Sunday, 19 March 2017

Clergy Take Care; Laity Beware

This post is to compact the previous post, ‘Laity Beware’ and to underline the fact that since I have contacts the length and breadth of the country via Catholic organisations and social media, it is not advisable for readers to enter into speculation as to the Diocese, parish and individuals concerned. In brief the facts of my post were as follows:

  • ‘X’ was a long-standing catechist under two former parish priests
  • ‘X’ had taught the children that although it was allowable to receive Holy Communion on the hand the norm is to show God respect by receiving on the tongue, offering this to the children as something they might like to do for God. In ten years no child had declined, but some parishioners were unhappy that the norm was being presented.
  • ‘X’ met with their new pastor and was told to continue his/her preparations for providing the First Communion preparation course but then had his/her initial meeting with parents cancelled from the pulpit without explanation on the day the meeting was announced in the Bulletin.
  • ‘X’, on querying this with the pastor after Mass, was told the pastor would ‘get back on that’, but didn’t do so.
  • ‘X’ was covertly excluded from the First Communion preparation programme, only discovering it had actually begun when the children were presented at Sunday Mass some weeks later.
  • To avoid public dispute and wounding of the pastor, ‘X’ wrote to him privately, asking the reason for his/her furtive exclusion and having his/her first preparation meeting publicly derailed at Mass. ‘X’ received a reply of three to four lines saying ‘your concerns have been noted’ but making no response to those concerns.
  • When at an open meeting of the parish a parishioner stated the pastor had been ‘receiving hassle’, the pastor said it had all come about because he had spoken to ‘X’ (naming ‘X’) about First Communions saying to continue on but had now decided that ‘was not for the best’.
  • The Bishop was present at this open meeting and did not defend the good name of ‘X’ at any point. His only comment was that ‘more people need to be involved now’, thereby allowing the impression that ‘X’ had been monopolising lay roles. 

‘X’ felt as though s/he had been on the receiving end of prejudice and poor handing by the clergy, thus the stated purpose of the post remains: to advise clergy taking up new appointments -and Bishops who make those appointments:

Pastors should take a year or more to get to know the personalities in any new appointment so as to avoid making changes on the strength of tittle-tattle (be it from teachers, medics or other persons who, despite having professional qualifications, remain subject to the self-interest we call sin). Failure to do this means the pastor can be being drawn into personality clashes and/or attempts by individuals to achieve prominence/dominance (the need to be ‘big fish’ -but in a very small pond!)
Bishops should avoid being drawn into such dynamics early on and becoming the proverbial sledgehammer.

Bishops and Pastors might ask themselves if those who have the pastor’s ear have a history of complaining about former pastors, as it may indicate they are now taking the opportunity with a weaker pastor, to monopolise lay roles themselves and to re-make the parish to their own liking, thereby making of the pastor (at worst) their puppet, or at best their obedient child/servant, with consequential removal of his integrity.

Monday, 13 March 2017

Laity Beware

In conversation recently I was privy to some unsettling information about how badly we laity can be treated for simply being ‘Catholic’. I cannot name the Diocese in which these events took place; the parish or any individual persons, since that would bring persons into disrepute and would lack in charity. ‘X’ is allowing me to share the events only because s/he feels clergy can learn from them.

The information concerns a catechist (‘X’) who has been working in that capacity for 16 years under two successive parish priests. It is true that ‘X’ was unconventional by today’s standards: s/he would instruct the children that while it was legitimate to receive Our Lord in Holy Communion in the hand, the norm was still to show God great reverence by receiving Him on the tongue, preferably kneeling, asking the children if they would like to give this reverence to God. No child had refused in the previous ten years; all were happy to do so and many continued on for some years (except when at Mass in School –and why that was the case can only be a matter of speculation). It is also true that the previous pastor had refused permission to the school to use the sanctuary as a stage for an interpretative dance on First Holy Communion day, and since ‘X’ had supported this, it may have created a negative image of ‘X’ that played into these events.

When a new pastor was appointed ‘X’ asked to meet with him to determine how he wanted the First Holy Communion programme to run. The pastor, having been shown a copy of the materials used by ‘X’, and informed that the school provided the bulk of the instruction in at least weekly sessions (while the parish did only a monthly session), and that on the day of First Holy Communions the school would provide the music, the readers and offertory bearers (with the parish supplying only the servers and the Communion breakfast), ‘X’ was told to go on as before.

