I have blogged about trust and the bishops before, here, prompted by my mistrust of CAFOD and my recognition that the problems went higher up the chain.
It seems to me that at the heart of the bishops' role is to lead, teach and support us in the two key areas of faith and morals: that is, what we are to believe and how we are to behave.
The more I reflect on it, the more uneasy I am; for I am increasingly drawn to the conclusion that there are members of the hierarchy who are not to be trusted in these key areas.
With regard to morals, it is hard to avoid the conclusion that a number of our bishops do not believe in the teaching of Humanae Vitae, nor with the teaching on the objective sinfulness of homosexual and extra-marital sexual relations; even the Church's prophetic witness against abortion seems too much for some. (I should, as ever, make it quite clear that there are honourable exceptions to this). With regard to faith, it is hard to be clear what they believe, and in particular that there is any understanding of the Church as the One True Faith, of Original Sin and Personal Sin, and the importance of the Sacramental life for the salvation of souls.
Consider, for example:
- The failure to preach about Humanae Vitae, anywhere, ever, by almost anyone;
- The continued promotion of The Tablet, as though it were a Catholic journal, despite its dissent from Humanae Vitae;
- The Filochowski/Pendergast scandal, when +Crowley was prepared to celebrate a Mass in honour of the 25 year anniversary of a homosexual relationship - a Mass eventually celebrated by the then-Rector of Ushaw Seminary, and attended by the bishop;
- The failure of the Conference to back up +Egan’s important statement that politicians who voted against Catholic teaching should repent before presenting themselves for Holy Communion;
- The way in which ++Nichols supports the 'Queering The Church'-led LGBT Masses; and the fact that his only clear statement on the subject was to tell those who questioned this policy to 'hold their tongues;'
- ++Nichols' saying that talking about sin was a misguided attempt to motivate people;
- The failure of CES to hold anything approaching a Catholic line, and the appointment to it of a man who as an MP had voted consistently in ways that are diametrically opposed to Catholic teaching on, for example, abortion, contraception, 'gay' relationships etc.;
- The Conference’s stance in favour of Civil Partnerships, which, it seems to me, paved the way for the disaster of Same Sex ‘Marriage;’
- Catholic Marriage Care offering relationship support to homosexual couples;
- The failure to correct the public statements of people like Professor Beattie, when she opines that Catholics may, in good conscience, ignore the teaching of the Church on matters of sexual morality;
The episcopal silence as Cafod has drifted away from Catholic principles (eg redefining abstinence in ways that are far from Catholic, and promoting condoms);
- Personal conversations I have had with various bishops; for example one bishop (now retired, when I lived in another diocese) who told me that the Catholic Schools couldn’t teach the Faith, because many parents didn’t follow it, and their children might think they were doing something wrong.
- The hostility shown toward +O'Donoghue for his 'Fit for Mission' project: praised by the Vatican, he was disappointed by the response of his brother bishops;
- The welcome extended to the dissenting group ACTA and the contrasting hostility displayed to those who seek to defend the traditional Faith;
- The promotion of educational programmes that are at best deficient and at worst heretical for use in our schools;
- The silence around the whole +Conry affair;
- The silence when +Conry was denigrating Confession (and his many other misrepresentations of the Catholic Faith);
- The fact that +Conry's deliberate failure to teach on sexual morality was not noticed - because he was not the only bishop to be refraining from such teaching;
- The '+Conry shrug' (exemplified in the link in my last post, but also practiced by ++Nichols when asked whether the Church would eventually bless homosexual unions);
- The equivocation we hear from so many bishops whenever we might expect a clear explanation of any difficult aspect of the Faith.
In either case, I would be dishonest if I did not say that my trust in many of them is seriously undermined, and I do not believe I am alone in that.
As I suggested in my earlier post on trust, I think that in order for someone to trust someone else, they must believe in his good intentions, his competence to deliver them, and his integrity. When it comes to many of our bishops, somewhere in that mix something is missing.
When seeking to re-build trust, open and honest communication are essential. So I would suggest that the hierarchy needs to be open and honest at this time.
For myself, I would particularly welcome a few assurances:
- That each member of the hierarchy accepts without reservation the teaching of the Church, especially and explicitly including the teachings on human sexuality and on original and personal sin, the unique role of the Catholic Church as the one true Church, the real presence of Christ in the Blessed Sacrament, and the need for sacramental confession;
- That each member of the hierarchy swears that he teaches and acts free from any duress or blackmail;
- That each member of the hierarchy states what he has learned from the +Conry affair, and what he personally will undertake to do to avoid the risk of any recurrence.
That is what I would welcome: however I have no reason to expect it will come to pass.
Which raises the question: what are the faithful to do when they no longer trust many of their bishops?