OBEDIENCE AND MUTINY
in a contra-Catholic revolution
In 2008, The Doubleday Broadway Publishing Group published a book by Archbishop Charles J. Chaput, O.F.M. Cap. The book’s title is “Render Unto Caesar.” Its subject is described in a sub-title as “Serving the Nation by Living Our Catholic Beliefs in Political Life.” Its predominant context is the United States, but the principles which he applies are the universal ones of the Catholic Church, and his many wise statements are just as true outside America as within it. Here is an example:1 “one of the saddest qualities of the current American Catholic scene is that, when it comes to the meaning of Catholic, quite a few of us are Lewis Carroll fans without knowing it.” Then he quotes from Carroll’s book, “Through the Looking Glass” – “ ‘When I use a word,’ Humpty Dumpty said in a rather scornful tone, ‘it means just what I choose it to mean…’ .” Alice queried the feasibility of giving words multiple meanings, and Humpty Dumpty said that it depended on who is to be the master. Are we the masters of words, or are they the masters of us? It is an interesting question. Probably all of us, whichever of the two alternatives we were to choose, would agree that discourse and the conduct of life’s activities depend on the participants understanding what each other mean by the words which they use. Without that mutual understanding, and without mutual acceptance that the meaning is correct, there is confusion, and even if outwardly people seem to be in agreement, circumstances can reveal that the supposed agreement is a mirage, and it disintegrates.
The mirage often becomes evident in matters of controversy such as politics and religion. In each, it is necessary to decide the principles by which life is to be not only guided but also governed. If there is agreement on a supreme authority for identifying and implementing what is true and morally right, certainty and stability result. Without such agreement, there is uncertainty and disorder. Today, in politics and religion, there are frequent examples of that. Many people say that it is impossible to know what is true and morally right; that is called ‘relativism’. Relativists say that because truth and morality are undiscoverable, or at least are variable from one time or one situation to another, nobody has authority to govern anybody else. ‘Who are you to tell me what to believe, or to do, or not to do? You have no right to impose your standards on me.’ That objection is quite familiar in various debates. It is known as ‘dissent’. When the bishops of England and Wales visited Pope Benedict in 2010, he told them that in an atmosphere which “encourages the expression of a variety of opinions on every question that arises, it is important to recognize dissent for what it is, and not to mistake it for a mature contribution to a balanced and wide-ranging debate.”2
Dissent is especially likely when adjectives are used. The nature of an adjective is to indicate distinctive characteristics. Possession or absence of the relevant characteristics demonstrates the correct or incorrect use of an adjective. The clearer a mis-match between an adjective and the subject to which it is applied, the clearer the error in the application. The truth of those three statements may seem obvious, and the more obvious the misuse of an adjective the more obvious is its user’s failure to understand what he is talking about. People who are recognised to lack the relevant understanding are unlikely to be taken seriously. These common sense rules in the transmission of meaning are, however, often ignored in regard to the precious adjective of ‘Catholic’. The cavalier misuse of it implies that its accuracy is exempt from objective assessment, and therefore freely available for use according to subjective criteria.
One result of this is that everyone who has been baptised into or received into the Catholic Church is ipso facto thereafter counted as a Catholic, regardless of rejection of what the Magisterium of the Church declares to be true and binding. Pope Pius XI wrote that we have to be not simply members of the Church, but living members – in spirit and in truth.3 As Archbishop Chaput wrote, “A man may claim he loves his wife. His wife will want to see the evidence. … Saying we’re Catholic does not mean we are, except in the thinnest sense.”4 Our Lord said that “out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks,”5 but He made clear that words are not always a reliable sign of authenticity. He warned of false prophets, who come in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves: “You will know them by their fruits.”6 He said that calling Him “Lord,” and claiming to speak and act in His name, is not necessarily enough for entry into Heaven; we must actually do the Father’s will.7 It is the substance, not merely the appearance, which proves the reality. Yet often people display a derangement akin to schizophrenia by endorsing a delusion that it is possible to be a Catholic while rejecting belief in and/or implementation of Catholic doctrine and/or morality.
That delusion (and, seemingly, sustained failure to refute it) became evident very quickly after the Second Vatican Council, and has spread everywhere since. In the early 1970s, Father Joseph Ratzinger wrote that “the Church is becoming extinguished in men’s souls, and Christian communities are crumbling,” and “the Church now finds itself in a situation…in which…[m]istrust has emerged, because being in the Church has lost straightforwardness, and no-one any longer risks attributing honesty to another.”8 Was “honesty” the best word to have used? ‘Accuracy’ might have been a better one. The question can be important because honesty is one thing and accuracy is another. For example, imagine that someone said to you, ‘I am a vegetarian,’ that subsequently you went for a meal with him, and that he ordered a steak and kidney pie. Probably you would be puzzled by the evident contradiction between what he had said and what he did. If you queried it, and he said something to the effect that vegetarianism does not mean avoiding meat, probably you would be even more puzzled. He might, however, have been honest in claiming to be a vegetarian. Whether he was honest depends on whether he believed that vegetarianism approves of meat-eating. Probably vegetarianism is like Protestantism in the sense that there is no central source which has authority to give binding rulings on questions which arise, so, fundamentally, each self-professed vegetarian, like each self-professed Protestant, is free to make up his own mind, and the most that can be said is that ‘most vegetarians and Protestants believe such-and-such’. Therefore, although a claim to compatibility between vegetarianism and meat-eating is honest if the claimant believes it, the separate question of whether it is accurate depends on whether the compatibility is a fact, and the test of factuality is majority opinion among the indeterminate number of vegetarians.
