Friday 29 October 2010

Boy Bishops

I must admit that I had thought the custom of making a boy bishop was something pertaining particularly to Mediæval England (with one or two modern and self-conscious revivals). Well, I was intrigued and pleased to read that the custom still endures in Palencia, Spain, where it seems that the custom of annually creating an obispillo has just been revived, having being going on (give or take a civil war or so) since 1220. It takes place on the feast of the Holy Innocents (so I apologize for only noticing it today), and the boy-bishop presides in the chapter house, rides through the city on a white horse, preaches, and even censes the altar in the Cathedral at Vespers. And he dresses far more splendidly than the real bishop does!

If you read Spanish, you can see more here, and here.

In Burriana, they elect a boy bishop more conventionally on the feast of St Nicholas.

And they do the whole thing in Burgos, too, on Holy Innocents.

Here, the Obispillo addresses the Mayor of Burgos and his Corporation

And presides in the Cathedral with his boy canons, wearing a stole priest-style

Wednesday 27 October 2010

Pædophilia—you've read the book, now see the film.

The acclaimed German (former Catholic, now Presbyterian) film director, Wim Wenders, President for the last ten years of the European Film Academy is to make a film about the Catholic Church and pædophilia, I imagine because nobody has spoken about this subject before.

He plans to tell the whole story, including accusing Pope Benedict of having failed to break the vicious circle of silence about the subject.

Zapatero to meet the Pope

Perhaps the most openly anti-Church premier that Spain has seen since the Civil War, José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero (right, not to be confused with Mr Bean, left)  is, after all, to meet the Holy Father when he visits Spain next month to consecrate Gaudi's famous Sagrada Familia church (or the bits of it that are finished, anyway), and also to visit Santiago di Compostella, the shrine of St James that has a hugely important symbolic status for the Spanish self-understanding of nationhood.

People had been wondering whether there would be a meeting, since a non-appearance might be construed to be a snub. In the opinion of the government, it is quite sufficient that the Holy Father be welcomed by the president of Catalunya, José Montilla and his assistant.

By not turning up, of course, Zapatero could claim to be sensitive to Catalunyas devolutionary aspirations. But it looks bad, doesn't it? And though Barcelona is in Catalunya, Compostella is not. So now Zapatero is to meet the Holy Father after all, for the first time.

At Barcelona airport.

'sólo de "unos momentos"—and only for a few moments.

Big of him.

I hope the Holy Father gives him a rosary.

Tuesday 26 October 2010

The New Cardinals

A friend last night drew my attention to the blog of Paolo Rodari, called Palazzo Apostolico. It appears to be very well informed on Vatican politics, and if Italian isn't your thing, there is always Google Translator which will have a pretty good stab at a whole webpage if you enter in the url.

Rodari, an Italian himself, of course, comments on the remarkable number of Italians among the new voting cardinals, and the remarkable number of curial, as opposed to residentiary ('pastoral') cardinals:

1. Angelo Amato, S.D.B., Prefect for the Causes of Saints;  Italian Curial
2. Antonios Naguib, Coptic Patriarch;
3.  Robert Sarah, President of Cor Unum; Curial
4. Francesco Monterisi, Archpriest of St Paul's outside the Walls; ItaliaCurial
5. Fortunato Baldelli, Major Penitentiary; ItaliaCurial
6. Raymond Leo Burke, Prefect of the Apostolic Signatura; Curial
7. Kurt Koch, President of the Christian Unity thing Curial
8. Paolo Sardi, Vice Camerlengo; ItaliaCurial
9.  Mauro Piacenza, Prefect of the Congregation of the Clergy; ItaliaCurial
10. Velasio De Paolis, C.S., President of Economic Affairs; ItaliaCurial
11. Gianfranco Ravasi, President of the Pont. Council for Culture; ItaliaCurial
12. Medardo Joseph Mazombwe, Former Archbishop of Lusaka;
13. Raúl Eduardo Vela Chiriboga, Former Archb of Quito;
14. Laurent Monsengwo Pasinya, Archb of Kinshasa);
15. Paolo Romeo, Archb of Palermo;  Italian
16. Donald William Wuerl, Archb of Washington;
17. Raymundo Damasceno Assis, Archb of Aparecida;
18. Kazimierz Nycz, Archb of Warsaw;
19. Albert Malcolm Ranjith Patabendige Don, Archb of Colombo;
20. Reinhard Marx, Archb of Munich & Freising.

Plus, of course, the non-voting cardinals.

Granted the fact that all these people might have expected to become a Cardinal, it is a little startling to discover that there would be 25 Italians in a potential conclave, which is to say 20% of the 121 Cardinal electors. The Americans come next, with 13 (about 15%). Is the Holy Father suggesting that his successor should be an Italian? The Vatican doesn't think so (openly at least), though it has to be said that the names of Cardinals Scola of Venice and the eloquent Ravasi of Milan are in the air. Rodari, however, is of the opinion that the next Pope will be a Latin American, and the one after, an African.

Still, it is strange that, though the majority of Catholics now live in the Southern Hemisphere, this is not reflected in the College of Cardinals. And a great deal of the reason for this must surely go on the fact that so many Cardinals are from the Roman Curia. More of this in a minute. In his pontificate up to and including his forthcoming third consistory, Pope Benedict will have created 50 voting cardinals, of whom 27 are from Europe (14 Italians) and 23 from the rest of the world. It can be argued that in fact Pope Benedict has simply appointed Cardinals to the jobs that would expect to be accompanied by a red hat, though rigidly excluding all those who still have a Cardinal of voting age, albeit retired from active ministry (Florence, Turin, New York, Toledo, Brussels, and of course Westminster). So, says Rodari, we must expect a fourth consistory some time in the not-too-distant future.

The number of curial cardinals does make one pause and wonder quite when somebody is going to do something about the Curia. It is said that when Pope Benedict was elected, venerable curialists quaked, because, as someone put it, 'he knows where all the bodies are buried'. As a long-time curial official himself, he knows how the system works, and he was best placed to make some changes.

But then, perhaps, that is why he did not tackle the job. He knew that it would be a labour of Hercules, and that not only would he probably not have the time to do it properly, being elderly, but also there were more serious matters needing attention—child abuse, to name but one.

It has always seemed strange to me that bureaucrats feel unable to do their job unless they are created the bishop of a semi-fictional see. They feel, I suppose, that it gives them a certain authority. In a sense, though, I suspect that this is just what the rank of Monsignor is created for; the clobber of a bishop without the clout, as it were, or more precisely, without the cure of souls which surely is the real charge of a bishop. Given that there is an analogy between the canons of the diocese and its bishop with the cardinals and the pope, might we not find in the diocesan custom of creating honorary canonries for those who are superannuated, or worthy of honour, but without the necessity of actually doing the job, a good precedent for creating a class of non-voting, honorary cardinals, to include those who no longer have the cure of souls, or those who never had it, because of working in a Roman office? This would create many vacancies that could be filled with men who do have the cure of souls. And it would mean that Cardinal Murphy-O'Connor and his contemporaries would pass to the ranks of Honorary Cardinals, with all the clobber, while Vincent Nichols would already have been nominated for the Active Red Hat in the forthcoming consistory.

Just a thought.

Monday 25 October 2010


'Catholic bloggers aim to purge dissent'

'Catholic Taliban'

These headlines have been floating around the blogosphere in recent days, and they have stirred something which has been cooking at the back of my mind for a little while.