As such ‘X’ followed the established pattern of putting a note in the Bulletin calling a meeting for the parents of interested children. On the Sunday this was published the new pastor announced at the Notices at Mass that the meeting was cancelled so that the school could be more involved, but did not approach ‘X’ before or after Mass; and when approached by ‘X’ to ask what was going on simply said, “I’ll get back to you”. Then, on a Sunday in January, the children already in preparation by the school –a fact unknown to ‘X’– were presented to the parish at Sunday Mass. Not wanting to cause public upset ‘X’ wrote privately to the pastor asking why s/he had been cut out of the loop (so to speak); saying s/he felt the way things had been done was furtive; that it lacked transparency, and was damaging to his/her good name, s/he having been visibly sidelined by the public cancelling of the meeting. S/he also noted that it was hard to know how the school could be more involved, given the extent of their involvement (as noted above).  A three-line reply was received from the pastor saying thank you for your letter and “your concerns have been noted”, but no explanation was offered. ‘X’ replied by noting that his/her concerns had not been addressed, but this resulted the following Sunday in an announcement (at the Notices during Mass) that there was to be an open parish meeting with the Bishop the following Sunday.

At that meeting one of the parishioners said the pastor had been receiving hassle (though how they would know about the existence of private correspondence is anyone’s guess); the Bishop stated that the parish was to support its new pastor and that more people need to be involved now, while the pastor himself said the meeting had come about because he “had told ‘X’ (actually naming the catechist) to go on as before, then thought that was not for the best”. This left ‘X’ feeling publicly disparaged, so s/he made the decision to write to the local Episcopal Vicar, the Vicar General and the Bishop to say how hurt and disturbed s/he was by the sequence of events and the way the meeting had been handled, since it publicly named him/her and indeed left him/her all-but labelled a problem.

At any rate, replies to ‘X’s letter from the Bishop and the EV were once again three-line replies stating nothing more than “we acknowledge receipt of your letter” -not even that “the concerns had been noted”. At no stage was an attempt made by any of the clergy to dialogue on the issues or to seek reconciliation, though these are quite the ‘buzz words’ at the moment. In that workplace bullying might be described as “a blame culture, and the tolerating of aggressive behaviour”; where bullying can be verbal and nonverbal, creating feelings of humiliation and defencelessness with an undermining of the individual’s dignity, it might be said that ‘X’ experienced workplace bullying in that s/he was sidelined publicly from the pulpit; had his/her concerns left unexplained and was publicly named at an open meeting in the context of “someone causing hassle”.

There is perhaps an excuse for the Bishop in that he may have been given erroneous information, for ‘X’ had been Parish Bookkeeper and Vulnerable Persons Link Person as well as Catechist, and it might have seemed that there was a monopolising of lay roles here, yet the reality is that several parishioners there generously gave of their time and in multiple roles –indeed a quarter of those attending Mass there have an active role in the parish. I have seen the list displayed in the parish hall of all parishioners who undertake tasks (which range from Fundraising via coffee mornings and raffles through Piety Shop Manager, Gardening and Cleaning Teams to more formal roles of Annual Financial Returns Officer, Buildings Manager, Gift Aid Officer and Housebound Visitors) so there was no monopolising of roles by ‘X’. That said, while the Bishop may not have been aware of the extent of lay involvement in the said parish, the same cannot be said for the Pastor who either failed to determine the extent of lay involvement in his new parish, or simply failed to disclose it to the Bishop before seeking a meeting with him and the parish. Perhaps the excuse we might make for the pastor is that very early in his time in the parish he gave his ear to those who appeared professional and integrated, and was swayed by them.

Conceivably, the cause of all this may simply be that ‘X’ was excluded in order to eliminate the Reception of Holy Communion on the tongue and to include so-called ‘liturgical dance’ to the First Communion Mass, or simply that the group from 25 years ago sought ways to return to prominence by getting the new pastor’s ear. Interestingly, within a month of arriving the new pastor asked if the collections at the Old Rite Mass (requested by a group of parishioners on the publication of Summorum Pontificum) were being sent to the LMS or kept for the parish; ‘X’ pointed out that they had always gone to the parish as it was a parish Mass, not an LMS Mass –but one wonders why the new pastor would have thought otherwise in that this was a Mass asked for by a parish group and attended mainly by parishioners (about 6 or 8 people attended from outside the area).

