Wednesday, 19 April 2017

Barack Obama and Catholic counter-revolution

 RATIONAL HOPE, OR A MERE DREAM?

Part 1 – broad backgound

by Anthony Hofler
       
Writing of his baptism in the Trinity United Church of Christ, Barack Obama said that “kneeling beneath that cross on the South Side of Chicago, I felt God’s spirit beckoning me. I submitted myself to His will, and dedicated myself to discovering His truth.” To a committed Christian considering support for a political candidate, such statements would be encouraging signs. They would be useful criteria also by which to judge an elected candidate’s conduct.
     The original purpose underlying this article was to highlight lessons from the life of Barack Obama for Catholics (especially in the energetic U.S. and the languid U.K.) who are interested in acquiring power for good purposes. Engagement in that work brought, however, a realisation that Catholic-significant aspects of President Obama’s life should be combined with a comparison, from a recognisably-Catholic standpoint, of the situations in the U.S. and in Britain. Lessons can be clearer and more memorable when learned in their appropriate contexts. So before focusing predominantly on President Obama, it will be useful to take a broader view.

     For a long time, black Americans were down-trodden by law and culture; today, so are recognisably-Catholic principles. That should matter to us. Catholicism and its adherents are recognisable as such to the extent that they differ from other creeds and people. If we sink those differences we sink our religious identity, and the faith goes down with us. Pope John Paul the Great, never one to sink, said that Europe “gives the impression of ‘silent apostasy’ on the part of people who have all that they need and who live as if God does not exist”[1]. The same applies here. In 2002 Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor (not famous for discontentment) said that “in England and Wales today Christianity as a background to people’s lives and moral decisions is now almost vanquished” and noted the (long-obvious) “secular outlook in our society which ignores the Gospel: it does not know it and it does not want to”[2]. The situation is worse now, especially in the law.
    Typical Catholics seem uninterested in this. Parishes lack any significant counter-revolutionary activity. Now-retired Bishop Patrick O’Donoghue of Lancaster found languor and reticence, even hopelessness in the Church. He wondered what had caused it, and lamented ‘back-pedalling’ on fundamental principles[3].

     Despite Scriptural and high ecclesiastical exhortation to conform society to God’s laws, attempts to energise defence of controversial Catholic teachings are either deftly turned aside or met with a “granite exterior” or a “puzzled stare”[4]. Clerics will, of course, dispute that, but their ‘look-on-the-bright-side’ policy is characterised by vagueness and incapable of ending the endemic torpor.
     At one time things were bleak also for black Americans, but an important difference between their position and that of British Catholics is that here the challenges are directed at Catholic principles, whereas there they were directed at practicalities in blacks’ daily lives. Black Americans could not have shrugged and answered lamely, ‘But it doesn’t affect us,’ because it did. If, however, typical Catholics in England today were asked to fight this or that un-Catholic law or practice, many would shrug and answer lamely, ‘It doesn’t affect us.’ Practicalities outweigh principles.

     Indicative of a wish to make religion recognisably (although – a very important proviso –uncontroversially) ‘relevant’ and thereby stem the loss of ‘credibility’ in an ever-more secular society, statements by the hierarchy give material matters at least equal weight with subjects which seem comparatively peripheral to people’s ‘normal lives’. Similarly, politicians often neglect ‘moral’ subjects and promote attention to those which ‘people care about’/ which ‘matter to people’. Promotion of ‘marriage’ status for same-sex relationships was an exception to that. Catholic bishops did speak up against same-sex ‘marriage’ (although not very cogently), but not long beforehand Archbishop Vincent Nichols (as he then was) said during a televised discussion of Pope Benedict’s visit to Britain that the hierarchy’s priority-subjects are poverty and education[5]. Those subjects are indeed addressed directly by Church teachings, but they are not distinctively-Catholic subjects. The comparative neglect and ‘soft-pedalling’ on other matters, especially the greatest modern triumphs of secular permissiveness, reflects the fact that very few Catholics in Britain show any concrete interest in what does not affect them materially, directly, and recognisably. That is a formidable obstacle to the reversal of secularism.
     As well as apathy within the Church, Catholic counter-revolutionaries have to consider how best to defeat adversaries outside it. During the secularists’ rise to power, they had to consider how to defeat us, in so far as the law enshrined our principles, just as American ‘civil rights’ campaigners had to consider how to defeat deeply-entrenched resistance. Probably the greatest practical asset was the existence of a large body of supporters who cared enough to respond. Opinion produced practical effect because of “those who marched and those who sang, those who sat in and those who stood firm, those who organized and those who mobilized,” as President Obama described them. There is no equivalent body of Catholics in Britain or Europe; that is the greatest difference between achieving civil rights for black Americans and re-asserting down-trodden Catholic principles.

     Former “Catholic Herald” editor Peter Stanford has written that the Church “instinctively keeps a low profile and shrugs off criticisms rather than confronts them,” but that this is “now being mercilessly exploited” by “the new breed of abrasive secularists.” He wrote that the “innate reluctance to be drawn into public confrontation,” and “to hammer home…contentious Catholic teachings,” is a “legacy of the history of the faith here and its accommodation to the prevailing norms of the wider society.” He described this as “being realistic,” and as “pragmatism”[6] .
     It amounts to an admission of subservience, perhaps with an underlying (and hitherto-unfulfilled) hope that we can turn our adversaries’ criteria against them (e.g. ‘equality’) just as they have been adept in using ours against us (e.g. ‘conscience’). According to American Catholic Judge Albert C. Walsh, St. Thomas More wrote, in “Utopia” (p.47f): “…that which you cannot turn to good, so order it that it be not very bad”[7]. The temptation to ‘make the best’ of an unsatisfactory situation is understandable. Everyone can see the attraction of ‘why hold out for perfection when you can’t get it?’ Courage v. compromise. It is true that “when valour preys on reason, it eats the sword it fights with”[8], but a rather similar result arises when pragmatism preys on principle.
     The black civil rights campaigners in America managed eventually to persuade the Supreme Court that the language of the law was on their side, and to persuade the Congress that further laws were needed. It was the psychological weight of sustained large protest which wore down resistance. Black Americans believed in the justice of their principles, and (aroused by strong leadership) had enough tenacity and perseverance to win. Those factors are lacking among Catholics, not only where Catholics are a minority but also even in the few places where they are, at least nominally, a majority (ascertainment of the true numbers is impossible, because (i) a claim to be a Catholic is not a reliable indicator of beliefs (“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”[9], and (ii) self-declaration is not conclusive[10].

     A lamentable example occurred in October 2016, when the Parliament of (according to the Reuters news-agency) “staunchly Catholic” Poland rejected by 352 to 58 a Bill which, reported Reuters, proposed “a near-total ban on abortion.” Reuters described the result as “an embarrassing setback” for the Polish Government and for “the powerful” Catholic Church. For two reasons, that seems an untenable conclusion. Firstly, the Government withdrew its earlier support for the ban; so apparently it wanted the result which occurred. Secondly, Reuters seemed to contradict themselves by alleging that the Church’s influence has been “steadily eroded” (by democracy and “market reforms”). Obviously it is not powerful enough to procure a much-improved compliance of the law with this fundamental aspect of Catholic moral doctrine[11]. The impossibility of achieving that even in Poland emphasises that it is a mere dream elsewhere. A 100,000-strong public protest against the Bill was ‘credited’ with swaying the vote (and thereby negating 450,000 signatures on a petition supporting it). Lesson: results depend on whether the powerful are receptive to a campaign, not necessarily on the number of campaigners. Few power-holders are receptive to distinctively-Catholic moral principles. ‘Empower allies of Catholicism’ is the solution, but there is no practical effort to do so.

     Such failure to give practical effect to Catholic principle is a grave dereliction of duty.

Part 2 coming soon...


[1] Apostolic Exhortation, “Ecclesia in Europa,” June 2003, at paragraph 9.
[2] “Birmingham Catholic News,” April 2002, at p.2.
[3] “Fit for Mission? – Church,” Catholic Truth Society, 2008, p10-13, & 93.
[4] “Sunday Plus,” Redemptorist Publications, 10th July 2011.
[5] BBC 2, 19th September 2010; reported in “The Catholic Herald,” 1st October 2010, p.3.
[6] Article entitled “Pope Benedict’s visit: beleaguered Catholic Church struggles against secular tide,” in “The Observer,” 29th August 2010.
[7] “Thomas More – The Greatest Englishman,” distributed as a supplement with Hamish Fraser’s “Approaches” magazine, no. 61, May 1978.
[8] Enobarbus, in “Antony and Cleopatra,” Act III, Sc. XI).
[9] Archbishop Charles J. Chaput, O.F.M. Cap., “Render Unto Caesar”; Doubleday, 2008, p.37.
[10] See “Catechism of the Catholic Church,” paragraph 837, last sentence.
[11] cf. “Catechism of the Catholic Church,” paragraph 2273.