There has recently (over the last seven hundred years or so, I mean) been a tendency towards the repression of dissent. Some have traced it back to St Augustine's reluctant agreement that, if the only way to restrain the violence of the Circumcellion Donatists was to use violence back, then this might be justified, catching the little foxes that might destroy the vines.
Already there was an understanding between Church and State. It had begun with the Edict of Milan in 313 whereafter the Church henceforward would support the state, and the state would support the Church. It wasn't altogether a marriage made in heaven, but it more or less worked, with the Church being sometimes the junior, sometimes the senior, partner.

Heresy was considered seditious. It was considered to affect the State quite as much as the Church. From the Church's point of view, the state, then, would enforce orthodoxy for its own purposes as much as the Church's, this really getting into its stride only quite recently, with the Cathar business in France.
At bottom, this meat that if the Church said someone was a heretic, the state would kindly burn them and rid both Church and State of a troublesome individual. Everyone (except the heretic) benefitted.

For all sorts of reasons which I won't go into here, (and simplifying dangerously), the Enlightenment changed all that. Orthodoxy was considered the Church's matter, and the Church was left to get on with it. The concordat with Napoleon strengthened the Church's hand a little, but really from now on, the Church was on her own. The nineteenth century growth of Ultramontanism and the proclamation of Papal Infallibility was enormously helpful in strengthening the centralized moral authority of the Church, as was the invention of modern methods of communication. Once what Wiseman called the telegraph's 'magic wires' had connected Rome to the rest of the world, it meant that, were one produced, Wilfrid Ward really could have a new Papal Encyclical on his breakfast table every morning. And Rome could hear of naughtinesses in remote dioceses within minutes.

The new system got its first real trial in the opening years of the twentieth century with the new heresy of Modernism. Hearing about it quite early on, Rome sought to nip this weed in the bud, and in 1908 or so fulminated the two encyclicals of Pascendi Dominici Gregis and Lamentabile Sane. Now, the State was not involved, but the Church yet pursued modernists relentlessly as it could. In my studies for a book I am writing, I have seen how the chillingly-named 'Vigilance Committee' of the Southwark diocese called in priest after priest and grilled them on their theological opinions. They found much to condemn, but there was a horrible atmosphere; brother reported on brother, fulminations were fulminated, excommunicands were excommunicated and buried without Catholic rites…… and for what? Sixty years later it all sprang up again, because the matter had never been properly dealt with in the first place.

Simple condemnation is no real use unless you can call on secret police, thumbscrews and a stake to back it up. And I'm happy to leave that sort of stuff in the past, and I wish it hadn't happened then, either. Quite a lot of the condemnation stuff happened in the last pontificate, the then Cardinal Ratzinger having taken quite a lot of the flack for it.

He was on a losing wicket, of course. The world's bishops were deeply reluctant to sort out heretics themselves, and so left it to Rome, rather like a harassed mother saying 'just wait till your father gets home' so that she can play the nice parent and let the father become the hated one. Several of the cases that came to the Holy Office could and should have been sorted out at home. Tissa Balasuriya for one. Even Hans Küng for another. And, when the case came to Rome, Ratzinger had to do with far more fuss and scandal what these chaps' own bishops should have already quietly sorted out themselves.
In addition, I suspect, that the notorious condemnations without adequate hearings were not Ratzinger's idea either, and may suggest why he invited Hans Küng to tea so soon after his election, and why he appointed a gentle man to the Holy Office, and why the same Holy Office has gone very quiet (on the whole) since.

What I am trying to lurch my way round to saying is that nowadays condemnation is not the best way to deal with things. The Holy Father does not think so, nor do I. Condemnation á la Pascendi did not deal with the Modernist problem, but drove it underground, where it brewed and grumbled until it sprang forth a hundred times stronger.
These days we are not in the position of simply condemning someone and trusting in the state to make the problem go away. Now, we have to fight with our minds and with our pens, with our prayer and with our good example. And if we are going to fight, it is best that we know what our enemy thinks, and why he thinks it. If we simply suppress him and his writings, we are never going to know what the problems are that have led to this situation. If we have not heard the genuine weight of his argument, if we have not listened with openness and goodness in our hearts, then we will not be dealing with the situation, simply repressing it, and that fruitlessly.

It is surely much more important to win somebody's soul than to burn his body. And ideally we could even make a friend of him.

To which end, I say, not Tabula delenda est, but Tabula promovenda est. While Newchurch has an organ to express itself, we have a means of understanding not what we think it says, but what it actually says, and we can argue with it, and debate with it in charity, in omni patientia, and perhaps win it over. If something offends you in its pages, write in, or do a blog post, or something. Don't just say 'burn it'!

Sunday 24 October 2010

How will it all work out?

I have been asked by a commenter on the Anglo Catholic blog about the laity; what should they do? This is not, of course, for me to say, and anything I write is pure supposition based on what I hope is common sense and some knowledge of how these things work.

The arrangements are already being worked on, no doubt, by Bishop Hopes and others. But what can be said is that nothing can really be established until it is known which clergy will be coming across with which established groups of people.

This will have to be the first stage. Clergy in this situation are asked to have spoken to their Anglican superiors by the end of October. That will set the ball rolling. It will establish fairly rapidly where identifiable congregations will be found and what their needs will be.

In a very few cases, there may be a building and the overwhelming proportion of an existing congregation. This is relatively easy to sort out. I imagine that the schema worked out in the USA, and commented on by Fr Christopher Phillips on the Anglo Catholic Blog here might provide a model. No Mass was celebrated in this period, but after a month Fr Philips was ordained and everyone received into the Church together. Clearly those Anglicans wishing to identify with the Ordinariate would attach themselves to one of these congregations if that is feasible distance-wise.

The second case will be of a sizeable group with a priest but without a church building. Here Bishop Hopes and his team will need to negotiate a home for the priest and a church for the community. In the case of the church, this will very likely be the use of an existing Catholic church pending more permanent arrangements. Perhaps the Redundant Churches Commission might be persuaded to make over one or other property to such a group. I think, for instance, of St Andrew's Waterloo Street in Brighton which is standing empty but might be very suitable. In all other respects, this group would probably operate like the first.

The third case, more difficult to solve, is where there is a priest wishing to become part of the Ordinariate, but only a smallish handful of laity who have followed him from his old parish, plus one or two from neighbouring parishes. I suspect that the greatest number of takers will be in this category. Here, there will be need for delicate negotiations with local Roman Catholic parishes to find a home and, probably, part-time work, perhaps as a chaplain or part-time Latin-Rite priest in a parish, along the lines I suggested in the last post. No doubt such a priest's work with the Ordinariate will initially be largely liturgical and confined to Mass on Sundays and greater feasts. But this can change, and will change as he becomes known; laity will take the trouble to travel to find his Mass and no doubt some Roman Catholics will find the time, location and ambience agreeable and tag along for the ride. A group like this will either grow or fade out with time. If it grows, it can get its own priest and buildings; if it fades, it fades.

The fourth case is a priest entirely on his own. He, I think, will simply need to be loaned out to a diocese, perhaps full-time, where he can pursue promoting the Ordinariate way of doing things as best he can. He may well find that opportunities will arise of starting something—a Mass in Anglican style, an evensong—which may slowly build interest and eventually a congregation. He may travel around to isolated small groups of Ordinariate Catholics, encouraging them and celebrating the sacraments for them from time to time.

The fifth case is of retired clergy. I see no reason why, especially if they have their pension sorted out, they should simply not be ordained, incardinated to the Ordinariate, and then left to post themselves wherever they choose, helping out, or sustaining and pastoring existing groups as they find them.