Making a judgment of someone’s honesty can be difficult, and is sometimes sinful (“everyone should be careful to interpret insofar as is possible his neighbour’s thoughts, words and deeds in a favourable way”9). Therefore Father Ratzinger may have wished to say that it is no longer possible or safe to rely, at face value, on anyone’s claim to be a Catholic. Being in the Church has “lost its straightforwardness” because people either (a) have been left (through lack of teaching to the contrary), or (b) have claimed for themselves an entitlement, to believe that it is possible to be a Catholic while rejecting this, that, or another aspect of the Church’s authoritatively-confirmed theological and/or moral doctrine.
For example, Family Life International’s stated experience10 has been that few young Catholics or their parents can explain Catholic beliefs or what distinguishes Catholicism from other Christian and non-Christian religions; many could detail various practices of Islam or Hinduism, but could not explain the Real Presence or why Catholics genuflect in a Catholic church, illustrating that “We now have two generations of Catholics who are indistinguishable from their non-religious peers…” In addition to the regular flow of indications to that effect, an FLI survey11 revealed that more than half of parents who attend Mass with their children believe that the Catholic Church offers nothing more than Protestant denominations, and that Catholic worship has no greater [intrinsic] merit than the devotional services of other religions; they were not sure of who founded the Catholic Church, and do not believe that when the Church’s Magisterium declares teachings on faith and morals it cannot err.
Such disastrous circumstances have been caused by, and have had an effect on, how the content and requirements of the faith have been, and are now, predominantly presented by official representatives of the Church. Non-denominational ‘wool’ is everywhere, and God is portrayed as “so understanding as to be undemanding.”12 This has been regrettably evident in minimalist comments by Pope Francis, who seems uninterested in whether recognisable Catholicism governs people’s thoughts. Authentic Catholicism is distinct from other beliefs, and disappears to the extent that its distinctiveness is ‘brushed under the carpet’. To Pope Francis, however, attention to whether Catholics’ beliefs are correct appears to be equivalent to acting as “controllers of God’s grace,” and “the Holy Ghost’s customs agents,” and faith inspectors.13
The de facto practice of ‘down-playing’ and obscuring distinctions between truth and error is too extensive and long-established to be a coincidence rather than a policy. It is like a topsy-turvy form of commerce. Normally, businesses want to highlight their best points, sometimes by overt comparisons with what others offer. For example, in a window of a high-class furnishers’ shop many years ago, there was a message carved on a piece of polished, shaped tree-bark. It was that there is little in the world which a man cannot make to a lower standard and more cheaply, and that people for whom price is the primary factor are that man’s lawful prey. That was, of course, a gentle warning by sellers at the top end of the market, intended to deter window-shoppers from settling for something inferior elsewhere. The evident gambit of the Church, however, is paradoxically the opposite: ‘traders’ who have a ‘product’ which is superior to any other are obscuring its unique merits and giving an impression that it is just another option in a spiritual ‘market-place’ of broadly-equal quality. This ‘shrugging of shoulders’ at intellectual defection has, predictably, been accompanied by the enormous diminution of week-end attendance at Mass (the first of the “indispensable minimum” obligations described as “the precepts of the Church).”14
Of course, the purpose of a business is to sell its product, in order to supply the needs of this life, whereas the purpose of the Church is to preach the truth, in order to prepare people for the next life. The Church’s first duty is fidelity to the truth – regardless of, and in defiance of, rejection. Therefore people should be told plainly that Catholicism requires submission to Magisterial teaching even if personal opinion is inclined to differ from it. That is the all-encompassing difference between Catholicism and other religions. Catholics are “not free” (i.e. not entitled) “simply to listen to [the Magisterium] as experts in Catholic doctrine,” whose opinions are among factors to be taken into account in making a personal choice between belief and rejection.15 Catholics “are bound” (i.e. obliged) to accept what the Magisterium declares in Christ’s name, “with an assent that is proportionate to the authority that [the Magisterium] possess[es] and…mean[s] to exercise.”16 The Magisterium “can… demand [the laity’s] assent.”17 Consequently, there are beliefs which Catholics are “bound to profess,”18 and others which they “are…not permitted to [hold]”19 and indeed “must shun.”20 Although “there exists an order and as it were a hierarchy of the Church’s dogmas,…all dogmas, since they are revealed, must be believed with the same divine faith.”21 Compliance with these prescriptions ensures the maintenance of communion with the Church, which Catholics are obliged to preserve at all times, [including] in their external actions.”23
Therefore a Catholic needs to understand the authority which the Church possesses, and the extent to which obedience to that authority is obligatory. Decades ago, obedience (to the Pope, to the bishop, to the parish priest) was a hallmark of Catholicism, at least by comparison with Protestantism, whose foundation-stone is personal autonomy in deciding what the truth is and what it requires. The key factor in understanding the Church’s authority and the duty of obedience is, at least for lay Catholics, who have not made a vow of obedience, whether the relevant particular statement is one of faith or morals. The matter is explained in the “Catechism of the Catholic Church” and “Lumen Gentium.” Here is what they teach. It may seem formidably-scholarly, but there is no substitute for reference to it (even an honest attempt to ‘translate’ it into ‘every-day’ plain English carries a risk of changing the meaning).
