Wednesday, 23 February 2011

A priest reflects

I'm posting a link to this reflection by an Australian priest, Fr. Eric Hodgens, on the occasion of the golden anniversary of his ordination. (It dates back to late last year, but I've only just discovered it). Undoubtedly some followers of this blog will condemn it out of hand, but it must have taken great courage to write it. It's further evidence that, for a growing number of faithful Catholics, there is a need to speak out even at the risk of being abused and attacked. After all, Christ did warn us that this might be the cost of faithfulness to him.

Many, indeed the majority of Catholics today, choose to leave the Church rather than deplete themselves in the struggle for acceptance and change. But love asks something different of us - a sustained and loyal commitment inspired by our faith in the fundamental goodness of the Catholic faith and all that it means, but an intelligent recognition that that does not mean passive and uncritical acceptance of all that is done in its name. The Christian faith has always valued freedom above all else. 'If the Son shall set you free, you shall be free indeed.' Of course, our understanding of freedom and our ability to use it wisely needs to be matured and reflected upon, but it is also part of the expression of freedom that we must risk being wrong. Is it really free if we only express our freedom when we are sure that it is both safe and right to do so? As we see so many people today rising up against dictatorial regimes, often risking their lives for freedom, we should ask ourselves why, of all people, Catholic priests and bishops have become the least willing to stand up and defend the freedom that our faith offers us.

Pacifism is not passivity. To long for peace in the Church is not to be complacent in the face of abuse, nor is it to remain indifferent or even hostile to those who are driven away by a yoke that is too heavy to bear.

Fr. Eric Hodgens is an example of loyal criticism and visionary faith. Let's pray for him on his golden anniversary, and thank God for priests like him - priests who affirm the joy and meaning of their vocations, but who still have the courage to speak out when called upon to do so. Happy anniversary, Fr. Hodgens!

(P.S. The petition initiated by German-speaking theologians now has over 23,000 signatories. I realize from recent comments on my last blog that there's some question about the legitimacy of online petitions, but sometimes they have great symbolic power even if they have no legal status. You can sign the petition here.)


  1. Courageous stuff by Fr Hodgens, but most of what he asks for is already found in many Anglican and Lutheran Churches. Perhaps part of the answer is Anglican Ordinariates for disaffected RCs who can retain much of the teaching of Vat II and the older form of the vernacular liturgy!
    While I take your point about holding on in faith, the serious point behind this is that liberal RCs seem to reject the modern neo-con agenda but still hold to the ultramontane idea that the Roman Catholic Church is the only real Church and the only place where the fullness of Christianity is found. If not, why have many more priests and people 'converted' (a term which when used by RCs of ex-Anglicans reveals the ultramontane idea just mentioned) to Anglicanism.

  2. Wow! That is quite some reflection from Fr Hodgens. Pretty much every debated issue in the Church at present, he is against the teaching of the Church.

    I'm at a bit of a loss where to start.

    I'll just go with a couple of points:

    1) Courageous to write it - how? He's a retired priest; what possible sanction is going to come upon him and he's writing it for a magazine where the views he espouses would be widespread.

    2) "We changed from being priests called and consecrated by God to being presbyters called and ordained by the Church – the People of God."

    Isn't the inference from this that we respond to God's call/ become the People of God by doing what the people call us to do rather than God? This is dodgy theology surely (a theology of democracy of the people) over the will of God. Regardless of whether one is in consecrated life or not, we all are answerable to God first, the people second. I'm reminded of St Thomas More's famous words, "The King's good servant, but God's first.
    Pax, Toby

  3. How very sad to read this, from a clearly very embittered Priest. The present and the last Popes were far from perfect, but his reflections on them will not ring true for most people. I do hope his bitterness does not follow him to the end.
    Of course it goes without saying that his logic is completely skewed. This man needs our prayers. A great shame after 50 long years ministering to the people of God

  4. Thanks to you for posting this and to Fr Hodgens for writing with such courage in such a hostile environment. Hallelujah!

  5. @Denys
    Hello Denys,

    I guess for some of us, however 'liberal', the suggestion that we should convert is a little like saying that when one goes through hard times in a marriage, one should simply find a spouse who is easier to live with. Isn't there something about commitment, integrity and honesty which asks of us that we struggle through and retain our vision, our love and - above all - our sense of humour,while refusing to head for the exit? (And, as I've said before, if the Church is the new creation in Christ, where exactly in the cosmos would the exit door be - only a fire exit perhaps, and in true universalist fashion I hesitate to believe that it's ever been used).

    I grew up Presbyterian and I spent a few years in the Anglican Church before I became a Catholic. It is for me the only real Church, unfashionable though it might be to say so, because it's the only western church that can claim continuity since the time of Christ, and it's a tradition that therefore resonates with all those lives which have been part of it. But I think the real Church also has no walls and no borders, so its reality is an inclusive mystery which extends far beyond its visible presence.