What this scenario sadly shows us is that Catholic laity cannot expect to receive support from their local Catholic pastor or the local Catholic Bishop in the promotion of ‘the Faith we have received’. Perhaps it is not out of place to say that one may not even expect to receive the support of Rome, since we have seen a lot of changes in the last fifty years.

Sadly, ‘X’ has now disengaged from his/her parish. My purpose in writing this Post is, fundamentally, to encourage clergy to consider not making any changes to their new parish in the first year of an appointment, and to take that time to get to know the characters of the parish. Had the new pastor done so he may have become aware of the actual extent of lay participation in the parish; avoided falling into furtive behaviours and into naming individuals at a public meeting of the parish in the context of being ‘hassled’. Clergy might also like to consider that those who carry tales and complaints to them (no matter what their profession: teacher, medic, lawyer) are often the ones to be avoided -professionals are not immune to the human frailties that affect us all, and can still be inclined to bring others down so as to achieve their own ends or a position of higher prominence. Bishops might like to reflect on the fact that handing over too much responsibility to laity does not empower but disempowers the many at the hands of the few. What is needed is the promotion of priestly vocations, not a clericalising of those who dominate among the laity. What inordinate ‘lay ministry’ can do is set up disempowerment and division amongst the laity, while creating a clergy who fail to become Fathers to the parish and thereby unable to care for the common good, having lost control of the parish to those laity who wrangle best.

Friday, 3 March 2017

Writing about Pope Francis

When reading about Francis there are two main factions one wanders into. There is the faction that fears not to describe him in uncomplimentary terms, with the authors sometimes described as lacking in charity (perhaps they are just full of frustration and distaste at his papacy?); there is another faction that almost canonises the man as the greatest thing since Francis of Assisi if not since Christ Himself. There are days when each of these factions expresses might one’s feelings. It is therefore a joy to read articles that simply look over the papacy of Francis without falling into either  a lack of charity or a canonising of Francis. I therefore thoroughly enjoyed the article by Pete Baklinski on Lifesite News partially entitled ‘They gave Pope Francis four years to make the Church over’. This is one of the easiest and clearest pieces written on Francis I have read. Another article I enjoyed, also on Lifesite News and written by Phil Lawler, is entitled ‘This Disastrous Papacy’.

Baklinski notes
In his October 2013 speech to the Catholic students of Villanova University, Cardinal McCarrick ended his panegyric of Pope Francis by comparing him to the “Pied Piper of Hamelin.”
“He will walk across the stage of the world and people will follow him. They will find in him like they found in the Pied Piper of Hamelin, they will find in him a certain charism, that reminds them that this is what God's love is all about. And this is what Francis is all about,” he said.
McCarrick surely didn’t realize how disturbing the comparison was. According to the children’s tale, when the town’s families refused to pay the piper for ridding them of a rat infestation, he took his revenge by using his pipe on their children. Enchanting them with his charism and delightful tunes the piper led them away into a secret mountain cave and they were never seen again.

Baklinski quotes Argentinian journalist Marcelo González of Panorama Católico Internacional who wrote that he was “terrified” for the future of the Catholic Church:

Of all the unthinkable candidates, Jorge Mario Bergoglio is perhaps the worst. Not because he openly professes doctrines against the faith and morals, but because, judging from his work as Archbishop of Buenos Aires, faith and morals seem to have been irrelevant to him.

In His article, Lawler notes

Day after day, in his homilies at morning Mass in the Vatican’s St. Martha residence, Pope Francis denounces the “doctors of the law” and the “rigid” application of Catholic moral doctrine. Sometimes his interpretation of the day’s Scripture readings is forced; often his characterization of tradition-minded Catholics is insulting. But in this case, the Pope turned the Gospel reading completely upside-down. Reading the Vatican Radio account of that astonishing homily, I could no longer pretend that Pope Francis is merely offering a novel interpretation of Catholic doctrine. No; it is more than that. He is engaged in a deliberate effort to change what the Church teaches.

