Just before leaving for Mass, I heard Fr Marcus Stock interviewed on the Sunday programme on Radio 4. It was about the recently re-published guidelines on the appointment of senior staff and governors to positions in Catholic Schools. The guidelines include some clarification of the requirement that they be practicing Catholics, pointing out that the term precludes those who are living in open and deliberate contradiction to the moral teaching of the Church (eg by co-habiting, living in a 'second marriage' whilst still married to their true spouse, and so on).
Fr Stock seemed to me to be rather vague and defensive. All the media training I have done has always stressed the importance of identifying three or four key messages you wish to get across in an interview, and ensuring that you cover as many of them as the questions and time permit.
I struggle to identify Fr Stock's key messages. The nearest I could get to them would be:
The timing of this coincides with the 'Same Sex Marriage' debate purely by coincidence;
The guidelines are deliberately non-specific in terms of application, because it is all very difficult in practice;
This is not a snoop's charter.
I think he could have gone in on a more positive tack, stressing the role of leader as a role model, talking more about the integrity of an individual who is teaching Catholic truth in these areas and so on.
I know that media interviews are not easy, and that the presenter on the Sunday programme had his own agenda, but that only underscores the need for proper training and preparation.
I mention all this, not to criticise Fr Stock, but to illustrate a much bigger concern. I am continually reminded, in this Year of Faith, of the need for far more work to be done on the New Evangelisation: and specifically better training in apologetics.
Another example: the Catholic response to the proposed dismantling of marriage was very slow off the mark and very poor initially. It has got rather better, but even now I am troubled that we arguing against the changes on the grounds that they have no democratic mandate. True though that be, it moves the debate into the wrong territory, and indeed, risks implicitly conceding that with a democratic mandate the government would have the authority and competence to re-define marriage; which is not, in fact, what we believe.
As a political argument, it is reasonable enough, and if the measure is thrown out by the Lords for that reason, I would be happy. But of course, all it would take would be for a party (or more likely, all parties) to include it in their manifesto next time around, and we have nowhere to go.
No, the Church should argue from fundamental principles of Faith and Human Reason, such as Natural Law. Yet we are ill-equipped to do that due to decades of inadequate formation, both of the laity and the clergy, and also a sapping of the will to do so from a desire to be more accommodating of, and comfortable with, broader society. The Second Vatican Council's throwing open of the windows of the Church was surely with the intention of letting more of the holiness of the Church out into society, not letting the corruption and errors of society enter the Church.
That is the challenge to which we have to rise. The Catholic Voices project was well-intentioned, but perhaps shows the limitations of a quick-fix approach to these issues. I am talking about something longer term: a serious re-evangelisation of ourselves, a training in apologetics such as the Catholic Evidence Guild used to offer, grounded in prayer and study. Only in that way, I think, can we really hope to proclaim the Faith effectively and reverse the terrible trends we see around us both within the Church, in terms of lapsation and apostacy, and in civil society.
The harvest is great, but where are the labourers? Let us pray, therefore, that the Lord of the harvest send labourers: and let us pray for discernment about our own role in this great work.
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