Sunday 23 October 2022

A few final (for now) thoughts...

I continue to reflect on the Preparatory Document for the Synod.

I don't want to assume the worst about the Holy Father, tempting though that is. I am also well aware that my personal disposition and formation make me veer more to the 'individual judgement' than to the 'communion of saints' aspect of Catholicism. And that is a tendency I need to address.

But all that said, I do find that the Scriptural commentary that we are offered is rather one-sided.

It is true, for example, that Our Lord preached to the crowd without discrimination; but it also true that the crowd, which at one moment was crying Hosanna went on to cry Let him be crucified.

We read: The proclamation of the Gospel is not addressed only to an enlightened or chosen few. Jesus’ interlocutor is the “people” of ordinary life, the “everyone” of the human condition, whom he puts directly in contact with God’s gift and the call to salvation. 

And again, that is true; but it is only half of a truth. As well as this 'inclusive' approach, Our Lord has an 'exclusive' approach (to use the terrible jargon of those who think like this...). He only reveals the meaning of many parables (eg the Sower) to the Apostles. And even amongst the Apostles he frequently selects just three for some of the most important moments: the Transfiguration, the raising of Jairus' daughter from the dead, the Agony in the Garden, and so on.

But in what I suspect to be the key message here, we read:

This is a true and proper conversion, the painful and immensely fruitful passage of leaving one’s own cultural and religious categories: Peter accepts to eat with pagans the food he had always considered forbidden, recognizing it as an instrument of life and communion with God and with others. It is in the encounter with people, welcoming them, journeying with them, and entering their homes, that he realizes the meaning of his vision: no human being is unworthy in the eyes of God, and the difference established by election does not imply exclusive preference but service and witnessing of a universal breadth.

This, I think, is providing the rationale for the Church turning its back on its previous teaching and practice:  leaving one’s own cultural and religious categories. And appointing a pro-abortion atheist to the Pontifical Academy for Life, for  no human being is unworthy in the eyes of God.   But again, I think it is only half of the truth. 

It is certainly true that Our Lord overturned many of the religious customs and observances of the Jewish people, including the dietary laws. But it is equally true that in terms of the Law, the Decalogue, he reinforced it. When addressing issues of morality, if he changed anything, it was to be more strict, not less restrictive.  Moses because of the hardness of your hearts suffered you to put away your wives: but from the beginning it was not so. And I say unto you, Whosoever shall put away his wife, except it be for fornication, and shall marry another, committeth adultery: and whoso marrieth her which is put away doth commit adultery; and likewise: But I say unto you, That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart.

I suggest, therefore, that there is a difference between clinging rigidly to dietary laws and clinging rigidly to the moral law. And indeed, I think that is the Church's traditional understanding, too.

And I say all this as I am trying to understand where the Holy Father is coming from, and why I find it so antithetical to what I have been taught to cling to...

So my hypothesis is that the Holy Father and I have been raised in very different Catholic environments. He has been formed in a time and place where the ideas of CELAM, culminating in Liberation Theology, were prevalent. This emphasised the social aspect of oppression, the 'preferential option for the poor,' and so on. The risk is that social justice rather than the salvation of souls becomes the focus; that the horizontal dimension of the Faith - our love and care for our brothers - becomes more important than the vertical aspects: our adoration of the Triune God; and that relationship becomes more important than fidelity to abstract truths.

I was raised in a different environment, with a focus on the Four Last Things; that separation of the sheep from the goats, which Our Lord warns us of; and the injunction to seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness. The risk is that one focuses on one's personal salvation without attending to our brothers; that the vertical dimension of the Faith - the adoration of God - becomes separated from the second Great Commandment: to love our neighbours as ourself; and that fidelity to the truths received becomes more important than our relationships with others.

In that analysis it is easier to see, perhaps, why there is such a great disjunct between the Catholicism I practice and the approach taken by the Holy Father.

Needless to say, both extremes are flawed; what concerns me is that while I strive, albeit ineffectively at times, to re-balance my errors, it seems to me that the Holy Father is firmly committed to his side of the equation. That may be why (I am guessing), in ways that are almost unthinkable to me, he is happy to set aside both moral precepts, and the most sublime forms of adoration that we have inherited, in pursuit of his social agenda. 