Unattached laity are in a slightly difficult position. It is entirely possible that there may be a family or even individuals who are the only members of their parish who think they would like to join the Ordinariate. If this is the case, they will need to travel to where they can find a community to be received with. Thereafter, when they cannot get to one of the centres, they will need to fulfil their Sunday Obligation at the local Roman Rite church, but may certainly regard themselves as being members of the Ordinariate. In time they will either move nearer to the church of their choice, or maybe work towards building something locally. There is no reason why a small group of laity should not meet together in the local Catholic Church to say or sing Evensong together, or even have a visiting priest celebrate Mass for them from time to time according to the Anglican Use (whatever that may prove to be).

Ordination Preparation
The early comers are likely to be ordained with very little additional preparation. This will probably come as a relief to many, but it should not entirely do so. One of the most commonly heard observations made by those who have crossed over in the last twenty years is that 'it is more different than you think'. Canon Law is the obvious case in point. This is a system that clergy will be required to drive; Canon Law cannot be ignored as is sometimes the case in the Church of England. The Law of Marriage, for instance, is the most important element, where doing the wrong thing can actually invalidate the Sacrament, and there are a lot of wrong things that one may do. The necessary information will need to be provided somewhere and somehow. But probably most of it will have to happen after ordination. Just a guess.

Lay instruction
Initially, the same will be true of the laity, that the early takers will be received with little preparation. I am aware that there are Anglican parishes in England that are already systematically studying Catholic Doctrine with a view to joining the Ordinariate, and this is highly commendable. The biggest difference is that the laity will then be full Catholics, and bound, for instance, to attend Mass every Sunday and Holy day on pain of sin, to confess their grave sins at least once a year, and all the other requirements. Some understanding of why these things are necessary may in some cases be important to have provided

Realistically, there is likely to be quite a bit of coming and going from the Church of England to and from the Ordinariate in the early years. But I expect things will settle down, and the Ordinariate will become part of the normal ecclesiastical landscape, at least in the bigger towns.

In all this, I should emphasize, perhaps, that I have no insider knowledge. I am not on Bishop Hopes' team nor do I know anyone who is. Everything I have written is pure supposition. It just seems to me that if I were in charge, this is what I would do, and I cannot think of another way of doing it.

The Elephant in the Room

A good friend emailed me last night and drew my attention to one major anxiety of Tibernauts: money! Yes, it really is the elephant in the room, isn't it?

The Tablet article that announced the appointment of Bishop Alan Hopes to the Ordinariate in England and Wales also had this to say:

Another important issue to be resolved concerns the funding of the clergy. Some Anglican clergy own properties; some don’t. But all will leave behind their Church of England final-salary pensions. Priests within the ordinariate will be paid and housed by it, and there are rumours of Anglo-Catholic benefactors bank-rolling the operation to make it viable. 

But wherever the money comes from, the stipends will be relatively small and ordinariate priests will be allowed, and may even be encouraged, to take on secular work. The St Barnabas Society, which looks after Anglican clergy who are reordained as Catholic priests, said it will offer financial and pastoral support to ordinariate clergy. 
Secretary of the society Fr Robin Sanders admitted that finding employment might be hard for clergy who hadn’t worked outside the Church for years. 

Yes, money is an issue. In 1992, there was no Ordinariate option. Priests had to find dioceses who would take them on, and, in several cases, a wife and children also. Sometimes bishops made extravagant promises that were not lived up to, others shrugged and admitted that though they were desperate for priests, they hadn't got the funds to support a whole family.

Catholic priests get paid a great deal less than Anglicans and, as I remarked on a post on the Anglo-Catholic blog a few months ago, the money comes from all sorts of strange corners. Married priests do manage, but, like the rest of us, they have to forage a bit to put together a decent wage. Those concerned would do best to speak to one of the married Catholic priests.

The Ordinariates will be in a different situation. There is unlikely to be compensation as there was in 1992, unless Parliament can again be called on to intervene. The Ordinarates' desire for independence will mean that in fairness the ordinary dioceses cannot be directly called upon to bankroll something which will bring them no discernible benefit. Here, I think, the role of Bishop Alan Hopes is going to be crucial. If the first man to lead the Ordinariate were to be a recent Tibernaut, he would find it immensely difficult to establish relations with the dioceses, and I think that these relations are going to be key to the success or failure of the project. Alan Hopes already has all the right contacts. Let me unpack that.

Even if the Ordinariate finds ways of persuading wealthy benefactors to help out, or manages to bring with it funds from various currently-Anglican societies, there is still going to be a massive initial investment that will have to be made in the matter of things like houses, before one can even think about clerical salaries. The Ordinariate is going to have to be fairly reliant, one way or another, on the co-operation of ordinary Catholic dioceses; there is no way that it can establish itself, let alone survive, in a hortus conclusus.

But with some co-operation, this ought to work fine. One set of resources that most Catholic dioceses have right now (and could be persuaded to share) are houses, mostly in parishes that have lost a resident priest and sharing now one priest with the neighbouring parish. The Adur Valley is in this situation, having two houses. However, these houses are not owned (for the most part) by the diocese but (according to Canon—though not Civil—Law) by the parish. This means that the parish has the right in Canon Law to use its house to benefit itself, whether by accommodating a priest, or else by collecting rent from it. A diocese that wanted to take that house away to accommodate an Ordinariate priest (and maybe a family) would feel the wrath of the parish unless the parish were to derive some real benefit. The benefit need not be great. One Sunday Mass and one from time to time in the week need be all that was required—the pastoral work would continue to be the responsibility of the local diocesan priest. In other words, this could be a better deal than the common house-for-duty arrangement in the Church of England, because an Ordinariate priest would not, potentially, need to undertake pastoral work in the diocesan parish, but could concentrate on building up his own, Ordinariate, parish, and/or by supplementing his income in other ways. He could also use the diocesan church buildings to begin his congregation since it seems unlikely that the Church of England will permit buildings to be shipped over the Tiber. This will only work if the Ordinariate clergy are willing to work alongside diocesan clergy. If they hold themselves aloof, things will be very much more difficult.

And, of course, the various TAC congregations around the world will already have their entire set-up running and functioning, and will not need this sort of arrangement.

There are various chaplaincies that can be obtained. I see that Jeffrey Steel de Cura Animarum has got himself a school chaplaincy. Now, he's got a big family and seems to be managing fine (or well enough, anyway). To diocesan priests, who are getting more and more stretched, the idea of a chaplaincy in their parish being taken by an Ordinariate priest should be be a very desirable thing. Not just schools, but hospitals, prisons, airports, military bases, can be sources of income if properly negotiated, and need not prevent the establishment of Ordinariate cures of souls. Many of these chaplaincies are now being staffed by lay people; to have a priest doing the job would be wonderful.

My friend writes that there is an expectation that wives will need to work, and possibly be the larger breadwinner. In these days of recession this is an unfortunate necessity; indeed it is not something that the Church imposes, but has become the norm in the world, part of our modern way of life. I guess it all depends on the standard of living required. But I have to say that for the Latin Church, celibacy is the norm, and has been so for a very long time. I do not think that people and their whole families have the right to expect to be maintained in the standard to which they have become accustomed on a single clerical salary when the Church dispenses them from the necessity of celibacy—not that this is what my friend was asking for.

I do not understand that reference in the Tablet quotation about losing final-salary pensions. Perhaps someone can explain it. I cannot think that it means that all pensions for years already worked are to be taken away: that would surely be illegal.

And what about taking up tent-making? Some may feel it necessary to take a secular job to supplement their income. Unless one is really trying to support a family of ten single-handedly, and stay entirely away from the diocesan system, I do hope that this isn't going to be necessary. But it might, I suppose, especially in the early days before ordination. I cannot really make any comment here, because each person knows his or her skills and inclinations. It might, again, we worth contacting your local Catholic diocese to see whether they have any jobs available. Parishes and schools often need office help of various kinds, and this may provide just enough to tide people over. Invigilation (proctoring, to our transatlantic brethren) in schools can also be a good find for those who can get free during the day.

