Tuesday, 12 May 2015


I was reflecting on my reactions to ++Nichols' sermon at the LGBT Mass. It seemed to me that the sermon was orthodox, and yet failed to do the job, and indeed was never likely to do so. I even found myself wondering if it had been deliberately crafted to be capable of the kind of interpretation that Queering the Church put on it.

But I am always wary of ascribing motives - we are, after all, forbidden from judging them - so I thought further... And here are the results of my ruminations.

What was 'the job' which I thought the Cardinal's sermon had failed to do?  It was, I think, to confront those attending the Mass with the Church's teaching, in such a way that there was some chance that some, at least, of them might re-consider their position with regard to it (which, as Terry Weldon makes abundantly clear, they reject out of hand).

All of which reminded me of some notes I had made about confrontation in a different context: performance management at work.

So I dug out my notes, headed 'The Dynamics of Confrontation.'

1 You identify the need to confront someone
Be clear about the purpose of confronting - to help the other person to change his or her behaviour. That implies that the individual needs to understand what change is required and why, and also that he or she needs to leave the discussion feeling motivated and able to change - not beaten up or shamed. 
2 You experience anxiety
There is always some anxiety at the prospect of these difficult conversations: that may be worsened if you have had a bad experience of confrontation in the past, either with this person or someone else. Recognising this anxiety is the first step to counter-acting it. 
3 Anxiety distorts behaviour
It may be that your behaviour is distorted by your anxiety in one of two ways: 
• Pussyfooting: you may be so concerned not to cause offence that you avoid discussing the issue altogether, or you wrap up your message in such woolly or apologetic language that the message or its importance get lost. This will lead to no change in behaviour - and growing frustration in you. If you find yourself thinking “How many times do I have to tell him...?” it may be that you have been pussyfooting. The technical term for this is Collusion.
• Clobbering: you may be so concerned not to pussyfoot - or so frustrated with the problem behaviour - that you deliver your message too forcibly and are perceived as aggressive. This will leave the other person feeling beaten up - and while he or she may comply in the short term, you will leave a legacy of resentment and disempowerment. If you find yourself thinking “Why are they so defensive?” or “Why can’t they decide things for themselves...?” it may be that you have been clobbering. The technical term for this is Oppression.
4 Behaviour freed from anxiety
The skill is to detach yourself from your anxiety and other disruptive emotions (eg annoyance), and focus on steering the middle course: telling the truth (as you see it) without compromise and with compassion. 
Without compromise means no cotton wool, no apologising, no ‘praise sandwiches,’ and short, direct and factual statements. 
With compassion means no anger, no blame, and a sincere intention to help the other person to learn and change his or her behaviour.
4 Learning for other person
When you get it right, you may notice a reaction of shock or recognition in the other person. If you are then quiet and listen (resist the temptation to move into apologetic mode), you will be able to help the other person to consider what you have said and decide whether, what, and how to change. This is uncomfortable for both people, but can lead to genuine insight and learning. 
5 Appropriate support
At the end of the discussion, end on a sincere and positive note - expressing appreciation of the person’s commitment to address the issue and offering any appropriate support. 
 I thought this a helpful framework to use to understand what may be going on here. My guess is that the Cardinal did not want to alienate anyone, for fear of losing them to the Church altogether, and that anxiety may have caused him to Pussyfoot (or Collude). For whilst he did speak the truth, that the commandments are not optional, ('God's mercy is misunderstood if it is taken as something which enables us to overlook those commandments or somehow imagine that we are excused their calling.') it was so wrapped in the long discussion of mercy, that it may not have been clearly heard (especially given the filters we know are in place with some of the congregation).

On the other hand, I think he was right to avoid Clobbering (or Oppression): a hell-fire sermon on the evils of sodomy and the wickedness of the way of life of some of those assembled (which, I have to say, is the direction in which my anxiety might well have tempted me to move...) would have been at least as unlikely to have resulted in any metanoia, any profound change of heart. 

According to this analysis, a clear and short statement of the Church's teaching, on mercy, on the commandments, on the requirements of a well-formed conscience etc, delivered with true compassion, would have been the most likely to have some chance of having an impact. 

(And all that does rather assume that the Cardinal would want to have such an impact, which I do not take for granted...)

But I would like to see the experiment tried...


Patricius said...

Perhaps I am somewhat naive but my reaction to what I read of Cardinal Nichols's homily was rather different. It was more along the lines of Gosh! THAT'S telling 'em!" Upon reflection I might rather have said, "That's telling those who have ears to hear." Are you not falling into the trap of interpreting the text precisely in the way that those who have an agenda- and a dissenting one at that- want it to be interpreted? It is important to recognise that among those to whom the sermon was addressed would be people at a variety of stages in their spiritual journey/development and not all of these necessarily stuck in the evil ideology of the "Queering" party. Somehow ALL need to be led to recognise the truth. To encourage people to return to the Commandments is surely a very necessary first step. I am reminded of the incident of the rich young man who asks, in the Gospel, "What must I do to be perfect?" Our Lord's first response is simple: "Keep the Commandments." To anyone who seriously wishes to engage with Christ this surely says it all for the Lord who said that the man who looks lustfully at a woman has already committed adultery in his heart is hardly likely to have added "but it is OK to look lustfully at a member of your own sex"! Indeed He who described marriage in terms of "a man and a woman...who... become one flesh" did not go on to add "also a man and a man or a woman and a woman"! I am not sure that there would be much point, in that context, of asserting the evil of homosexual activity. It is self-evident.The message- and one which is of value to the whole congregation present, is "Go back to the divine commandments". Of course those deeply mired in evil will continue to hide from and deny the revealed truth. For those who are, nevertheless, open to the truth it is perhaps possible that the Cardinal's words may have opened a path to repentance. I agree that the "Queering" people seem ghastly and are certainly dangerous but I doubt that they speak for everyone at that church. Only the noisy ones. I suspect that the Cardinal is more than superficially orthodox even if he does occasionally say things that seem odd or unwise.

John Burke said...


I don't see the sermon as a problem. Rather, I see as scandalous the fact that the mass has been labelled for the LGBT community in the first place, quietly acquiescing to a definition of persons according to their sexual attraction. It's time to stop this, for it is only a short step further to equate "made in God's image" with "same sex attraction is a good thing" (good as in moral according to Church teaching).