Sunday, 22 January 2017

LESS OF A LEAP

Part 2
by Anthony Hofler
The new element in David Cameron’s Bratislava speech (19th June 2015) was in the section following immediately after his examples of ‘extreme’ opinions which must be fought. “The question is,” he said, “how do people arrive at this worldview?” He said that “There are, of course, many reasons,” and he mentioned three in particular. Their religious significance is worth highlighting.
     One was the “too often hear[d]” and “dangerous” opinion that responsibility for “radicalisation” lies with “someone else,” such as “agencies or authorities.” That, he said, ignores the fact that “radicalisation starts with the individual,” and risks the overlooking of many ways by which “we must try to stop it at the source.” No doubt unwittingly, he thereby echoed comments by Pope John Paul the Great about sin and sinful situations (“Reconcilatio et Paenitentia,” 1984 , para. 16). One way (although the speech did not refer to it) by which the Government is targeting “the source” is the prominently-publicised strategy for using the education system to identify and counteract signs of unacceptable beliefs. The Church in England and Wales does not seem to have a reputation for doing the same (that is a subject in its own right, and too large for consideration here).
     Another factor cited by Mr. Cameron was “national identity and making sure young people in our country feel truly part of it.” The implication (apparently accurate) is that some people, especially young ones, see an incompatibility between national identity and religious identity. Probably very few Catholics feel like that (whether they should do is another distinct subject too large for consideration here).
     The third factor which Mr. Cameron blamed for contributing to the relevant ‘extremism’ is very important in other contexts, also. He said that there are people who, although not going as far as advocating violence, hold the types of ‘extreme’ views which he had mentioned and who give credence to them by quietly condoning them and portraying them as being part of an identity (“telling fellow Muslims, ‘you are part of this’ ”). He said that for impressionable people who live in such an atmosphere “it’s less of a leap” to join violent, murderous groups than it would be for someone who has not been exposed to those subtle influences. Putting that in different words but not altering its substance, it means that showing an equivocal or sympathetic attitude to wrong ideas can give them a credibility and legitimacy which events show to be dangerous.
     When expressed in abstract words such as those, it would receive assent from just about everybody, and just about everybody would agree also that in the context which Mr. Cameron had in mind events prove that it is true. Agreement often begins to disintegrate, however, when general principles are applied to specific situations. Nowhere is that recognisable more clearly than in religion and ethics. For example, Monsignor Keith Newton, the leader of the Ordinariate for former Anglican ministers who have joined the Catholic Church, once said that to hold the Anglican Communion together is a very difficult job because taking a firm line in anything causes people to disagree. (Probably that was why a former Archbishop of Canterbury was alleged to have “nailed his colours firmly to the fence.”)
     David Cameron would ‘row back’ from his comment about condonation strengthening the power of dangerously-extreme beliefs if he were faced with its application to now-deeply-rooted-and-strongly-defended changes in British society since the Second World War. The 1983 Darwin Lecture by the Lord Chief Justice (Lord Lane) contained remarks similar to that comment in Mr. Cameron’s 2015 Bratislava speech, but he applied them in a different way: He noted also the role of words in influencing thought and events. “We use,” he said, “innocuous words or words with happy and pleasant connotations to describe things which are the opposite of innocuous… By the ‘permissive’ society, we mean the immoral society. Look what has happened to the word ‘gay’. It had beautiful connotations of carefree happiness. It has now been so devalued that it is unusable without causing sniggers. … That is dreadful. It corrupts the language and gives tacit approval to the situation which is being so misdescribed. … But I digress. Easy divorce; the Pill; legalised abortion; easy access to pornography; all these things are now everyday, unremarkable phenomena of our society. They were unthinkable thirty years ago. They’ve all made their contribution to our present condition.”
     Mr. Cameron’s probable reaction to that would begin with something like ‘Ah, well. Those are very different from murders of innocent people. Although some of us may think that in some ways perhaps some of them go too far, we must accept that they are features of a modern, tolerant society…’ Mr. Cameron’s successor as Prime Minister, Theresa May, would probably condemn Lord Lane’s views as symptoms of why (according to her speech to the 2002 Conservative Party Conference) some people had regarded the Conservatives as “the nasty Party.” Although saying that that opinion of the Party was unfair, in effect she surrendered to it by calling for “No more glib moralising, no more hypocritical finger-wagging. We need to reach out to all areas of our society.” The friends of licentiousness accepted joyfully that gift, planted it firmly in political posterity, and still quote it.
     Lord Lane’s ‘unthinkable-thirty-years-ago’ point was expressed similarly by Father Timothy Finigan, in his contribution to “Proclaiming the Gospel of Life” (Catholic Truth Society, 2009, p.56): “Had an orthodox moral theologian suggested in 1968 that the consequences [of adopting artificial contraception] would include civil partnerships for homosexual people, demonstration of the use of condoms for children, secret abortions for girls under 16, In Vitro Fertilisation and the discarding of ‘spare’ embryos, they would have been dismissed as alarmist and unrealistic.”
     Do you remember “In the Year 2525,” a song by Zager and Evans which was a hit in the Summer of 1969? Issued at the time when walking on the Moon changed from fantasy to fact, it made predictions of other things. One was that in 6565 it would be possible to choose children “from the bottom of a long glass tube.” The first ‘test-tube baby’ was born in 1978. A related prediction was that husbands and wives would not be needed. The basis of that prediction was a two-fold norm of life in the 1960s – most children were conceived naturally from bodily union of men and women who were married to each other. Not only has the conception element become anachronistic, but the status of ‘husband’ and ‘wife’ is removed from legal recognition as a result of ‘marriage’ between same-gender couples being introduced.
     From the dawn of time marriage has been a heterosexual concept, arising from the anatomically-complementary sexual organs of the parties, bearing fruit in children conceived and nurtured and delivered by the purpose-made construction and natural processes of female bodies, and reared within the security resulting from the marriage of the parents and (to that end) the parental duties imposed by law. Same-sex ‘marriage’ is a perversely-logical outcome of a long-established mind-set which rejects openness to conception as a condition of sexual propriety, and which imposes a contrary relativist insistence on autonomous ‘choice’. Same-sex ‘marriage’ is, therefore, another dimension of a strategy to transform an allegedly-archaic institution.      Civil partnerships were the main ‘trail-blazers’ for this, not only in Britain but internationally. Using civil partnerships as a ‘spring-board,’ it was “less of a leap” to legalise ‘marriage’ between same-gender individuals. For example, a strategist in America argued that all of the very important legal incidents of marriage would best be secured by properly-crafted legislation establishing civil unions. He said that, with the legal incidents the same for married people and for the parties to civil unions, the two relationships would differ (only) in regard to the level of public approval inherent in the word ‘marriage.’ He added that in most cases the best way of obtaining that public approval (for ‘marriage’ status being granted to same-sex couples) would be first to secure the legal incidents under the title of civil unions, after which people would look at civil unions, see no significant distinction from marriages, start calling them marriages, and gradually forget why they objected to doing so before.
     Events in Britain have vindicated that assessment. Anyone na├»ve or self-deluded enough to have believed that civil partnerships were not trail-blazers for same-sex ‘marriage’ should feel very foolish now. Their embarrassment should be the greater for the fact that the Government explicitly used such partnerships as a ‘launch-pad’. The Ministerial Foreword bearing Theresa May’s name and contained in the Government’s 2012 consultation-document said that “Same-sex couples now receive access to equivalent legal rights, bar the ability to be able to be married and to say that they are married. We do not believe this is acceptable. The introduction of civil partnerships in 2005 was a significant and important step forward for same-sex couples… We recognise that the personal commitment made by same-sex couples when they enter into a civil partnership is no different to the commitment made by opposite-sex couples when they enter into a marriage” (yet the same consultation-document declared, in paragraph 1.10, that whereas marriage entails the saying of prescribed words “civil partnerships are formed simply by signing the register – no words are required to be spoken” – a silent ‘commitment’!); “We do not think that the ban on same-sex couples getting married should continue.” Bowing to the ubiquitous supreme secular criterion, the Ministerial Foreword declared that “this is about providing choice for our modern society.” When leaving office, Mr. Cameron included it in his list of achievements, and on taking over from him Theresa May invoked it in describing him as “a great modern Prime Minister.” This aspect of Government policy can be expected to continue with consistently-widening, and minimally-hindered, practical effects.
     The campaign to prevent ‘marriage’ status for same-gender relationships laid great stress on the connection between marriage and procreation. That stress suggested astonishing obliviousness of the obvious fact that most people regard children as entirely optional, whether within marriage or outside of it. That general view, which is catered-for by a large part of the National Health Service and sustains a vast international industry, undermined substantive objection to biologically-childless unions being given legal ‘marriage’ status. Although many people regarded the proposal as objectionable, many of the objectors would have been unable to say anything other than that it was ‘unnatural’ in a cultural sense. Subconsciously they would have been ‘disarmed’ by the pervasive presence and influence of the foundation-stone of same-gender sexual relationships. It is a factor which campaigners against same-sex ‘marriage’ ignored. The fact that they ignored it testifies to its unassailable social position, because its strength is such that if opponents of same-sex ‘marriage’ had attacked it as the root of the problem they would have lost support. It is, of course, contraception.