No doubt people can come up with other ideas. But what might be apparent is that clergy might initially have to be prepared to be nomads on the earth; the Ordinariate is a wholly new thing, without history or financial backing. It's going to take a while for it to get to the point where it can guarantee a living to all its clergy. With God's grace it will get there sooner rather than later, but a lot of this will depend on how the layfolk will also make the transition. On that, we need to wait and see.

Saturday 23 October 2010


An esteemed future colleague, who right now is in his ecclesiastical swimming trunks, running up and down the bank in his track suit, touching his toes and generally limbering up, worries about the reception that he is going to receive on this side of the Tiber.

His concern is perfectly natural and understandable, and so I thought I might put a few ideas down to reassure him.

1) I was already a priest in 1992, and I remember the concern that there was then in the Catholic Church about Tiber-swimmers shaking things up. Everything has changed now. I think of the many former Anglican clergy who have become part of this diocese since then, and can say with absolute assurance that they (and their wives and children, where applicable) have become valued and loved parts of our diocesan family. Indeed, it is hard to imagine life without them. I have never heard a word of complaint about them—well, all right, about one of them, but the problem is personal, not ecclesiastical.
What I mean is that these early-adopters have prepared the ground, and the clergy in the Catholic Church know now what to expect (which we didn't in 1992) and, on the whole, are positive, though curious, about what might develop over the next few months.

2) What is different is that new Tibernauts will not join dioceses, but have their own arrangement. In practice, we all know that we will be working very closely together. Some of you chaps no doubt will have your own congregations who can support you full-time. Others will help out in Roman-rite parishes, which will be of mutual benefit—hard-pressed parish priests like myself will appreciate the assistance, and you guys no doubt will appreciate the financial return (to say nothing of the fraternal and pastoral support). On this subject, please be determined not to hold yourselves aloof from our fraternity; that would cause problems (for obvious reasons). And deanery meetings (=chapters) are not at all what they are in the CofE: you might actually enjoy them. When we all share the same faith (more or less), there is far less to worry about.

3) I expect that the bishops and their cohorts are genuinely a little apprehensive. This is because they don't know really how this is going to work out in practice. Perfectly naturally, they are worried about this group that is going to be pretty independent, a sort of loose cannon possibly, in our midst. And so they are seeking to tie down the cannon wherever they can. However:
(a) Catholic bishops are not Anglican bishops. I mean that here there is a real respect for the authority of the Holy Father (in practice, even where it is not heartfelt), and if he (the Holy Father) establishes the Ordinariates as independent, they will be independent. We really do respect Canon Law. But you can't blame the bishops for trying to keep things as manageable as they can.
(b) The people appointed to deal in this matter can be relied upon to be sympathetic. Bishop Alan Hopes clearly knows where you are all coming from, and Archbishop Longley, too, is a warm and good man; I have known him for a good quarter of a century. There is a real wish to make this work. If the bishops wanted to make trouble, believe me, there would have been other people appointed. These are good guys, and sympathetic to you.
(c) I expect that you might be worried about the requirement that you approach your own Anglican ordinary before making any move. This requirement is a realistic thing. The Catholic Church is still in ecumenical dialogue with the Church of England and has no desire to make enemies. The fact that we now know that any prospect of Church unity is put off to a stardate that none of us can guess as a consequence of the recent Synodical policy does not change this. Personally, I genuinely wish to remain on good terms with my Anglican opposite numbers in the Adur Valley, and the bishops wish to remain on good terms with their Anglican counterparts. Actual unity may not be a near prospect (=understatement of the millennium), but there is lots of other good work that we can and should do together. You (understandably) may feel anger and resentment toward them, but we don't feel it in the same way, except on your behalf. To us, the CofE has always done its own thing and always will.
The Ordinariates came from Rome simply because the English and Welsh hierarchy could not have established anything of the sort without causing offence. But that doesn't mean that they don't think that it is a good idea. It just means that they need to soften the blow for the CofE bishops, and make it work all round. Saying a polite goodbye to one's existing superior is not an unreasonable thing to ask, however badly one may feel that he has treated one. One can listen politely to his efforts to persuade one to remain, and then politely explain (again, I know) why that is impossible. Give him a bottle of wine and a box of chocolates for his missus, thank him, and come home.

Perhaps some of those who have already swum the Tiber since 1992 might care to add comments.

Bishop Alan Hopes to head the English Ordinariate

Well, so The Tablet says. And it is exactly what most of us expected. His candidature is obvious, given his personal history (first Anglican priest and now Auxiliary Bishop in Westminster), but also (in my experience) simply because he is a measured and kindly prelate who, I'm sure, will do a good job. He is one of the good guys, in fact. He won't set the Tiber or Thames alight, but those about to swim the Tiber can expect a sensible, sympathetic and warm welcome.

The clever bit comes with the news that he will only do the job temporarily, handing over to someone else, to be decided on by a governing council (a chapter of canons, basically) consisting of six priests, three of whom are expected to be currently bishops in the Church of England; these would be the two current flying bishops who are changing into their trunks for the swim, plus, I suppose, either Bishop Edwin Barnes or John Broadhurst. Or maybe the decision was made before Bishop Broadhurst's solemn announcement, and he will be included anyway.

Friday 22 October 2010

Beelzebub's Kazoo and other Catholic newspapers

Fr Ray's excellent blog, St Mary Magdalen, has been dealing quite a lot recently with the matter of Fr Clifton's little run-in with Mgr Loftus. He and others have dealt with the matter and, as is my custom, I don't want to rehash what you can read much more profitably elsewhere.

The particular thing that I would like to pick up on is his comment regarding the Catholic newspapers. In the Adur Valley, we don't take the Catholic Times at all. Personally, I have never liked it: when it was re-started, it seems to me that it was intended as a bit of a Trojan Horse. The Universe had, I suspect, been losing readers to the Catholic Herald at the time, and so the publishers decided to revive the Catholic Times as a challenge, to regain the more conservative readers. However, some of the articles I found decidedly fishy, and this was no surprise, given the then editorial board (it's a long time ago now, and I can't remember who they were). It seemed to me that if one were to put 'Follow Peter' on the masthead, one could, and did, put almost anything inside the paper. And of course there were some good names inside, too. But I feared that it would be an exercise in boiling fish; they tell me that (being cold-blooded) fish will not notice if you gently increase the temperature in their aquarium until they are boiled to death. I feared that the conservative readership of the Catholic Times were gently being boiled into Liberalism by means of this particular paper.

The Catholic Herald had a bit of a career, too. I remember Fr James Kenny, my parish priest when I was a boy, banning it from the church newspaper table on account of its left-wing views 'I don't know why I give it house-room', he fulminated one Sunday in a homily. This tendency had begun under the editorship of Michael de la Bédoyère (1934-62), an enthusiast for the Council, for ecumenism and the vernacular liturgy. The liberal progression found its final expression in the time of the enfant-terrible editor Peter Stanford (1986-92). For a while it was christened 'The Lapsed-Catholic Herald'. Peter Stanford resigned after his book Catholics and Sex went too far even for the Bishops' Conference.
But then the paper was taken over by Cristina Odone, who turned it right round. She astutely saw that the main problem of the Universe and its satellites was that the company was owned by the Bishops' Conference (Odone was known by Cardinal Hume as 'The Odd One') and therefore peddled the official liberal line on everything; this, however, was not where people really were. So, lightly dismissing the Universe in my hearing as 'the Catholic News of the World' (or something of the sort), and seeing the independence of the Herald as its principal strength, she aimed her paper at a very different market. And she succeeded very well, because there was nothing else for that constituency just then, except the slightly nutty Christian Order.
But, my goodness, she really got up the noses of the Bishops' Conference! One columnist she had introduced was the inimitable Alice Thomas Ellis whose column was egregiously anti-Newchurch. In 1996 Alice Thomas Ellis penned a piece on the recently-deceased Archbishop of Liverpool, Derek Worlock which caused the bishops finally to revolt. They could do nothing directly, as the Herald was independent, so they threatened that it would be forbidden to sell copies in churches unless Alice were sacked. Poor Alice went, and was soon followed by Cristina, who went to write a book, and then went to the New Statesman. I wish I knew when it was that the Catholic Times restarted, but it must have been during this period, I think; perhaps the Bishops' attempt to capture the conservative end of the market.

