Saturday, 29 January 2011

Update - Radio 4 and the Ordinariate

Welcome to the Catholic Church - Resisting or Celebrating Diversity?
Westminster Cathedral Mass, January 2010

Lourdes HCPT Mass, Easter 2008
Mass in Kibera, Nairobi, 2007

Roehampton University Leavers' Mass, 2008
The interview that was cancelled last Sunday has been rescheduled for tomorrow, so all being well I'll be talking about the Ordinariate and what it means for Catholics just after 7.30 am tomorrow morning on BBC Radio 4. 

Writing in this week's Tablet, Peter Cornwell, a former Anglican priest who has been a Catholic priest for 25 years, questions the impact of the Ordinariate on Christian unity and suggests that it is not a helpful arrangement for any of those involved. Here is what he writes:
I have said it before and I say it again - yes, welcome unreservedly to all who seek a home in Catholic unity. After all, 25 years ago I knew that welcome and found that home. But, is it really being offered a home if you are invited to set up, with your fellow refugees, in a sort of semi-detached granny flat, with your own special Masses and your own special leadership? It is like being invited to a party and then, instead of joining in the fun, slipping off with a few chosen friends to play bridge in an upstairs room.
The fact is that these Anglican dissidents have, for some years, lived rather unhappily on the edges of Church of England life. What surely they now need, for their souls' health and happiness, is not to be parked on the edge of another Church, but to come into the crowded fug of the living room to muck in with the rest of the family. Although outsiders imagine that Catholics are like a well-drilled army, we are in truth an untidy mixed bunch. As Inspector Morse used to say: "It's all a bit of a shambles!"
As I said in an earlier blog, quoting Gerard Manley-Hopkins, "Long live the weeds and the wilderness yet." I've chosen the pictures above to suggest what might be at stake, if a narrow conservatism triumphs over the creative exuberance of our Catholic faith and liturgies.

Followers of this blog might be interested in a Web discussion forum on Christianity and Evolution at 7.00 pm our time this evening. Go to the link here to find out more. Participants include Nobel prize-winning scientists and theologian Richard Rohr in conversation about the compatibility between their Christian beliefs and the theory of evolution.

Saturday, 22 January 2011

The Ordinariate - tomorrow's discussion has been cancelled

Just to say to those of you who were setting the alarm to listen to the discussions on the Ordinariate - they've changed the programme and they've cancelled that part of it. Good news for me - I can have a lie in! They say they might still do it at some future stage, and I did point out that it's a perspective they ought to include in their coverage.

Friday, 21 January 2011

Speaking out and keeping quiet - an update

Whereof one can speak, thereof one must not be silent.

I think maybe that's a necessary corollary to Wittgenstein's counsel.

Our Lady of Walsingham
I've been asked by BBC Radio 4 to take part in a live discussion on the Ordinariate on Sunday morning, which will follow immediately after an interview with Keith Newton, who goes by the grand title of 'the first Ordinary of the Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham.' (I hope Our Lady has a sense of humour). Early birds who want to listen to both discussions should tune in at about 7.20 am.

In the meantime, I've reposted the earlier blog with slight amendments. I've found this a very interesting process, which suggests to me that there really is a desire for informed Catholic debate on the blog. Thank you to all who have persuaded me to keep going. 

Wednesday, 19 January 2011

Of blogs, hats, ordinariates and Wittgenstein

Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent. (Wittgenstein)

Thank you to all who took time to comment on my last blog on the ordinariate. After much thought, I've decided to withdraw that posting because I think it was untimely and yes, I admit it was a tad bitchy about the bishops' wives (it really was a very nice hat).

Blogging is an ephemeral and spontaneous medium. Those of us who do it shouldn't take ourselves too seriously and we need thick skins, but I don't think we should expect others to be equally thick-skinned, and we should avoid being unkind. I think I was unkind, and I'd rather write a more considered piece when time allows.

But there's something else. Those looking in from the outside tend to see the Catholic Church as more authoritarian and homogenous than it actually is. For some this is undoubtedly an attraction. But in reality, there's a chaotic abundance to Catholic life, and the mystery of the Church is surely bound up in that capacity to hold together so many millions of human beings across time and space in a shared communion that far exceeds all niceties of association and like-mindedness. If you can't cope with human mess and contradiction, this isn't the church for you.

But of course, one doesn't preserve that inclusive spirit by being mean and unwelcoming to those who want to join, whatever their reasons. There's room enough for all of us in this vast Catholic world, and we don't preserve our threatened and cherished diversity by refusing to accommodate those who think differently. The issues remain and the debates must go on, but for now, I've decided to take a quiet step back from it all.

Here are a few lines from Gerard Manley Hopkins' poem, 'Inversnaid'. Maybe they can serve as a prayerful metaphor for the continuing fecundity of Mother Church:

What would the world be, once bereft
Of wet and wildness? Let them be left,
O let them be left, wildness and wet;
Long live the weeds and the wilderness yet.

Difference is the very essence of God's creation. What abundant jubilation of life there is all around us, and how easily we funnel our own minds and spirits into claustrophobic tunnels of bigotry and judgement.

Monday, 17 January 2011

The Anglican Ordinariate (deleted blog restored after editing)

And deliver us from women. Amen.
Except maybe these three ...

And of course these three.