     Contraception closes the sexual act to the gift of life. Its solely-sensual basis is the root of all sexual perversions, and (to the extent that such unions include sexual acts) of same-sex ‘marriages’. The initially-limited provision of contraceptive devices and services by the State, and the granting of legal immunity from prosecution for homosexual acts in private between two consenting adults aged at least 21, meant that it was “less of a leap” to extend such services and to lower the age of consent. The basic principle having been accepted, relaxation of restrictive attitudes and practices followed naturally. So mere toleration has developed into ‘marriage’ status for same-sex couples, demands that children be taught that homosexual relationships are just one among a range of legitimate and freely-chosen lifestyles, and intolerant outcries against comments to the contrary.
     Likewise, contraception is the root of abortion. Helping people to prevent conception meant that it was “less of a leap” to enabling them to destroy the unintentionally-conceived. That is not a mere theory. For example, in his autobiographical “Faithful for Life” (1997), Father Paul Marx, the founder of Human Life International, quoted abortion-supporters who admitted candidly that abortion is the ‘back-up’ for contraception. Of one such quotation, he wrote that he wished he could frame it and “put it on the wall of every Catholic priest’s desk, and urge him to read it twice weekly.” In many cases it probably would make no practical difference. Father Marx wrote that although “the evidence is mountainous that contraception leads to abortion,…bishops and priests just do not seem to see the connection, if one may judge by the fact that they rarely (if ever) preach against it.” Perhaps ‘want’ is often more accurate than “seem”.
     At the other end of people’s life-span, the same process is evident. The campaign for legal and open euthanasia, which had made no significant progress in many years, is now conducted under cover of a campaign for legal and open ‘assisted suicide’ (or ‘dying,’ as seems to be the preferred word). Just as civil partnerships were the trail-blazers for same-sex ‘marriage,’ assisted suicide is serving the same purpose for euthanasia, although its overwhelming rejection by vote of the House of Commons on 11th September 2015 has postponed legal change. Assistance with suicide is euthanasia by another name. Once people are allowed to kill other people who request it (subject to ‘careful safeguards,’ of course, such as a requirement that two doctors give the ‘go-ahead,’ which has helped to ensure that officially-recorded legal abortions in Britain have been limited to several millions since 1968), it will be “less of a leap” to relax the rules when ‘difficulties’ emerge and require a solution. A precedent for this occurred in the early 1940s, although its salutary influence may be waning as the history becomes distant. In his detailed account of the history of the SS (Abacus, 2012, at p.169-170), Adrian Weale wrote that rigorous pursuit of efforts to arrange the emigration of Jews from Nazi Germany shows that, at least before the start of the Second World War, extermination of the Jews was not seriously considered as an option by the men who were dealing with the ‘Jewish question’ directly. “In fact,” he continued, “many [members of the SS] were sharply critical of the crude anti-Semitism of their counterparts in the [Nazi Party]. They recognised that the logical conclusion of National Socialist hate propaganda was to kill the Jews, but they simply did not believe that this was feasible, for numerous political and legal reasons. Tragically, though, they had no moral objections to it, which meant that most of them shifted effortlessly from forced emigration to mass murder and extermination as soon as the ‘final solution’ was devised.” It was “less of a leap.”
     Once a basic principle has been surrendered, it is often “less of a leap” to go further. Concessions are susceptible to exploitation. In an essay entitled “The Christian Apologist” (“Light on C. S. Lewis,” Geoffrey Bles, 1965, p.23), Austin Farrer wrote of “what one might call the Munich school, who will always sell the pass in the belief that their position can be more happily defended from foothills to the rear.” Apparently this was an allusion to the Munich Agreement on 30th September 1938. Adolf Hitler wanted to occupy the (ethnically-German) Sudetenland inside Czechoslovakia’s Western border. The Czechs had rejected his demand that by 1st October they should evacuate the area. The British Prime Minister, Neville Chamberlain, and the French Prime Minister, Edouard Daladier, met Hitler at Munich to seek a solution. Faced with Hitler’s intransigence and Germany’s military superiority, they agreed to Czech evacuation beginning on 1st October and ending on 10th October. On return to England, Chamberlain held up to the brisk wind the relevant paper which Hitler had signed. He (Chamberlain) described the outcome as “peace with honour” and “peace for our time,” and recommended to his happy listeners that they should go home and sleep quietly. This detailed (though brief) digression into history is necessary in order to highlight the following key point: In a speech a few days before signing the Munich agreement, Hitler had said that the Sudetenland was his last territorial claim in Europe, but a few months later Germany subjugated the whole of Czechoslovakia. Chamberlain and Daladier had conceded the basic principle of German incursion, and Hitler exploited the concession. A similar example of what turned out to be ‘reassurance leading to calamitous concession’ occurred when the legislative liberalisation of English law on abortion was proposed. During an interview in BBC Radio 4’s “Today” programme on 20th December 2007, Lord Steel said that the proposal had been based on “a Christian view of society.” On 22nd July 1966 he told Parliament that “it is not the intention of the Promoters of the Bill to leave a wide open door for abortion on request. Abortion on request is, however, what resulted in practice.
The basic principle at stake (murder of innocent lives) had been surrendered, most people had no moral objection – no objection in principle – to abortion, and so they had no inclination to interfere. Whereas Hitler’s subsequent additional territorial claim in Europe (Poland) led to war and the end of his murderous Reich, nothing has disturbed the daily mass murder authorised by the Abortion Act 1967.      In religion as in politics, concessions contain the same capacity for exploitation, often by capitalising on events and using cunningly-disarming arguments. Time has justified Barbara Wootton’s observation that ethical doctrines for which divine authority is claimed were being steadily withdrawn from the particular to the general, and that each such retreat, surrendering a previously-final position, threatened the fundamental security of religious morals and provoked the unbeliever to ask, ‘Why stop here?’; and certainly they have not stopped.
     Those examples show that David Cameron was right in believing that even quiet condonation of wayward thinking can lead to wayward behaviour.
     Such condonation often takes the form of an attitude which is useful to people who do not wish to be seen to disagree with a currently-promoted idea: ‘there is something to be said for it.’ According to Archbishop Nichols (as he then was), the Catholic bishops of England and Wales did not oppose ‘civil partnerships,’ because they recognised that there “might be a case” for them.
Bishop O’Donoghue of Lancaster declared his disappointment that the Bishops’ Conference could not agree a collegial response to the Government’s legislation on same-sex adoption, so evidently some of them thought that there might be a case for that, too. Gilbert Keith Chesterton wrote somewhere that there is something to be said for every error, but that whatever may be said for it the most important thing to say about it is that it is erroneous. Probably David Cameron would agree with that, and with his Foreign Secretary (Philip Hammond)’s comment (to
the Royal United Services Institute on 10th March 2015) that “the responsibility for acts of terror rests with those who commit them. But a huge burden of responsibility also lies with those who act as apologists for them.” That is as true of sin in general as it is of the type focused-on by Mr. Hammond, and by Mr. Cameron. The “Catechism of the Catholic Church” teaches that “[s]in is a personal act,” and that “we have a responsibility for the sins committed by others when we co-operate in them by…approving them…” Other ways by which that responsibility is incurred are (according to the “Catechism of Christian Doctrine” which the Catholic bishops of England and Wales approved in 1971) “by defending the ill done” or “by silence.”
     A final important point made (twice) during Mr. Cameron’s Bratislava speech was that it is necessary to tackle the root, and not only the symptoms, of a problem. That certainly is true. So much effort, in many contexts, is directed at symptoms. There are two reasons for that.
     Symptoms tend to be ‘immediate’ and therefore have greater ‘impact,’ and often present at least some scope for practical counter-action, whereas causes tend to be comparatively ‘remote,’ are less-clearly recognised, and are less within most people’s ability to bring about change.      The other reason (which is very relevant to matters on which religion has ‘something to say’) is that, whereas people might agree that a ‘symptom’ is undesirable, they are often very far from agreement in identifying its cause(s) and/or how it should be remedied, and so attention remains focused on symptoms. The brother of Dietrich Bonhoeffer believed that an all-powerful force could not be overcome by resistance to its symptoms. Hearing that his wife, Emmi, had been speaking openly about Nazi murders of Jews, he urged her to understand that Nazism was like a snake, in the sense that it would bite someone who trod on its tail (seemingly a metaphor for exposing its evil works). He told her that the only way to neutralise the Nazi ‘snake’ was to hit its head; and that because no individual citizen could do that the only way would be to convince the military who had the necessary means. Of course, convincing enough of the military to act required explanation of relevant symptoms which showed that the cause had to be removed, but we do not have information about whether Herr Bonhoeffer had ideas for dealing safely with that hazardous task.      The situation in 2016 Britain is, fortunately, much better than that in 1940s Germany, and the seemingly-few Christians who are unhappy with tramplings on their moral principles do not hanker for forcible removal of the people responsible. The ‘symptoms or causes?’ quandary and the advice of Emmi Bonhoeffer’s husband combine, however, to bring to light a fact which is lamentably absent from religious analysis of society’s ills. Successful action requires power.