Tout comprendre, c'est tout pardonner.  And I am not saying that I do understand him fully, but striving to imagine how he can do what he does without being a bad man is good for me.  

It is our duty to love the Holy Father, and that is hard to do if we regard him as evil. But if we merely regard him as wrong (which I certainly do), but mistaken rather than malign, that is easier.

In all events, to the extent that we regard him as an enemy, we are under orders to pray for him. 

So whatever our analysis of the current trials to which the Church is subject, let us not cease to offer up prayers for him; and for the whole Church.

Wednesday 19 October 2022

What's the purpose of the Synod?

My late father, an interesting chap in many ways (a pacifist and conscientious objector in WW2 who recanted when he realised quite how evil Hitler was, a vehement atheist who converted to orthodox Catholicism...) used to say: there are two reasons for everything: the Good Reason and the Real Reason.  It was, of course, meant to be a witty and deliberately cynical bon mot, but I think (like all the best wit) that there is some truth in it.

Which brings me back to my theme: the Synodal Way.

I have already blogged about some of my initial thoughts, concerning both the inherent risks (here) and the problems with the way in which the process is being conducted (here). Now I am turning my attention to the purpose: what is the point?...

The Preparatory Document  tells us that God expects us to tread the path of synodality in the third millenium (without really offering any basis for this claim) and explains that synodality is 'the specific modus vivendi et operandi of the Church, the People of God, which reveals and gives substance to her being as communion when all her members journey together, gather in assembly and take an active part in her evangelizing mission.'

But to what end?, you might ask. Well, at the highest level of abstraction, Communion, Participation, Mission. But that, I think, is the continuing goal: why we must all, always be Synodal.  With regard to the particular iteration of this Synodal process:

We recall that the purpose of the Synod, and therefore of this consultation, is not to produce documents, but “to plant dreams, draw forth prophecies and visions, allow hope to flourish, inspire trust, bind up wounds, weave together relationships, awaken a dawn of hope, learn from one another and create a bright resourcefulness that will enlighten minds, warm hearts, give strength to our hands.”

I mean, it's hard to argue with, because it's all so nebulous. But it does seem to me to be a very different understanding of the Church than anything that has gone before. And I'm afraid I don't buy it. 

For here, my Father's cynical dictum comes to mind. That may be the Good Reason, but what is the Real Reason?

Those who know me well will remember that I am not a great fan of Jung. Nonetheless, his observation: If you cannot understand why someone did something, look at the consequences—and infer the motivation offers an interesting perspective.

The initial results of the Synodal Way seem to include the German Hierarchy promoting heresy, the Flemish Bishops blessing homosexual pseudo-marriages, the raising of expectations across the Western World that moral laws, particularly with regard to sexual morality, are up for debate, and women may be admitted to the priesthood; and so forth.

Is that really what the Holy Father intends?

It is hard to know: he is always, deliberately, ambiguous in what he affirms and reluctant to condemn anything.

But his actions also speak. And it seems that he promotes and champions those who promote such views, and the only people he condemns are those who are so rigid as to adhere to the Faith as handed down by our forefathers.

Even when he says things that orthodox Catholics long for him to say, such as his condemnation of abortion, his behaviour seems to tell a different story: praising prominent promoters of abortion, and even appointing one, who is also an avowed atheist to the (already emasculated - by him) Pontifical Academy for Life.

All of that lends weight - considerable weight - to the fears of many that the Synodal Way is in fact designed to lend an air of legitimacy to a pre-determined path that will lead to the 'softening' (ie changing) of the Church's moral law. And all the talk in the Preparatory Document of the Synod being 'the whole People of God' discerning together might just explain why traditional Catholics are under such relentless and hostile attack. If they can be provoked to leave the Church, it would lend more credibility to the project: for if they stay, they will resist. And that is precisely what we should (and I am sure many of us will) do. 

