On Radio 4's Today programme this morning (here around 1:50 in) there was a discussion of the recent survey of opinions by the bishops. Mons. Marcus Stock was on first, to explain why the findings are not being published at this stage. To be honest, I don't think that his explanation was as clear as it could have been. But radio interviews are not easy. However, I think he could have been better briefed and better prepared with regard to his key messages and the tack the interviewer was likely to take.
But what followed was fascinating. Jean Riordan, of ACTA was interviewed. She wants a Listening Church; one in which the laity are more enabled to have more input around 'matters to do with sexuality and family life'. The Church would benefit from openness to 'thoughts and theories about how teachings can be modified and err or reassessed in the light of modern psychology and the needs of the world now.'
The openness for which Pope Francis is calling could be helped if groups like ACTA had a more prominent role in informing the discussion.
She explained: 'We are not a pressure group, we are not a dissident group. We're not actually disputing the... err... much of Church teaching. What we're saying is that Church teaching should be formed by consulting.'
In my unkind way I enjoyed the fact that she stumbled between what (it seemed to me) she meant and what she thought it politic to say. So we had the stumble after 'how teachings can be modified' and again we had: 'We're not actually disputing the... err... much of Church teaching.'
I thought she was trying strike a rather uneasy balance between the fact that ACTA really wants to modify Church teaching, and does dispute much of it, and the tendentious claim that they have to make for political purposes that 'we are not a dissident group.'
But her last line was a giveaway (it often happens thus under pressure: once the end is in sight, or the tricky question evaded, we relax a shade and the mask slips): 'What we're saying is that Church teaching should be formed by consulting.'
That strikes me as being a long way from any Catholic understanding of how Church teaching is received from Christ and the Apostles, and handed on by the Church as a treasure of inestimable worth.
I have blogged before about ACTA (and Mons. Stock, come to that), and opined that they are pretty irrelevant. But they do seem to be in the ascendant at present, so perhaps I dismissed them too easily.
However, one thing is clear: whatever their protestations to the contrary, they are, by their own account, a dissident group.
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