 Cristina Odone was succeeded briefly by Debbie Jones (who then went to work for the Bishops' Conference, and now writes letters on animal rights to the papers) and then by the splendid William Oddie, the convert Anglican cleric, who really put a rocket under the paper and sent it into the stratosphere. The Universe still claimed to be the number one read, but it never looked that way to me. If anyone took a paper, they took the Herald. Wiliam Oddie left the paper in 2004 during a strange manoeuvre shrouded in mystery which coincided with Peter Shepherd's purchase of the paper. Luke Coppen has done very well since, steering the paper to its present assured place in the Catholic porch. And since he reads this blog from time to time, perhaps he can correct me if I have gone wrong anywhere.

Where the Herald has recently been particularly acute is the move onto the Web, which Luke Coppen wisely pioneered, seeing that the internet has changed everything. The Universe has its site now, too, labelled TotalCatholic.Com (and that very title tells its own story, doesn't it?). This reflects what Fr Ray has been writing about; the decreasing use of traditional-type newspapers. Like St Mary Magdalen's, the Adur Valley has to dump piles of unsold newspapers every week (though fewer Heralds than the others, since people like it; they found they liked the paper when their parish priest was asked to write an article or two at the time of the Papal elections).

These days, more and more people are reading websites, and the websites are reaching far more people than traditional papers ever could do. This is what has done more to reassert the traditional forms of Catholicism than anything else. While the media were in the hands of the few, the media had to reflect their owners' views. Now anyone can publish anything and have it read, and real opinions of real people can make themselves known. Now, people do not have to physically walk into a Catholic Church to find out about Catholicism; they can do it from their own desk, and this is having its impact.

With its journalistic experience, the Catholic Herald should be able to keep ahead of the competition; but, let's face it, the competition these days is not from The Universe: it is from the Hermenutic of Continuity, or Fr Ray's blog or others.

The media that matter are now in dialogue in a way that they never were in the past, and in this way a consensus is being reached about the future of our faith. And it would seem to be right where Pope Benedict is pushing it.


Inspired by the same article on Fr Ray's blog, Ttony in The Muniment Room has a hilarious list of hate-words; go along and play.

More Irish Clichés

I've (briefly) been in Ireland again. I managed to take a single picture that has just about as many clichés as one might find in one place.
1) Donkeys
2) Thatched cottages—unfortunately in a lot of shadow on the right
3) Bog
4) Seaweed — Dulse and carigheen are both eaten
5) The quay and boat (for emigration)
6) Galway Bay (though it was mid-morning, not sunset).

It's Ballyvaughan (variously spelled) on the edge of the Burren in County Clare, and the thatched cottages are, alas, for the benefit of tourists rather than the real thing. It's a pretty little town, though.

The road around the Atlantic coast from Ballyvaughan to Lehinch (also variously spelled) is one of my favourite routes of the world. At Black Head I turned the engine off and got out of the car. The day was completely still, barely a ripple on the surface of the Atlantic. An approaching roar was only the sound of the tyres of another car, sounding extraordinarily loud in that silence and then fading into the distance.

I took two photographs which I have inexpertly photoshopped together. That's Black Head on the right, with Galway on the other side on the right (and Galway Bay in between, of course), with Connemara around the middle. Over on the left, you can just make out two of the Aran Islands, Inismor and Iniseer (also variously spelled). In the foreground, you can see the characteristic bare Karst landscape of the Burren, with those strange boulders lying around all over the place; Glacial Weirdnesses or Royal Peculiars, or something. Though the place looks very barren, it isn't at all; between the rocks is very fertile soil where nutritious verdage grows to nourish the animals farmed on the Burren since prehistoric times. Corcomroe Abbey, not far away, was known as St Peter's of the Fertile Rock in consequence.

The road goes on round to some of the most stupendous cliffs in Europe, the Cliffs of Moher. This is not my pic, but one I found on the web—I had to take a cut home as we were going to see my cousin in Limerick. The cliffs are quite breathtaking, especially when the weather is rough. There is a spring in the cliff face, pouring out and down the precipice, and I remember once when the wind was strong off the Atlantic that the blast blew the water high up in the air and back over the cliff onto the land—fabulous!

Modified Rapture

From the beginning I thought the Society of St Wilfrid and St Hilda to be a mistake. It would, I thought, provide a chimerical illusion of Anglo-Catholic normality that would hold people in the Church of England, but which would fade away into nothing as the new order increased its grip, ultimately leaving people stranded and starving on the wrong side of the fence. I considered (and still consider) that the Ordinariates are going to be the best place to preserve the historic Anglican patrimony, especially united with Peter in the vision of the Church united willed by our Lord.

But now, while I've been away in Ireland again, it seems that perhaps the Society of St Wilfrid and St Hilda may, after all, have produced something out of its Canterbury cap. Read Damian Thompson here. Forming another 'unholy alliance' with the Evangelicals, it may have enough votes to block the introduction of women bishops (for now) unless it obtains a 'safe area' wherein it can continue to operate. It has leverage, in other words.

This changes things, and, on the whole, I welcome it. It means that some Anglicans who might have considered the Ordinariates will stay in the Church of England. That is probably a good thing at least in some cases; reluctant converts are not happy converts, and this will make a more united Ordinariate that will not have to deal with quite a lot of problems caused by the presence of people who wouldn't really want to be there at all.

Better a good Anglican than a bad Catholic, in other words.

On the other hand, in the Church of England the process can continue as it has done over the last hundred and more years, and with the Ordinariates established, when people feel ready to cross over the Tiber, it will not be to a very foreign land. If there is friendly territory on either bank, this could be a good thing rather than a bad one.

Later addition:

I see that the excellent William Oddie doesn't think as I do on this matter, and is in fact highly disapproving of this initiative, regarding it almost as a deliberate insult. He comments
I can only say that I know some of these men of old [behind SWISH] and the ones I do know are about as “Catholic” in any real sense as a clockwork banana.
Well, yes; but would you really want clockwork bananas in the Ordinariates, William? 

Tuesday 19 October 2010

Episcopacy, priesthood and marriage

It is quite well known that both Archbishop Hepworth and Bishop John Broadhurst were baptized as Catholics. Indeed, I think that the Archbishop was also ordained a Catholic priest. As some have pointed out (with varying degrees of glee), Anglicanorum Cœtibus specifically excludes those who were baptized Catholics from membership.
Those baptized previously as Catholics outside the Ordinariate are not ordinarily eligible for membership, unless they are members of a family belonging to the Ordinariate.

It seems to be generally felt that this scuppers the right reverend gentlemen's chances: out of the frying pan and into the fire, in fact.