Thursday 13 October 2022


In my last post (cue trumpet solo!) I outlined some of the risks I see in the current synodal process:  interpreting what is said through a worldly, rather than a Catholic, understanding; the inherently unrepresentative nature of the process; and the risks of bias (deliberate or inadvertent) in recording and summarising.

There are further problems, too. These are not inherent in the process, as the first batch were, but are related to the specific way in which this has been conducted.

The first of these is the nature of the questions asked.  It is instructive to consider what was asked, and also what was not asked.  

The first question, for example was:

I.               Our Journeying Companions


Who are we on the journey with and what persons or groups are marginalised and why?

Think of those who form our parish community as we journey together. Which people or groups are on the edges of our community? Whom do we know who no longer walks with us, those who used to and now we don’t see? How do we engage with those for whom the experience of Covid has prompted thoughts about faith? How do we welcome people? 

‘We feel connected to the Church community’

This is an interesting question, when one considers how one might go about answering it.  The first bit: who are we on a journey with? is so broad and vague as to be almost unanswerable in any meaningful way. So our attention shifts to the second clause, about marginalised people or groups. That of course invites the 'women are marginalised; lgbtq+ people are marginalised' responses that are so predictable. Was that the intention? It is hard to be sure. But if it wasn't then the choice of question was clumsy, and if it was, that raises other questions.

And then, like all the other questions, it ends with a statement that is the presumed desired state of affairs (in the written submissions, respondents were asked to tick a box to indicate the degree with which they agreed with the statement).

So looking at all 10 statements gives an overview of the desiderata:
We feel connected to the Church  

We feel that the Church community listens to us

We feel able to speak our minds confidently to other Church members

 The Mass/Worship helps us in our Christian lives

We want to be able to share our faith with others in our community

We often have conversations with others who have differing beliefs

We get on well with non-Catholic Christians

We have some responsibilities in our parish

Our local parish makes decisions after listening and prayer 

We are willing to listen to people even if they have different opinions to us

 In one sense there is nothing very objectionable about most of that. One might question the predominance of feeling in the opening three; and one might certainly object to the use of Mass/Worship as if anything could be on a plane with the Mass, the source and summit of the Christian life. Moreover to see the purpose of the Mass primarily as helping us in our Christian lives is deeply problematic. 

But those objections aside, what is astonishing is what is not here. There is nothing about the other sacraments; almost nothing about understanding or living the Faith...

So who has determined that these are the issues on which it is vital to hear the views of the Faithful, and on what basis have they been chosen?

Why aren't the questions based on the structure of the Catechism of the Church: Faith, the Sacramental Life, Life In Christ and Prayer, for example.  That would have been both more comprehensive and more (how shall I say this) Catholic.

It could be really valuable to learn, for example, why people neglect the Sacrament of Penance, and how (if) they engage in the corporal and spiritual works of mercy.  That could usefully inform actions aimed at fostering and deepening Faith. But that doesn't seem to be the point.

Which, of course, raises the larger question: what is the point of this Synodal process?

Its early fruits seem to be enabling and apparently legitimising the expression of heretical and heterodox views. Was that always the intention?

Our current Holy Father hates to clarify ambiguities, it seems; is that his way of  permitting the expression of heretical and heterodox views, with plausible deniability?

Or if not, what?

These are hard questions, and I find myself repeating with more regularity than is normal the promise of Our Lord Himself: portae inferi non praevalaebunt adversus eam. 

So I suppose we have to recognise that God writes straight with crooked lines, and that the Holy Spirit will draw good from all of this as He best knows how.

I can already see some positives emerging from all of this. It is becoming clearer by the day which of the bishops around the world are untrustworthy, with regard to teaching the Faith.  And for myself, whilst I have found the current pontificate challenging, it has had the result of making me pray more, and of curing any tendency to ultramontanism I may have had, so there is that, too...

Tuesday 11 October 2022

On the value of listening (and some reservations)

 I am a great believer in the value of listening. Both at a practical and at a theoretical level, it is of great importance. Without listening we cannot understand and engage usefully with another; and it is frequently an act of charity.

So there is a part of me that understands, and sympathises with, the theoretical justification of the Synodal Way. And yet...