     That is a subject for another time.

Sunday, 9 October 2016

LESS OF A LEAP

Condonation, Concession, and Catastrophe

Part 1
by Anthony Hofler
David Cameron used to work in ‘public relations,’ so it has been said. It is not mere cynicism, but realism, to say that he did so as a politician, and that he will continue to do so (on a reduced scale) despite no longer being the U.K.’s Prime Minister. Because politicians depend on votes from the public, it is natural for them to monitor and keep in mind signs of public opinion. Sometimes politicians’ comments on one subject prompt wondering about whether they understand the application to another. For example, the trite and often-heard reference to ‘protecting the most vulnerable in our society’ raises a question of whether they realise correctly the scope of those words. Although politicians’ mental agility may be above average, they are busy people and cannot be expected to conduct continuous accurate analysis of how best to express themselves. Therefore it may be unfair to pounce too quickly on recognised imprecision. Furthermore, top-level politicians are too busy to prepare fully all of their speeches, and employ assistants for that purpose; responsibility for settling the final version must rest with the politician, but their busy-ness might hinder that.
The previous paragraph is not ‘waffle,’ but an attempt at fairness prior to focusing on ‘specifics.’
Some of David Cameron’s statements in 2015 were probably made in obliviousness of their applicability in ways of which he would disapprove. It is not disrespectful to suspect that his disapproval might owe something to his impression of most people’s opinion. Examples follow.
On 21st February 2015, the BBC reported Mr. Cameron’s call for action to prevent people from “having their minds poisoned” by an “appalling death-cult” in parts of the Middle East. A few days later, staff of the 10 Downing Street office which processes the Prime Minister’s incoming mail were sent a message outlining Britain’s own multi-form culture of death. Because the existence of that culture is not acknowledged in general or in public, an outline of it was provided for the staff. It mentioned:
  • the strong influence of a contraception-mentality which regards new life as lacking any inherent worth and as being freely disposable if unwanted;
  • the resulting de-facto-unrestricted abortion and embryomicide;
  • the outnumbering, by those killings of innocent human beings, of the murders committed by the Nazis during World War II or by fanatical groups recently, the victims differing simply in their size and cognitive development;
  • the perversely-logical impetus towards legal ‘assisted suicide’ and thence to blatant euthanasia;
  • the ‘double-standards’ used by politicians, of whichever Party, who compete for the most trenchant condemnation when people abroad are murdered for not being Muslims, but who discreetly pass over in silence or (worse) defend as a ‘right’ the legally-protected mass killing in our own country;
  • the Prime Minister’s wish to stop one type of appalling death-cult from poisoning people’s minds, whereas the British educational system and State-financed private-sector organisations are poisoning people’s minds with another one.
Accepting the authenticity of the Prime Minister’s outrage, but pointing out that it was myopic or even hypocritical while a ‘culture of death’ is tolerated here, the message requested a reliable indication of how he would respond. There was no reply (unless it ‘went astray’).
Two months later (on 20th April), Radio 4’s 1 p.m. News broadcast part of Mr. Cameron’s comments on the latest drownings of migrants sailing from North Africa to Europe. He said that it is necessary to stop the traffickers who run a trade in death. No doubt he, and nearly every listener, was oblivious of the trade in death which the Abortion Act has entrenched in British society and which has the firm support of most politicians elected by British people. We need to stop that, too, but it is absent from public debate, whether during Election-campaigns or at any other time. Why is that? Read on.
On 19th June 2015, Mr. Cameron gave a prominently-publicised speech at the Global Security Forum, in Bratislava. He focused, as was perfectly understandable and reasonable, on current international political problems, but again some of his comments possessed another significance and raised probably-unrecognised points. At least some of those will now be identified and considered, despite the risk that even within the Church many people would regard the analysis as ‘stretching things’ - it depends on how much importance is attached to the topics raised.
Underlying Mr. Cameron’s speech was his Government’s policy of promoting “British values” (the favourite examples being ‘equality,’ ‘tolerance,’ and ‘democracy’), and of counteracting “radical views” and (in so far as it is different from radical views) “extremism.” Such concepts are imprecise. Their practical applications can be mutually-inconsistent and controversial. Discussion of them is bedevilled by prevalent (and legally-adopted) relativism.
The extremism with which the U.K. Government is most concerned is known by several names. In his Bratislava speech, Mr. Cameron chose ‘ISIL.’ His examples of its standpoints included opinions that “democracy is wrong, …that homosexuality is evil[, that] religious doctrine trumps the rule of law and Caliphate trumps nation state…” What does Catholic teaching tell us about those subjects? Consideration of them as independent concepts is difficult because they are not mutually-independent. Of the four opinions quoted, homosexuality is the ‘odd one out’ (not the only sense in which that is true), so it will be left until last. The three others are relevant to political authority.
A comment which recurs predictably on appropriate occasions is that the Church should keep out of politics. Like many loosely-worded statements, analysis can demolish it, but perhaps most people are not natural analysts. It amounts, however, to saying that God’s law does not apply to subjects (selected by ‘keep religion out of it’ people) with which politicians have decided to concern themselves. On the contrary: the “Catechism of the Catholic Church” declares the crucial principles that there is no human activity which can be withdrawn from God’s dominion and that the Catholic Church does have inherent authority to make judgments on political matters. One of the more general such judgments is that those who govern human communities should behave as ministers of divine providence. The “Catechism” makes clear also that all human authority is subordinate to the authority of God (as Our Lord pointed out to Pontius Pilate), and explains authority and the participation by the public in social and political life. Other, particularly important, points are that diversity of political systems is morally acceptable, provided that they serve the legitimate good of the communities who adopt them, and that unjust or otherwise-immoral laws and policies are not binding on citizens’ consciences.
Ten years after the publication of the “Catechism,” the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith announced that the emergence of ambiguities or questionable positions in recent times, often because of the pressure of world events, had made it necessary to clarify some important elements of Church teaching in this area. Among the clarifications was the recognition that while democracy is the best expression of the direct participation of citizens in political choices, it succeeds only to the extent that it is based on a correct understanding of the human person, and that Catholic involvement in political life cannot compromise on this principle, for otherwise the witness of the Christian faith in the world, as well as the unity and interior coherence of the faithful, would be non-existent (no prizes for identifying examples proving the truth of that).
Democracy is, therefore, intrinsically neither wrong (as David Cameron says ISIL believe) nor right (as Mr. Cameron may believe, and – which was confirmed in the CDF’s above-mentioned announcement – as the Church believes in the sense that democracy is the best form of direct public participation in politics). The correct moral judgment of democracy, and of democracy’s specific results, depends on a correct application of Catholic moral principles.
Mr. Cameron, and many others, would think that the previous paragraph is uncomfortably close to the third of his above-quoted criticisms of ISIL – the belief that “religious doctrine trumps the rule of law.” The “Catechism” makes clear that true religion does take precedence over human law when the latter exceeds its relevant moral limits. Politicians commonly portray ‘the rule of law’ as an absolute duty to obey the law of the land. The true meaning of the expression is, however, different: according to the “Catechism,” the principle of the ‘rule of law,’ in which the law is sovereign, denotes a legal and/or administrative arrangement derived from a preference that each power be balanced by other powers and by other spheres of responsibility which keep it within proper bounds. In other words, the rule of law (understood correctly) is a mechanism for ensuring governance by power kept within proper bounds instead of by what the “Catechism” describes as “the arbitrary will of men.”
In “Evangelium Vitae,” Pope John Paul the Great gave some specific examples:
(i) “… by the authority which Christ conferred upon Peter and his Successors, and in communion with the Bishops of the Catholic Church, I confirm that the direct and voluntary killing of an innocent human being is always gravely immoral. … Furthermore, no one is permitted to ask for this act of killing, either for himself or herself or for another person entrusted to his or her care, nor can he or she consent to it, either explicitly or implicitly. Nor can any authority legitimately recommend or permit such an action…”
(ii) “Abortion [is a crime] which no human law can claim to legitimize. There is no obligation in conscience to obey such laws; instead there is a grave and clear obligation to oppose them … In the case of an intrinsically unjust law, such as a law permitting abortion…, it is therefore never licit to obey it, or to "take part in a propaganda campaign in favour of such a law, or vote for it"; “This cooperation can never be justified either by invoking respect for the freedom of others or by appealing to the fact that civil law permits it or requires it. Each individual in fact has moral responsibility for the acts which he personally performs; no one can be exempted from this responsibility, and on the basis of it everyone will be judged by God himself (cf. Rom 2:6; 14:12).”
(iii) “… no one can ever renounce this responsibility, especially when he or she has a legislative or decision-making mandate… Although laws are not the only means of protecting human life, nevertheless they do play a very important and sometimes decisive role in influencing patterns of thought and behaviour.
I repeat once more that a law which violates an innocent person's natural right to life is unjust and, as such, is not valid as a law.”
Legislatures everywhere, and even their avowedly-Catholic members, contravene such statements. Even if a Catholic votes the right way (and the votes are what, in practice, determine the outcome), background comments can display wayward thinking and strange priorities. For example, an English Catholic, despite both speaking against and voting against a vast extension of legal abortion, congratulated its proposer for having introduced it “with extraordinary moderation and skill.” He said also:
“I do not seek to build my case against the Bill on [my personal religious commitments]. In our contemporary pluralist society, … the voice of theology can be raised, although I should be the first to agree that it should not be imposed.
… [I]t would be a fair balance for the extension” [i.e. legalised murder might be tolerated] if “under no circumstances would [doctors and nurses] be compelled to take part in abortions which were against their conscientious convictions [the subsequently-enacted exemption was far more limited than that, and in 2014 – in the Glasgow midwives’ case – the Supreme Court interpreted its scope even more narrowly].
… [A]bortion is a necessary evil; that is the most that one can say for it. …
… I would not submit my views or conscience on an issue of this kind… to a Church…
… [I]f the Bill has the support of the majority of hon. Members here, it is right that it should pass and I hope that there will be no attempt to talk it out.”
It did, of course, pass, so (negating his own arguments against the Bill) this prominent Catholic’s prioritisation of Parliamentary democracy was implemented. Probably it was “our contemporary pluralist society’s” first legislative demonstration that “personal views or conscience” should take precedence over the teaching of the Church because “the voice of theology…should not be imposed.”
Legislative defiance of Catholic principle is always on the basis of warped versions of tolerance and choice (whereas St. Peter said “Live as free men, yet without using your freedom as a pretext for evil”: 1 Peter 2:16). In a 2002 Doctrinal Note on the participation of Catholics in political life, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith wrote that “it is not unusual to hear the opinion expressed in the public sphere that such ethical pluralism is the very condition for democracy. As a result, citizens claim complete autonomy with regard to their moral choices, and lawmakers maintain that they are respecting this freedom of choice by enacting laws which ignore the principles of natural ethics and yield to ephemeral cultural and moral trends, as if every possible outlook on life were of equal value. At the same time, the value of tolerance is disingenuously invoked when a large number of citizens, Catholics among them, are asked not to base their contribution to society and political life – through the legitimate means available to everyone in a democracy – on their particular understanding of the human person and the common good.” Alas, the “understanding of the human person and the common good” on which they base their judgments and actions is often a false one (e.g. the corner-stone of permissiveness, ‘we must not impose our views on other people’). Christians must, continued the CDF, reject…a conception of pluralism that reflects moral relativism. Democracy must be based on the true and solid foundation of non-negotiable ethical principles that do not admit of exception, compromise or derogation, and fundamental and inalienable ethical demands; “a well-formed Christian conscience” [which, the “Catechism” points out, “should not be set in opposition to the moral law or the Magisterium of the Church”] “does not permit one to vote for a political program or an individual law which contradicts the fundamental contents of faith and morals.” To David Cameron, and probably many others, that would stand condemned as an ‘extreme’ principle because it conflicts with the dominant secular notion of ‘the rule of law.’
It leads, surely (?), to the third of Mr. Cameron’s three politically-focused criticisms – that ISIL believe that “Caliphate trumps nation state.” The question seems to lack practical significance in regard to Christianity, because there is no visible sign of efforts to ensure that any nation is governed according to Christianity. Even if the will existed, it would be unachievable, because there is inadequate agreement about the contents and requirements of Christianity. As a matter of ‘academic’ interest, however, would it be true that Christianity “trumps nation state”? There seem to be people who believe that the European Union trumps nation States, and who continue to pursue “ever closer union” in as many forms as are achievable (such as introduction of the single currency, which Romano Prodi – a former head of the EU’s executive branch – declared to be a political decision rather than an economic one) and at every opportunity (such as the financial plight of Greece, prompting a former official of the European Central Bank to suggest that it shows a need for countries to become more integrated with each other). David Cameron cannot be included among such people, so to him must be attributed the opinion that ‘nation state trumps European Union, Caliphate, and any other prospective superior force.’ Intellectually, is loyalty to Catholicism more important than loyalty to one’s nation? Much depends on what each loyalty requires. Bearing in mind, however, that nations are human collectivities, transient in the journey towards eternity, and that salvation of souls depends on holiness rather than on patriotism, the obvious conclusion seems to be that if there were a clear and inescapable choice to be made between obeying a requirement of the faith and a requirement of nationality, the faith should come first. A few centuries ago, such choices faced British Catholics. Many chose nationality. Today’s politicians urge us, also, to prioritise nationality, and portray the other option as unacceptably ‘extreme’.
That leads conveniently to the last of David Cameron’s quoted four examples of ‘extremism’ – the opinion “that homosexuality is evil.” As with every public reference to homosexuality, its meaning was left undefined. It could be a reference to the tendency or to the characteristic sexual acts. The “Catechism” focuses on the acts. It makes clear that although someone’s blameworthiness is for God to judge, such acts between same-gender participants are intrinsically gravely depraved and never to be approved. Comments on the subject by Church representatives tend to be noticeably equivocal and (by saying as little as possible about the intrinsic character of acts) to highlight the need to avoid ‘judging’. Equivocation and such a ‘one-eye-on-the-reaction-which-this-will-get’ misleading portrayal of ‘non-judgmentalism’ are, of course, helpful to the world-wide ‘celebrate homosexuality’ campaign. Quotation of what the “Catechism” says about homosexual acts seems now to be ‘taboo’. Apparently influenced by secular society’s energetically-assertive positive attitude to homosexuality and any other such deviance by consenting adults, the Church presents not a sign of contradiction but a sign of the tolerance which less-ambitious advocates of licentiousness used to request. In a 1986 letter to bishops, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith criticised what had become an “overly benign interpretation” of homosexuality, and the portrayal of it as “neutral, or even good.” The letter affirmed that homosexual inclination is a “tendency ordered toward an intrinsic moral evil” and therefore “itself must be seen as an objective disorder,” and that people who have this condition must not “be led to believe that the living out of this orientation…is a morally acceptable option. It is not.” Rejection of that has acquired such public force that voices in the Church now display what the CDF’s letter called “studied ambiguity,” dovetailing with “deceitful propaganda.” Our Lord forgave and said “sin no more” (John 8:11), but today’s avoidance of any statement which would incur displeasure from the wayward looks like a tactic to disguise retreat. Whereas the “people who have this condition” show, by blatant expressions of pride in it (cf. Philippians 3:19), that as far as they are concerned “living [it] out” certainly is “a morally acceptable option,” the Church fails to proclaim on an equivalent scale both that “it is not” and that even the inclination towards homosexual acts is “itself an objective disorder” which should be resisted.
By those failures, the Church reduces its risk of falling into David Cameron’s category of ‘extremist’ organisations who are going to be crushed. Whether there will be attempts to enforce a withdrawal of ‘extreme’ statements remains to be seen. Probably it will be sufficient that they are buried as deeply as “Humanae Vitae” has been. Meanwhile, the de facto policy of equivocation and discreet silence will continue to hold the door open for the “overly benign interpretation” of homosexuality, and the portrayal of it as “neutral, or even good.” Media reports have suggested that outside the Catholic Church (most noticeably, in Anglicanism) there is widespread support for the view that homosexuality is pleasing to God. Some say that it is a genetic phenomenon, that therefore ‘they can’t help it,’ and that God must have intended them to be ‘born like that’. If that line of thought ‘catches on’ among Catholics, there cannot be much likelihood of the Church pointing out loudly that it is theologically insane to believe that “an intrinsic moral evil” or “an objective disorder” is a gift from God. The “Catechism” declares that He does not give that which offends Him, but tolerates it to overpower it with grace, as He did with “the greatest moral evil ever committed – the rejection and murder of God’s only Son,” but that nevertheless “evil never becomes a good.”
So much for David Cameron’s above-mentioned examples of ‘extremism’. Incidentally, although he gave examples he did not give a definition of the word. What is ‘an extremist’? Someone who holds or displays ‘extreme’ attitudes. A High Court judge once wrote that “an extremist opinion is one which admits of no exceptions.” If so, politics and religion include many extremists and hypocritical ‘moderates’.
An ‘extremity’ is ‘the farthest possible point’. Identification of that depends on using true measurement, but relativism asks ‘Who is to say what is true?’ Many people surrender the answer to majority opinion. During his visit to Britain, Pope Benedict said that “If the moral principles underpinning the democratic process are themselves determined by nothing more solid than social consensus, then the fragility of the process becomes all too evident.”
There are good ‘extreme’ principles (e.g. the Ten Commandments). David Cameron seems to espouse some, however vague they are. What counts in practice is not only correct statements of the principles, but also who has (a) the power to enforce them and (b) the will to do so.