Whether one wants to agree with these writers or disagree with them, their comments cannot be simply brushed aside for they express in writing the same dis-ease that the poster recently noted around Rome also expressed. Anyone who truly cares for the souls of the faithful and is dedicated to handing on what came from the Apostles rather than the theological offerings of some peri-Vatican II theologians, will find in these two articles either cause for concern at the questioning of the direction in which Francis is taking the Church, or support in recognising that they are not alone in feeling that Francis’ papacy is a damaging one. Those who continue supporting Francis will find in the articles the complaints and concerns against which they must defend Francis; those who distrust him will find their reasons simply and clearly stated. Whichever side of the divide we take, one thing is for sure: we cannot treat this papacy as if it were irrelevant: one way or another we have to take a stand to either support or dispute with Francis and his papacy. My only admonitions would be not to question the fact that he is the legitimate Pope, and not to call into question the character of the man or his state of soul -those judgements belong to God alone.

Monday, 13 February 2017

Re-visiting Forward Together in Hope -or into lamentation

I have been looking at the document for moving ‘Forward Together In Hope’, mentioned in a previous blog post. The Diocesan Document is available here. I have chosen to comment upon the following, which are bullet-points taken directly from the document which says:

“Our new partnerships will offer opportunities to ensure that:

 · A range of formation programmes can be developed, at a more local level, to help communities provide pastoral care for many groups of people, catechesis, marriage preparation and worship.
This seems admirable. I have always felt that deaneries could have worked more closely; one perhaps one providing Marriage Preparation; another providing First Communion Preparation or Reader/ Extra-ordinary  Ministers Formation etc. It has always been problematic when preparation or formation courses are held in a location central to the Diocese as travel for many people made it impossible to attend. We might also have better input at a local level and not be formed like sausages to suit a particular person’s vision.

· Support can be made available for smaller communities.
Yes: more priests taking it in turn to celebrate Mass for them; hear their Confessions, anoint their sick. But having their own named priest remains essential if we are not to fall into having communities which are decapitated Christs (bodies without a head). Each parish should have its own named priest to teach, sanctify and govern; to oversee the parish as its local shepherd.

· The gifts, talents and financial resources in a wider area can be put at the service of more people.
Yes, but care needs to be taken. If this means a central fund for partnership areas, how will parishes like one I served which is very small but very generous (and therefore not short of money) feel about their funds being used to help out a larger parish who has not had land to sell or does not have a good weekly offering? We might like to say charity will overcome but in reality, that is not how people broken by original sin with the wound of concupiscence tend to function. It is naïve to think people are not concerned to spend their own money on their own parish.

· Responsibility for a range of services such as finance, health and safety, administration and communication can be coordinated across a wider area.
I’m not sure how this one will work; it uses high-sounding words but there is no explanation as to how this is expected to work out.

· Priests can be freed to concentrate on their essential calling to preach, call the community to worship and the celebration of the sacraments.
This one is very problematic: it removes from priests their role as shepherds and makes them sacrament machines. It is contrary to scripture in which the Apostles took care to ensure they left a presbyterate and overseer for each area. Such shepherding is not peripheral to the call of the priest but is part of his essential calling: Our Lord lamented communities where there were no shepherds; they are therefore of His Divine Will for each community.

· A thorough and careful review of property and its uses can be carried out throughout the area.
One might hope that this means selling off unused land and closing unused buildings. It will hurt, but did the Bishop not tell us to expect pain as the result of this programme? Why avoid it now? Larger parishes can at least have their own pastor.

· Opportunities can be found for people to come together across the area to celebrate and worship together.
We have been doing this anyway: have we not for years had shared Penitential Services, shared Carol Services, Deanery-wide advertised pilgrimages etc?  

· Leadership teams including priests, deacons and people can develop to help everyone deepen their understanding of what it means to be a witness to Jesus in our world today.”
This does not reflect the Tradition of the Church: the leadership role is within the shepherding role; responsibility for certain tasks may be taken on by lay members of the community, but leadership of the flock lies with the shepherds, not the sheep. We have not given the laity their education and formation to be salt of the earth –their authentic vocation is, said Vatican II, “the evangelization and sanctification of men and the penetrating and perfecting of the temporal order through the spirit of the Gospel” Decree on the Apostolate of the laity, #2).

In truth, we seem to have spent three years to no real purpose, other than giving the people the experience of feeling they were being consulted. It was of no real purpose because it brought about nothing new, only the extending of an already-existing model of cross-boundary working: we first went from Deaneries to the ‘twinning of parishes’; then to tripartite parishes as ‘pastoral areas’; we have now spent three years to do no more than extend ‘pastoral areas’ to ‘Partnership’ areas. I doubt three years was needed to merely extend a model that has been going on for some time now.