The task of interpreting authentically the Word of God, whether in its written form or in the form of Tradition, was entrusted by Christ to the living teaching office (the Magisterium) of the Church, exclusively; that means to the bishops in communion with the successor of Peter, who is the Bishop of Rome24 and has full, supreme, universal, and irreducible power over the whole Church and on communion with whom depends the bishops’ collective and individual authority.25 The Magisterium’s task is to preserve God’s people from deviations and defections and to guarantee them the objective possibility of professing the true faith without error, for which purpose Christ endowed the Magisterium with infallibility in faith and morals.26 Magisterial divine authority is exercised most fully when it proposes truths contained in divine Revelation or having a necessary connection with them, in a form obliging the Christian people to an irrevocable adherence of faith.27 Seemingly without substantive difference, the “Catechism” adopts also the expression, “adhered to with the obedience of faith.”28 When the Pope and the bishops in communion with him propose a teaching that leads to better understanding of Revelation in matters of faith and morals, but without arriving at an infallible definition and without pronouncing it in what is called a ‘definitive manner’, we are [obliged] to adhere to it with religious assent.29 The “Catechism” adds that religious assent is distinct from the assent of faith, but is an extension of it.30
Thus far, we have references to “adherence of faith,” “obedience of faith,” “assent of faith,” and “religious assent.” The “Catechism” cites,31 in regard to “religious assent,” paragraph 25 of “Lumen Gentium.” That equates “religious assent” with “religious submission of mind and will.” The latter formula is indistinguishable from how the “Catechism” defines ‘faith’. By his Revelation, the invisible God, from the fullness of his love, addresses men as his friends, and moves among them, in order to invite and receive them into his own company. The adequate response to this invitation is faith,32 entailing the full submission of intellect and will to God; with his whole being man gives his assent to God the revealer. Sacred Scripture calls this human response to God, the author of revelation, the obedience of faith.33 The explanation is clarified further if we return to paragraph 25 of “Lumen Gentium,” which tells us that “religious submission of mind and will” in matters of faith and morals must be shown to the Pope’s statements (even when not ex cathedra) “in such a way that his supreme magisterium is acknowledged with reverence, [and] the judgments made by him are sincerely adhered to, according to his manifest mind and will. His mind and will in the matter may be known either from the character of the documents, from his frequent repetition of the same doctrine, or from his manner of speaking.”
The key factor is the category into which Papal statements fall. The duty of adherence to the statements arises when they are about matters of faith or morals. The duty is not subordinate to, but overrides, the personal thoughts of the people to whom the statements are directed. As noted and authenticated above, people are not entitled to regard those Magisterial statements as mere suggestions or opinions, but are bound to accept their teaching given in Christ’s name; and, furthermore, the Magisterium (however much may be its consideration of others’ thoughts and experience) is not there merely to ratify popular or widespread opinion, but is entitled to demand assent.34 Similarly, personal conscience and reason must not be invoked in opposition to the Magisterium or to the moral law.35
Those principles do not render binding Papal or episcopal statements on matters other than faith or morals (for example, on apostolic strategies). Therefore, respectful disagreement with such statements is not disloyalty. If, for example, the Pope or a bishop says that something is desirable (such as ‘keep quiet about this unpopular moral principle,’ ‘don’t try to convert non-Catholics’), a Catholic who disagrees should not feel obliged to comply.
Widespread and sustained failure to publicise these facts has contributed to the development of intellectual and practical anarchy. The Vatican has said that “some members [of the Church] can even be called non-believers.”36 Hidden within the often-heard statistic of there being “a billion Catholics” in the world is the fact that there are vast numbers of people who remain indeed in the bosom of the Church, but only bodily and not in heart,37 a distinction which St. Paul made in connection with who was “a real Jew.”38 Because of decimated attendance at Mass, very many of them are no longer in the Church even bodily. “Lumen Gentium” declared39 that “All the Church's children should remember that their exalted status” (meaning, as members of the one true Church) “is to be attributed not to their own merits but to the special grace of Christ. If they fail moreover to respond to that grace in thought, word and deed, not only shall they not be saved but they will be the more severely judged.” Even the still-‘practising’ are not told that. No doubt it has been suppressed because of expectation that it will disturb them, and Pope Francis wrote that Christians should appear as joyful people who invite others to “a delicious banquet,” because, so he added, “[i]t is not by proselytizing that the Church grows, but “by attraction.”40 There has to be substance in a banquet; otherwise, invitees will regard the invitation as ‘hype’ or be unwittingly under-nourished. Between the conflicting criteria of avoiding disturbance and appearing attractive is a Vatican acknowledgement that “the most merciful thing is to tell the truth in love.”41 Consequently, if we are inviting people to the Church’s ‘banquet,’ we must not tell them that the menu is ‘a la carte’.
Alongside the predominant abandonment of the Church, and the ‘soft-pedalling’ on counter-cultural aspects of the faith, there has emerged the concept of ‘cultural’ Catholicism, meaning that “[m]any of the baptized live as if Christ did not exist: the gestures and signs of faith are repeated, especially in devotional practices, but they fail to correspond to a real acceptance of the content of the faith and fidelity to the person of Jesus”42 as it is taught by the Magisterium of the Catholic Church. For example, in “Render Unto Caesar,”43 Archbishop Chaput wrote that after the Second Vatican Council the “upward mobility” of Catholics in America “was too often not matched by real growth in the faith. Many Catholics who began attending the best universities ran into strong arguments against their faith for the first time. They were often ill-equipped with answers. While Catholics had great success in business, intellectual fields, and the professions, many wore their “Catholic” identity mainly as a cultural label. After [Vatican II], this led to a gulf between their professional and religious lives.” The gulf seems to have developed earlier than that; Vatican II’s “Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World” declared that “This split between the faith which many profess and their daily lives deserves to be counted among the more serious errors of our age.”44
“[A] faith supported by social tradition, important as this is,” will not be as robust and resilient as “one marked by knowledge and conviction.”45 That is evident in the fact that “Even in countries evangelised many centuries ago, the reality of a ‘Christian society’ which, amid all the frailties which have always marked human life, measured itself explicitly on gospel values, is now gone.”46 In particular, there has been the disappearance of anything which could be described accurately as a ‘Catholic country,’ in which the Catholic faith and its requirements as taught by the institutional Church are accepted by most of the citizens as true and binding and are given practical effect in law and social norms. The very idea of such a country is alien to the world’s dominant, secularist ‘mind-set,’ and now even the few States in which legal enshrinement of recognisably-Catholic principle remained are engaged in dismantling it. The response from the Church tends to be expressed in ‘mixed’ (or, rather, ‘mixed up’) messages, with a predominance of fatalistic equanimity and pitifully-‘positive’ ‘gloss’.