Friday, 22 July 2016

Francis: A Pope for our times

Fr. Linus Clovis
Audio Version
Introduction
By God’s grace I am a Catholic; by His mercy I shall die one. I know that whilst the first is a pure gift, the second depends on my free and willing cooperation with grace, on my keeping the Faith, passing on what I myself have been given, fighting the good fight with a clear conscience and persevering in the Faith to the end [1] . This, of course, also applies to all of us.
Last year, I spoke at the Rome Life Forum on the Francis Effect. The talk, much to my surprise, somehow or other, ended up on the internet where, the reactions generated were, for the most part, favourable; the source of a handful of disapproving comments I leave to your imagination. It was in the initial stage of euphoria that I first received and readily accepted the invitation to speak at this Catholic Truth Scotland Conference but, as the time drew closer, I began having second thoughts for, no authentic Catholic takes pleasure in deprecating any papal document, let alone criticising a reigning Sovereign Pontiff. However, we now live in desperate times, times of mass confusion where “the banners of darkness are boldly unfurled”, so away with second thoughts and let us speak openly and plainly in defence of our holy Faith and for the glory of God and the salvation of souls.
The Church
From ancient times, the Church has been known as the Barque of Peter. For this reason, She has often been depicted as a ship sailing on the seas of history. Sometimes calm winds fill her sails and She skims over the waves with a lofty and serene grace. At other times, however, the winds howl, the sea churns with frothy waves, lightning bolts crisscross the skies, thunder alarms the sailors, and the ship appears to be sinking.
Since the Lord had to suffer many things before He entered into His glory [2] and St Paul could declare that it is necessary for us to pass “through many tribulations [before we] enter the kingdom of God” [3] , it should come as no surprise that the Church, who is not greater than her Master [4] , is not exempted from sufferings, afflictions and tribulations. The Church, throughout Her 2000 year history, has experienced tribulations both external and internal. Not only has She been buffeted by outright State persecution but She has also been lacerated by the great Christological heresies, wounded by the Protestant revolution and, finally in our own time, ravaged by Modernism, the synthesis of all heresies. Modernism attempts to replace the absolute and unchanging truths with statements that would correspond more with the lived experience of individuals, especially the emotional and sentimental experiences.
The Church as the Mystical Body of Christ
The Church has been defined [5] as the Mystical Body of Christ: an image found in St Paul’s letters to the Romans, Corinthians, Ephesians and Colossians [6] . This image succinctly expresses the union and the relationship that exists between each member of the Church with Christ and with each other. The mystics and the Church Herself have seen the parallel between Eve’s formation from Adam’s side whilst he was asleep [7] and the Church being formed from the pierced side of Christ whilst He slept the sleep of death on the Cross [8] .
Like a living, physical body, the Mystical Body, in order to grow and develop, had to overcome diverse crises. The four greatest traumas experienced by the Mystical Body would be the 4th century Arian heresy, the 11th century Investiture controversy, the 16th century Protestant revolution and the current Modernist infiltration, each of which attacks the very nature of the Church.
Christ called Himself the vine and His members the branches [9] . With this imagery, He would be the skeleton of the Mystical Body with its members being the various organs as St Paul asserts in the Letter to the Corinthians. Scripturally, bones are symbolic of imperishability since they remain even when, after death, the flesh has decayed. With this analogy, Arius’ denial of Christ’s divinity is equivalent to an attack on the skeleton of the Mystical Body, which would then, at best, be reduced to just another manmade religion. Although the conflict was long and bitter and many bishops faltered by succumbing to Arianism, the truth of Christ’s divinity and, with it, the indefectibility of the Church was establish by St Athanasius.
The eleventh century conflict between Church and State, that is, between the popes and the princes, is known as the Investiture controversy. Secular princes and, in particular, the emperor claimed the right to choose men for the episcopate and even for the papal office. Using the analogy of the physical body, this can be described as an attack on the muscles of the Church, since She would be reduced to nothing other than a puppet of the State. However, God, working through the Cluny reformers, in due course, brought the great Hildebrand to the papal throne where, as Gregory VII, he fought strenuously and suffered greatly to re-establish the Church’s independence from the State.
The sixteenth century Protestant revolt, spearheaded by Martin Luther and John Calvin, sought not only to change the Church’s teaching on grace and sacraments but, also, to undermine Her divinely constituted teaching authority. Their attack on the sacraments, by which grace is conferred, was the equivalent of removing the vital internal organs of the Mystical Body, which would have effectively reduced the Church to one among many sects.
In our own time, the Church faces Her greatest challenge in Her confrontation with the goliath of Modernism. This, Pope St Pius X, in his 1907 encyclical Pascendi dominici gregis, identified and condemned as a “heresy embracing every heresy”.

The Origins of Modernism
Modernism is the offspring of certain tendencies prevalent in 19th century liberal Protestantism and secular philosophy. With centres in France, England, Italy and Germany, the spirit of Modernism was fed by the studies of Kant and Hegel, by liberal Protestant theologians and biblical critics, such as von Harnack, by the evolutionary theories of Darwin, and by certain liberal political movements in Europe.
The two roots of Modernism are the Protestant revolution and the Enlightenment.
1. The Protestant Revolution. At the heart of the Protestant revolution is the rejection of the Magisterium of the Church as established by Christ in favour of each individual acting as the ultimate authority, thereby interpreting and defining all matters of faith and morals for himself.
2. The Enlightenment. The Enlightenment rejected all divine revelation and exalted man's ability, using reason alone, to determine what is true in matters of faith and morals. This eventually led to the Modernist view that truth should be determined by the individual, rather than by God or by the Church’s Magisterium.
Modernism’s two luminaries in the Catholic Church were Fr. Alfred Loisy, a French theologian and Scripture scholar, and Fr. George Tyrrell, an Irish-born Protestant who became a Catholic and Jesuit, though he was dismissed from the Jesuits in 1906. These men were eventually excommunicated for their espousal of Modernism.
Modernist ideas
Since it has no official creed, Modernism is hard to define. However, there are some basic components by which it can be identified. Modernism holds that
1. All religions are equal. Modernism is syncretistic. That is, for the Modernist, it does not matter whether one is Catholic, Muslim, Hindu, Wiccan or snake handler; all that matters is that one is religious in some way, since all religious paths lead to God. [10][11]

2. Religion is not about dogma but about sentimentality and feelings. For the Modernist, religion is essentially about what makes you feel good. If Christianity, or any other religion, makes you feel good and more in touch with the Divine, then it is true for you. In other words, religion does not consist of creeds or objective truth but rather of feelings. [12]
3. The historical Jesus is not necessarily the Jesus of the Gospels. This means, according to the Modernist, from an historical perspective the Scriptures are not necessarily reliable. For example, the Modernist would say that Jesus may not have literally risen from the dead. According to this view, the Resurrection mentioned in Scripture was essentially the way the Apostles chose to communicate the belief that Jesus continues to live in our hearts after His crucifixion. [13]
4. Evolution of doctrine. The Modernist holds that in previous centuries, the dogmas of the Faith, such as the dogmas of the Trinity, were true but, since dogma evolves, they may no longer be true today. For the Modernist, dogma evolves into whatever accommodates the needs of the current culture. [14]
5. Connotations of terminology. Modernists retain the orthodox terminology but change the meaning of the terms. Thus, words like ‘God’, ‘Resurrection’, ‘Trinity’, and ‘salvation’ are all used by the Modernists. However, what Modernist mean and understand by these terms is totally different from that which the Church understands and has traditionally taught. For this reason, Modernists may appear to be orthodox but, by carefully sifting through their meaning of the terminology they use, their true nature is soon discovered. [15]
6. Secularism and other Enlightenment principles. Secularism rests on the principle that, since the cause and focus of religion lies primarily in the feelings of believers, no scientific or reasonable assumption of its truth can be made. Thus, in any given State, all religions are equal and, on principle, no one religion should be favoured over another. Therefore, the best course of action in politics and other civic fields is to follow whatever flows from a common understanding of the ‘good’ by various groups and religions. By implication, Church and State should be separated and the laws of the latter, for example, the prohibition of murder, should cover only the common ground of thought systems held by the various religious groups. [16][17]
Modernism’s ultimate position is that the content of Church dogmas does not remain the same for all time but rather, it evolves over time changing not only in its expression but also in its substance. This postulate is responsible for Modernism’s uniqueness in the history of Church heresies. By definition, a heretic is someone who believes and teaches tenets at variance to what the Church believes [18] . This ordinarily would lead to excommunication from the Church. Using the new idea that doctrines evolve, it is now possible for the Modernist to accept both the traditional teachings of the Church and his new, seemingly contradictory teachings as being equally correct — each group having own its time and place. This system allows for almost any type of new belief which the Modernist in question might wish to introduce and, for this reason, Modernism was labelled by Pope Pius X as “the synthesis of all heresies”.
With this understanding, Modernism is now easily recognised as a heresy that attacks the mind of the Mystical Body so that the Church leaders behave schizophrenically and the laity act as if suffering from some form of dementia. Further, not only do both groups forget who they are but they are equally quite incapable of handing on the fullness of Faith and the Catholic identity to succeeding generations.
Peter and his successors
In the Genesis, we read that “the Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to till it and keep it. [19] That is, God assigned Adam two tasks: first he was to cultivate the Garden and secondly, he was to guard it. His failure in the second task gave the serpent his opportunity. Christ entrusted to Simon Peter the visible leadership of the Church [20] with the double task of feeding and tending the flock [21] . That is, as a good shepherd, he was to guard, protect and preach the Faith to the flock and so keep them from error and deception [22] . Our Lord, at the Last Supper, warned Peter that the serpent was already watching and merely waiting for an opportunity to attack. Specifically, with words expressing both what Satan desired and what God permitted, Christ said: “ Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail; and when you have turned again, strengthen your brethren. [23] God permitted this trial for at least two reasons. First, that the Apostles might understand how weak they were of themselves and second that after their fall, they would rise again by His grace and would be cleansed and purified as sifted wheat. Peter’s fall was followed by his sincere repentance [24] and so, Christ not only granted mercy to him but also, confirmed Peter’s headship over the other Apostles and over the whole Church.
Papal vigilance
The slow development of Modernism, whose main tactic is the use of equivocation and confusion to spread lethal errors, was tracked by the popes of the 19 th century. Thus, Pius VI lifts the mask of Modernism in his Bull Auctorem Fidei: In order not to shock the ears of Catholics, the innovators sought to hide the subtleties of their tortuous manoeuvres by the use of seemingly innocuous words such as would allow them to insinuate error into souls in the most gentle manner. Once the truth had been compromised, they could, by means of slight changes or additions in phraseology, distort the confession of the faith that is necessary for our salvation, and lead the faithful by subtle errors to their eternal damnation. This manner of dissimulating and lying is vicious, regardless of the circumstances under which it is used. For very good reasons it can never be tolerated in a synod of which the principal glory consists above all in teaching the truth with clarity and excluding all danger of error.

