or folded chasubles and the broad stole, and even rightly argue that they are elements of the Tradition which should not be lost, but it is not a matter of sin not to use them."
Among those availing themselves of the Holy Father's generosity in Summorum Pontificum it is not unusual to find many who have inserted elements from previous Missals. A priest friend once had a server who insisted on making the third confiteor, only slighty sotto voce, even though none of the other servers were saying it and the absolution was not being given!

I've added this site to the blogbar on the right in order that new entries will be flagged. I for one look forward to reading the musings of the Liturgical Pimpernel. Ad Multos Annos!

Sunday 12 December 2010

Some more from Mexico

We prayed for the children in Mexico today where our young parishioner Connell Peake is helping out at an orphanage. Just a couple more photos for our parishioners who helped to send him there to have a look at.

Friday 10 December 2010

Christmas. Why we've got it wrong and not the world

Each year in the Archdiocese to which I belong the Archbishop "asks and encourages" priests NOT to celebrate a Vigil Mass for Christmas but to wait for the wonder and special moment that is the Midnight Mass (at midnight!) He points out that children can be brought to this Mass and the unusual activity of going out so late in association with all the Christmas excitement only makes the Feast all the more memorable and distinct. I think he is quite right in this but in many, many parishes the most popular Christmas Mass is the Vigil at 8pm, 7pm 6pm - even 5pm. In my own parish I have caved in to the established practice and while I have re-introduced Midnight Mass have (until this year) kept a 6pm Vigil Mass. But this has led to the crazy situation where there are more people attending Mass the day before Christmas than there are on Christmas Day itself. Surely that's a nonsense? Who has the wedding party the day before their marriage ceremony? Who sings "Happy Birthday" the day before the birthday?

The vigil Mass for Sundays was introduced for special circumstances, for example, those who couldn't get to Mass on Sunday because of work, perhaps in those places where one priest looks after two or even three parishes. Again, we now have the situation that many Catholics (in perfectly good standing) have not actually been to Mass on a Sunday for many years. How does this fulfil the biblical command to keep the sabbath day holy? I know of at least one bishop who, although keen on the introduction of this novelty at the time, now thinks it was a big mistake, seriously undermining the Church's position when Sunday opening of shops was extended in this country. Perhaps making something too easy can have the effect of de-valuing it.

In regards to Christmas, I have just read an excellent blog by James Preece who, as so often, looks at things with fresh eyes and states what should be obvious but where we haven't managed to see the wood for the trees. Every year we lament the secularisation of Christmas but "the fact is that the secular world is secular and has been for quite a while and frankly we ought to be used to it by now."

He points out that we can hardly expect people who are not Christians to keep Christmas in a fully Christian way. Perhaps we should be glad that they keep it at all because it is we in the Church who have secularised the Faith.

We secularised the Sacraments, we turned the Mass from the Holy Sacrifice at Calvary to a big meeting for a group hug. One of our toys was called Confession but we secularised that by deciding we can talk to God on our own thanks and the priest is just some bloke in a box and if he's just some bloke in a box then we might as well use the box as a dusty old store cupboard.

We filled those cupboards with old books of chant that we don't need anymore since we secularised our music. We secularised our buildings which are no longer designed to lift the mind to thoughts of heaven but rather to be practical, functional structures like secular leisure centres.

We secularised our Bishops by turning them in to faceless managerial committees with just enough authority to tie their own shoelaces so long as they get it risk assessed first and certainly not enough authority to actually reply to the letters you send them about the Holy Days of obligation that we secularised by, well, not having them.

We secularised our schools, we secularised our charities and we secularised our families. Prayer? Sacraments? Feasts? Seasons? We barely even know what they are. Lent is when people tell me that rather than fasting they "would rather do something useful". Baptism is for getting children in to schools, no wait... these days, there are no children to worry about.