An example of a Parliament wiping its feet on the door-mat of Catholic doctrine occurred in allegedly-“overwhelmingly Catholic” Malta,47 which decided to award legal ‘marriage’ status to relationships between same-gender couples. Consequential bureaucratic changes of terminology were to follow: ‘husband,’ ‘wife’, ‘father’, and ‘mother’ being replaced by genderless expressions which are acceptable to the now-omnipotent ‘equality’ zealots. As in the ‘modern, tolerant’ Britain of Tony Blair, David Cameron, and Theresa May, and elsewhere, these moves are predictable and perversely-logical developments from legal ‘civil partnerships’ and same-gender adoption of children.
The decision in allegedly-‘Catholic’ Malta followed soon after the unsurprising similar decision in cosmopolitan Germany. It must have been unsurprising at least to people who take notice of what is happening beyond their own mini-‘world’. Some of them will have remembered, for example, that the German Catholic bishops explained to the Pope in 2014 that Church teaching on sex and marriage is “virtually never accepted, or expressly rejected” by the vast majority of German Catholics.48 Similarly unsurprising was the revelation to the Pope by the Dutch bishops in 2013 of details showing that in Holland the Church is facing almost a complete collapse;49 the Pope told them to avoid “proselytism” and to focus on “attraction” by presenting counter-cultural truths and attitudes “as the key to the good of humanity and social development.”50
A few days after the disaster in Malta, Pope Benedict mentioned the Church’s being “on the verge of capsizing.”51 How has this international crisis come about? By a combination of multiple contributory factors, each of which could lead to extremely lengthy and absorbing research by people who have the time and resourcefulness required.
Indications of the corruption of thinking in Malta were provided by a BBC News article52 which appeared to gloat about what had been happening there and to look forward hopefully to the sweeping away of Malta’s law against abortion. Quoting a journalist from a Maltese newspaper, the article suggested that the process began after Malta joined the European Union in 2004, because travelling and studying in Europe ‘opened the minds’ of Malta’s young people (did such studying and travelling begin only after Malta joined the EU?!). Mankind’s problems began when minds were opened. “[T]he serpent said to the woman, …God knows that when you eat of [the forbidden fruit] your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil. So…she took [it] and ate; and…gave some to her husband, and he ate. Then the eyes of both were opened…”53
According to the article, the first target for change was divorce. Malta was one of only two countries (the other being The Philippines) in which divorce was not allowed. That was changed after a referendum in 2011. The Maltese journalist was quoted by the BBC article as having said that the referendum “changed everything,” in the sense that it “lifted the lid” on the pressure which had been growing, that people saw the chance of other possibilities, and that the process accelerated when the Labour Party took power in 2013 (the article listed examples of relevant legal changes).
Some observers of events since the 1960s will not be surprised by that, because it has been very noticeable that wherever ‘left-wing’ Parties have gained power they have by law defied recognisably-Catholic moral principles. In Malta it has not made any difference who was in power. The Prime Minister said, according to the BBC News report, that legalising same-sex ‘marriage’ showed that Malta’s “democracy and society have reached a level of maturity” (so contradicting God’s law is ‘mature’!), and the Opposition Party Leader said that the vote put Malta “on the right side of history” (being on the right side of God is far more important). Even where demonstrably-anti-Catholic Parties have lost power, Catholic laws have not been restored. When ‘permissive society’-architect Roy Jenkins, the Home Secretary in Britain’s Labour Government in the 1960s, was interviewed many years afterwards and reminded of the relevant controversial proposals which he had helped into law, he smiled and answered that none of them had been repealed. That has been the case even in countries in which the population contains allegedly a statistical majority of Catholics, and even if a new Government contains a majority of alleged Catholics.