All of this however, fails to note the elephant in the room; the failure to promote the priesthood as a singular and sacred way of serving God. Let’s be honest: without diminishing marriage which is at the core of the Church and society, marriage is of the natural created order of things; it was “that way from the beginning”. Men are called out of that natural order to serve the community, which is why the word vocation was customarily applied only to priesthood and religious life. 

In his Introduction to the Booklet the Bishop says, “I hope that our whole diocesan family will continue to pray that the Holy Spirit will guide us into the future with confidence, a deep sense of mission and a willingness to witness to the coming of the Kingdom of God.” I too hope the Holy Ghost will inspire and lead the Diocese. I am not sure about the word ‘continue’ as I think by the direction e have been taking in the West for some years now courts the danger of making priests into nothing more that sacrament machines who renege on their calling to ‘teach, sanctify and govern’. If we leave the hsheep to tend the sheep it will no longer be individual sheep that wander off but whole flocks –for want of a shepherd who calls and directs their way.

Tuesday, 7 February 2017

Decentralisation or Degeneration into Protestantism?

Apparently this poster is popping up all over Rome, something that has not happened since the end of the Papal States. That superb blog Rorate Caeli translates the poster for us as:
Ah Francis, you have intervened in Congregations, removed priests, decapitated the Order of Malta and the Franciscans of the Immaculate, ignored Cardinals... but where is your mercy?

It is sad that a Pope is so publicly rebuked by the people he is called to shepherd, and just as sad that the people feel the need to make such a criticism so publicly. Ever since the election of Francis I have been defending him by saying I’m sure he has a good heart (a genuine desire to lift burdens from folk) and has not attempted to formally pervert the Doctrine of the Church (and as such is not a heretic). I still maintain these to be true. Francis does demonstrate a heart for the lifting of burdens from folk, and has not tried to formally impose any new doctrine on the faithful. That said, we cannot deny that there are things about this papacy that are disturbing faithful Catholics at their very core. For example, criticism of francs has been ubiquitous regarding:

his treatment of the Franciscan Friars of the Immaculate
his constant derision of Traditional Catholics in words that display no respect for, or charity towards, such Catholics who he labels ‘Pharisees’ and ‘Doctors of the Law’, and suggesting they are either hypocrites or have psychological problems
his off-the-cuff remarks that do are seen as contradicting orthopraxy and sound doctrine (such as the oft-quoted line ‘who am I to judge?’)
his footnotes in Amoris Laetitia which many see as leaving the sacraments open to sacrilege
his interference in the Sovereign Military Order of Malta (SMOM)
his extolling of Martin Luther, who tore apart the Mystical Body of Christ at the Reformation.

All of these come together to form a rather negative picture, so that Francis cannot complain about posters like the above or if he is described as judgmental (by Traditional Catholics), tyrannical (in light of his treatment of the Franciscans and the SMOM) or arrogant (in his re-writing of marriage in the Amoris latitia footnote). One person recently said to me in a slightly heated discussion, “It’s as they say Father, ‘power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely’ -Francis thinks being Pope gives him the right to dismiss Revelation.” I did remind my interlocutor that Francis has not imposed any new doctrine and seems to me to be a man of good intentions, but my confrere was not convinced.

While I think we can say still say that Francis is not officially declaring things contrary to the Doctrine of the Church and that his care for the marginalised is obvious (unless we are speaking of Traditional Catholics), we cannot deny that he is allowing others to publicly state things contrary to our Doctrine without correct them. The most recent example of this is the assertion by Rev Antonio Spadaro S.J., editor-in-chief of La Civiltà Cattolica and confidante of Pope Francis (See Lifesite News) that “Theology is not Mathematics. 2 + 2 in Theology can make 5. Because it has to do with the real life of people.”

That statement advances relativism and subjectivism. True, theology is not mathematics -but that does not make our doctrine uncertain. Theology is the way we arrive at and explain a long-held belief, and doctrine cannot be discarded unless we say the Church has no real hold on Truth; that the Spirit of Truth has not been given and has not led the Church into Truth in accord with John16v13 -and if that is true, why should we accept the opinion of Spadaro or even the teaching of Francis -who may be allowing others to cut off the branch on which he is sitting: he cannot give us another teaching on marriage without it being as disposable as the immemorial teaching he is allowing to be swept aside by some epsicopal conferences).