But, as I say, perhaps we should be thankful that the world does keep some sort of Christmas - if it didn't, then we might have dumbed down Christmas as well - if not moved it to the nearest convenient Sunday. The only reason we still keep it on the actual 25th December is because that's what the world does. Otherwise it would be transferred like the Ascension, Corpus Christi and the Epiphany.

We can't say that Christmas is about more than just a secular celebration when we have reduced all the other parts of Christianity to be entirely secular!
The re-introduction of making us different, of re-sacralising our worship and regaining a sense of the holy is very much part of the Holy Father's message. We have been given the good tidings of great joy - why are we so afraid of letting them be seen?

Mexico Orphange

One of our young parishioners, Connell Peake, is out in Mexico volunteering at an orphanage. Here he is with one of the children. The parish was very generous in helping him to get him out there on 1st December. Apart from general duties, encouraging the children to learn English is among the tasks that will help them to get a better start in life. Apparently, insect bites are the biggest problem and generally just adjusting to being in a foreign country where the culture and life are so different from here. He said he's finding it quite tough. Please keep him and the children in your prayers.

Tuesday 7 December 2010

Europe and the Faith

Europe may have forgotten her Christian roots and be a pale reflection of her Christian past, but there are still voices being raised to defend Christendom from further change and decay, as this recent spirited speech from Austria shows! (I cannot help but be reminded of Don John of Austria, the hero of the Battle of Lepanto, who prevented the Ottoman Turks from invading Europe in 1571.)

I discovered the link on Rorate Caeli: //
For whatever technical reasons I often get some of the video cut off on this blog, so double click on the video to take you to the You Tube site - otherwise you will not be able to read the subtitles!

Pope Benedict has made no secret of his personal opposition to Turkey's entry in the European Union. On August 13th 2004 then Cardinal Ratzinger told Sophie de Ravinel of "Le Figaro Magazine":

"Europe is a cultural continent, not a geographical one. It is its culture that gives it a common identity. The roots that have formed it, that have permitted the formation of this continent, are those of Christianity. [...] In this sense, throughout history Turkey has always represented another continent, in permanent contrast with Europe. There were the wars against the Byzantine empire, the fall of Constantinople, the Balkan wars, and the threat against Vienna and Austria. That is why I think it would be an error to equate the two continents. It would mean a loss of richness, the disappearance of culture for the sake of economic benefits. Turkey, which is considered a secular country but is founded upon Islam, could instead attempt to bring to life a cultural continent together with some neighboring Arab countries, and thus become the protagonist of a culture that would possess its own identity but would also share the great humanistic values that we should all acknowledge. This idea is not incompatible with close and friendly forms of association and collaboration with Europe, and would permit the development of unified strength in opposition to any form of fundamentalism."

In a speech on September 18th 2004 to the pastoral workers of his titular diocese, Velletri, which was published in the Catholic newspaper of the Swiss town of Lugano, "Il Giornale del Popolo.":

"Historically and culturally, Turkey has little in common with Europe; for this reason, it would be a great error to incorporate it into the European Union. It would be better for Turkey to become a bridge between Europe and the Arab world, or to form together with that world its own cultural continent. Europe is not a geographical concept, but a cultural one, formed in a sometimes conflictual historical process centered upon the Christian faith, and it is a matter of fact that the Ottoman empire was always in opposition to Europe. Even though Kemal Ataturk constructed a secular Turkey during the 1920's, the country remains the nucleus of the old Ottoman empire; it has an Islamic foundation, and is thus very different from Europe, which is a collection of secular states with Christian foundations, although today these countries seem to deny this without justification. Thus the entry of Turkey into the EU would be anti-historical."

As the great Catholic historian Hillaire Belloc put it: "Europe is the Faith, and the Faith is Europe".