This ‘one-way traffic’ of de-Catholicisation is the result not only of resolute action by people outside the Church but also of a vast collective loss of belief and courage by those (ostensibly-) within it. That, also, has a parallel in recent political history. During the 1990s, the Conservative Government lost public support, and the Labour Party (portraying itself as “New Labour” – fresh, honourably-idealistic, energetic, and united) replaced it in 1997. Similarly, from the 1960s onwards, the Church’s support declined sharply, and people adopted ways of living which differed greatly from Church teaching. In his book entitled “The Broken Compass,”54 journalist Peter Hitchens ‘took up the story’ as follows (the analogy with the Church is here indicated, at the appropriate junctures, by words in square brackets): “Eventually, people inside and outside politics [for which read, ‘inside and outside the Church’] began to see that New Labour [for which read, ‘legalised grave sin’] was a menace, in some old ways and in some new ones, too.” Peter Hitchens gave examples of the “menace,” such as the fact that New Labour “was relentlessly committed to sexual and cultural revolution and to the privileged position given…to monogamous, lifelong, heterosexual marriage.” “But,” he continued, “by the time the Tories [for which read, ‘many Catholics’] had more or less grasped what was really happening, they had also decided that New Labour’s policies [for which read, ‘sinful acts’] were not dangerous, but desirable and in fact enviable. In their view, New Labour’s policies [for which read, ‘a policy of live-and-let-live/don’t impose your opinions on other people’] were not only the route back to office [for which read, ‘the way to avoid unpopularity’]. They were good and acceptable policies which any professional politicians [for which read, ‘reasonable, pragmatic Catholics’] would be wise to adopt.” “…[N]on-socialist [P]arties [for which read, ‘clerics’] have had to choose between two responses [to socialism; for which read, ‘legally-entrenched, tax-financed, endemic defiance of Catholic principle’]. Either they must oppose [it] in thought and deed, in which case they will need to be dogmatic [to which add, ‘and probably unpopular’] about what they prefer to it. Or they must accept the arguments of their opponents [to which add, ‘primarily by refraining from encouragement of concrete action against them’], while making vague noises of protest to comfort their voters [for which read, ‘to go through the motions of seeming to be doing their job’]. They have, unsurprisingly, chosen to make the vague noises. It is much easier.”
Certainly it is easier, and it has not only assisted the contra-Catholic secular revolution but also failed to prevent most Catholics from ceasing even to attend weekly Mass. Of course, other factors have contributed to general lapsation, but to a great extent the Church’s enormous internal set-backs, and the systematic rejection of it in law and culture, can be linked with aspects of the Second Vatican Council. As Father Aidan Nichols, O.P., commented in his book, “The Realm - An Unfashionable Essay on the Conversion of England”55 (the publisher subsequently went out of business, thereby epitomising the problem), “Apathy about the religious dimension was bound to set in, however, if the desire to throw open more windows from the Church to the world coincided – as by a piece of really unfortunate timing in the 1960s it did coincide – with the increasing secularisation of that world. And it only made things worse that the Church herself compounded the problem by exacerbating certain weaknesses in her own self-presentation…” Many books have been written about the Council’s effects. According to Father Francis Marsden, in “Understanding Vatican II and the Real Hopes of John XXIII”,56 Cardinal Montini (Pope John’s next successor) was said to have remarked that “This holy old boy doesn’t realise what a hornets’ nest he’s stirring up.” In “Render Unto Caesar,”57 Archbishop Chaput wrote that “The Fathers of Vatican II never imagined the struggles that followed [it].” He asked, “What went wrong? Some answers seem clear. … [T]he Council released explosive forces – both good and bad. … Confusion plagued many Church leaders as Catholic intellectual life shifted. … The world applauded the changes in the Church. But it demanded even more Catholic humility, relevance, and change. … Laypeople grappled with new doubts – because if some things could change, maybe everything could. And if everything could change, maybe the Church wasn’t who she claimed to be.”
Concession became the norm. As events have shown, relaxation of discipline can easily lead to anarchy. A priest who for many years has written a weekly article for “The Catholic Herald” wrote in 2016,58 “I don’t know the name for the law which asserts that when you permit an exception or a concession to something hitherto forbidden, the exception becomes the norm,” and he mentioned the example of cremation. He had written about that also in 2012,59 when he quoted a letter from a bishop which said that “Once relaxations are granted it is better that they be given generously and not grudgingly” [surely that depends on what is benefiting from the relaxation], but “On the other hand, the Church has no desire positively to encourage cremation.” The priest commented that even though the Church didn’t want to encourage cremation people had taken the matter into their own hands, because in his estimate 80 per cent of Catholic funerals are followed by cremation (in his 2016 article he reduced that to 75 per cent). “It is,” he added, “a tangible example of how…a relaxation easily metamorphoses into a norm. In the case of cremation,” he wrote, “this may not be terribly fundamental. Elsewhere it might.”
Events in Malta (and in another nominally-‘Catholic country, Ireland) are further illustrations of this phenomenon, as is the certain fact that many people in the Church believe them to be ‘not terribly fundamental’. Pope Francis seems to believe that. For example, in his interview in August 2013 for various Jesuit magazines, and in “Evangelii Gaudium,”60 he said that he had “not spoken much” about matters such as same-sex ‘marriage,’ abortion, and [the root of each of them] contraception, because (although “the teaching of the Church is clear, and I am a son of the Church” – hardly a ‘ringing endorsement’) he does not regard them as among “the essentials, the necessary things” on which we should concentrate, but as “secondary aspects” of the Church’s dogmatic and moral teachings which are “not all equivalent.” The concept of the ‘hierarchy of truths” is valid,61 but, as Pope Francis wrote in “Evangelii Gaudium,”62 “no truth may be denied” (that ‘echoed’ “Mysterium Ecclesiae,”63 although he did not cite it. He omitted also to mention that evasiveness, ambiguity, and silence can, especially if sustained for a long time, be construed credibly as tacit denial). As if, however, realising a conclusion which could be drawn from his invocation of a ‘hierarchy of truths,’ he has indicated that he is not a relativist. In “Evangelii Gaudium,”64 he wrote disapprovingly of “widespread indifference and relativism, linked to disillusionment and the crisis of ideologies which has come about as a reaction to anything which might appear totalitarian,” and added that the “steady increase in relativism” is a result of “secularization [which] tends to reduce the faith and the Church to the sphere of the private and personal. Furthermore, by completely rejecting the transcendent, it has produced a growing deterioration of ethics, a weakening of the sense of personal and collective sin.” Unfortunately and predictably, however, it is the Church which is commonly portrayed as “totalitarian,” and it is comments by Pope Francis which give an impression that he is a relativist, not those which show that he is not one, which ‘hit the headlines’ and have a negative impact.