Moreover, if all this is sinful, it cannot be excused in the way that one sees it being done, under the erroneous pretext that the seemingly shocking affirmations in one place are further developed along orthodox lines in other places, and even in yet other places corrected; as if allowing for the possibility of either affirming or denying the statement, or of leaving it up the personal inclinations of the individual – such has always been the fraudulent and daring method used by innovators to establish error. It allows for both the possibility of promoting error and of excusing it.

... It is a most reprehensible technique for the insinuation of doctrinal errors and one condemned long ago by our predecessor St. Celestine who found it used in the writings of Nestorius, bishop of Constantinople, [who] was exposed and confounded, for he expressed himself in a plethora of words, mixing true things with others that were obscure; mixing at times one with the other in such a way that he was also able to confess those things which were denied while at the same time possessing a basis for denying those very sentences which he confessed.
Having clearly identified Modernism as a movement, St. Pius X was deeply concerned by its ability to allow its adherents to believe themselves loyal Catholics while their notion of evolution of dogma allowed them to hold markedly different understanding of the traditional Faith. Therefore, he condemned both its aims and ideas in the document Lamentabili and in his encyclical Pascendi where sixty-five propositions were identified as Modernist heresies. Then, in 1910, he followed up with the introduction of an anti-modernist oath, which was to be taken by all Catholic bishops, priests and academic teachers of religion. Thus contained, Modernism went underground, until, like the genie in the bottle, it was freed in the wake of Vatican II.
St Pius X saw clearly that the enemies of the Church had not only increased but, had also penetrated her walls: “It must be confessed that the number of the enemies of the cross of Christ has in these last days increased exceedingly, who are striving, by arts, entirely new and full of subtlety, to destroy the vital energy of the Church, and, if they can, to overthrow utterly Christ’s kingdom itself.”...

“Hence, the danger is present almost in the very veins and heart of the Church, whose injury is the more certain from the very fact that their knowledge of her is more intimate. Moreover, they lay the ax not to the branches and shoots, but to the very root, that is, to the faith and its deepest fibers. And once having struck at this root of immortality, they proceed to diffuse poison through the whole tree, so that there is no part of Catholic truth which they leave untouched, none that they do not strive to corrupt.”

Pope John XXIII, however, saw things differently and, rejecting the admonitions of his predecessors about the dangers of Modernity, declared in his opening address [25] at the Second Vatican Council:
“In the daily exercise of our pastoral office, we sometimes have to listen, much to our regret, to voices of persons who, though burning with zeal, are not endowed with too much sense of discretion or measure. In these modern times they can see nothing but prevarication and ruin. They say that our era, in comparison with past eras, is getting worse, and they behave as though they had learned nothing from history, which is, none the less, the teacher of life. They behave as though at the time of former Councils everything was a full triumph for the Christian idea and life and for proper religious liberty.
We feel we must disagree with those prophets of gloom, who are always forecasting disaster, as though the end of the world were at hand.
In the present order of things, Divine Providence is leading us to a new order of human relations which, by men's own efforts and even beyond their very expectations, are directed toward the fulfilment of God's superior and inscrutable designs. And everything, even human differences, leads to the greater good of the Church. . . . .


At the outset of the Second Vatican Council, it is evident, as always, that the truth of the Lord will remain forever. We see, in fact, as one age succeeds another, that the opinions of men follow one another and exclude each other. And often errors vanish as quickly as they arise, like fog before the sun. The Church has always opposed these errors. Frequently she has condemned them with the greatest severity. Nowadays however, the Spouse of Christ prefers to make use of the medicine of mercy rather than that of severity. She considers that she meets the needs of the present day by demonstrating the validity of her teaching rather than by condemnations.”

The last fifty years, since the close of the Council, has seen a sea change in the Catholic Church to the extent that today She cannot be easily recognised as the same institution of any previous century, so profoundly has the Council affected all aspects of Church life and practice.
The chequered history of the papacy shows, in the words of St Vincent of Lerins, that “God gives some Popes to the Church, God tolerates some Popes in the Church and God inflicts some Popes on the Church.” This certainly is a view to which Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI subscribes. It is perhaps sufficient to recall the famous interview he granted in 1997 to professor August Everding, Professor Everding asked the then Cardinal Ratzinger if he truly believed that the Holy Spirit intervenes in the election of a Pope. Ratzinger's answer was simple and clarifying, as usual: “ I would say not in the sense that the Holy Spirit chooses any particular pope, because there is plenty of evidence to the contrary – there have been many whom the Holy Spirit quite obviously would not have chosen! But, that He does not altogether relinquish control, but rather like a good educator keeps us on a very long cord, so to speak, allowing us a great deal of freedom, but never unfastening the cord – that’s how I would put it. It needs to be taken in a very broad sense and not as if He says, 'You’ve got to pick this one!' What He allows, however, is limited to the fact that everything cannot be completely ruined.”

There is no doubt that the Church is currently in a state of deep crisis, which has been brought to a head by the current Pontiff. As David’s accession to the throne was a blessing to the Israelites and that of Saul or Rehoboam [26] , Solomon’s son a punishment, so we can be certain that God has given each of Blessed Peter’s successors to the Church as the pope best suited for that time.
Francis in undoubtedly a pope suited for our time in that he has, in three short years, opened the eyes of many to the diseases plaguing the Mystical Body of Christ. Without doubt, he is advancing ideas that provoke such disturbances within the Church that they would appear to be a very efficient way of separating sheep from goats. In stark contrast to the reception given to his predecessors, even his immediate predecessors, it is striking that the Church’s traditional enemies all applaud him, recognising him as their own [27] .
His actions have the effect of revealing the extent of the rot of Modernism within power structures of the Church. Perhaps the most notorious example of this is the confidence with which Cardinals Godfried Danneels and Walter Kasper could openly and publically admit to being part of the St Gallen Mafia Club.[28]
The Holy Father seems to be the very personification of the Second Vatican Council, with its multitudinous ambiguities in which the Church’s traditional understanding or practice is affirmed in one place, only, in another place, to be immediately contradicted or neutralised by the alternatives being permitted. Additionally, Vatican II has the distinction of being the only ecumenical Council in Church history to win the world’s approval and similarly, Francis has received praise as no other Pope in history has ever been praised by the Church’s adversaries.
In many ways, the current pontiff fits the caricature that non-Catholics have of the pope: an autocrat whose every word must be obeyed. Indeed, his demand for compliance with his directives rings hollow when one considers his own violation of the Church’s liturgical laws as archbishop of Buenos Aires. For example, whilst he was archbishop, he included women in the ceremony of the washing of feet on Holy Thursday in infringement of clear liturgical laws. He also admitted to the sacraments, without amendment of life [29] , remarried divorcees in outright violation of Canon Law, of the teachings of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, of the encyclical Veritatis Splendor of Pope St John Paul II and of documents issued by Roman dicasteries.
We are living in duplicitous times. The post-synodal exhortation Amoris Laetitia is, to date, the greatest scandal of this pontificate as it contains key passages that are “ intentionally ambiguous, as proven by the multiple and contrasting interpretations and practical applications that they immediately received [30] . For instance, certain paragraphs of chapter eight give the go-ahead for communion for the divorced and remarried. Although this is quite contrary to the Church’s clear immemorial teaching and practice, it was already being illicitly done when Pope Francis was archbishop of Buenos Aires. Even more troubling is the discovery that key passages of Amoris Laetitia were formulated some ten years ago by the then professor of theology, Victor Manuel Fernandez in articles, which gave a dissenting critique of Pope John Paul II’s encyclical Veritatis Splendor. The upshot is that the two Synods on the Family would appear to be a farce designed to produce pre-determined results.
According to this same Fernandez who is now an archbishop, Pope Francis plans to make permanent changes in the Church in ways that cannot be undone by future popes. He responded to a reporter’s question, saying [31] “The pope goes slow because he wants to be sure that the changes have a deep impact. The slow pace is necessary to ensure the effectiveness of the changes. He knows there are those hoping that the next pope will turn everything back around. If you go slowly it's more difficult to turn things back… . You have to realize that he is aiming at reform that is irreversible”.

For the informed Catholic, all these things are, of course, extremely disturbing. Yet, we must remember that we are not fighting flesh and blood. The current situation is desperate but it also brings into focus the lament of Paul VI on 29th June, 1972. Celebrating the ninth anniversary of his pontificate in St Peter’s, Paul reflected to the situation of the Church at that time [32] , saying that he had a sense that “from some fissure the smoke of Satan has entered the temple of God. There is doubt, incertitude, problematic, disquiet, dissatisfaction, confrontation. There is no longer trust of the Church; they trust the first profane prophet who speaks in some journal or some social movement, and they run after him and ask him if he has the formula of true life. And we are not alert to the fact that we are already the owners and masters of the formula of true life. Doubt has entered our consciences, and it entered by windows that should have been open to the light. Science exists to give us truths that do not separate from God, but make us seek him all the more and celebrate him with greater intensity; instead, science gives us criticism and doubt. Scientists are those who more thoughtfully and more painfully exert their minds. But they end up teaching us: “I don’t know, we don’t know, we cannot know.” The school becomes the gymnasium of confusion and sometimes of absurd contradictions. Progress is celebrated, only so that it can then be demolished with revolutions that are more radical and more strange, so as to negate everything that has been achieved, and to come away as primitives after having so exalted the advances of the modern world.