    I believe in the Catholic Church, but that doesn't mean I must lobotomise my theological intelligence nor anaesthetise my moral conscience. And even when I fail to recognise that these are not serving me well and I'm blundering my way from error to error, our faith is not about perfection but about forgiveness, healing and new beginnings.

  6. @Anonymous
    Hello Toby, welcome back. You say that Fr. Hodgens is beyond sanction - I suggest you take a look at his parish website at this link: Here's what he says:

    "Cathnews* put a reference to my Golden Anniversary article on its daily website edition. By 11.30 a.m. it had been removed. Apparently very high authorities in the church were angered by it and insisted that the editor remove it. The headline is still there, but a click on “more” results in an article on the Bible."

    Sounds like a form of sanctioning to me.

    Best wishes,

  7. Forgiveness, healing and new beginnings indeed Ms Beattie. Would that Fr Hodgens felt the same.

  8. @Anonymous
    I agree that there is some bitterness in these reflections, but there's also joy, commitment and affirmation.

  9. @Anonymous
    Well, Anonymous, at least he doesn't hide behind anonymity.

    Best wishes,
    Ms Beattie

  10. I must start signing my entries. Its Kenny P from Greenock. There, I m not anonymous any more!!

  11. Ah, greetings Kenny. There must be something about your particular brand of anonymity that makes me keep wanting to challenge it - must be that kindred Scottish spirit lurking in the background! Good to hear from you.

  12. He says "that unusual experience,,,joy" ??? If joy is an unusual experience for you, there is something very lacking in your faith.
    Kenny P

  13. @Anonymous
    I read him as meaning that joy is unusual in the context of modern life, and I think he's right. We're experiencing a pandemic of misery which seems to go hand in hand with affluent secularism. But it's not that simple either, is it? Some of the greatest psalms are laments, and some of the greatest saints experienced unrelieved darkness for much of their lives - Therese of Lisieux, John of the Cross, Mother Teresa. Were they lacking in faith? Isn't faith what perseveres when joy disappears?

  14. The picture you paint of saints may be true, but there were on a different plane to the rest of us. To that extent, I believe much of the darkness originated in that dark place, and was a test. But in the end joy, through faith , prevailed. I hope the same pertains to this sad Priest.
    It really was quite a disturbing article.
    Kenny P

  15. Misery only goes hand in hand with affluent secularism, if you let it. Depends which patch of ground your seeds are planted in I suppose.


    Sisters, renouncing it for Jesus.

  17. A courageous article. An attempt to show the reasons why his beloved Church is failing.
    It is possible for powerful institutions to recognize their faults and seek to alter or graciously make amends for weaknesses and fallibility in their leaders.
    Martin Luther believed that when Christianity, stripped of idolatry and corruption, was explained gently (sauberlich) and with kindness, the Jews would happily convert. His advances were firmly rebuffed and he became one of the most intensely bitter anti-semites in history.
    In 1994 the Lutheran World Federation issued a statement rejecting this aspect of his teaching:
    "In the spirit of that truth-telling, we who bear his name and heritage must, with pain acknowledge also Luther's anti-Judaic diatribes".

    In the "spirit of truth-telling" is it not possible for the Roman Catholic Church to embrace change without fear in the light of growing scientific insights into human nature and society.

  18. Hi Tina,

    Not really what I'd call sanction, no. Also I don't think he is a priest at that "Catholic" Church(use of inverted comments will become apparent later), he is retired. All I would say is that it was an example of authorities not wishing to sanction his opinions. I would call it an editorial decision, something is posted and later the Board decided it was inappropriate. He's a retired priest, where's the personal cost to him? I don't think when he was writing his reflection there would have been any trepidation as to what might happen.

    Anyway, thank you for the link . . . interesting stuff; I read St Mary's in Exile and thought how tragic that they've lost their church in the Queensland floods . . . turns out to be something a little different:

    "On April 19, a huge mob of St Mary’s people made a pilgrimage out of a church and into the Trades and Labor Council (TLC) building, home of the Queensland Council of Unions.

    They walked out of the church to the TLC, 200 metres down the road in silent vigil with candles and lanterns, banners and balloons – not unlike the Jews of the Old Testament escaping from the slavery of the Egyptians to the liberation of the Promised Land (minus the balloons).

    We too feel liberated from the shackles of a failing institution caught up in dogmas and creeds that belong to another age. We felt it was time to take a stand from the constant bullying we have experienced for many years."

    There's some other fascinating stuff on the website too - one section teaching me that God is an integral part of every atom on earth and that we are as much in God as Jesus was and that Jesus was probably just more aware of this than you or me.

    Or another gem: So I see our mission is to help all people to experience that "Christ within" or "Buddha Nature" or whatever you might like toc all your realidentity.

    Or even: "We are very happy not to be a part of the Catholic Church as we found it restrictive and notconducive to spiritual development."