In such circumstances, it is unsurprising that resolve to uphold Catholic principle is undermined. It has become routine for some so-called ‘Catholics’ to vote in favour of proposals which are flagrantly contrary to Catholic principle. Most of the members of Parliament in Malta can reasonably be believed to be members of the Catholic Church, but they voted to legalise same-gender ‘marriage’. Only one member of the Maltese Parliament voted against it. He should be nominated for a Bene Merenti medal, but there are reasons for doubt that Pope Francis would regard it as appropriate. Examples are in his August 2013 interview for Jesuit magazines and in “Evangelii Gaudium.” Furthermore, according to a report of an interview which he gave to a periodical in Argentina,65 number one in his list of ten tips for bringing greater joy to one’s life was “Live and let live.” That was supplemented by recommendations to “stop being negative” and to “respect other people’s beliefs” and to refrain from trying to persuade them. It seems to be equivalent to abandonment of the Church’s purpose, and to undermine the Pope’s own preaching.
This ‘positive,’ ‘conciliatory’ policy has won Pope Francis a favourable response from the un-Catholic, anti-Catholic world, and from un-Catholic thinkers within the Church, but he did not initiate the policy. For many years there has been a regular flow of evidence that it is widespread in the Church. Cardinals, archbishops and bishops have, according to presumably-reliable reports, found something ‘positive’ to say about secularism, legal abortion, decreasing self-professed Christians, decreasing attendance at Mass, civil partnership, cohabitation ‘ad experimentum,’ civil marriage, and same-sex ‘marriage’.
‘Clutching at straws’ is patently unconvincing, and can ‘diminish’ the person who resorts to it. Furthermore, to draw attention to something ‘positive’ rather than to focus on the greater ‘negative’ character of a situation can constitute scandal. The “Catechism of the Catholic Church” declares66 that “Scandal is grave when given by those who by nature or office are obliged to teach and educate,” and explains67 how scandal can be committed by laws, social structures, fashion or opinion. Indomitably-complacent-and-positively-minded clerics need to fix those paragraphs firmly in their memories.
Reviews of problems in any area of activity should be followed by attention to the question of remedial action required. ‘What are we going to do about it?’ In regard to the systematic removal of Catholic laws and norms, and to the installation of diametrically-contrary ones, the incontrovertibly-certain answer is – from all but a small minority – ‘Nothing’, and ‘nothing’ is applicable also to the question of what might change their minds. Of course, no-one can do everything, and people’s aptitudes and natural ‘gravitations’ differ, and even if they do nothing the rightful judge of their culpability is God. Within the remaining “little flock,”68 the small minority of counter-culturally-active Catholics are faced with “the challenge, often in isolated and difficult situations, to bear stronger witness to the distinguishing elements of their own identity.”69 Part of that is working for theocracy through democracy.
No-one alive today can expect to see materialise “a State composed almost entirely of Catholics” (i.e. authentic ones), “and which therefore ought to be governed by Catholics in a manner consistent with their religion, to mould legislation of the State in a Catholic sense.”70 Similarly, however, the pioneers of secularism did not live to see their successors’ conquest of the culture and laws of many of today’s States.
A minority is always regarded as wrong, at first.
Laws tend to reflect culture, and culture tends to be influenced by laws. Which of the two occurs first is an interesting question. Aspiring reformers of a society must be busy in both realms. “Lumen Gentium” declared71 that “there is no human activity which can be withdrawn from God's dominion,” and called on the laity “by their combined efforts [to] remedy the customs and conditions of the world, if they are an inducement to sin, so that they all may be conformed to the norms of justice and may favour the practice of virtue rather than hinder it.” For the purpose of that missionary task, it is absolutely essential that “the laity should…learn doctrine more diligently, especially those main points which are the subjects of controversy”72 because, contrary to a common tacit encouragement to be ‘conciliatory,’ the objective is to bring the world into conformity with the faith. That is the lens through which to implement Pope Francis’ exhortation, when speaking to the Dutch bishops, to “encourag[e] the faithful to seize opportunities for dialogue, to be present in those places where the future is decided; they will,” he said, “thus be able to bring their contribution into the debates on important social matters regarding, for instance, the family, marriage and the end of life.”73 Similarly, when addressing young people in Korea, he said “Do not be afraid to bring the wisdom of faith to every aspect of social life,” and to discern “what is incompatible with your Catholic faith…and what aspects of contemporary culture are sinful, corrupt and lead to death.”74 That is part of “bear[ing] stronger witness to the distinguishing elements of [our] own identity,” of which Pope St. John Paul wrote.75
The authenticity of those elements must be safeguarded even though many people regard them as unattractive and/or too costly. Commonly, in ‘advanced’ countries, people’s good opinion, or protection from harassment, is obtained by giving them what they want, and especially (in modern times) by being seen to support amorality. The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith has called that policy “[a] kind of cultural relativism…, an ethical pluralism…,” and said that often it is regarded publicly as essential for democracy. “As a result, citizens claims complete autonomy with regard to their moral choices, and lawmakers maintain that they are respecting this by [accommodating cultural and moral fashions], as if every possible outlook on life were of equal value.”76 The Parliament of Malta and its counterparts elsewhere acted in that way when, for example, they voted to award ‘marriage’ status to relationships between same-gender couples.