I'm pretty sure that something will be worked out. Ordinariates in the Western Rite exist more or less as parallel dioceses; one does not become a 'member' of it in such a way that one is not a 'member' of another diocese or is not permitted to worship in it. Ordinariate Catholics will simply be entitled to worship in their own churches in their own way, and worship in other churches if they want to, or welcome other Catholics to worship and receive the sacraments (Holy Communion, at any rate) in theirs.

The bishops will simply be rejoining the Church of their baptism, and, no doubt, will habitually worship in the Ordinariate churches, even if theoretically 'belonging' to the wider Latin rite. With respect to the gentlemen, I do not imagine that issues of fathering and needing to baptize their children in an Ordinariate will arise.
They will, presumably, not even need to be 'received'. I expect that there will need to be some sort of official dispensation from the canonical irregularity of their position, they will need to make a (very) good general confession, and their marital situation will need to be regularized. That one will be interesting. Both (I presume) married outside the Catholic Church (Archbishop Hepworth twice, I understand), and therefore their marriages will be regarded as null. Not really a problem; marriages can (and no doubt will) be convalidated.
The next step is interesting. Will Bishop Broadhurst, as a baptized and married Catholic of the Latin Rite be eligible for ordination? It would require a different level of dispensation, I think, if he cannot automatically 'belong' to the Ordinariate, even if it will be his normal place of worship. But it should surely not be above sorting out with a bit of good will. After all, where Rome legislates, Rome can dispense from its own legislation, and surely will in this case.
People have pointed out (sometimes with unholy and uncharitable glee) that Archbishop Hepworth will not even be able to receive Holy Communion as a former priest in an invalid second marriage. I am not sure about that. Certainly, both his marriages will be regarded as invalid, but his second marriage could be convalidated (and probably will be). Former priests have often been dispensed for valid marriage. So much for any prevention of the reception of Communion. The more pertinent question is whether he will be permitted to exercise his priesthood. His courage in leading so many to Catholic Communion would suggest that it would be unjust not to make an exception. But this will have to be balanced against the probable explosion of outrage from those who have left the priesthood to marry and who have felt the cost keenly, having never left the Church's communion to become Anglican or anything else. 'Why may we not also excercise our priesthood', they will say, with justice, 'we, who have borne the heat and burden of the day'.
I don't know how this will work out. Perhaps it has already been decided. But it will be interesting.

//Later comment. Having been away for a couple of days, it strikes me (duh!) that what AC is referring to in the paragraph quoted above is not clergy returning to Catholic unity, but rather existing Catholics who might seek to transfer to an Ordinariate. I apologize for the fact that it took a trip to Ireland to clear my brain cells enough to see this; I claim in mitigation that I was misled by someone else's interpretation.

Welcome home

to Giles Pinnock (of One Timothy 4) and his family, shortly to be received into full communion with the Catholic Church.
I am humbled at the courage and faith of such as they, and am sure that you will all keep them in your prayers and be ready to help with any practical needs that they have over the coming months.
May God bless them and grant them in abundance all the spiritual goods they seek.

You can read Giles' farewell homily to his parish on his blog.

Saturday 16 October 2010

Ushaw and the hermeneutic of continuity

Christopher Lamb, of The Tablet has posted his own reflection on the closure of St Cuthbert's, Ushaw. He thinks that there was an easy and obvious solution to the Ushaw problem: it could easily have become a Catholic college of the University of Durham, and he observes that the University itself was keen that this should have been so.

This would have been an imaginative use of the buildings, and entirely consonant with its own history. For the majority of its past, Ushaw (and Douai before it) was a 'mixed' college, which is to say, clerical and lay students studying together in one building (though then they were boys rather than undergraduates). If the college were not economically viable as a clerical college, why not revert to the former style? Seminarians can easily follow their own life within a larger institution.

Yet again we see an insufficient value being placed on the 'hermeneutic of continuity'. History and tradition have a value in themselves; things that have been treasured by generations are not plastic carrier bags, to be thrown away. Almost always, the replacement is shoddier than what it has replaced (and I write with feeling as the parish priest of a shoddy building which one of my predecessors built to replace a fine one).
It is far too easy to break down what has taken generations to build, and then far too hard to put it back together again.

Having written about it a few posts ago myself, I, too, have been thinking about the closure and wondering again whether they have really chosen the wrong moment for this. Sure, numbers are at an all-time low right now, but even before the Papal Visit, there were signs of an upturn at least down south. And, as I wrote before, there is still the Benedict Bounce to be taken into consideration……

Friday 15 October 2010

Forward in Faith

You can see on the links to the left, under the St Barnabas blog header (to whom congratulations, if that is the word, for the scoop), that Bishop John Broadhurst has formally announced that he will, in due time, be joining the Ordinariate. You can listen to his talk (the announcement comes very early on) here, on the Forward in Faith website. In this talk, he catalogues with great sorrow, but with very little rancour and occasionally some humour, some of the—let us not muck around—disgraceful treatment meted out to those of the Anglo-Catholic persuasion in recent years, and makes clear that this decision need never have happened had people behaved decently and honourably. He is right.

There are a lot of things that one can say. Of course I am delighted that such a decent man proposes to be my co-religionist. I am sorry, however, that he and others have been driven to it. I would have been sorry at this treatment of him and his colleagues, both in Anglican priests and episcopal orders, even if he and they were joining the Orthodox communion or some other body. I take comfort, however, that he and many others have always seen union with the Holy See as their goal, and that this awful time for them is simply being forced to the action sooner rather than later, as individuals, or a smaller coetus, rather than the corporate reunion for which they worked and prayed. Let them please take comfort from the words of Pope Benedict at Oscott, that this is a profoundly ecumenical act in the long run; instead of seeing it Anglo-Catholicism as a bridgehead on the Anglican side, see it as a bridgehead on the Catholic side. It will do no less good, and probably a great deal more.

But the responsibility for this pain lies with those who promised much for people of the Catholic persuasion in the Church of England, but took away simply everything.It drives home the fundamental modern division within non-Protestant Christianity between the liberal and the dogmatic wings: liberalism does not mean generosity, but a tyranny of current opinion and fads.

Bishop John; welcome home. And all your brethren, welcome home, too. The fire is lit, the kettle is on, you can now kick off your boots and experience the pilgrim's return home.

Why did I not post this on The Anglo-Catholic? In this case, at this time, it is for others to do so. Domine, non sum dignus.

The Aftermath

The Papal visit has been generally agreed to have been an outstanding success, as I have remarked before. The Holy Father sought to reintroduce Christianity into the public square, to encourage the faithful of these lands, to set a good example of prayerful liturgy and much else.

But let us not delude ourselves that things are all going to be fine from now on. Intelligence Squared, the people who set up the notorious debate when Stephen Fry and Christopher Hitchens wiped the floor with Anne Widdecombe and some poor African bishop, are staging another debate in which they have persuaded a Downside Benedictine to side with Matthew Paris and Geoffrey Robinson debating whether Christians' sense of opposition is in fact paranoia. Read about it here, on the Catholic Herald website. In other words, it's all beginning again, and we should not be surprised that it would do so.

Now, given that the visit was such a success, surely we should be several weeks into capitalizing on it, and consolidating what has been achieved. In some small ways, this is being done. People are reading and discussing the Holy Father's remarks in parish groups, and benefitting from what has been said, as is only right and proper.

But I haven't noticed any initiatives more widely. A pastoral letter or two have been written, but I was hoping that there might be some bigger operations to keep the faith in the public eye.

I think that part of the problem is the Bishops' Conference. I'm sure that all our bishops are excellent chaps one to one, but they have to wait for another meeting before they can discuss a common approach to things. Then it has to filter through all the various agencies, who have to produce reports, dunk hobnobs, and perform all the other million tasks of a bureaucracy. Then, five years down the line, someone will read a report to someone else, there will be a murmur of agreement around the table, and there may be a document produced, and, maybe, someone will read it.