Monday 6 December 2010

Order of St Lazarus of Jerusalem

Someone pointed out there there were no photos of me at the gathering for the Order of St Lazarus in Orleans the other week. So here I am - to prove that I was there! (Here is a close-up of the group photo showing me also!) The Order's use of the colour green spans the past millennium. Several legends concern King Baldwin IV who ruled Jerusalem from 1174 to 1183. After founding the Lazarus Hospital and Commandery at Seedorf in Switzerland he had a vision which included finding a green cross in his hand upon waking. Another legend surrounding King Baldwin IV is that during his coronation in Jerusalem, an eagle dropped onto his head a gold ring with a green cross embedded. What is certain is that the green cross and the colour green have been intimatelly associated with the Order of Saint Lazarus throughout the second millennium A.D. The green cross of Saint Lazarus is also the origin of the international symbol for healthcare. which we see outside Chemists and Pharmacies and on First Aid boxes. The influence of the Hospitaller Orders can still be seen today. (St. John's Ambulance, for instance, draws it's existance from the Hospitaller Order of St.John).
Chaplains of the Order have worn green on their accouterments for many centuries, even though green was a more usual colour for bishops to wear.
An engraving of an Ecclesiastical Knight of the Order from 1714
The Church only began to regulate the colours for ecclesiastical dress in the 1200s, although these became formalised because of heraldry rather than as a result of Church directives. For a long time green was the usual colour for bishops and archbishops and even today, it is the heraldic colour for these prelates, as seen in their galero and fiocchi. It is only since the 1700s that the present purple for bishops has been mandated by the holy See. A remnant of it is still extant in Malta, where I recall seeing a whole bishop's cassock in green in a church museum. Someone did tell me that is is still a technical right of Maltese bishops to wear green but I'm not sure if that's really the case. Also, those who earn a Doctorate in Canon Law from a Pontifical University are also entitled to a biretta with green trim and pompom, so I presume that might be related to it as well.

Saturday 4 December 2010

Why are so many dissidents working for Catholic bishops?

A friend brought this article by John-Henry Westen to my attention. I have lay friends who are very well qualified with theology degrees and real commitment to the Faith who find it impossible to get anywhere when applying for any diocesan posts - of course, they are orthodox and enthusiastic for Pope Benedict. I recall when I was first ordained that a former priest (with some issues about the Church) was Chair of Governors at the local High School, even though (I'm given to understand) laicised priests may not hold such positions or even function as readers at Mass.

Why are so many dissidents working for Catholic bishops?
Writing in the pages of the Catholic Register this week, Fr. Raymond J. de Souza makes a very interesting observation and commentary on one of the reflections of the Pope in the new book "Light of the World."

Speaking of the governing institutions in the Church, Pope Benedict said "The bureaucracy is spent and tired ... It is sad that there are what you might call professional Catholics who make a living on their Catholicism, but in whom the spring of faith flows only faintly, in a few scattered drops."

Commenting on the Pope's remark, Fr. de Souza observes:

It is easy enough to point to the managerial bishop or the administrative pastor and lament the lack of fervour for the faith and the absence of evangelical criteria in decision-making. But could not the same be said of any diocesan office in Canada, the staff room of any Catholic school, the executive officers of any Catholic social welfare agency or the bureaucrats that administer the vast panoply of Catholic organizations?

Is it not the case that so many regard their position as membership in a club or as an officer of an enterprise, but not primarily as disciples or missionaries? The great sadness of which the Holy Father speaks is that over several generations now so many lay Catholics - "professional Catholics" - are marked by a deep adopted clericalism themselves, comporting themselves as members of a privileged caste.

Wow. It reminds me of a quote a friend on the inside once told me while reflecting on the fact that many vibrant, young, and faithful Catholics who would love to offer their all to the Church are left to find work in the secular world. "Why are all the professional jobs in the Church held by dissidents?"
To be sure there are signs of hope. Many dioceses in North America have begun to employ fervent and authentic Catholics. However the old guard remains firmly entrenched in many many places.