The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith declared that “a well-formed Christian conscience does not permit one to vote for a political programme or an individual law which contradicts the fundamental contents of faith and morals.”77 Members of the hierarchy of England and Wales tend to refrain from statements of such a prescriptive, prohibitive nature. One member was reported to have said that “it would be very wrong to dictate to a Catholic politician how to vote.” He added that “we hope and” (naïvely) “expect that they would bring their faith to bear on [their] political decisions.”78 The bishops have the same ‘tip-toe’ policy in regard to political decisions of the laity. Before each General Election, a ‘mish-mash’ of topics is covered in a mildly-worded statement of ‘guidance’. In 2015, for example, the expressed aims of the statement were “to suggest” how you “might” approach the question of which candidate should benefit from your alleged “duty” to vote (thus ignoring the likelihood that none of the available candidates merits support), and “to suggest” “some” “key issues” for your “reflection” “as you make your own decision,” and to “to suggest” questions which “you may” “wish to bear in mind,” remembering the bishops’ opinion that “voting in a general election should seldom, if ever, be based on a single issue” (an opinion which, of course, opens the door for very controversial compromises). The statement in 2017, similarly, though more briefly, “offer[ed] [some] considerations” and “questions [which] you might consider,” again alleged that there is a duty to vote and ignored a duty to withhold your vote, and (by reminding each reader that “Your vote is a matter of conscience”) neatly shied away from instruction.
So, whether for Catholic politicians considering a specific question, or for Catholic electors considering which (if any) candidate to help elect, the message from the bishops is reminiscent of an anecdote in a play by Arnold Wesker. This is how it went. A girl lived near an allegedly-wise man, near a river which she was anxious to cross. She asked the local ferryman to take her across. The ferryman said that he would if she agreed to take off all of her clothes. The girl was in a dilemma, and asked the wise man (her neighbour) for advice. This is where the parallel with the bishops comes in. The allegedly-wise man’s advice was “You must do what you think best.” As the girl’s brother commented, “Well, that weren’t much advice was it!”79
We can see clearly, if we look, that in many countries the revolution which began decades ago against Catholicism-compliant laws and customs is still in progress. Currently its main focus is giving same-gender relationships legal equivalence with heterosexual marriage, and also providing praise and facilities for people who want to change the gender with which they were born. Vying for ‘top-spot’ on the agenda is promotion of medically-assisted suicide and euthanasia. It should be obvious that the duty of every authentic Catholic is to take all available opportunities to obstruct these extensions of the revolution, and indeed to achieve reversals of secularist achievements hitherto. It is, however, obvious also that by no means all self-professing and/or alleged ‘Catholics’ are authentic ones, and enquiries will show that some such ‘Catholics’ have voted in favour of the secularist revolution and even against attempts to make some minor reversals of it. The scandal80 of such flagrant mutiny brings upon the culprits no publicly-announced adverse result (or, in most cases, even adverse comment) from ‘not-our-responsibility’ clerics, and the divided and indifferent laity do not organise to remove the mutineers from positions of power. The pervasive paralysis is so long-established that overcoming it is presently unforeseeable, but Catholics who have that desire must be always trying to foster appropriate collaborative effort.
That is what our adversaries have done, with considerable success. They continue to do so, using their progress hitherto to prove that ‘attitudes have changed’ and that “people do want to see our major faiths keep up” with what is happening in “a modern country.”81 Despite this popular revolution, “[W]e can’t just wait for equality to happen — we need to keep pushing for it.”82 There is just as much need for Catholics (and any allies) to push against symptoms of intrinsically-immoral disorders83 and against the media-conveyed impression that people who associate themselves publicly with such disorders are models for admiration. All possible attitudes and lifestyles are not of equal value,84 and appropriate action against wrong ones is justified. That is, ironically, the professed basis on which the de facto Anti-Intolerance and -Discrimination Squad operates, but it is used against adherents of Catholic-compliant beliefs; ‘all attitudes and lifestyles are equal, but some are more equal than others’.85 Unjust discriminatory practices should be avoided,86 but just ones should be upheld.
People who want objectively-justified discrimination and wholesome intolerance need to push for them, undeterred by (i) a ‘who am I to judge?’ type of ‘reasonableness;’ (ii) the fact that the Church’s teachings are not of equal importance; and (iii) ideas such as that grave sins are ‘secondary’ matters by comparison with ‘essential’ and ‘necessary’ things (for example, proclamation of God’s love and saving grace) and that we should not proselytise but ‘live and let live’. People need to know the inequality of virtue and vice. In contrast with the mealy-mouthed comments and apparently-embarrassed silence on grave defiance of Catholic principle and traditional practice, that inequality should not be treated as taboo for fear of ‘putting people off’. That phenomenon is not entirely a recent one. In a jointly-written book which is farther from achieving its objective than when they wrote it, Arnold Lunn and Garth Lean mentioned “the declining influence of Christianity” as attributable, “in large measure, to a failure of nerve on the part of Christians. A striking example of this is the[ir] accept[ing that] the only case which is better for not being stated is the case for Christianity.” The authors added that Communists had conquered much of the world because most of them welcomed opportunities to state the case for Communism, whereas “[t]he theory that you actually damage your case by stating it was left to Christians to develop.”87 In fact, the theory was, and remains, that the case for Christianity is damaged if it includes anything which will be unpopular. The result is silence or equivocation about those unpopular matters, and people who privately wish that dominant defiance of the truth would end are encouraged to remain passive.
