Was I too harsh in my last post, saying the bishops' failure to teach was shameful?
I have been reflecting on this, not least in the wake of the various comments others have offered.
I ignore, for the while, the cries of homophobia and ignorance from some quarters, as they are not germane to what I have to say. But others have made other criticisms. Caroline Farrow (@blondpidge) has said on Twitter that the bishops' letter was not a teaching document, a point picked up by Ed Rennie (@riverflows77), who has pointed out that the issue of same sex attraction is complicated, and sent me links to a good article and a well-produced and largely sound video on the subject. (I say largely sound: the astonishing claim that Our Lord was 'non-judgemental' is one that always leaves my jaw hanging. Do people not read the Gospels at all?)
These puzzled me slightly, as they seemed meant (by Ed) to help with a problem that I don't think I have: viz understanding that people really struggle with this issue.
I was not calling for the persecution of anyone, other than the bishops if calling them to account can be called persecuting. Likewise, despite Ed's claim to the contrary, I was not calling for an over-simplification of the issue. So I was not sure why I was deemed in need of such help.
What I was calling for was clear episcopal teaching on this issue; and my anger at the bishops' letter is best understood when looked at in the larger context of their failure to teach on this, and related important issues, for decades.
I understand why it is hard to teach on this issue: as a society we have reached a crisis wherein traditional understandings of the family, of moral truths, and even of the notion of truth itself have been eroded.
Indeed, the same is true, to some extent, within the Catholic Church.
In the face of this, it seems to me that the bishops have a duty to teach, and to teach clearly. Ed maintains that they can't do so as they do not have a clear understanding themselves. If that is the case, it does not excuse them. As teachers, they have the responsibility first to learn. The wisdom, truth and charity of the Church are readily available to them.
Moreover, I think that we have reached this point in the Church, and to some extent in society beyond the Church, precisely because they have failed to teach.
I don't mean just banging on about the evils of homosexual acts. I agree that in itself that would accomplish little. It goes much deeper than that.
The reason that the bishops have been unable, collectively, to speak clearly on this is their failure to speak clearly on other issues. One can trace the line back: abortion, contraception, divorce... and back further: sin, original sin, the Devil... And failing to teach these, has also meant that they have not been able effectively to promote a distinctly Catholic, and positive, vision of human love, marriage, the family and vocation.
Since Humanae Vitae, it seems that they have been running scared: clearly not just the present bishops, but many of their predecessors. We have had almost no clear and authentically Catholic teaching from the Conference. The recent pontiffs have tried hard to stop the erosion of Catholicity: Paul Vl with Humanae Vitae, the Credo of the People of God, the promotion of Chant; John Paul ll with the Catechism, Familiaris Consortio, Veritatis Splendor and many other teaching documents; Benedict XVl from the start to the end of his pontificate. Yet much that came from Rome seemed to be ignored or downplayed: some was even deemed not relevant to the English situation. The orthodoxy of much that came from Rome seemed an embarrassment - really not very English...
Of course, what they want to preach is that we are an Easter People. The joy and glory of the Redemption is indeed the heart and soul of the Catholic Faith. But unless we understand the need for Redemption, it is wholly inexplicable.
That is why the Churches empty: instead of the huge drama of creation, the Fall, sin, suffering, the Incarnation, the call to repentance, the Cross and Redemption, we hear little that we could not read in the average Guardian editorial
Our feast days have been demoted, our sacramental practices have been watered down, (and especially the sacrament of Penance), heterodox newspapers are allowed to call themselves Catholic and are sold in our Cathedrals and Churches, and generations have been denied a Catholic education of any substance. Just to take one example, when did you last hear anything about Sanctifying Grace?...
This latest document, which risks teaching implicitly that the Church accepts homosexual partnerships (not chaste friendships) as some kind of moral good, is the latest in a long line of failures.
No, I do not think that my judgement on the CBCEW's collective failure to teach was overstated.
I should make it clear that I do not believe the bishops to be bad men. Indeed, individually, some of them do take a stand and teach courageously. But there is something about the collegial approach (and I suspect the people who surround them, and the bureaucracy in which they are emerged) which has completely emasculated the Conference as a collective body.
Pray for them, and for the whole Church.
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