Fr. de Souza concludes: "The challenge of moving from a bureaucratic, managerial Church to an evangelical, missionary one is at the heart of Benedict's message in Light of the World.

Wednesday 1 December 2010

Whatever happened to Roma locuta - causa finita est

A thought provoking article written by Dominic Scarborough appears in the December issue of "Catholic World Report". It seems to me that I often hear that "what Rome does" and "what the Pope wants" doesn't apply here in the UK. I was once told, when referring to Rome and the Holy Father that it was important to be in communion with my local Pastoral Area (as Deaneries are now styled in the Archdiocese) but where there is a divergence, I know which one I would choose. The link is here but the whole article is below.

Dominic Scarborough contributes to The Catholic Herald in Great Britain. This article appears in the December 2010 issue of CWR.

The Holy Father’s September visit to the United Kingdom was widely regarded as a great success, both as a tonic to British lay Catholics and as a wake-up call to the country’s secular society. But the visit also highlighted the tension that exists between his pontificate and what dismayed English Catholics call the liberal “Magic Circle” of bishops who make up the Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales (BCEW).

Several of its number are known to be deeply opposed both to this papacy and to that of John Paul II. The first reason for this opposition is that the members of the BCEW have been largely self-selecting from a small pool of like-minded “insiders” who come through lines of patronage that can be traced back to one man, the late Archbishop Derek Worlock of Liverpool. At the Second Vatican Council, Worlock had been one of the first of the English bishops to promote a new liberal vision for the Church.

The vision appropriated the structures, cultural loyalties, and financial contributions of the old, inward-looking, triumphalist “ghetto” Church to build a new, outward-facing Catholicism that focused on social climbing and liberal politics. Ultimately, Worlock’s vision aimed for the broader acceptance of Catholicism by the secular elite.

This post-conciliar vision of a more visible Catholic presence is, however, at odds with Pope Benedict’s conceptions of what visibility and presence require. The BCEW’s vision ever since the days of Archbishop Worlock has aimed at “liberating” Catholics from their past and helping them to embrace the values of secular society. But Pope Benedict’s vision aims at fostering orthodox Catholics who can act as a “creative minority” in the wider culture. The differences between these two visions are ultimately irreconcilable and go to the heart of the debate over the meaning of Vatican II.

The second reason for the tensions with the Pope is the structure of the BCEW, which appears to undercut the individual bishop’s teaching role in favor of presenting a common front on every issue. The BCEW has mimicked the power structures of the traditional British trade unions that look anachronistic today. The BCEW is a rigid bureaucratic structure centered on the idea of the central committee and employs a plethora of professional lay and clerical sub-committees, all paid for by the ordinary Catholics it claims to represent. The irony is that the pursuit of this agenda has been to the detriment of halting the decline of the very working-class, “grass-roots” Catholicism that once gave the bishops a legitimate voice on issues of real social concern.

This “grass-roots” Catholicism has been decimated by a collapse in religious practice among the indigenous Catholic population, which, if it were not being buoyed up by massive levels of immigration from Eastern Europe and the developing world, would have already signaled the end for many parishes and even dioceses.

The BCEW may have succeeded in opening up the doors of the Church to the world, but instead of the world walking in, Catholics have walked out, especially those who have grown up in the post-conciliar era never knowing the safety of the “ghetto” Church and who prefer to take their worldliness from the world itself rather than from a self-consciously worldly Catholicism. For many Catholics the Church now exists only to “hatch, match, and dispatch” and retains the nominal membership that it does largely because it runs the best free schools in the country.

Where an English bishop has dared to step out of line and question the BCEW’s liberalism, the result has been criticism and ostracism by colleagues. In 2008, the outgoing bishop of Lancaster, Patrick O’Donoghue, presented reports (titled “Fit for Mission, Church?”, “Fit for Mission, Schools?”, and “Fit for Mission, Marriage?”) which lambasted the BCEW policies that had accelerated the decline of the faith in England. The reports also proposed a series of radical recommendations for recovery. Those documents were warmly welcomed in Rome. O’Donoghue was received in personal audience by the Pope and received commendations from three curial congregations and two pontifical councils. But the reaction to these reports in England was the complete opposite. Instead of forming the blueprint for diocesan policies throughout England and Wales, they were ignored, and some bishops even actively spoke against them.