Another of Francis’s questionable ideas is devolution of authority from Rome to episcopal conferences. As EdwardPentin noted in the NCR 2015:

…Francis quoted what he had previously written in his 2013 apostolic exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium: “It is not appropriate for the Pope to replace the local episcopates in the discernment of all the problems that lie ahead in their territories,” and, “in this sense, I feel the need to proceed in a healthy ‘decentralization.’”

To support the idea of decentralisation, some may point to the days of the early Church where they assume local Churches had more autonomy from Rome, but as St. Iranaeus said,

“the greatest and most ancient church known to all, founded and organized at Rome by the two most glorious apostles, Peter and Paul...With that church, because of its superior origin, all the churches must agree, that is, all the faithful in the whole world; it is in her that the faithful everywhere have maintained the Apostolic Tradition" (St Iranaeus, ‘Against The Heresies’).

Sadly, we now hearing of the desire to have control of the liturgy devolved to episcopal conferences, with a return to paraphrases of the official Latin Missal rather than translations as required by Poe St John-Paul’s Liturgiam Authenticam (see here). If Francis pursues the idea of devolution we cannot do other than arrive at a federation of churches with their own doctrine and their own worship –and the Universal Church will have disappeared. In effect, Francis would be duplicating the divided Anglican Communion, thus demonstrating himself to be Protestant at heart, or at least a very poor theologian. The author Aldo Maria Valli makes his own contribution (see Lifesite News, here):

‘…in the beginning, I was very happy with the election of Francis because I thought that for the Church in Europe and the West it would be helpful to see reality from a different point of view than usual. I thought that the South American Pope could give freshness and a youthful spirit to the Church as the Church in the West seemed to have grown tired. Step by step, I had to realize, though, that in Francis there exist a kind of inconclusiveness, too much doctrinal confusion, and a certain flattening of himself to the dominant mentality of the world, as we see in Laudato sì. My perplexity exploded after Amoris Laetitia.’

You may remember I was confronted by someone recently who said that Francis was deliberately trying to destroy the Church and is stocking the College of Cardinals with men of his own mindset so as to perpetuate that destruction. I denied this was the case and pointed out that ultimately, the Holy Spirit is in charge of the Church, but it is becoming increasingly difficult to defend Francis. I told a friend the other day that I am praying for Francis to be so moved by grace he will come to a renewed valuing of Objective Truth and see the unity of the Church as requiring a central authority and a stable liturgy. My friend replied simply, “I’m just praying for his conversion to Catholicism”. I offered ‘No Comment’ in reply. 

One cannot be happy with the state of the Church today, but there is something good that attends the doctrinal and disciplinary chaos surrounding Marriage and the Eucharist we currently see: it encourages those who do not truly have The Faith nor a real love for The Church to come out of the woodwork under the guise of loyalty to the Papacy, with the result that when Francis is taken from us by God we will know who is Catholic and can be trusted in the episcopate, presbyterate and pew: we will know who upholds the Truth and is therefore of God, and who does not uphold the Truth and is not of God -for where there is no Truth, there is no God: “I am The Way, The Truth and The Life” (Jn.14v6).

Saturday, 4 February 2017

Forward Together in Hope -or into lamentation?

It is a while since I put a post on the blog, so I hope I still have some readers out there!

We all know there is a dwindling number of priests, which is a problem that needs to be addressed. But the answer is not the currently-favoured Western idea of ‘lay-led communities’, since sheep without shepherds caused Our Lord to lament (Matt.9v6). Do we want to intentionally create the kind of communities over which our Lord laments? Indeed, communities without a priest are local incarnations of a decapitated Christ: not simply sheep without shepherds, but bodies without a head. In short, the Body of Christ loses its integrity as local incarnations of the Risen Lord. In our Diocese we have sought to address the dwindling number of priests by our ‘Forward Together in Hope’ programme, which is now reaching its final phase. It seemed to me to hold out great hope of encouraging the laity to be more active and take on more roles under the oversight of their shepherds.

