A number of my friends has (sic: tpot - ed.) been contacting me recently to ask what I make of Cardinal Nichols, in the light of my recent posts (see here). Do I think he is apostate? Do I think he is just a coward?
The answer, clearly, is 'Who am I to judge?' That is a correct answer, in this case. I have no access to the inner workings of his mind; and it is not, in any case, my job to judge his intentions or his moral qualities. Another honest answer is that I do not know.
However, what I do know, and what I believe we are entitled, and possibly obliged, to reach a judgement on, is whether I think his speech, actions and omissions provide leadership which we should follow. I do not think that they do.
I have no notion whether he is a good man; I believe he is not a good Bishop. That is, I do not think that he is discharging the responsibilities of his office well. I do not know why that may be the case, and that is not my business.
What I have concluded is, in any case, a grave judgement to reach, and I do not reach it lightly. But the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches us: Bishops, with priests as co-workers, have as their first task, 'to preach the Gospel of God to all men', in keeping with the Lord's command. They are 'heralds of faith, who draw new disciples to Christ; they are authentic teachers' of the apostolic faith 'endowed with the authority of Christ.' §888 There is lots more, besides.
It is, of course, a high and difficult vocation, and I am sure that those who are elevated to the episcopacy are subject to diabolic attacks far beyond those visited upon ordinary laity; so bishops need and deserve our prayers and support.
Nonetheless, it seems abundantly clear to me that ++Nichols simply does not meet the description of his role found in the Catechism. His famous: 'Who knows what's down the road?' does not preach the Gospel, but obfuscates it; and it seems to me to be typical of many of his utterances, both in public and in private correspondence. He is gravely implicated in the +Conry scandal and others, and seems happy to pass those off simply with platitudes about praying for everybody. He seems to operate as a politician, rather than a spiritual leader.
What, then, should we do?
In the first instance, we should continue to pray for him, and for all our bishops.
But I think the time for embarrassed silence about episcopal failings (if ever that was appropriate) is past. It was that which allowed the +Conry scandal to go on for so long, damaging so many people. It is the same virtue-turned-to-vice (ie loyalty and discretion turned to collusion) that allowed the clerical abuse scandal; and it continues to eat away at the Church with every blind eye turned to priests and bishops behaving scandalously.
We, too, have a duty to preach the Gospel, and if anyone teaches a Gospel different to the one we have received from the Apostles, we cannot collude by our silence; even if motivated by loyalty or a fear of scandal.
So I don't need to know why ++Nichols is so keen on the militant LGBT agenda of the Queering the Church lobby; or why he thinks it acceptable for CAFOD to operate against Catholic teaching; or why he thinks 'Oh dear, let's pray,' is a sufficient response to the +Conry scandal; or why ... (but you can read my previous posts for the full litany).
His motivations are not the issue: what is at issue is that people risk being misled into thinking that homosexual relationships are compatible with the Faith; that Humanae Vitae is optional teaching; and so on. Here, the laity has a responsibility to stand up and say that the Cardinal is wrong, if that is the effect of his silence and ambiguities. For a bishop has no authority separate from the Roman Pontiff (CCC 883), and the Holy Father is, of course, as he has assured us, a loyal son of the Church, and therefore, of course, loyal to its teachings as expressed in the Catechism and elsewhere.
I should say that I have asked my own bishop if I had got this all wrong, or if there were any reasons of prudence or charity that meant I should hold my peace about all this: he did not answer those questions directly, but referred me to the Cardinal in his role as Chair of the Conference. So I asked the Cardinal the same questions: he too did not answer them (or indeed any of my questions) directly.
So I am thrown back on my own judgement. I feel as though I asked my spiritual fathers for bread and was tossed a stone.
This seems a bleak place to have arrived at: but there is always hope - and that will be the subject of my next post.
A prayer request - Please pray for the repose of the soul of Fr Micheal Clifton (Fr Mildew), a fine and humble priest, who has passed away this afternoon at the age of 80. Pl...
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