by Deacon Nick Donnelly
As the year draws to a close it seems to many that we are again living through revolutionary times in the Church. I suggest therefore that we would be wise to pay heed to the caution given to the politician and philosopher Edmund Burke by Major John Cartwright of the Royal Navy. Discussing how best to respond to another revolution – the American Revolutionary War – Cartwright drew on his maritime background when he wrote of the necessity for a ‘sure guide upon the tempestuous sea of politics’. Looking back over the past year the image of a ‘tempestuous sea’ best describes the greatest storm to hit the Church since the Second Vatican Council. Cardinal Raymond Burke expresses the experience of many faithful Catholics in 2014 when he said that ‘there is a strong feeling that the Church is as a ship without a rudder’ and ‘many feel a bit of seasickness, because it seems to them that the ship of the Church has lost its compass’.
A sure compass in times of storm
Major Cartwright's description of the qualities of a sure compass in times of political storm are equally applicable to the compass needed to navigate revolutionary times in the life of the Church. Such a guide must be:
‘a compass without variation, that points not to any earthly loadstone, jostled by some convulsion of nature out of the true axis of our crazy planet, but the cause of its magnetism is the rock of truth, fixed in the pole of heaven from all eternity; immovable as the throne, immutable as the nature of God’.
In this time of confusion and disorientation as the Church navigates the fads of gender ideology, political correctness and pop psychology of ‘our crazy planet’, our gratitude is all the more heartfelt to those successors to the Apostles who have continued taking their bearings with the sure compass of eternal truth during the tempests of 2014.
On the 1st January, the Solemnity of Mary the Mother of God, Enda Kenny's government appeared to perpetrate an act of calculated blasphemy by launching abortion services to kill babies throughout Ireland. Marie Stopes clinics were ready and waiting to kill babies with abortifacient morning after pills, retailing at €40 a pill.
Less than two weeks later Pope Francis strongly condemned killing children through abortion during his annual ‘state of the world’ address to diplomats accredited to the Holy See:
‘Unfortunately, what is thrown away is not only food and dispensable objects, but often human beings themselves, who are discarded as “unnecessary”. For example, it is frightful even to think there are children, victims of abortion, who will never see the light of day’.
Standing against the push to normalise dissent in the Irish church, countless faithful Catholics remained true in the face of a media onslaught when they protested the presence of Fr Timothy Radcliffe OP as a key-note speaker at Dublin’s 23rd International Conference on Divine Mercy. Fr Radcliffe is well-known for his drift away from the Church’s teaching on homosexuality, having once recommended to a Catholic audience that they ‘let their imaginations be stretched’ by watching the gay movie Brokeback Mountain and by reading gay novels. Fr Radcliffe has even gone so far as to propose that there is a Eucharistic dimension to gay sexuality that ‘can be expressive of Christ’s self-gift’.
The conference organisers incomprehensibly chose to ignore the substantive evidence cataloguing Fr Radcliffe’s dissent. Instead they accused concerned Catholics of victimising them by conducting ‘a kangaroo court trying to decide for us what we should do’. What would Pope St John Paul II, that great advocate of Divine Mercy, have made of this cavalier dismissal of the concerns of faithful Catholics about a pro-gay speaker at a Divine Mercy Conference?
An English bishop broke the silence about pro-abortion and pro-gay marriage Catholic politicians receiving Holy Communion. Bishop Egan of Portsmouth said in an interview that denying Holy Communion to these politicians would not be a punitive measure but would be an act of mercy:
‘When people are not in communion with the Catholic Church on such a central thing as the value of life of the unborn child and also in terms of the teachings of the church on marriage and family life – they are voting in favour of same-sex marriage – then they shouldn’t be receiving Holy Communion. Nobody is forced to be Catholic.’
Bishop Egan went on to express the reasonable hope that he would be able to discuss this important issue with his fellow bishops at the Bishops’ Conference.
However, Greg Pope, the Head of Parliamentary Relations at the Catholic Bishops’ Conference, wrote to all Catholic MPs and Peers to re-assure them there were ‘no plans to deny communion to those who supported gay marriage’. They were also informed that there were no plans to discuss the issue as Bishop Egan had hoped.
