I read Cardinal Nichols' rebuke to the brave priests with interest and puzzlement. How was he, I wondered to myself, going to tell priests off for fulfilling an essential part of their vocation: viz, proclaiming the Gospel?
A tricky task, one might think.
But not for Cardinal Nichols. He is up to any such challenge. Here is his statement, as quoted in the Catholic Herald:
Every priest in England and Wales has been asked to reflect on the Synod discussion. It is my understanding that this has been taken up in every diocese, and that channels of communication have been established.
The pastoral experience and concern of all priests in these matters are of great importance and are welcomed by the Bishops. Pope Francis has asked for a period of spiritual discernment. This dialogue, between a priest and his bishop, is not best conducted through the press.So the naughtiness of the priests is not proclaiming the Gospel (phew) nor even, apparently, doing so in the public forum (phew again) but rather using the press as the channel of dialogue with their bishops.
That might seem reasonable enough (heavens, it might even be reasonable enough) if this letter were addressed to the bishops; or even if the priests had good reason to believe the bishops would listen to private dialogue; or even if the bishops themselves were reflecting prayerfully on all this. But none of those conditions is clearly met.
In the first case, the letter is more of a public proclamation of loyalty to Christ, His Church and its teaching (and why would any bishop object to that?) than anything else. True, it concluded with an exhortation to all those attending the Synod - but that group is by no means the same as the bishops of these priests. Only three from England and Wales are attending; and many others from many other nations are.
The second issue is sadder; it seems that many priests, perhaps with good reason, do not believe that the bishops listen to private dialogue.
And as for the third, it seems that Cardinal Nichols has already gone public with his view, contra the Bible, the Catechism, Tradition and just about everything else, that divorced and remarried people could be readmitted to Communion under certain conditions, according to The Pill.
Some of the more cynical amongst us wonder if the real problem is that the Cardinal and the Conference like to control the narrative, and that control has been wrested from them by the internet, much as samizdat broke the Party's control of communication in the USSR.
And who knows where that might lead? Why, even the laity may forget to hold their tongue, and start demanding that the Faith be taught and lived: and then where would we be?