Such activity of the laity has always been part of my ministry. In two of my previous parishes I established teams of lay-minister Chaplaincies for the local general hospitals. In my last parish we encouraged an increase in the number of folk who had roles and responsibilities within the parish so as to provide a sense of belonging and ‘ownership’. Some felt all they could do was run coffee mornings or a cake stall; others were happy to ensure the Church was clean and well-cared for as a fitting place for worship; others consistently cared for the parish garden, while others took on roles as Catechists, Children’s Liturgy leaders or Piety Stall management. Others took on the responsibility of being Parish Visitors to the sick, housebound and bereaved via the Legion of Mary; others formed a small rota of Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion, Readers, and Servers for the liturgy, while others took on the roles of Bookkeeper, Financial Returns Officer, Tax Benefit claims (Gift-Aid) Administration, and Vulnerable Persons Representative. In short, there was room for everyone who wanted to some ownership in the parish. In fact, 25% of our Mass attendance took on some –even if small- active part in the care and running of the parish. A few were unhappy (such are present in every parish) in their distaste for the following of liturgical norms wherein we used some Latin for the Novus Ordo Ordinary (as per Sacrosanctum Concilium 36, 54, 116); did not encourage the sign of peace (it was explicitly never forbidden but I omitted the optional invitation) and perhaps because on the promulgation of Summorum Pontificum I introduced the Traditional Mass with vernacular readings and vernacular hymns (so that each Sunday Mass encompassed and catered both for those who like the vernacular and those who like Latin).

Should ‘Forward Together’ emphasise such roles as those above under the oversight of the priest; if we promote the priesthood in line with Our Lord’s desire to have shepherds for the sheep, ‘Forward Together’ can be a real work of grace. As it is, it might turn out to be very problematic -it might have deteriorated into a programme with the inherent danger of establishing of lay-led parishes with priests little less than visiting, wandering Sacrament-providers; a programme promoting local manifestations of a decapitated Christ: bodies without a head; sheep without shepherds. In that case, and since from the inception of the programme the stated aim was ‘to encourage Catholic communities to flourish with or without a resident priest’, it would not surprise me to hear the programme described as social engineering, with a pre-determined outcome being sought: lay-led parishes.By the time this programme is fully enacted, our Bishop will have retired back to his native land -a wise decision, since retiring into the Diocese where one has been the Ordinary will always give the impression that one cannot let go of control and hopes to influence one's successor 'by advice and knowledge'. I therefore applaud the Bishops decision to return home.

I have heard the establishing of lay-led parishes described as a ‘movement of the Holy Spirit’. I beg to differ: not only does deciding upon a goal and then seeking out ways to establish it attempt to force the hand of the Holy Ghost, but it puts Him at loggerheads with Christ who lamented sheep without shepherds, for the response of Christ to such a situation as we have today was very different; it was ‘The harvest is plentiful, but the labourers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest to send labourers into His harvest.’ What we need is not a giving-in to the falling numbers of clergy but a genuine push to encourage vocations to the priesthood; a programme to seek out labourers for the Lord’s harvest by providing sound doctrine in schools and parishes; liturgy that raises the mind and heart to God (rather than today’s style which holds it earthbound as a celebration of the people). We need to see the promotion of the priest as a man with a sacramental configuration and intimate relationship with Christ. We talk about the clergy as servants, and that is without doubt true. But we cannot ignore the fact that the service provided by the priest is one of being a co-worker with and under the Bishop in teaching, sanctifying and governing (CCC §1563). If we are not promoting the seeking of shepherds for the sheep as our Lord requested, we cannot claim to be biblical in our theology and this (we were told in seminary) was at the core of the Vatican II renewal. 

Perhaps all we need to do when priest numbers dwindle is amalgamate bordering parishes into one parish under one Pastor, with one Church being the Parish Church and the others Mass –centres. If this is financially impractical, sell the other Churches –many of which are products of the 1950’s and 60’s following an post-war increase of vocations. It is not easy to do, but it can be done. I had a second Church closed on me in my last parish and I took the flack, not the Bishop and his advisors, even though there was a long consultation before the closure; even though the Bishop said the Closing Mass, and even though all that could be installed in the remaining Parish Church was so installed, from Stations of the Cross and parish statues to vestments, chalices and altar Crucifix. The excuse that these are worshipping communities to be valued and fostered holds no water, since they become the sheep without shepherds which caused Our Lord to lament; they become incarnations of a decapitated Christ. The emotional pain of losing one’s Church can be tempered with good explanation and good pastoral care -such as increased visiting in the closed areas and transfer of transferable items such as those listed above. Are we willing to take that risk?

Monday, 7 November 2016

Sede vacante?

