Trahison des Clercs

What does Francis mean by ‘clericalism’? And why does he see in it a solution to the abuse crisis?

In the Final Document of the recent Synod on Youth, the Holy Father comes close to a definition. ‘Clericalism, in particular, arises from an elitist and excluding vision of vocation, which interprets the ministry received as a power to be exercised rather than as a free and generous service to offer; and this leads us to believe that we belong to a group that has all the answers and no longer needs to listen and learn anything’.

At the heart of the malaise, it seems, is a reluctance on the part of some – a refusal even – to ‘listen’. This is an unsurprising analysis. ‘Listening’ has become totemic of modern revisionism. The way to critique the perennial doctrine is to interrogate contemporary experience. And underlying that is the presupposition that ‘now’ is always to be preferred to ‘then’.

Even if this were not contrary to the Church’s traditional manner of proceeding, it is not at all easy to see how it is directly relevant to the abuse crisis. True, clergy have been behaving as predators rather than pastors. And that is reprehensible. But there may (and probably are) other more specific reasons why that might be the case. A developed homosexual culture among groups of clergy, for example, might significantly diminish levels of mutual admonition and restraint. The tolerance of an homosexualist sub-culture in seminaries and by bishops almost certainly would.

Nowhere does Francis directly address the frequent allegations that this is the case. He seems always to prefer the general to the particular, the big picture to the nitty gritty.  

One suspects that this approach is part and parcel of deeper prejudices, which have a distinctly 70s flavour. ‘Clericalism’ – as we can deduce from other places – is tied up with cultural and liturgical preferences which run very deep.

‘Clericalism’ means lace from the tits down rather than chasubles in knitted industrial waste; Latin rather than the vernacular; translation rather than paraphrase; and instruction rather than ‘accompaniment’. In short it is an entire ecclesiastical style for which the Holy Father has a profound distaste. It began to regain ground in the last pontificate. It will be finally be overthrown only if the Church’s greatest crisis in living memory can now be laid to its charge.

There are, in consequence, no prizes for guessing what will emerge from next month’s meeting of the Chairmen of Episcopal Conferences as the root case of abuse.

Tomb Raiders

The fact that the new acting head of the Anglican Centre in Rome does not believe in the bodily resurrection has caused quite a stir.

One wonders why.

Part of the problem arises, no doubt, from a simple misunderstanding of the origins and role of the Anglican centre. Its director is not ‘the representative of the Archbishop of Canterbury to the Vatican’ as some have claimed.

But even if that were the case, would the opinions of the Very Rev’d Dr John Shepherd be far wide of the mark?

Back in 2003 some of us commissioned a survey (‘The Mind of Anglicans’, Christian Research) on this very topic. Then (and orthodoxy is unlikely to have been on the increase since) 68% of male clergy and 53% of female clergy felt able to affirm their belief in the bodily resurrection. Which leaves a sizeable – indeed a significant – group of dissenters. Dr Shepherd, then, is in good and numerous company.

All this raises the question of the viability (and rationality) of theological discussions between Catholics and Anglicans.

Quite simply there is no firm or fixed ground on which such discussions can be based. What price agreement on the real presence in the Eucharist, for example, when the bodily resurrection itself is in question? Agreement on the former whilst the latter remained an open question would quite simply be absurd. Of course, one cannot know for certain how many Anglican clergy, like the Very Rev’d John Shepherd, deny the resurrection.  But one can be assured that unbelief is no impediment to preferment. And be pretty well certain that its incidence increases up the hierarchy

What follows?

Readers, it seems, have reacted variously to the photograph of the happy episcopal couple (see No Comment below). The picture prompts, however, a serious consideration. Is there a logical and necessary connection between women’s ordination (and consecration) and gay marriage? And if so, what is it? 

It is, of course, an observable fact that women clergy, by and large, are gay friendly, and that numbers of women bishops have advocated the acceptance of same -sex ‘marriage’. But is there anything in the arguments made for the ordination of women which leads necessarily to support for the ordination of practicing homosexuals and gay marriage? Though the proposition was hotly denied in the lengthy and heated campaign in the Anglican Communion, I think there is.

