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.


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.


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.

Where the buck stops

How long, one wonders, does the list of senior clerics accused of sexual misconduct have to be before the Vatican undertakes a thorough investigation on the lines of the British IICSA?

The IICSA, without fear or favour,r has savaged the Anglican Diocese of Chichester, and the Catholic Archdiocese of Birmingham; has effectively ended the ministry of a former Archbishop of Canterbury; and sullied the reputation of the Cardinal Archbishop of Westminster. In short, it has taken the complaints of victims seriously. By way of contrast, the Vatican has done virtually nothing about loud accusations – in particular from Latin America. It has even given asylum to alleged offenders.

Who is to blame for this inaction? The answer can only be one man – the Sovereign Pontiff.

In a regime which has consistently emphasised the omni-competence of the successor of Peter, there is no place to hide. Francis should initiate a thoroughgoing, independent and wide-ranging investigation forthwith. Only such a course of action can remove the growing suspicion that the Holy See itself is complicit in the alleged offences.

Provincial Autonomy

The Scots, I hear, have rejected the Francis translation of the Paternoster. Good on them! But on what grounds, one wonders.

True, anyone with a smattering of Latin knows that the Francis version is no translation – and scholars say the same of the New Testament Greek. Is the Scottish episcopate learned in Aramaic, I wonder? And more learned than the Holy Father?

Or perhaps their Lordships meditated, considering the univocal opinion of distinguished linguists, on the undeniable superfluity of the change.

And what of England and Wales? What version will obtain south of Hadrian’s Wall? Will the weighty scholarship of the English and Welsh match that of the Scots? Or will they side with the Italians?

Biblical translation is becoming as exciting as the World Cup. We hold our breath.

Rhine Synod

At a specially convened press conference, Cardinal Parolin has authorised the release of the Instrumentum Laboris for the forthcoming ‘Rhine Synod’ The 168-page document sets out the agenda for the Synod, which is scheduled for December. A digest has been helpfully supplied by Walter, Cardinal Kasper.

The Instrumentum will address the crisis in vocations which has long afflicted the Rhineland nations, by permitting the ordination to the priesthood of so-called ‘viri probati’ (married men with no more than one previous spouse living). This will accord with the social mores of indigenous peoples, who, throughout the region, either never marry, or do so several times.

Another aim of the document is to encourage liturgical changes in tune with local custom. Mass attendance, for example, will no longer be seen as obligatory and can be commuted by payment of the Kirchensteuer.

Said Cardinal Baldisseri, who has had oversight of the project: ‘The aim of the Holy Father is to respect indigenous culture wherever it is to be found. The Rhine, the Amazon, the Mekong – it matters not where. The Catholic Church is called to embrace all kinds of cultural diversity. That is why it is called ‘Catholic’.’