Immoral changes which are now praised, enforced and extended by all major political Parties were produced by active promotion, not by passivity, and passivity will not reverse them. Waiting for someone else to take an initiative (or, worse, suggesting that none should be taken) prolongs and increases the problem. By such failures, and by putting ‘positive glosses’ on calamities, the Church’s ordained and lay members are actually helping the contra-Catholic revolution.
1 ibid., p.149-150.
3Encyclical letter, “Mit Brennender Sorge,” 14th March 1937, paragraph 19.
4 op. cit., p.37.
5 Matt. 12:34; Lk 6:45.
6 Matt. 7:15-16.
7 Matt. 7:21-23.
8 “Why I Am Still in the Church,” in “Two Say Why,” Franciscan Herald Press, 1973, p.67.
9 “Catechism of the Catholic Church,” paragraph 2478.
10 Letter from Greg Clovis, FLI UK Executive Director, 2017.
12 Neville Kyrke-Smith, in “The Path to Rome – Modern Journeys to the Catholic Church,” eds. Dwight Longenecker and Cyprian Blamires; Gracewing, 2010, p.255.
13 “The Universe,” 2nd June 2013, p.12; “The Catholic Herald,” 6th June 2014, p.5; “The Catholic Times,” 8th June 2014, p.1.
14 “Catechism of the Catholic Church,” paragraph 2041.
15 “Mysterium Ecclesiae,” Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, 1973, section 2.
18 ibid., section 1.
20 ibid., section 5.
21 ibid., section 4.
22 ibid., section 2.
23 Code of Canon Law, 209.1.
24 “Catechism of the Catholic Church,” paragraph 85.
25 ibid., paragraphs 882 & 883.
26 ibid., paragraph 890.
27 ibid., paragraph 88.
28 ibid., paragraph 891.
29 ibid., paragraph 892.
32 ibid., paragraph 142.
33 ibid., paragraph 143; “Dei Verbum,” paragraph 5.
34 “Mysterium Ecclesiae,” section 2.
35 “Catechism of the Catholic Church,” paragraph 2039.
36 Preface to the “Instrumentum Laboris” agenda for the XIII Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops: “The New Evangelization for the Transmission of the Christian Faith,” 2012.
37 “Catechism of the Catholic Church,” paragraph 837; “Lumen Gentium,” paragraph 14.
38 Romans 2: 28-29.
39 Paragraph 14.
40 “Evangelii Gaudium,” paragraph 14.
41 Lineamenta for the XIV Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops: “The Vocation and Mission of the Family in the Church and Contemporary World,” 2015, paragraph 27.
42 Pope St. John Paul II, “Ecclesia in Europa,” 2003, paragraph 47.
43 op. cit.; p.123.
44 “Gaudium et Spes,” paragraph 43.
45 “Ecclesia in Europa,” op. cit., paragraph 50.
46 Pope St. John Paul II, “Novo Millennio Ineunte,” 2001, paragraph 40.
47 BBC News, 12th July 2017.
48 Reuters, 3rd February 2014.
49 LifeSiteNews.com, 5th December 2013.
51 LifeSiteNews.com, 17th July 2017. According to a report of a subsequent ‘clarification,’ he had said “the point of shipwreck” (although there seems no substantive difference): “The Universe,” 28th July 2017, p.13.
52 8th December 2016.
53 Genesis 3:4-7.
54 Continuum UK, 2009; p.xiv-xvi.
55 2008, at p.19.
56 “The Catholic Times,” 21st October 2012, p.7.
57 op. cit., at p.120-121.
58 4th November, p.39.
59 3rd February, p.17.
60 Paragraphs 34 and 35.
61 “Catechism of the Catholic Church,” paragraphs 90 and 234.
62 Paragraph 39.
63 op. cit., section 4.
64 Paragraphs 61 and 64.
65 Catholic News Service, 29th July 2014.
66 Paragraph 2285.
67 Paragraph 2286.
68 Pope St. John Paul II, “Novo Millennio Ineunte,” 2001, paragraph 36; cf. the title of the American Catholic periodical known as “The Remnant.”
70 “Duties of the Catholic State in Regard to Religion,” Cardinal Alfredo Ottaviani,” trans. Fr.Denis Fahey, C.S.Sp,; “The Tipperary Star” and Regina Publications, Dublin; 1954, p.13-14.
71 Paragraph 36.
72 “Apostolicam Actuositatem,” paragraph 31.
73 LifeSiteNews.com, 5th December 2013, op. cit..
74 “The Universe,” 22nd August, 2014, p.14.
75 “Novo Millennio Ineunte,” op. cit., paragraph 36.
76 Doctrinal Note On the Participation of Catholics in Political Life,” 2002, paragraph 2.
77 ibid., paragraph 4.
78 “The Catholic Times,” 2nd May 2004, p.1.
79 “Roots,” Act 3.
80 “Catechism of the Catholic Church,” paragraphs 2284-2287.
81 Justine Greening, U.K. Secretary of State for Education and Minister for Women and Equalities, in an interview on Sky News; https://www.politicshome.com/ 23rd July 2017.
82 Justine Greening, 7th July 2017 statement to mark “International Women's Week”; https://www.politicshome.com/
83 cf. “Catechism of the Catholic Church,” paragraph 2357.
84 cf. “Doctrinal Note On the Participation of Catholics in Political Life,” paragraph 2; op. cit., n.72),
85 cf. “Animal Farm,” George Orwell.
86 “Catechism of the Catholic Church,” paragraph 2358.
87 “Christian Counter-Attack,” Blandford Press Ltd., 1969; Catholic Book Club edition, 1970, p.1.