We can discount, to begin with, all arguments for women’s ordination which claim to be based on scriptural evidence or Christian history.

There is no evidence that Jesus himself deviated in any significant way from the mores of his contemporaries in his attitudes to women. Certainly he entertained no programme for gender equality. The Apostle Paul was no social revolutionary, in this or anything else. Mary Magdalen was not the first to see the risen Lord and was not commissioned by him to proclaim the resurrection. The Junias mentioned in passing in the final paragraph of the Letter to the Romans, was not with any degree of certainty either a woman or an apostle. The evidence for women ministers of any kind among orthodox Christians in the first two centuries is sparse and doubtful. The frescoes in the Catacomb of Priscilla do not represent a concelebration by women priests. The mother of Pope Pascal I was not a bishop. ’Pope Joan’ was a prurient monkish fabrication, later adapted for use by Protestant propagandists.

All these speculations (and more) simply continue the popular nineteenth century parlour game whereby Jesus was claimed to be almost anything from a primitive socialist to an upholder of Art-for-Art’s-Sake.  All stub their toe on the rock of anachronism. Thoughts which were commonplace in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries were simply unthinkable in the first.

There being no historical or scriptural arguments we must look elsewhere.

The strong suits of the supporters of women’s ordination are ‘equality’ and ‘inclusion’. These can be made to seem a mere matter of good manners – ‘fairness’ and ‘fair play’. But ‘equality’, especially, is a far more serious matter. With it we are more in the territory of Benedict Spinoza than of Jean-Jacques Rousseau.

Christianity, it is evident from the best part of two millennia of doctrinal development, is a religion of hierarchy (‘Our Father who art in heaven’) and particularity (‘How odd of God to choose the Jews’). Radical egalitarianism is opposed to both. The post-Christian theologian, Daphne Hampson puts it nicely:  

‘…I am not a Christian because I do not believe that there could be this particularity. I do not believe, whatever I may mean by God, that it could be said of God that God could be differently related to one age or people than God is related to all ages and people…Thus I do not, for example, think that there could be a human person (which Christians must proclaim) who stood in a different relationship to God than do other human beings.’

So, no Incarnation. And, by inference, no distinctive or defining roles which might be attributed either to Nature or to God (deus sive natura, as Spinoza would have it). Not only, then, does the doctrine of equality require women’s ordination. It demolishes at a stroke all roles and functions in social life. True a number of inconvenient biological issues remain; but advancing techniques of surgery and hormonal treatment can be relied upon to bring the actual into line with the ideal.

Thus, not only do the arguments in favour of women’s ordination lead directly to the support of same-sex marriage; they attack Christianity at the most basic level. They render the image patterns and presuppositions upon which the religion is founded, untenable and incomprehensible. Once the Equality Doctrine is grasped in all its rigour, no longer can there be talk, among intelligent people, of a Creator God who disposes all things according to his will, and who enters the world be has made to redeem it and to unite it once more to himself. In the new doctrine, man ceases to be a divine creation, unique to himself, and becomes a self-defining entity, equivalent to every other.     

Poirot: The Italian Case

With a last flourish of the razor, the famous waxed mustachios were removed. The pince-nez were set aside in favour of horn-rimmed spectacles, and the famous Belgian detective emerged as a very modern sleuth. For this was to be Poirot’s last and most celebrated case: the murder of Pope Francis. And it was to appear as a trend-setting mini-series on the BBC.

The suspects, it had to be admitted, were many.

Already as Hercule crossed St Peter’s Square, bound for the office of Cardinal Parolin, a group of frenzied nuns from Apulia was chanting ‘Vi-gan-o! Vi-gan-o! Vi-gan-o!’. But Poirot knew what they did not. That the Archbishop had an unassailable alibi. The Swiss Guard had finally located him in hiding in a yurt in Outer Mongolia. He at least could be ruled out.

Accompanied by the Cardinal Secretary of State, the first task was to view the body. The room – it was little more a cell – was sparsely furnished. A camp bed, a threadbare easy chair, a small bedside table and a lithograph of Jan Peron was the sum total of the furnishings. The body, still in its well-worn sleeping bag, was laid out on the bed. There could be no doubt: the pontiff had been strangled with the ecclesiastical girdle which was lying on the floor beside him.