It is becoming increasingly difficult to defend Pope Francis, since although he has not tried to officially teach anything contrary to the Doctrine of the Faith and cannot therefore be accused of formal heresy, his homilies and talks do seem to include questionable statements, and his acts do seem to lack prudence and consistency with our doctrine. Someone said to me recently that they think the ‘sede vacante’ folk may be right; that there is no Pope on the throne of Peter.  I have never held that position, but yes, I can see where they are coming from. Indeed a lady said to me last week that Paul VI spoke of the smoke of Satan entering the Church, and that she sees it in Francis; that she is very disturbed by Pope Francis, having returned to the full practice of her Faith only 14 years ago during the papacy of John-Paul II.

Looking at things as they stand today, Francis can be said to have followed a programme that is anything but Catholic. As the New York Times recently reminded us:

Francis is a Jesuit, and like many members of Catholic religious orders, he tends to view the institutional church, with its parishes and dioceses and settled ways, as an obstacle to reform. He describes parish priests as “little monsters” who “throw stones” at poor sinners. He has given curial officials a diagnosis of “spiritual Alzheimer’s.” He scolds pro-life activists for their “obsession” with abortion. He has said that Catholics who place an emphasis on attending Mass, frequenting confession, and saying traditional prayers are “Pelagians” — people who believe, heretically, that they can be saved by their own works.

Such denunciations demoralize faithful Catholics without giving the disaffected any reason to return. Why join a church whose priests are little monsters and whose members like to throw stones? When the pope himself stresses internal spiritual states over ritual observance, there is little reason to line up for confession or wake up for Mass.

We cannot overlook the fact that Francis has permitted, according to Schonborn and Kasper (even if in only a few circumstances) for those in objectively grave sin (adulterers) to receive our Lord in Holy Communion, and said that seeking to convert others are is grave sin -see Lifesite News (that is., those who actually follow the command of the Lord to ‘Go, teach all nations’ are grave sinners). When he hear that Francis’ heart is in the right place we cannot help but agree but also hear the voices that cry out ‘yes but to ease their temporal pain his is endangering their immortal souls;. his thinking seems stuck (fossilised) in the theories of the 1960’s and 1970’s’ (that being, of course, the time of such confused teaching it brought the Bishops of the Extraordinary Synod to call for a Catechism of Vatican II.)

In discussion with those who think the sedevacantists may be right, a dreadful possibility arises: that Francis has accepted the authority of the papacy, but not its responsibility of defending the Faith, which papal authority exists only to serve. I cannot help but think of St Paul here: that  epsicopal authority is given ‘unto edification, and not unto destruction’ (2 Corinthians 10:8). By undermining the Church’s previous stance on conversions; by celebrating heretics and by allowing those who are objectively speaking in grave sin to receive Holy Communion, Francis cannot be surprised to find himself accused by many of destroying rather than edifying; of abusing papal authority to remake the Church to his own liking. Where does one go with this? Does one see Francis as a wilful subversive, or as a good man making imprudent remarks and setting up imprudent pastoral approaches? For many, only the former fits in the light of his appointments to the College of Cardinals, which he appears to be filling with men who are not known for their fidelity to our Sacred Tradition.

Since Christ is in charge of His Church and has already defeated Satan the Father of Lies, faithful Catholics should take heart that a future pope will correct the oddities of Francis. After all, if Francis can turn 2000 years of teaching and practice on its head, a future pope can turn the teaching and pastoral programme of Francis on its head.  No Pope -including Francis- can, as he and his admirers might like, set a course for the Church that is unchangeable, no matter how slowly he goes so as to achieve that end, since his papacy must be seen in the context of 2000 years of teaching and practice -and where he deviates, be can be and ought to be rebuked.  Sadly, most bishops are not doing as St Paul did and ‘confronting him face to face’ (Gal.2v11); they too seem to think ‘pastoral care’ means alleviating temporal pain to the loss of eternal peace. 

Whether one wants to say Francis is a good man who makes imprudent judgements, or a man who is deliberately subversive, one cannot easily say that Francis has shown himself clearly and unquestionably loyal to the previous 2000 years of teaching and pastoral practice; indeed the very reason he is lauded by many is that he is leaving the more difficult bits of the Faith behind.  It is not insignificant that Cardinals such as Burke and Sarah (‘Either God or Nothing’, Fayard publishing, France) and the hierarchyof Poland through the President of their Episcopal Conference, appear at odds with Francis simply because they are holding to that 2000 years -as must we all if we want to remain faithful to the teaching of Christ and His Apostles. We cannot be ultramontanists who tie themselves to whoever happens to inhabit the See of Peter; we must be tied rather to the Deposit of Faith.