The trouble is that the committee model is not the one on which Christ built the Church. It is built on communion and discipleship. I'm not really sure where I'm going with this, but it strikes me that what really works is the sort of thing that Pope John Paul and, more recently, Pope Benedict do, if only, perhaps, because there aren't more Popes with whom they can form a committee. They have to lead, and, by and large, the Church likes to be led. We join in communion with each other to be taught and led by the Holy Father, but also with and by our own bishop. However, if our bishop needs to wait for approval from his colleagues, then we are waiting in vain.

I would like to see our bishops now encouraging and supporting our people
• to get involved in politics, local, national, and European
• to improve the standard of liturgy generally.

These things would mean the making effective of things like Justice and Peace groups. It has irritated me enormously to see the good will and efforts of these people in interfering with wrongs abroad, but refusing to see the wrongs under their noses. At one time, I tried very hard to get J&P to take on the Life issues, as part of their remit. They just would not agree. But to have a group in each diocese who would provide advice to Catholic MPs, local councillors and trades unionists on the real issues that they may be required to legislate upon, to be able to brief them when they are interviewed on local radio or in the newspapers, so that they can have real facts at their fingertips and make their Catholic voice effective; these would be most useful to the Gospel, and would enable us to join that public conversation that the Holy Father mentioned.

The liturgy is going to be a problematic issue, because the resistance will be so strong, not just from many of the liturgical establishment, but also, I suspect, from some of the bishops themselves. The matter will resolve itself in time, simply because things are slowly moving in what I consider the right direction, but it will not be noticed that these things produce better fruits until the lesson of Hyde Park really sinks in. People really are hungry for God, for prayer, for stillness and an encounter with the Divine, and liturgy that seeks simply to entertain simply doesn't spiritually nourish. You can fill a stomach with nothing but chocolate, but that it a way to die of malnutrition, paradoxically with a full belly.

A bishop of my acquaintance spent his first few pastoral letters writing of things that interested him, but without drawing much response from the people. Bit by bit, he began, uncomfortably at first, mentioning God, only to find that suddenly, he was drawing a response. Now he writes of God quite a lot, because it is what people respond to. I wish he would take that lesson more and more to heart. There is a bishop in the far West of the USA who writes letter after letter about the state of the salmon in a certain river in his diocese, and the attached environmental issues, but never mentions God, because he doesn't want to turn people off. Let us please grasp the lesson of the Papal visit, and see that people are in fact hungry for God, and that if we want to feed the starving crowd, there is no better time than right now when for the first time in quite a while, morale is good.

All the other issues, salmon, justice and peace &c will flow naturally and abundantly from a people who are adequately fed with the Word of God made Flesh. Putting the cart before the horse is a waste of time.

Monday 11 October 2010

The Benedict Bounce and the Tartan

I was pretty sure when I saw First Minister Alex Salmond sporting the Papal Tartan that Cardinal O'Brien had done some canny work (and quite possibly had some shares in Ingles Buchan). I was even surer when I saw him putting a scarf in the tartan around the Papal neck. Now, it seems, the firm has been inundated with orders. Read about it here.

Sunday 10 October 2010

The Closure of St Cuthbert's, Ushaw

How sad to hear that St Cuthbert's is having to close its doors. It has a long and noble history going back to recusant times and the college at Douai in French Flanders which was closed at the French Revolution but found new homes at Ware and Ushaw. The seminarians left Ware in the 70s; now Ushaw is to go, too.
A seminary is a real alma mater to its alumni; as celibate priests we don't have family homes, but a seminary is where we have spent a considerable portion of our lives among the people with whom we still work. To some, perhaps, seminary is a miserable memory, but to many it is something of a foundation, a steady rock on which they have built their lives.
I am living at the seminary at Wonersh at present, (which, I might add, is a much happier community than when I studied here). A final-year student I was talking with last night spoke of the closure of Ushaw with emotion, saying how hard he would take it if Wonersh were to close. There are so many shared memories, as well as growth as a person, and in the spiritual life that take place within the walls, that it is going to be hard to find an adequate substitute elsewhere.
And now there must be the headache of finding a new home for the students. It won't be easy. If they transfer them all together to one other college, there is a real risk of cliquiness, us and them. If they split them up, that in itself would be an additional unkindness.
I dare say they have considered simply decanting into smaller premises and rejected it for one reason or another. Relocating to the very different atmosphere of the south (and two of the three remaining seminaries are in the south, with one in the southern midlands) is not going to be easy, though I'm sure that any college would provide a very warm welcome.
Valladolid would have been a possible choice—it was always a 'northern' seminary in any event—but for the fact that it has recently been converted into a sort of pre-seminary seminary.
I do hope that they will be leasing the buildings at Ushaw and not selling outright. Who knows where we will be in 25 or 50 years? Even this September there might well be a serious upturn in vocations, the hoped-for Benedict Bounce. My year in seminary was the one following the 1982 visit of Pope John Paul, and we were several times larger as the year above us.

Friday 8 October 2010

Begorra, begob and bedad. A few Irish clichés.

 Ireland is such a photogenic place: I thought I would entertain you with a few Irish cliché shots; sorry about the quality; they were simply taken a few days ago with my iPhone3.

This is Kilmacduagh, on the borders of Counties Galway and Clare. A beautifully preserved monastic ruin with an intact round tower, it is famous for the ministry of St Colmán. Behind, you can see the Burren, an extraordinary area of bare limestone Karst landscape, where arctic and tropical plants grow happily side by side.

Here's a typical Burren hill, technically a 'Karst dome' striated with levels of limestone, looking as if it dropped from the moon. The most famous Burren hill is probably Mullagh Mór, about which there was a huge row a few years ago. The name simply means 'big hill', which is probably a relic of the nineteenth century when, it was said, geographers began to map the area. Somebody from the Ordnance Survey simply pointed to the hill and asked a local 'What's that?' He or she would have shrugged and said 'a big hill, of course', and 'Big Hill', Mullagh Mór, was inscribed on the map for all time.

Ruined monasteries, churches and chapels litter the Irish countryside; if they were not turned into Protestant churches, they would be unroofed, the locals driven to Mass rocks for worship. Now many of the Protestant churches stand without roofs too. Burials inside the walls began very soon; all the former Catholic churches are full of graves. This is the little chapel at Coad (pronounced Cood) a townland (Irish countryside is rigorously divided into townlands) near Corofin (variously spelled). The grave below the East window, according to local lore, belongs to Máira Rúa (Red Mary) O'Brien who lived scandalously in nearby Leamaneh Castle; married three times (reputedly she killed one by pushing him out of a window), including once to a Cromwellian soldier in an attempt to retain the castle after the invasion, it is said that when the devil came for her soul, he stamped his foot on her gravestone, which is why it is broken in three.

I saw this sign on the wall of a petrol station, and was highly amused. Only in Ireland might one assume that anybody would conceivably drink four cups of tea in succession and still be ready for a fifth! I have been told that the Irish drink more tea per head of population than any other nation on earth, and I can quite believe it. I can put away at least two pots every day.

And, finally, you might recognize this house. More commonly known as Craggy Island Parochial House, it is in fact a simply farmhouse just off the Burren, which area was used for filming Fr Ted. The picture of the Karst Dome above is the view from this house. It looks so strange; basically a town house stuck in the middle of a field in the back of beyond (and it is really, really, remote).

Thursday 7 October 2010

Why the Pope will probably not be invited to Ireland, and other conspiracy theories

Shortly after the visit of the Holy Father to the United Kingdom, Martin McGuinness wondered whether there would soon be a similar visit to Ireland. He was (and we were) quickly informed that there were no such plans being made.