This state of uncertainty even holds sway in the Church. There was the belief that after the Council there would be a day of sunshine for the history of the Church. Instead, it is the arrival of a day of clouds, of tempest, of darkness, of research, of uncertainty. We preach ecumenism but we constantly separate ourselves from others. We seek to dig abysses instead of filling them in.

How has this come about? The Pope entrusts one of his thoughts to those who are present: that there has been an intervention of an adverse power. Its name is the devil, this mysterious being that the Letter of St. Peter also alludes to. So many times, furthermore, in the Gospel, on the lips of Christ himself, the mention of this enemy of men returns. The Holy Father observes, “We believe in something that is preternatural that has come into the world precisely to disturb, to suffocate the fruits of the Ecumenical Council, and to impede the Church from breaking into the hymn of joy at having renewed in fullness its awareness of itself. Precisely for this reason, we should wish to be able, ..., to exercise the function God assigned to Peter, to strengthen the Faith of the brothers. We should wish to communicate to you this charism of certitude that the Lord gives to him who represents him though unworthily on this earth.” Faith gives us certitude, security, when it is based upon the Word of God accepted and consented to with our very own reason and with our very own human spirit. Whoever believes with simplicity, with humility, sense that he is on the good road, that he has an interior testimony that strengthens him in the difficult conquest of the truth.

Let us now add the Fatima revelations to this mix. It is well known that Our Lady appeared in Fatima, Portugal to three children in 1917 and that certain secrets were entrusted to them. One of those secrets required the Pope united with the bishops to consecrate Russia to the Immaculate Heart of Mary. It has recently been made known by Cardinal Carlo Caffarra that Pope John Paul II asked him to begin a new Pontifical Institute for studies on marriage and the family. In 1980, he wrote to Sister Lucy, the last surviving visionary, simply requesting her prayers for this venture and was surprised at receiving “a very long letter with her signature. . . . In it we find written: ‘The final battle between the Lord and the reign of Satan will be about marriage and the family. Don’t be afraid, because anyone who works for the sanctity of marriage and the family will always be contended and opposed in every way, for this is the decisive issue.’ And then she concluded: ‘however, Our Lady has already crushed its head. ’”
This reassurance is encouraging, because fifteen years after Sister Lucia wrote that letter, Cardinal Luigi Ciappi (1909-1996), personal theological adviser to five popes, made a stunning disclosure about that part of the Fatima secret that the Vatican has never released (and which is evidently referenced by the enigmatic word “etc.” in the published part of Our Lady’s message). His Eminence, one of the few persons who had seen the complete secret, wrote in a 1995 letter to Professor Baumgartner of Salzburg: “In the Third Secret it is predicted, among other things [33] , that the great apostasy in the Church will begin at the top.
This apostasy seems to have been foreseen by Pope Saint Pius X, who, in 1910 wrote the French Hierarchy, in a letter entitled Our Apostolic Mandate, “... the great movement of apostasy being organized in every country for the establishment of a One-World Church which shall have neither dogmas, nor hierarchy, neither discipline for the mind, nor curb for the passions, and which, under the pretext of freedom and human dignity, would bring back to the world (if such a Church could overcome) the reign of legalized cunning and force, and the oppression of the weak, and of all those who toil and suffer ”.
Although Our Lord promised that the gates of Hell would not prevail against His Church [34] , and that He would assist Her daily to the end of time [35] , He made no promise, however, that She would not undergo crises, dissensions, betrayals, scandals and apparent failures. On the contrary, Our Lord's parables about the Kingdom of God, which is His Church, clearly affirmed that good and bad alike would exist in Her bosom until the end of time. Only then will God send His angels to cleanse the earth of scandal [36] .
This earthly life is a period of trial. Thus, some will do evil and give scandal to others. “It is impossible that scandals should not come,” says Our Lord, “but woe to him through whom they come! [37] Saint Paul explains how these scandals help purify our Faith: “ For there must be also heresies: that they, also, who are approved, may be made manifest among you.’ [38]

