15 December 2017

The Anglicans are dumping the Common Ground: The Seal of the Confessional

Rumour has it that the Anglican Church in Australia is modifying or has modified the Seal of the Confessional so that Anglican Clergy may report paedophiles to the police. This happens at the same time as legal pressures, I gather, are growing in Australia to compel (all) clergy to report such offences to the police. (Unsurprisingly, similar suggestions have been made before the British Royal Commission on Sex Abuse ... but not, I think, by Anglican clergy. Tell me if I'm wrong!)

One argument brought forward is that if a child mentions such activity while confessing, they are not really confessing a sin of their own. The answer to this seems to me fairly simple. ("My dear, I need you to come to me outside this confessional and to tell me again what Uncle X did to you. Then I will be able to help both you and Uncle X properly".)

If the information in my first paragraph is accurate, then I believe that a very serious situation is arising for ecumenical dialogue, and especially for the now-pointless (but still-expensive) organisation called ARCIC. This dialogue was set up on the explicit premise that the old disagreements inherited from the Reformation period would be sorted out, and that neither 'side' would put in place new divergences. I wonder if this question of the Seal of the Confessional was ever discussed at any level of 'ecumenical dialogue', nationally or internationally.

In English Anglican Canon Law (Canon 113 of 1604, never repealed), the provisions for the Seal of the Confessional are for practical purposes the same as they are for Catholics (the Anglican canon does, I regretfully admit, permit the Seal to be broken if, otherwise, the priest himself would incur the death penalty for not reporting some matter ... but there cannot be many offences for which a priest can be strung up under modern Australian or British law).

Of course, the ARCIC understanding that neither side would introduce new divergences was bull-dozed out of the way in order to allow for the 'ordination' of women to sacerdotal ministries within most Anglican provinces. But this new divergence concering the seal of the Confessional is, in some ways, even graver. You see, with the Anglicans going down this path, things will become much more difficult for Catholic clergy who may be prosecuted for not delating paedophile penitents. Catholic clergy will have been hung out to dry by their Anglican 'friends'.

The Anglicans will also have made it easier for Catholic priests to be sent to prison for contempt of court ... because, of course, a Catholic priest in the witness box is unable even to say "I never heard that in my Confessional", because one is not allowed to say anything about what transpires there. Or even to indicate it by a nod or a wink or a hint or an allusion.

Some moralists used to argue that one could deny having heard something in the confessional by assuming "I heard it while acting as a conduit to God; I did not hear it qua Father X". But this would have the unfortunate effect of providing a court with evidence for the innocence of a guilty defendant.

And it's even nastier than that. Anglican clergy (especially but not only in the diocese of Sidney) hear very few confessions compared with the numbers that Catholic clergy hear. So the Anglicans are abandoning their Catholic 'partners in ecumenical dialogue' to be persecuted by the agents of the Zeitgeist with regard to a subject which really matters very little to the overwhelming majority of  Anglicans.

It reminds me of how some Orthodox collaborated with Stalinism in the persecution of their fellow-Christians.

Ultimately, this whole business is a symbol of the determination of the secular state to leave no corner of space or moment of time outside its own iron grip. Under cover of protecting children, Christ the King will have been even more effectively uncrowned. Am I alone in detecting here all the hallmarks of the Enemy?

Well, so be it. But it's a shame the Anglicans too are so keen to kick us in the teeth. Perhaps it's just that they find it so terribly hard to get out of the habit of persecuting us. But there is no need to worry, is there: in a century or two, with tears of emotion in their eyes, their  successors will formally apologise to our successors. That will make everything All Right, won't it?

14 December 2017

The Anglicans are dumping the Common Ground: Welby on Abortion

When formal ecumenical dialogue between Catholics and Anglicans began in earnest in the 1960s, there was a strong ground assumption. It was this. We were glad that we had so much in common. We recognised that there were things upon which we differed. So dialogue would serve to remove the differences; meanwhile, what we had in common would stay safe. The Pope and the Archbishop of Canterbury had agreed upon a formula which made much of "the Common Ancient Traditions". Neither side would introduce new differences.

(We Anglo-papalists, of course, already agreed with the Magisterium of the Catholic Church on everything. I'm talking about the general assumption among non-papalist Anglicans and Catholics.)

Recently, there have been reports about Justin Welby. He is said to have declared that the (admirably clear) views on abortion held by a Catholic MP called Rees-Mogg are not held in the Church of England.

He could have said that these views on abortion were not universally held in the Church of England. That would have been a (depressing) statement of fact. But his actual words, reportedly, were that such views are "certainly not held within the Church of England".

That is a plain untruth. His predecessor as Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, held very clear views on abortion. You could find them by googling 'Rowan Williams abortion'. And Williams, sadly, is still in the Church of England. Ergo ...

The Anglicans appear to have no shame about ditching those things which, a generation ago, they held in common with Catholics. And, as far as I know, Catholic spokesmen, whether in Rome or Westminster or Birmingham, never waggle a finger and say "'ere 'ere 'ere, what's going on? Are we still in dialogue or are we not?"

The ARCIC methodology would be best served if both sides were required to give, say, ten years' notice of the next load of innovatory departures from the Common Ancient Traditions which they intended to introduce.