One of the most controversial issues affecting the BCEW is its continued support for the so-called “Soho Masses” in the Westminster Archdiocese, Masses that minister to “homosexual Catholics.” The current archbishop of Westminster, Vincent Nichols, has made several public interventions in interviews recently where he speculated as to whether the Church might in time approve gay marriage. He also confirmed that when the Labour Government introduced civil partnerships legislation, the BCEW made a deliberate and conscious decision not to oppose it. He continues to support the “Soho Masses” and told a radio program that those who do oppose them should be silent. He also declined to disagree with a fellow panelist’s assertion in a television debate after the papal visit that the policy of the BCEW on homosexual rights follows a markedly different line from that of the Vatican’s policy.

Those lay Catholics in England who have spoken up against these “nuanced” positions have found themselves attacked in return. Before the papal visit, highly respected pro-life campaigner John Smeaton, the director of the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children, publicly stated that the BCEW, rather than supporting the pro-life cause or attacking euthanasia, had been vague on those issues. As soon as Pope Benedict departed, Smeaton was attacked by voices close to the BCEW who accused him of belonging to a “Catholic Taliban” that sets up its own private Magisterium and permits of no dissent.

Another prominent pro-family, pro-life activist, Archbishop Nichols’ own director of pastoral affairs Edmund Adamus, gave an interview on the eve of the visit in which he said that England (and in particular London) is the geo-political epicenter of the culture of death. The archbishop moved swiftly to rebuke Mr. Adamus, saying that this was not his own view.

The “Catholic Taliban” tag is a slur on many devout and courageous lay Catholics who have stood up for the vulnerable for many years in preference to seeking perks and patronage from liberal bishops. Curiously, what the slur also seems to ignore is that if men such as Smeaton and Adamus constitute a “Catholic Taliban” there is no doubt that its “Mullah” is Pope Benedict XVI.

Another threat to the hegemony of the BCEW is liturgical and cultural diversity. With Soviet-like brutishness, the BCEW has sought over many years to curb the activities of those Catholic groups that exist outside of its direct control. In one English diocese, a bishop sought to limit the celebrations of the Syro-Malabar Rite and ordered Indian Catholics to attend the Roman Rite on Sundays. The BCEW sought under Cardinal Murphy O’Connor to liberalize Polish Catholic immigrants by insisting that Polish Catholic mission parishes show greater uniformity and fusion with parishes under BCEW control.

The BCEW also organized three-week-long “training” classes for Polish priests and other foreign priests who intended to work in England. These classes were delivered by the then-president of Ushaw Seminary (which is shortly to close), Msgr. Terry Drainey, who has said, “Some foreign priests working in Britain tend to be too dogmatic about the Church’s moral rightness on just about everything.” He added, “That’s not how we do things here. This course shows how we deal with a whole range of issues affecting Catholics, including the role of women, divorce, the lay ministry, and homosexuality.” Shortly after delivering the courses, Msgr. Drainey was selected to be the bishop of Middlesbrough.

This desire for liturgical uniformity comprising the Roman Missal of 1970 in its old ICEL English translation (nothing has yet been done to prepare for the new translation next year) has been threatened recently by several factors that have whittled away at the BCEW’s power. First are the large numbers of recent immigrants who attend non-English language Masses celebrated by their own priests. There have also been the spiritual “free market” policies of the “New Movements” (Focolare, Opus Dei, Youth 2000, etc.) promoted by Pope John Paul II, which have encouraged many Catholics to develop their spiritual lives outside of diocesan structures. And most recently there has been the “liturgical free market” of Pope Benedict XVI, with both the rehabilitation of the older form of the Roman Rite (Summorum Pontificum) and the invitation to Anglo-Catholics to form liturgical communities within the Catholic Church (Anglicanorum Coetibus).