‘Who has done this terrible thing?’ asked Cardinal Parolin in a hoarse whisper.

‘We shall see,‘ replied Poirot, in firm tones. ‘We shall see.’

The Vatican, Hercule perceived, was swirling with rumour. The Lavender Mafia accused the traditionalists; the traditionalists accused the Lavender Mafia; the CDF accused the Vatican Bank; the Vatican Bank accused the Auditor General; and everybody accused the Dubia Cardinals.

But the little grey cells were already at work.

 Instinctively he knew that an assassination of an absolute monarch was a circumstance that no sleuth had encountered since 1789. But the principles of investigation, he reassured himself, remained the same: establish the means, establish the motive, eliminate the superfluous. He was confident he would succeed. Was he not, after all, almost as infallible as the unfortunate victim?

Things did not go well. The Pontiff’s cell, it turned out, was unlocked at all times. Countless people had ready access, from the nuns who did the catering to the highest curial officials. And a stock of girdles identical to the murder weapon was to be found in the sacristy two doors away. Everyone, it seemed, had the means and the motive: the victim was universally disliked.

Poirot was getting nowhere, when, walking pensively up the Scala Regia, a figure emerged from behind the statue of Constantine. It was of less than average height, dressed in a cloak and hood which obscured the face. On the cloak was emblazoned an heraldic badge – a bear with a collar of steel.

‘I am well aware’, said the mysterious stranger, ‘of your habit of show-casing your deductive skills before a captive audience at the end of every investigation. Now you yourself are to be that audience. You must rein in your self-importance and listen. There will be no baroque conclusion, full of surprises, to this enterprise. Instead, I will tell you, quite simply, who committed this crime and how it came about.’

‘First, I need to take you back in time.’

‘Some years ago, when it became clear that the great advances of the Second Vatican Council were being threatened by a surge of reaction, a few of us, zealous for a reformed church, began meeting in Switzerland. It was at first an informal gathering, but as the years passed and the mission became more urgent, we formed ourselves into a regular sodality: our stated aim was to place one of our own in the shoes of the Fisherman. Bergoglio was that man. But time has shown how mistaken we were. He was not man enough for the job. Half radical, half traditionalist, he has merely sowed confusion. The time has come to end it all.’

‘This time resignation was not an option. It had to finish cleanly. No single hand was on the cord. No single assassin crept away into the darkness. But make no mistake: the Sankt Gallen Mafia was responsible. What we made, we can destroy.’

The figure had vanished. Poirot peered into the deepening gloom at the turn of the stairs. But there was nothing behind the statue except the dust of ages. Hercule might easily have missed the remaining clue. Written by a mysterious finger in the dust was the haunting inscription: CORMAC MURPHY O’CONNOR.

 The dead speak. So the rumours had been true all along.

Strings attached

In announcing the review, which is due to be completed by Easter, the Foreign Office acknowledges that ministers have failed to offer the same level of support as to other persecuted minorities. “Britain already stands up for minorities across the world, including Jehovah’s Witnesses and Yezidis, and the foreign secretary is keen that Christians are offered the same level of backing,” an official said.’

So The Times on new initiatives by Jeremy Hunt. Good news, you will say, and not before time. But there may be more to the announcement than meets the eye.

Timeo Danaos et dona ferentes. The support of the British Foreign Office generally comes with a demand for a quid pro quo – in particular demands that those supported should adhere to ’Western Values’ (which generally means the LGBT agenda).

Persecuted Christians  – in the Middle East, for example – may well find themselves caught between militant Islam on the one hand and intolerant post-Enlightenment paganism on the other.  

Questions for a New Year

What will Remainers do when, after a ‘catastrophic’ Brexit on WTO terms, no one ‘falls off the cliff edge’; when the planes continue flying and the shops are stocked with goods; when the NHS continues as normal and the ports of Dover and Calais function efficiently and in unison; when the pound retains its value and the stock markets remain stable; when even the Evening Standard has to admit that things have gone rather well?

Will they hang their heads in shame? Will they begin to understand the love of our country, its history and its democracy which motivated those of us who voted to leave? Will they apologize? Will they emigrate?