Perhaps you have read (or seen the TV adaption of) Somerville and Ross’ work The Irish RM. It’s worth a read. It tells the tale of a well-meaning but rather stuffy English Residentiary Magistrate sent over to Ireland to civilize the natives. On their part, the natives are charming scoundrels who run rings around the magistrate like naughty schoolchildren around a benevolent if ineffectual teacher. The book and its accompanying volumes are unquestionably patronizing, but not without genuine affection for Ireland and the Irish.

Different nations, having different temperaments, have taken different approaches to unwanted occupation. Some have co-operated with the occupiers, simply working the system to their own advantage wherever possible. Others have bitterly resisted; still others sung sad songs. The Irish simply practised circumvention, which became something of a national sport, and which I’ll expand on in a minute. The English might make as many laws as they like; the Irish would simply do things their own way. One might readily understand the frustration of a Residentiary Magistrate, but, as Somerville and Ross’ magistrate found, in many, if not most, cases there wasn’t anything to be done about it, but only accept it as a fact of life.

The only real authority that the Irish would recognize, because it was their own, was that of the Church, and its local representative, the Parish Priest, whose word generally was law. He would be listened to with respect, and his law would not be circumvented.

Come Irish independence, the system didn’t really change much. The Church had a huge input into the Dáil Eireann, and the country was poor (thus the continuing emigration) but, on the whole, happy. However, the law continued not to mean much, because, actually, the whole circumvention thing kept going.

It remains possible because of the very conservative nature of Irish society. The land where you belong is the place where you are yourself. ‘Home’ is not the place you currently live, but the place where your ancestors lived and died. Time and again I have been welcomed ‘home’ to places I have never lived, because people know who I am and where I fit into the local structure. I am tied to land where my mother’s ancestors have lived, measurably and identifiably since my distant ancestor Niall O’Cuainn died at the Battle of Clontarf (1014), and in legend and vague memory for centuries before that. A lake bears the family name, and so do three or four villages. That is why it is ‘home’, and though my family on my father’s side lived within the pale and does not have nearly such a long pedigree, it’s held to with equal passion, though there are only two of us left now.

In a land where this is common (though not universal, and indeed decreasingly important), passing rulers have little real importance, and things will continue to be done as they always have been done. Which is to say, when I go 'home', I find that the town has been aggressively covered to its utter and ridiculous limits with restricted parking zones. Even the residents of the terraced streets are now expected to pay 90 cents per hour from 5.15 in the morning until 11.15 at night. This ought to cause outrage, and indeed it does cause indignation in the bars where all the real business is transacted. But it doesn’t really worry anyone that much because, you see, it can be circumvented if this place is your ‘home’. Now, because I ‘belong’, I am shown how to circumvent the parking regulation. This is because a relative of mine knows Peadar, who knows Pádraig, who knows Noel, whose wife, Trisha works on the till in Supervalu next to Maura, whose husband does the ticketing of the illegally parked cars. He has been warned that ‘Pastor in Valle is coming home’, and the Pastor is duly told what to do to avoid a ticket. The Pastor did as he was told, and though other tickets flew around like tickertape on others’ cars, his car was never ticketed. If you ‘belong’, you won’t have a problem. It’s us against them; ‘them’ being the hostile powers that be.

Now just as this sort of behaviour was gall and wormwood to the Irish RM, so it is gall and wormwood to today’s Irish governments, both local and national. Yes, they are Irish, of course, but they have failed to connect with Ireland, though they connect very warmly with Brussels. My relative’s local council are dismissed by her and her cronies as ‘hooks’ (=crooks).  ‘Lazy articles altogether, and they and their whole families have been for the last fifty years or more’, she thunders. And out will come a store of reminiscences to back this up, for every one of these families are known in this society that continues to be so remarkably stable. ‘And’, she concludes devastatingly, ‘you never see them or their children in the chapel’ (=Catholic parish church). This is the surest and most damning bit of evidence that they do not ‘get’ the society of the town. They do not fit, and ultimately they, by their own actions, do not belong, and deserve their by-laws to be circumvented at every step. And the more they make themselves foreign, the less will any of the community participate in the political process, for they know that they will have to surrender something of themselves and their community in order to do so.

Now, you see, I think my relative has put her finger on something. There are serious big interests trying to remake Ireland in a different way—more like the rest of Europe, in fact. But while their authority is still being circumvented, all the authorities can do is to tear their hair and jump up and down like the poor old Residentiary Magistrate. So—and here comes the conspiracy theory— Irish society, in the view of some, has to be broken up and remade. Big new housing estates must be built on the edges of towns. Old communities and bonds must be broken down by allowing streets of old houses to become derelict; a crucial part of this campaign is the imposition of hourly parking charges even for residents of terraced streets (=standard Irish town style) who have no hope of providing off-road parking for their cars. They will have to move. This will have the added advantage of forcing town centre small shops, a system which still survives magnificently in Ireland, to close down in favour of out-of-town supermarkets. As people are forced to move into new areas, old networks will break down and finally the local and national governments will be really in charge.

However, here they have been only partially successful. Great estates have indeed been built at crippling cost, part of the huge bill that the government is now preparing to pass on to the Irish taxpayer (€22,000 per taxpayer apparently), but vast numbers of these new houses are standing empty because people don’t actually want to move into them. For a start, people don’t want to leave their homes and networks, second, if not in their ancestral homes, (or, more importantly, on the ancestral land) Irish people prefer to live in the country with a little bit of land, where possible and anyway, now, they have almost no chance of getting a mortgage to buy one of these new people’s palaces.

A crucial step in the remaking of the country is that the Church must be brought to heel, and, if possible, discredited.

Here, the Irish media are firmly behind the new order. Irish reporting of the Papal Visit to the UK was accompanied, for instance, with incessant reminders of the abuse crisis; far more strongly than in England. Abuse was the only important theme of the visit, according to the overwhelming majority of the media. The only possible motivation for this, I suggest, is to discredit the Church in the eyes of the people. They know, of course, that if you sling mud long enough, some of it will stick. And if there happens to be truth in some of the mud, so much the better. They are helped, I think, by the fact that nobody really wants to go back to the time when the Parish Priest ruled a town like an oriental despot. That truly is best left in the past, I and most people think.

In this climate, the very last thing the Irish government wants is to risk a Benedict Bounce in Ireland. They know very well that the welcome Pope Benedict would receive in Ireland would make the UK visit look positively lukewarm. In their eyes, that would undo decades of their work. Back in 1979, when Pope John Paul visited Ireland, State and Church were still at least co-operating (I think that contraception was still illegal, even). That isn’t the case now; the government would dearly like to make abortion available in Ireland as in the rest of Europe, but they know what they are up against. It is still one issue that will bring out the voters. I listened to a very ordinary chat programme on one of the Irish radio stations the other day; it was clearly another attempt to promote a liberalization in these matters. But the case came up of a 14 year-old ‘forced’ to go to England to get her ‘human rights’ to an abortion because contraception, according to her parents, was not freely available. Clearly we were all intended to be horrified at this hard case. But even the young (male) host was deeply shocked at an abortion being practiced on a 14 year old, and could not hide (despite apparent efforts) his horror at the parents’ attitude. In the end, he put on a record and changed the subject.

I have often been tempted to despair about Ireland, from what I read in the media. But then I go home (yes, home), and I realize that the real Ireland is still very much alive. It is used to being governed by other powers, and is still finding its own way of dealing with them. But I guess it can’t hold out for ever.

Long live circumvention, satyagraha, whatever you want to call it.