My concerns are significant, and they are many.  Here I will address just the first few of them.

I volunteered to run the parish meetings to consider the synod questions. What I realised (inter alia) was that listening is not in itself a neutral activity.  Thus when I heard a small (but vociferous) number of people (n=2) saying that it was an injustice that women are not admitted to leadership positions in the Church, and specifically the priesthood, I reflected that how I heard - and the meaning I derived - from that argument depended on the assumptions, beliefs, values, and so forth that I already held.  And inevitably so.

If I listen as a Catholic, understanding that the Church does not have the authority to ordain women; and particularly as a thoughtful and informed Catholic, who understands some of the reasons for that reality, then what I hear is an expression of a lack of catechesis: these poor women have never heard, or at least never understood (and therefore never accepted) the Church's teaching. It is lamentable, but no fault of theirs, in all probability. We have been failing to teach the Faith (and in particular the difficult bits) for a whole generation or more.

Whereas, if I listen without a full Catholic understanding, and particularly if I have imbibed a worldly perspective on such issues, I might reach a different conclusion: that the Holy Spirit is speaking through the Synod to change the Church. 

So that is risk number one; what it requires, of course, is listening with discernment, to distinguish the Heilige Geist from the Zeitgeist.

But I fear that I see a lack of such discernment being played out on a large scale at the moment. 

The second risk that my involvement in the process highlighted was about representation. In our parish, at least, the people who participated came from a very small selection of parishioners who were characterised by a common feeling of discontent. These were people who wanted more inclusion - by which they meant a celebration of things heretofore regarded as sinful, such as homosexual relationships, and the revision of Church teaching to suit their own particular agenda, including (as I mentioned previously) issues such as ordaining women, and condoning divorce.

On the other side of the equation, my Schola also submitted a written response to the Synodal questions, from a perspective of, let us say, a more traditional understanding of the Faith. 

But clearly, neither of these are representative of the typical person in the pew (if that is the idea) the vast majority of whom simply declined to participate. 

The process is only really of interest to those who are unhappy, one way or the other, or to the 'professional Catholics' who make up so much of the commentariat (and they are typically unhappy, too...). So for all the listening of the listening Church, what will be heard is a very distorted account of the views of the Faithful. Is that really how we hear the voice of the Holy Spirit?   

A third problem is the problem of recording. I tried to record the meetings accurately, with some clarity about which views were commonly held and which were individual.  But it would have been very easy for me to have recorded as important those issues I held to be important, and so forth.  And that risk is repeated at every level, as the diocesan and national summaries are prepared, and then as the great and the good in the Vatican look at the overall picture and draw up their summaries. 

These risks are inherent in the process, regardless of the good intentions (or lack thereof) of those running the process.   And then there's the question of the questions, and the thinking behind this sudden interest in synodality, and the desired outcomes...  But I will come to those another day.

Monday 10 October 2022

Breaking my silence

I have been quiet (in this space at least) for a while. But I believe that the time has come to speak up again, and in particular on two issues. One is the current mayhem being unleashed on the Church in the name of synodality; the other is the current mayhem being unleashed on the world in the name of diversity.

So in the coming weeks, if I can find a few moments, I will share my reflections on both of these topics, that have been welling up (maturing seems too great a claim) over the last years.

It is easy to wonder if we are approaching the end times: the Church seems rocked to its foundations when there is mass episcopal betrayal and the Holy See is either silent or ambiguous, or worse; and the world seems given over to its own devices, with abortion rampant, and the war on humanity leading to the destruction of both minds and bodies by ideologies, such as the transgender cult, that are as inimical to reason itself as they are to human flourishing.

Yet it is not for us to know the time set by the Father Himself; whilst we should always stay awake and stay ready for the Second Coming, we should also learn from history that many previous generations have thought that the end was near, and were mistaken.  So we must also prepare for the long haul, and in particular equip our children and our grandchildren to deal with the grim future that we bequeath them, and do whatever we reasonably and legitimately can to leave things in a better state than they are now.

For there is no doubt that we are beset by demons; and I suspect that this kind can go out by nothing, but by prayer and fasting.