The tragic irony of this is that Greg Pope is a Catholic and former Labour MP who had a track record of voting in support of same-sex adoption, abortion and contraception. It later emerged that Mgr Marcus Stock, the General Secretary of the Bishops’ Conference and Cardinal Nichols’ right hand man, had ‘approved’ Mr Pope’s curt dismissal of a bishop they were both employed to serve.
Following this rebuff from the Bishops’ Conference and disparaging criticism of him by Catholic MPs in the media Bishop Egan remained courageously steadfast in upholding the Church’s teaching by giving a second interview to Lifesite News:
‘My basic point was a simple one: that those who do not believe in and/or do not practice the main doctrines of our Catholic faith should not go forward to receive Holy Communion in a Catholic Church. They are not in communion with the Catholic Church. Those who do not accept the Catholic Church’s principle teachings on the value of life are rejecting Christ’s vision for the human person, whom he redeemed on the Cross.’
Syrian Christians continued to witness to the Faith through their refusal to renounce Our Lord as Muslim terrorists intensified their efforts to eradicate the Church. Jihadists massacred 80 Christians in the town of Kessab on Syria’s border with Turkey, beheading at least 13 people, desecrating churches and looting homes. Around 3,000 Armenian Christian residents fled for their lives, but a dozen or so families with members too elderly to leave remained in Kessab and were subsequently taken hostage. Videos later emerged showing Muslim terrorists executing Kessab’s Christians with machine guns.
This latest massacre of Armenian Christians by Muslims adds to the sense of outrage among Armenians preparing to commemorate the hundred year anniversary of the 1915 Turkish genocide that murdered over a million Christians. An Armenian tweeted at the slaughter at Kessab ‘They killed Armenians three times in the same location: in 1909, 1913, and now in 2014.’
Pope Francis delivered his most explicit statement about the worldwide persecution of Christians:
‘There is the death penalty or imprisonment for having the Gospel at home, for teaching the Catechism, today, in some parts of the world. A Catholic from one of these countries told me that they cannot pray together. It is forbidden. People can only pray alone and in secret – but they want to celebrate the Eucharist and how do they do? They throw a birthday party, they pretend to celebrate the birthday there and have Mass before the ‘party’. It has happened. When they see the police arrive, they just hide everything and continue with the birthday party-cover. Then, when authorities leave, they finish the Mass. They have to do so, because it is forbidden to pray together: in this very day.’
The spirits of faithful English Catholics were lifted by the arrival of Bishop Athanasius Schneider in the UK for a ten day series of speaking engagements. Bishop Schneider is the 53 year old auxiliary bishop of Astana, Kazakhstan, an author with Catholic Voice’s publishing imprint, and an advisor to the newly launched Irish lay movement, Lumen Fidei, founded by Catholic Voice’s editor, Anthony Murphy.
In an interview with the Catholic Herald Bishop Schneider spoke about the storm of confusion and disorientation besetting the Church, bringing a message of encouragement and hope to the faithful of the English Church.
‘I would say, we are in the fourth great crisis of the Church, in a tremendous confusion over doctrine and liturgy. We have already been in this for 50 years. How long will it last? “Perhaps God will be merciful to us in 20 or 30 years.’
Bishop Schneider also talked about the false notion of mercy that proposed admitting those currently barred to the sacraments, ‘This is not mercy, this is cruel. It is comparable to a doctor who gives a diabetic patient sugar, although he knows it will kill him.’
Having said this, he expressed his hope that the future of the Church lay with the ‘little ones’ of the Church, ‘I am confident and hopeful also in respect of this crisis in the Church. The Holy Ghost will win this crisis with this little army.’
Fr Vincent Twomey, Professor Emeritus of Moral theology at St Patrick's College, challenged Mary MacAleese’s widely disseminated ridicule of the cardinals and bishops called by Pope Francis to attend the Synod on the Family.
Mary MacAleese, a former president of Ireland, mocked the prospect of ‘150 male celibates’ advising Pope Francis on the family as ‘completely bonkers’, asking ‘How many of the men who will gather to advise you as Pope on the family have ever changed a baby’s nappy?’ ‘I regard that as a very, very serious question’, she added. Mary MacAleese is currently studying for her Licentiate in Canon Law at the Gregorian University in Rome.