Last Sunday, three former Anglican bishops were ordained as priests in the Roman Catholic Church by Archbishop Vincent Nichols. Writing in last week's Tablet, Allen Brent explains that men like himself, former Anglican priests who have been received into the Catholic Church and are now awaiting ordination in the ordinariate, are concerned not primarily about the ordination of women nor about gay issues but about the principle of unity enshrined in the concept of 'koinonia'. In other words, it is the breaching of unity brought about by the ordination of women and the consecration of gay unions that has created this mass deflection, and not 'misogynist and homophobic prejudices'. That may be true, and indeed I can remember when feminist author Sara Maitland became a Roman Catholic in the early 1990s, she offered a similar argument - and she is most certainly not a dyed-in-the-wool conservative. However, the onus is on the ordinariate, and most particularly on its priests, to allay any such suspicions in their practice and preaching.

But I must admit I feel an overwhelming sense of sadness about this ordinariate and what it means for both the Anglican and Roman Catholic churches. Not ony does it feel like a monumental rebuff to Catholic women campaigning for greater visibility and influence in the Church, but there is one issue in particular which has hardly been mentioned in the news coverage, but which seems to me to be one of the most important human aspects of this story. That is the situation of those Roman Catholic priests for whom compulsory celibacy is an almost impossible demand, and a monumental daily sacrifice that they are asked to make in order to be priests. What does this mean for those men, some of whom have served the Church faithfully for all their adult lives?

We hear so much about abusive and failed priests, and we should not underestimate the hugely destructive impact these men have had on the lives of their victims and on the reputation of the church. But we also need to bear in mind that the majority of Roman Catholic priests are ordinary men living what are, by modern standards, extraordinary lives of commitment and dedication, sometimes working in situations of considerable risk and hardship to minister to society's most unwanted and excluded members.

There are many Roman Catholic priests who have a vocation to the celibate life, and who insist that they are given the grace for what would otherwise be an impossible demand in the interests of their priesthood. I believe that celibacy is an indispensable gift to the Roman Catholic Church, not just for priests but for all who witness to an alternative way of channelling one's erotic energies in these sex-obsessed times, in lives of radical commitment to contemplation and prayer, and of active dedication to the poor and the outcast. But there are many, many priests who feel torn between their desire for marriage and family life and their vocation to the priesthood, and who do not experience the gift of celibacy in that way. What about those men, and why is it that the Catholic Church is willing to ordain former Anglican priests who are married, while still refusing to allIow its own priests to marry? I believe this constitutes a form of betrayal amounting to pastoral negligence, although in the present times it might be well nigh impossible for priests to come out and speak openly about the intensification of loneliness and conflict that this must produce.

For some Roman Catholic priests, the celebrations accompanying yet another influx of married men to the priesthood, this time with even fewer restraints and conditions than before, must be salt in a painful wound, particularly when they have to work on a daily basis with some of these priests. In these days of dwindling vocations and diminishing congregations, presbyteries can be lonely places. To go home to such a place every evening knowing that one's fellow priest is going home to his wife and children, must for some of our priests be almost unbearable. There is something inhuman about these double standards that now prevail in the Catholic priesthood.

There is no doubt that the decision to leave the Anglican communion has entailed a considerable sacrifice in terms of income, housing and long-term security for priests and bishops who are making the move. But I suspect that, for some of their Catholic priestly brethren, these sacrifices must pale into insignificance compared to that most basic sacrifice of all - the demand that they choose between priesthood and marriage. That is one choice that these new priests have never been asked to make. 

Wednesday, 5 January 2011

Let's Abolish War

The abolition of the slave trade and the abolition of the death penalty had to overcome strenuous political opposition and apparently well-reasoned arguments as to why these were essential to the well-being, prosperity and security of society, but in the end the voice of reason and human decency prevailed (except of course in those barbaric states and nations that still have the death penalty).

Modern warfare is state-sponsored slaughter on an industrial scale, and 90% of the casualties are civilians. One senior British military official said it is now safer to be a soldier than a woman in a war zone. Isn't it time we said enough? Britain spends £45 billion per year on the military. Wouldn't we rather have funding for our hospitals, schools and universities, and our art galleries, libraries and museums? And wouldn't we rather not be a nation mired in shame because of the murderous consequences of our military escapades?

If you're not convinced, have a look at the following:

Simon Jenkins, 'Does Britain Really Need the Military?', The Guardian, 5th November, 2010
John Pilger, 'The War You Don't See', available to view for UK viewers on the ITV website until 14th January.

Jenkins argues that the British military establishment is maintained because of powerful corporate and political interests, and not because it provides any effective security for the British people in an era when conventional warfare is an increasingly remote possibility, and crime is a much greater threat to our security and well-being. Pilger argues convincingly that the media have been duped by politicians into presenting the public with a sanitised version of war, including the recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, so that we have no idea of the true human cost. The film opens with a quote from General David Lloyd George, speaking to CP Snow, Editor of the Manchester Guardian, in December 1917: 'If people really knew the truth, the war would be stopped tomorrow. But of course they don't know, and can't know.' Today, we do know and we can know. If we choose not to, we are culpably ignorant.

So, how about it? If we want happier new years for ourselves, our children and our neighbours in this global village, let's abolish war. Who and what are we fighting for? See the website of the Movement for the Abolition of War.