    God Bless, Toby

  19. I became a catholic when I was 17 years old(admittedly when I was at convent school) I received a good basic religeous education with a strong emphasis on the Churchs' Social teaching. In the VIth form we studied recent Papal Encyclicals and discussed Just War theory, the Rights and Duties of Workers and the development of Human Conscience and freewill. I believed it and found it provided a framework for my evolving political and ethical attitudes. Then came Vatican 11. I found it exciting and meaningful. It seemed that the church was streatching out to the world.Things were often clumsy and mistakes were made. But that is how we learn and grow. I was proud to be a catholic and felt the Church could really offer new and loving ways for people to work and live together. There were many interesting theologians and I read and read and was challenged by ideas which opened up ways of envisaging a spiritual life in the troubled contemporary world. Fr.Hodgen talks about a static belief in the Real Presence, and though I have fairly orthodox views on the Eucharist I have always believed as well in the living action of the Spirit.There really is a 'God of Surprises' and when I have been at my most confused and anxious and couldn't see the wood for the trees I have often discovered resolution in ways I had not imagined or sought! Emmaus moments appear which I feel are dynamic examples of the Real Presence, often expressed through the actions of the most unexpected people and events.I really don't believe living an extremely formalised spirituality enables me to live a reponsive life based on an acceptance of the sacramental in the everyday world. Outward signd reflect inner grace.( I was taught that by Mother Mary Thais!) Obviously we all have different needs but I see only rigidity and inflexability in desiring a return to a past that possibly never existed, or a retrenchment based on fear of the modern world.Like Tina I love the Church , though this is not basedon a set of liturgical traditions, but the beliefs about sacrament and incarnation.I have no desire to abandon a Church which has helped form me ,and whose beliefs have led me to the attitudes I have.

  20. Conscious that my last comment was somewhat tangential, though relevant to the extent of "that's where he had to go to get published in the end", some more engagement with the reflection.

    "we were successful at educating a newly vital and active laity."

    Really? How many people know the Faith now? I would say more people get the information on what the Church teaches from national papers than they do from Church catechesis. My mother's generation got the Penny Catechism, I got agape (a good outcome but not exclusive to Christianity). I think people have been taught a social justice mission (and quite right too), or made to be climate campaigners. They have been taught what they, as Christians, should do, but without actually linking it back to the Faith and therefore making it more likely to be a fad or a faith in itself. It would be great if Caritas in Veritate was mentioned a bit more in Church, but I don't think Fr Eric would be a fan of papal encyclicals - just a hunch!

    "We ran highly successful and active parishes. Though ageing now, many of us are still on the job."

    First how do you judge success? Salvation of souls? How do you know? Certainly on indicators such as vocations to all forms of religious life and Mass attendance, the priests of Fr Eric's generation haven't been as successful as he would have us believe (I speak from personal experience of living in Aus) and the parish just grew old with it's priest. He blames loss of parishioners and plummeting vocations on "mixed social causes": so his success was attributable to him and the failures came from outside. Hmmm? Perhaps as the Church became more of a movement and less of a faith, people lost the sense of other. BXVI is fascinating in his preface to "Introduction to Christianity" (a Jesuit priest in his sermon once told us we should all read it, and how glad I am he did)on the Church's failure to tap into the positive elements of the 60s and 70s and how liberation theology didn't get it quite right.

    I can't comment with authority, given that I wasn't yet born, but Fr Eric does very much seem to belong to a type that was liberal at V2, but became deeply conservative in its liberalism (much like some of the priests who will refuse to say the new translation) whereby a certain spirit of change became the unchanging vacuum of what was right. They seem to struggle to understand the, in some ways, reactionary orthodoxy of many younger Catholics (one good priest friend amusing refers to them as those who believe in "salvation by tweed alone") but have themselves reached a reactionary stasis in their thinking. (For the record I have only ever been to be to one Tridentine Mass in my life - I got a real sense of the transcendent, but don't believe that that sense is exclusive to it).

    More of my marginal musings on this to follow!

    Pax Christi,

  21. the vatican must have more confidence in their decisions and much more confidence in their critics who are only trying to stop them from making mistakes. Everyone makes mistakes, even I also, mirabile dictu.I am grateful that Jesus had a prostitute wash his feet and preferred her to the pious Jews of his day. On judgement day, i'm hoping to be taken for a prostitute or some other destitute sinner that He prefers. So I think we should be praying for all the people in fancy hats that they see us as persons who really care about the Church even though we are hatless.

  22. @Tina Beattie


    You rightly speak of faith - we are not promised joy, at least not in this world - add in a healthy dose of hope and charity and you've got a great recipe for salvation and fulfilment


  23. Thank God that this man has retired.

  24. What did Fr. Eric mean by Pope John Paul having " a distorted devotion to Mary". Para.13, line 4?


Comments and contributions are welcome so long as they respect the rules of courtesy and respect, which is not to inhibit robust disagreement.