Clearly Mrs MacAleese had forgotten that Our Lord was a male celibate and that, through the sacrament of Holy Orders, the bishops and cardinals attending the October Synod share in the Headship of Christ. Fr Vincent Twomey, professor emeritus of moral theology at St Patrick's College, Maynooth, responded that Mary MacAleese’s language was ‘not in keeping with what you would expect from an ex president.’
Fr Vicario, a parish priest in Northern Italy, became a lightning rod for tensions building up in the Church in anticipation of the Synod because of his defence of the Church’s teaching. Fr Vicario found himself in hot water not only with his own bishop but also with the Secretary General of the forthcoming Synod because he printed in his parish newsletter the reasons for the Church’s perennial teaching that divorced and remarried and co-habiting couples could not receive Holy Communion. Fr Vicario wrote:
‘For the Church, which acts in the name of the Son of God, marriage between the baptised is alone and always a sacrament. Civil marriage and cohabitation are not a sacrament. Therefore those who place themselves outside of the Sacrament by contracting civil marriage are living a continuing infidelity. One is not treating of sin committed on one occasion (for example a murder), nor an infidelity through carelessness or habit’.
The Bishop of Novara mistakenly took Fr Vicario to task for equating civil marriage and co-habitation with murder. But Fr Vicario did not make that equation, neither did he say that civil marriage was worse than murder. Cardinal Baldisseri (pictured), the Synod’s Secretary General, made a remarkable outburst when he condemned Fr Vicario’s parish bulletin as ‘crazy, a strictly personal opinion of a parish priest who does not represent anyone, not even himself.’
Young priests in Ireland were known throughout the Catholic world for their faithfulness to the Church’s doctrine and discipline as a consequence of Archbishop Diarmuid Martin’s trip to Australia. Thousands of miles from home Archbishop Martin criticised young Irish priests for expressing concerns about the upsurge in dissent during the pontificate of Pope Francis.
In his address to an audience in Melbourne Archbishop Martin related a conversation between a young curate and his parish priest. The young curate admitted that he was not at all happy with some things Pope Francis had said. He felt that they ‘were not in line with what he had learned in the seminary’ and they were ‘making the faithful insecure and even encouraging those who do not hold the orthodox Catholic beliefs to challenge traditional teaching.’
Rather than take the young curate’s genuine concerns seriously Archbishop Martin took conservative Catholics to task, with a cursory mention of progressive Catholics to give the impression of ‘balance’. The Archbishop warned against becoming ‘closed in within our own ideas’, acknowledging that Irish Catholicism had a strong tradition of strict teaching.
According to The Tablet, the Association of Catholic Priests got the meaning of Archbishop Martin’s criticism of the young curate. Fr Seamus Ahearne ‘said the archbishop’s concern about the “young curate” was a familiar one as many were concerned that the few young priests there are in the Irish Church appear to embrace a very traditionalist view of Church. They are “so locked into a past model of priesthood” he commented and said this manifested itself in “the way that they dress up, the way they celebrate Mass, and in their views.’
This was a good month for faithful Catholics in Ireland and the UK because it marked the first academic term of two new Catholic colleges – Newman College Ireland and the School of the Annunciation: Centre for the New Evangelisation, England. Both educational institutions are committed to fostering among students the passion, insight and creativity that only comes from the obedience of faith to God’s revelation safeguarded, explained and taught by the Magisterium of the Church.
Cardinal George Pell travelled from Rome to celebrate with two hundred staff, students and guests, the Foundation Mass of the School of the Annunciation at Buckfast Abbey, Devon. Cardinal Pell, one of the patrons of the School, delivered a stirring homily on the role of the new school:
‘The School of the Annunciation is a brave and important initiative, one example of the New Evangelisation at work; the challenges proposed to us by recent popes, and especially by Saint John Paul II. The New Evangelisation is not only wrestling with the traditional wounds deriving from original sin, but is doing so in a westernised society where the ancient equilibriums have been thrown out of kilter by the invention of the pill and a materialism which sees too many children as too expensive. The old wounds have been exacerbated in new ways by the ready availability of drugs, internet pornography and easy abortions.’
The School of the Annunciation offers a variety of on-line and residential courses and Newman College Ireland offers a four-year residential Liberal Arts course.