All these factors are underpinned by the increasingly vociferous Catholic blogosphere, largely orthodox in character, which the BCEW simultaneously fears and despises in a way reminiscent of the Soviet regime’s attitude to the Eastern European underground free press. All these forces are at odds with the “Cultural Revolution” mentality of the BCEW.

The BCEW finds that it can neither advance in line with secular “progressive” thought nor face retreat, so it simply stagnates. Meanwhile, authentically Catholic radicalism and counter-culturalism is led by traditionalists. The specter of large numbers of Anglo-Catholic clergy becoming a semi-autonomous part of the Catholic Church in England has horrified the BCEW, which has greeted every development in the progress toward the first English ordinariate with sighs and fear.

In situations traditionally calling for the very warmest of language in dealing with “Separated Brethren,” spokesmen for the BCEW have been at pains to stress that the ordinariate is not going to be allowed to be a “church within a church.” This is because the BCEW fears further loss of its own power and resents everything about the conservative intellectual tradition that forms the Anglo-Catholic wing of Anglicanism. It is no wonder that the negotiations which led to the motu proprio were between Anglican bishops and the CDF in Rome and not the BCEW.


Nowhere has this near-pathological determination to oppose any hopeful new developments while presiding over inexorable decline been more exposed than in the maneuverings of the BCEW to ignore, block, and ultimately frustrate Summorum Pontificum. The BCEW has spent a great deal of effort behind the scenes gathering data to support the idea that there is no demand in England and Wales for the extraordinary form of the Mass, while at the same time willfully refusing to foster or promote it in parishes.

Its only significant contribution has been to insist that the transferred holy days of obligation that it imposed on England and Wales also be applied to the extraordinary form. Within days Rome pointed out that the feasts could legitimately continue to be kept on their original dates in the extraordinary form since it was only the obligation to attend Mass on the feast day that was affected by the BCEW decree.

The Pope’s decision to liberate the extraordinary form might be compared to Coca-Cola’s decision in the 1980s to bring back its original drink, “Coke Classic,” after the experimental “New Coke” produced a slump in sales. In this analogy the attitude of the BCEW toward Summorum Pontificum would be like the English regional division of Coca-Cola ignoring the directive from headquarters in Atlanta, keeping all the new supplies of Coke Classic locked in its warehouse, burning all the advertising literature sent over from Atlanta and then reporting back that there was no discernible demand for Coke Classic in its region.

Indeed, so distrustful is Rome of the BCEW’s stance that it is relying on data supplied to it by lay Catholics in England and Wales in order to obtain an accurate picture. No observer of Catholic affairs in England is in any doubt that the BCEW in its current form has pursued policies that distance itself from the pontificates of John Paul II and Benedict XVI and criticize and marginalize those lay Catholics who openly support papal teaching.

The reasons for this are clear differences of view on the direction and character of post-conciliar Catholicism. How long this can continue to be sustained without some public fracture in relations depends in large measure on the desire within the Vatican to intervene in the English Church more directly. Pope John Paul II for the most part left the English Church to manage itself and Pope Benedict has preferred to teach rather than to impose, as his recent ad limina remarks to the BCEW on dissent showed.

Rome may also feel that time is not on the BCEW’s side, as its search for up-and-coming priests who share its vision to join its ranks becomes ever more frustrated. The English clergy is increasingly populated with foreign priests, young traditionalists and middle-aged ex-Anglicans, none of whom are exactly yearning to embrace the BCEW vision. Archbishop Nichols of Westminster was overlooked at the November consistory because, say observers, it will be another two years before his predecessor loses his conclave vote. If he wants to be sure of the red hat next time around, there are some difficult issues for him to confront in the meantime.