Fiat Lux!

J-J Rousseau

As so often, Fr Hunwicke is right. He complains of the decline of female modesty – which all previous ages and most other cultures have valued and upheld. The ‘Love Island’ phenomenon is a modern aberration.

But how come?

The culprit (as so often) is the Enlightenment. Earlier cultural movements – the Reformation and the Renaissance, for example – purported to be recovering a past golden age. In consequence they were careful to cover their novelties with antiquarian scholarship, and gave the past due reverence. The Enlightenment was quite different. It declared war on the past in the name of the future. And it did so with little respect and a modicum of violence.

‘Man (sic) will not be free until the last King is strangled with the entrails of the last priest’.

The wisdom of the ages and all social convention, could be set aside in the name of reason. And as the worst excesses of the French Revolution go to demonstrate, every precept of religion was cast aside and every restraint of morality questioned. License was the principle on which Jean-Jacques conducted his private life, never the nobility of the savage.

Recessional

Kind readers from Australia have jumped to the defence of the Victorian Court of Appeal. Apparently there is nothing mysterious about the delay. The Courts are in recess during July.

It’s the money, Stupid!

“We are easily talking about six-figure sums every year.”

That is the assessment of one diocesan official in Newark, New Jersey, of the income of former Cardinal McCarrick’s discretionary fund or ‘Archbishop’s Fund’. The Diocese of Washington has consistently refused details of the Fund, after it was transferred from Newark with the archbishop.

But McCarrick was a notorious participant in what has been called the ‘envelope culture’, revealed by the exposure of former Wheeling-Charleston Bishop Michael Bransfield. McCarrick was also influential in trying to persuade the Papal Foundation to give a loan of $25 million (at Francis’s request) to a scandal-riven Roman children’s hospital.

The question has to be whether ‘generosity’ from the Archbishop’s Fund gained McCarrick impunity from censure over his other activities. If not, why will the Diocese of Washington not release details of individuals to whom payments from the Fund were made?

Sexual scandals so often involve financial irregularities, and, awaiting evidence to the contrary, this seems to be the case here.

Pellmanism

The time has come to ask what is going on in the Victorian Court of Appeal. In this case, what conclusion are we to draw from no news? Are the judges (considering the heated atmosphere throughout Australia over the Pell case) finding difficulty in confecting a form of words which will exonerate both Pell and the jury system which unanimously condemned him?

The delay is nothing of not mysterious.

Indeterminate

Perhaps the most delicious anticipation in British politics is that the UK will leave the EU, without a ‘deal’ and with no disaster ensuing.

How delightful to view the discomfort of the purveyors of Project Fear as they explain at length how and why they got it worng! Egg simultaneously on the faces of George Osborne, Tony Blair, Mark Carney, John Major, Dominic Grieve, the BBC, the CBI, Uncle Tom Cobley and all…what fun!

But alas! We may not live to see that happy day. For if Jeremy Hunt is our next Prime Minister, Brexit will be postponed to the Greek Kalends. And even if Boris is the new PM, we may have to wait some time. The mills of God – and the EU – grind slowly.

So what joy is there left?

It will surely be entertaining enough to watch as the Majors and Grieves of this world seek to exhaust the possibilities of the courts, and of Parliament, to frustrate a ‘no-deal’. What, one wonders, will emerge as the legal definition of ‘no-deal’? (For assuredly there will have to be ‘some-deal’, if the EU Twenty-Seven, and Ireland in particular, are not to suffer.)

All this reads very like a replay of 17th saec constitutional history, which most of us have not revisited since the sixth form. It will no doubt be riveting; but may be tragically inconclusive.

Benevolent Autocracy?

Kind readers have lighted on a paradox: that Praedicate Evangelium (the Vatican Draft Constitution) gives new and direct authority to the Sovereign Pontiff, whilst at the same time giving greater authority to conferences of bishops.

But there is no contradiction. Dictators can afford to be generous.

Consider the aftermath of Amoris Laetitiae. The document itself gave no explicit instructions about the admission of the divorced and remarried to Holy Communion. It merely hinted – in a mere footnote. But local conferences of bishop were eager to take the hint (the Maltese and some South Americans, for example); and Francis was only too willing to commend their efforts. They had grasped the Pontifical drift; Francis could not have put things better himself!

This ruse – to seem to be responding to local initiatives, whilst pursuing a personal agenda – does the opposite of underming the sovereign authority. It enhances it. It leaves the autocrat the option of drawing back (as he did from the traditionalist position of the Poles).

To reconcile autocracy with benevolence requires guile. Francis knows that his liberalising agenda has many enemies. This is a way of maximising the power of his supporters. There are some bishops’ conferences on which he knows he can always rely – and in the event of failure, blame.

Federalisation

The new draft Vatican constitution is a little less wholesome than the curate’s egg.

Whilst seeming to concentrate power in the Supreme Pontiff – such that every substantive curial law and directive will have to pass over the pontifical desk – it also makes provision for ‘subsidiarity’. It require the newly constituted Dicastery for Doctrine to devolve authority to local conferences of bishops.

In the section describing the reformed Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith (formerly the CDF), Praedicate Evangelium (the new Draft Constitution) refers to the “primary responsibility” of bishops and bishops’ conferences for the particular Churches and makes specific reference to the “genuine doctrinal authority” enjoyed by them. The new CDF is to work in close cooperation with local bishops’ conferences, “above all [on] the issue of authorization for teaching in the Church, where the Dicastery will apply the principle of subsidiarity.”

This blueprint for federalism is foolish and dangerous. It will put into law and practice the wildest ambitions of the German episcopate, and give further credibility to the employment of hard cases (like the unique conditions of the Amazon basin) in the formulation of bad laws.

Whist masquerading as Ultramontane, this new constitution subjects the universal Church to a quasi-Anglican ecclesiology. And we all know where that unfortunate experiment has led.