School of the Annunciation: http://www.schooloftheannunciation.com/
Newman College Ireland: http://www.newmancollege.ie/
This was the month that tested the degree to which many of us – clergy and laity – truly lived by the gifts of the Holy Spirit that we received through the Sacrament of Confirmation – Wisdom, Understanding, Counsel, Fortitude, Knowledge, Piety and Fear of the Lord.
I’m sure that down the years there will have been times when readers of Catholic Voice have been concerned, upset and angered by the dissent and compromise rife in the Irish and English Church. But nothing prepared us for the distress and sense of helplessness that we experienced at the shocking spectacle of bad teaching, confusion and scheming displayed during the Extraordinary Synod.
Since returning from the Synod Archbishop Diarmuid Martin and Cardinal Nichols have attempted to present a positive image of the Synod, resolutely denying that there was confusion and division among the Synod Fathers. However, having listened to, and read, the testimony of Cardinal Burke, Cardinal Müller, Cardinal Pell and Cardinal Napier this rosy portrayal of the Synod remains unconvincing.
One has only to read the infamous mid-synod Relatio post disceptationem to know that adherence to the Deposit of Faith was in danger of going seriously adrift, until Catholic commonsense was restored by some faithful bishops. The fact that the suspect paragraphs on divorce and remarriage, cohabitation, and homosexuality remain in the Relatio Synodi has left an abiding sense of apprehension and distrust among faithful Catholics at the prospect of the Synod in 2015. The implausible denials that there is anything wrong have only added to the sense of impending crisis
Pope Francis entered the cockpit of one of the most secular political institutions in the world – the European Union – and frankly challenged the European Parliament’s unquestioning promotion of secularism and consumerism. About its abandonment of Europe’s Christian roots the Holy Father said:
‘An anonymous second-century author wrote that “Christians are to the world what the soul is to the body”. The function of the soul is to support the body, to be its conscience and its historical memory. A two-thousand-year-old history links Europe and Christianity. It is a history not free of conflicts and errors, but one constantly driven by the desire to work for the good of all.’
Pope Francis also criticised Europe’s promotion of a society that throws away the vulnerable and poor, including unborn children, saying:
‘Men and women risk being reduced to mere cogs in a machine that treats them as items of consumption to be exploited, with the result that – as is so tragically apparent – whenever a human life no longer proves useful for that machine, it is discarded with few qualms, as in the case of the terminally ill, the elderly who are abandoned and uncared for, and children who are killed in the womb.’
Cardinal Müller, the Prefect for the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, directly challenged those bishops repeating the mantra that their proposed innovations are ‘pastoral’ and not ‘doctrinal’. Cardinal Müller told the International Theological Commission:
‘Any separation of theory from practice of the faith would be a subtle, but serious Christological heresy. This would obscure the dynamics of the Incarnation, which is part of any healthy theology. Christ had said, "I am the way, the truth and the life”. Therefore, there can be no truth without life and no life without truth.’
Cardinal Müller’s strong defence of the intrinsic unity between doctrine and pastoral care begs the question, what does he think of the 2015 Synod preparatory document explicitly downplaying doctrine? The Lineamenta states:
‘The proposed questions which follow ... are intended to assist the bishops' conferences in their reflection and to avoid, in their responses, a formulation of pastoral care based simply on an application of doctrine, which would not respect the conclusions of the Extraordinary Synodal Assembly and would lead their reflection far from the path already indicated.’
The Lineamenta’s unfortunate wording appears to be suggesting that the curate’s egg of a Final Relatio has superseded the authority of the Catechism of the Catholic Church. If bishops pay attention to this directive then they are in danger of abandoning the only sure guide we have to navigate this tempestuous sea, setting us towards the rocks of serious Christological heresy.
Hail, Queen of Heaven, the ocean star
As we look ahead to 2015 I invite the readers of the Catholic Voice to join me in entrusting the storm-tossed Church, and ourselves, to the Blessed Virgin Mary by recalling the great Marian hymn of Fr John Lingaards:
Hail, Queen of Heaven, the ocean star,
Guide of the wanderer here below,
Thrown on life's surge, we claim thy care,
Save us from peril and from woe.
Mother of Christ, Star of the sea
Pray for the wanderer, pray for me.