In its exposition on the Fifth Commandment, the Catechism of the Catholic Church defines scandal as “ an attitude or behaviour which leads another to do evil. The person who gives scandal becomes his neighbour's tempter. He damages virtue and integrity; he may even draw his brother into spiritual death. Scandal is a grave offense if by deed or omission another is deliberately led into a grave offense .” CCC§2284
Thus, scandal is essentially giving bad example by word or deed so that another person is tempted to imitate the bad example. The case of Peter’s dissimulation at Antioch by not eating with the Gentiles is an example of giving scandal [39] . Conscious that Peter’s position as the visible head of the Church would give his bad example an authoritative value, St Paul publically took him to task. The gravity of the scandal given by those in positions of authority is noted also by the Catechism where it states that “ Scandal takes on a particular gravity by reason of the authority of those who cause it or the weakness of those who are scandalized. It prompted our Lord to utter this curse: "Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened round his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea.” Scandal is grave when given by those who by nature or office are obliged to teach and educate others. Jesus reproaches the scribes and Pharisees on this account: he likens them to wolves in sheep's clothing ”. CCC§2285
It should be noted that those who cause scandals that lead others to sin are guilty of the spiritual equivalent of murder, while those who take scandal, that is, who allow scandals to destroy their faith, are guilty of spiritual suicide. It is important to remember that the Council of Trent declared that the Church is neither a “Church of Saints” nor "Church of the Predestined" but that She holds within Her bosom both the righteous and the sinner.
The Catechism also notes that “Scandal can be provoked by laws or institutions, by fashion or opinion.” CCC§2286 Specifically, it continues “ Therefore, they are guilty of scandal who establish laws or social structures leading to the decline of morals and the corruption of religious practice, or to "social conditions that, intentionally or not, make Christian conduct and obedience to the Commandments difficult and practically impossible. " This is also true of business leaders who make rules encouraging fraud, teachers who provoke their children to anger, or manipulators of public opinion who turn it away from moral values .”
It seems to me that to encourage unrepentant sinners to access the sacraments would fall under this censure. It is difficult to see how the author of Amoris Laetitia can escape the following obloquy pronounced by the Catechism “ Anyone who uses the power at his disposal in such a way that it leads others to do wrong becomes guilty of scandal and responsible for the evil that he has directly or indirectly encouraged. "Temptations to sin are sure to come; but woe to him by whom they come!" ” CCC§2287
God permits temptation but, He always provides sufficient grace to resist. Saint Paul teaches: “ God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that which you are able: but will make also with temptation issue, that you may be able to bear it .” [40]
Expounding on the episode of Our Lord asleep in the boat, Saint John Chrysostom explains that the storm symbolizes the Church's future trials, during which the faithful, the athletes of Christ, will be fortified.
The Church is the "House of God" whose cornerstone is Christ [41] . It is "the Holy City, the New Jerusalem" brought down from Heaven [42] . However, God permits temptations even inside this sacred place, as our first parents were tested in the Earthly Paradise [43] . In this way, our love is purged of all attachments to divine consolation and to human concerns.
The Lord Himself foretold scandals
Saint Augustine explains that there will always be some bishops resembling the Good Shepherd and others representing the hireling. He wrote [44] to Felicia, a virgin who grieved over the scandals then plaguing the Church:
I exhort you not to let yourself be too much troubled by scandals, which indeed were foretold precisely so that when they happen we may remember that they were foretold and not be disconcerted. For the Lord Himself foretold them in the Gospel. "Woe to the world because of scandals. For it must needs be that scandals come: but nevertheless, woe to that man by whom the scandal cometh" (Mt. l8:7).... Thus, there are those who hold the office of shepherds that, they may watch over Christ's sheep; and there are those who hold it for the sake of temporal honours and worldly advantages. These two kinds of pastors, always dying and giving place to others, will both be perpetuated in the bosom of the Catholic Church till time ends and the Lord comes to judgment.
Why this trial
It has been made clear that the Church’s journey on the seas of history has not always been calm or tranquil. Just fifty years ago, the storms of Vatican II blew so violently that it seemed the Church would go under. After a brief lull, the winds have picked up again and now it seems with an even greater fury.
The Lord permits this time of trial that we might trust Him more even though the trial may also serve as punishment for our infidelities as was prophesied by the fifteenth century St. Nicholas of Flue “ The Church will be punished because the majority of her members, high and low, will become so perverted. The Church will sink deeper and deeper until she will at last seem to be extinguished, and the succession of Peter and the other Apostles to have expired. But, after this, she will be victoriously exalted in the sight of all doubters .” [45] The reason for our current trial is relatively unimportant. What is important is that in these times, as the roaring squall tosses Peter's Barque about and the Saviour sleeps, we should, with the Apostles, cry out: "Lord, save us for we perish!" Awakening, Jesus will reassure us as He did them: “Why are you fearful, O ye of little faith?” Then He will stand up and in an imposing voice order the storm to cease and the sea to be quiet.
Now, as in the past, the various squalls, storms and hurricanes seem to have one objective, that is, to change the Church and, the response has always been “hold on to that which has been received from the Fathers”, that is, the Tradition. This is certainly the advice of St Paul:
I commend you because you remember me in everything and maintain the traditions even as I have delivered them to you 1Cor.11:2
So then, brethren, stand firm and hold to the traditions which you were taught by us, either by word of mouth or by letter. 2Thes.2:15
I appeal to you, brethren, to take note of those who create dissensions and difficulties, in opposition to the doctrine which you have been taught; avoid them. Rom.16:17
As I urged you when I was going to Macedonia, remain at Ephesus that you may charge certain persons not to teach any different doctrine , 1Tim.1:3
The Catholic Faith is always recognised by its adherence to what had once been delivered to it. St. Athanasius, therefore, could say “ Even if Catholics faithful to Tradition are reduced to a handful, they are the ones who are the True Church of Jesus Christ.” Likewise for St. Peter Canisius “Better that only a few Catholics should be left, staunch and sincere in their religion, than that they should, remaining many, desire as it were, to be in collusion with the Church's enemies and in conformity with the open foes of our faith”, which Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger [46] once echoed “Better a smaller but more faithful Church”.
Suggestions on how to survive and remain Catholic in these times
A great fault of Catholics is that we have a too exalted view of the papacy, a poor knowledge of history and a very deficient understanding of human nature. Consequently, not only do we find it hard to criticise the imprudent actions of an incumbent pope but, we border on papolatry. While veneration of the Successor of St Peter is praiseworthy and even necessary, we must always remember that he is called, first and foremost, to be a protector of the Faith and, any deviation from this role should immediately set off alarm bells.
Papal infallibility [47] is among the most misunderstood of Catholic doctrines. Correctly understood, the pope is infallible, that is, preserved from teaching error when, and only when, certain specific conditions are met. These conditions are that the Pope must (1) intend to teach (2) the whole Church (3) by virtue of his supreme authority (4) on matters of faith or morals. However, should one or more of these conditions be lacking, his teaching, even though worthy of respect on account of his office, would not be infallible. If all conditions are met then his teaching act is called “infallible” and the teaching which he articulates is termed “irreformable”.
St Peter has had some 265 successors who can be classed as good, fair, bad, nefarious or calamitous. Considering the spiritual nature of the papacy, it is important to remember that the quality of a pontificate is not judged solely by its historical, social or political impact but, rather, on whether or not, by word and deed, the pope damages the Faith of the Church, obscures aspects of the image of God or fails to uphold the true human dignity, which the Church has the obligation to defend, to transmit and to deepen.
A brief historical review would show that the See of Peter has been occupied by men whose reign, under the above criteria, can be described as calamitous. Examples of such popes would include,
  • - Pope Liberius, who, in the 4th century, surrendered to strong Arian pressure. He accepted an ambiguous position regarding this heresy, which left Saint Athanasius and other defenders of the Trinitarian dogma in the lurch. He is the first non-canonized Pope.
  • - Pope Anastasius II, in the 5th century, flirted with the defenders of the Acacian schism.
  • - Pope John XXII, in the 14th century, taught that the vision of the God by the just does not occur before the Last Judgment.
  • - The popes of the "Great Western Schism", in the 14th-15th centuries excommunicated each other.
  • - Pope Leo X, in the 16th century, brought disrepute to the papacy not only by his luxurious lifestyle but, also, by his scandalous trafficking in indulgences.
The actions and omissions of these popes resulted, not only in the obscuring of part of the treasure of the Faith for a period of time but also, in creating huge internal tensions within the Church.
The current tension, confusion and division in the Church suggest that we are, again, living in calamitous times. History has shown that, in similar circumstances, Catholics remained Catholic by imitating St. Paul, who fought the good fight, finished the race and kept the Faith [48] . We must do likewise. We ought, therefore, to
1. Keep calm and pray . Our Lord is in the boat! Nothing is solved by despondency, anger or hysteria. The battle is the Lord’s. The survival and stability of the Church does not depend on us but, rather on the One who established Her for our salvation. In moments of distress, it is necessary to pray, pray and pray, so that the Master will awake to calm the storm. It is necessary that we be truly convinced that the Church is supported by a God who loves Her, and who will not allow Her to be destroyed. Let us pray, therefore, for the reformation of our clergy and hierarchy so that the present calamitous times may be shortened and be followed by a pontificate of restoration and peace. Many dry branches will be lost during the current storm but, those remaining united to Christ will bloom again. Remember to pray the Rosary! “ But watch at all times, praying that you may have strength to escape all these things that will take place, and to stand before the Son of man [49] Watch & pray that you fall not into temptation [50] .
2. Study and be informed . We must know our Faith!
a. First, we must be familiar with the Scriptures, know the perennial teachings of the Church and understand the principles of moral theology.
b. Second, we must understand and correctly analyse the present situation, read authoritative histories of the Church and of the papacy. This knowledge will convince us of the “unsinkability” of Peter’s Barque. The Church suffers from the weaknesses of Her members but, cannot sink because of them. She has been afflicted in the past and we can expect afflictions to happen in the present as well as in the future.
c. Third, we must read the lives of the saints and try to emulate them. “ Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God; consider the outcome of their life, and imitate their faith. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever. Do not be led away by diverse and strange teachings ”. [51]
3. Share the Faith. Transmit the Faith by teaching and sharing it within the family circle, by practising it and by praying together as a family. Additionally,
a. Do not give in to apocalyptic warnings. History has recorded that turbulent times are often regarded as signs of the end times. We should, however, live each day as our last day so that we will be prepared for death. The end times will come at the appointed time of which we know neither the day nor the hour. God will provide the necessary graces for that day [52] .
b. Do not keep silence, nor look away. Evil prospers when the good do nothing. Therefore, it is important to speak up, to ask questions and to complain. If the captain of the ship is sick, drunk or mad, it is necessary to point this out so that the course of the ship can be corrected. St Paul did exactly this in taking Peter to task! The pope is not an autocrat, a tyrant or the leader of a sect but, a servant of the Gospel and of the Church. He is a free and human servant who, as such, can occasionally make bad decisions or adopt objectionable attitudes, which should be reprehended.
c. Do not follow the instructions that deviates from the treasure of the Church. If a Pope should teach doctrines or should try to impose practices that do not correspond to the perennial teaching of the Church, as summarized in the Catechism, he should not be supported or obeyed in his intent. This means, for example, that priests and bishops are under the obligation to insist on traditional doctrine and practice, rooted in the deposit of the Faith, even at the cost of exposing themselves to punishment. The lay faithful must likewise insist on being fed with traditional doctrine and practice. Under no circumstances, not even out of blind obedience or fear of reprisals, is it acceptable to contribute to the spreading of heterodoxy or heteropraxis.
4. Support fellow Catholics. We must support each other and all true and authentic Catholic speakers and organisations
a. Do not support any schism. We must remember that we are Catholics and that we have a pope, who no earthly power can remove. Therefore, we must remain in the Barque of Peter where Christ sleeps. Every Catholic has the duty to try to minimize, from within the Church, all the negative effects of a bad pontificate but, without breaking the Church or breaking with the Church. This means, for instance, if one’s refusal to adopt some faulty teaching or practice would lead to punishment, he must not on that account initiate a new schism or support any of those already in place. It is necessary for him to keep being a Catholic under any and all circumstances.
b. Do not generalize. A bad pontificate will often result in the wrong men achieving positions of power and influence in the Church. It should be remembered that there will also be good ones. Therefore, measure each cardinal, bishop and priest according to his fidelity to the Faith. Objections should only be raised in regard to those that deviate from the immemorial doctrine of the Church or, who adopt positions that may compromise the Faith. This course of action was succinctly taught by St. Thomas Aquinas who said “ In accepting or rejecting opinions, a man must not be influenced by love or hatred of him who proffers the opinions, but only by the certainty of the truth .”
5. Martyrdom!
We should prepare ourselves for martyrdom. In the Nobis quoque of the Roman Canon we pray: To us, also, your servants, who, though sinners, hope in your abundant mercies, graciously grant some share and fellowship with your holy Apostles and Martyrs: with John the Baptist, Stephen, Matthias, Barnabas... and all your Saints; admit us, we beseech you, into their company, not weighing our merits, but granting us your pardon, through Christ our Lord.


[1] 2Tim.1:18; 2Tim.4:7, Act.20:24
[2] Mt.16:21; Lk.24:26
[3] Acts.14:22
[4] Jn.15:20
[5] Pius XII, Mystici Corporis Christi. Col.1:24
[6] Rom.12:5; 1Cor.12:12, 27; Eph.3:6; 4:12; 5:25-32; Col.1:24; 3:15
[7] Gen.2:21-23
[8] Jn.19:34
[9] Jn.15:5-6
[10] Assisi prayer affair, Pope Francis’s Christmas message
[11] Clearly, this is at odds with Our Lord’s declaration, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No man cometh to the Father, but by me" (John 14:6). It is also at odds with what is taught in the Catechism of the Catholic Church: "Basing itself on Scripture and Tradition, the Council teaches that the Church, a pilgrim now on earth, is necessary for salvation: the one Christ is the mediator and the way of salvation; he is present to us in his body which is the Church. He himself explicitly asserted the necessity of faith and Baptism, and thereby affirmed at the same time the necessity of the Church which men enter through Baptism as through a door. Hence they could not be saved who, knowing that the Catholic Church was founded as necessary by God through Christ, would refuse either to enter it or to remain in it" (§846).
[12] Truth, however, isn't subjective but is found only in Our Lord Jesus Christ and His Church
[13] This is completely at odds with St. Paul, who said, "And if Christ be not risen again, your faith is vain, for you are yet in your sins" (1 Corinthians 15:17).
[14] This is refuted by the fact that the dogmas of the Faith are revealed by God, and God cannot contradict Himself.
[15] This view of dogma was refuted by the First Vatican Council: "Hence, too, that meaning of the sacred dogmas is ever to be maintained which has once been declared by holy Mother Church, and there must never be any abandonment of this sense under the pretext or in the name of a more profound understanding" (On Faith and Reason, 14)
[16] Hence, abortion is not classified as murder.
[17] From the secularists’ point of view it was possible to distinguish between political ideas and structures that were religious and those that were not, but, following St. Thomas Aquinas, Catholic theologians in the mainstream argued that such a distinction is not possible: All aspects of society were to be organized with the final goal of Heaven in mind
[18] Heresy is the obstinate denial or doubt, after baptism, of a truth which must be believed by divine and catholic faith. Apostasy is the total repudiation of the Christian Faith. Schism is the withdrawal of submission to the Supreme Pontiff or from communion with the members of the Church subject to him. Code of Canon Law §751
[19] Gen.2:15
[20] Mt.16:18
[21] Jn.21:15-17
[22] Ezec.34
[23] Lk.22:31-32
[24] Lk.22:62
[25] October 11, 1962, §2
[26] Solomon rested with his fathers, and left behind him one of his sons, ample in folly and lacking in understanding, Rehobo′am, whose policy caused the people to revolt. Sirach 47:23
[27] Jn.15:19
[28] http://www.ncregister.com/blog/edward-pentin/cardinal-danneels-part-of-mafia-club-opposed-to-benedict-xvi
[32] http://www.catholicstand.com/109/
[33] http://www.fatima.org/thirdsecret/otherwitness.asp
[34] Mt.16:17-19
[35] Mt.28:18-20
[36] Mt.13
[37] Lk.17:1
[38] 1Cor.11:19
[39] Gal.2:12-14
[40] 1Cor.10:13
[41] 1Cor.3:9; Mt.21:42
[42] Apoc.21:2
[43] Gen.3
[44] Epis.208, 2 & 5
[45] cited in Catholic Prophecy , edited by Yves Dupont, p. 30
[47] Code of Canon Law 749§1, CCC§891
[48] 2Tim.4:7
[49] Lk.21:36
[50] Mt.26:41
[51] Heb.13:7-9
[52] 2Thess.1:1-12