13 December 2017

"The temporary suspense of the function of the Ecclesia Docens"

A world-wide group of laymen and laywomen have just issued a defence of Catholic doctrine concerning Family and Life matters. The crucial paragraph, in my view, is this:

We pledge our full obedience to the hierarchy of the Catholic Church in the legitimate exercise of is authority. However, nothing will ever persuade us, or compel us, to abandon or contradict any article of the Catholic faith or any truth definitively established. If there is any conflict between the words and acts of any member of the hierarchy, even the pope, and the doctrine that the Church has always taught, we will remain faithful to the perennial teaching of the Church. If we were to depart from the Catholic faith, we would depart from Jesus Christ, to whom we wish to be united for all eternity."

This seems to me exactly right and exactly proportionate to the present situation in the Catholic Church. By a happy disposition of Providence, this Statement hit the media at the same time as Walter Kasper's gleeful conviction that Amoris laetitia has now become irreformable and that the 'controversy' is now over. Gracious me, what ultrahyperueberpapalist views of the Petrine Ministry these Liberals do have when they get a foul wind into their sails.

And the Statement reminds me of the phrase which Blessed John Henry Newman used in the context of the Arian controversy, in which the great majority of the Bishops, the Ecclesia docens, and including the Successor of S Peter, were either heretics, or were cowed into silence or compromise by the heretics. It is the phrase I have put at the head of this post, which I take in the sense in which Newman subsequently clarified his use of it, and not otherwise.

I suppose we had a good example of this phenomenon of 'suspense' in the pontificate of Blessed Paul VI, in the period between his setting up of a Commission to consider the question of Contraception, and his very courageous subsequent reaffirmation of the Church's Magisterial Teaching with the publication of Humanae vitae.

Surely, we are in another such period of suspense now. The question of  the admission of adulterers to Holy Communion was magisterially dealt with as recently as 2007, only ten years ago, in Sacramentum Caritatis para 29; it had  received synodical and papal clarification in each of the last two pontificates; and is embedded in the Catechism. But a 'suspense' began when it was opened up to synodal debate; and that 'suspense' grew wider when PF issued a document which has been interpreted in diametrically opposed ways. The Suspense will end when this or a subsequent Roman Pontiff or an Ecumenical Council reasserts with unmistakeable clarity the teaching of the Magisterium (or possibly when the error, having run its course, happily dies a natural death).

The learned Patron of the Ordinariate, Blessed John Henry Cardinal Newman, made clear that he in no way implied the cessation of the Magisterial teaching or office during a 'suspense'. The Dogma of Nicea remained de jure fully in force; but was simply not treated as such by many bishops and so did not 'function'. The bishops remained ex officio guardians and teachers of the Faith; not a microgram of their God-given authority to teach the Faith was lost to them; but de facto they failed to guard and to teach that Faith. The concept of suspense is not so much theological as historical.

Things now are very similar. The teaching of the Magisterium is still, obviously, formally still vigore pleno; but numbers of unfaithful or negligent bishops behave as though it were not. In many cases, they appear and/or claim to do so with the connivance of the Successor of S Peter.


During a 'suspense', does the episcopal ministry of those bishops who are heterodox on just one point still call for religiosum obsequium on other matters? Or is one obliged to consider their entire episcope vitiated by just one point of heterodoxy?

Looking back into the great Anglican Patrimony which Pope Benedict invited us to bring with us into Catholic Unity, I recall a phrase dear to a distinguished and erudite Bishop of Oxford, Charles Gore [1853-1932; a doughty asserter of the doctrine which was re-asserted by Casti Connubii]: "the wonderful coherence of Christian doctrine". A later, even more erudite occupant of the same See, Kenneth Kirk, [1886-1954] commented: "Gore saw Christian doctrine as a unified whole ... It was his conviction, shared of course with the great Scholastic tradition in theology, that if any single article in this totality was attacked, varied, or distorted, the attack, variation, or distortion would be seen on inspection to affect every other article to a greater or lesser degree. ... if two systems each of which can claim some real degree of logical principle are in conflict on any one point, investigation will ultimately prove that they differ on every point, though at first sight this may be anything but apparent. For each system is, by hypothesis, self-consistent, and therefore all its members are interlocked, and whatever affects one of them must affect them all."

This is still one of my own working hermeneutical tools. Accordingly, I feel a tentative hesitation, during this lamentable suspense, about taking seriously any teaching statement of an apparently less that orthodox member of the hierarchy.

I throw open the above position to discussion, totally aware of my own fallibility, and anxious to be in all things a docile subject of the authentic Magisterium of the Catholic Church.

And I applaud the statement of Fidelity to Catholic Teaching issued by these eminent and admirable laypeople.

12 December 2017


Fr Zed, and the Obituary writers of the Times, often combine to remind us wrinklies of the imminence of Death ...

Firstly, King Michael of Romania. He visited us several times at Lancing; we provided the Romanian royal National Anthem and treated him as befits a ruling Monarch. In the slippery years from 1930 to 1950, years (as General Kim Philby, I believe, put it) of the King Carols and the Prince Pauls, of Fascist strong men and ambitiously unscrupulous Marxists, His Majesty ... kindly; decent; honourable ... deserved better than he got. The detail of his life which I liked best was that after he used his royal prerogative to sack and arrest Marshal Antonescu, the Man of Steel was confined in the strongest room they had in the Royal Palace. Which happened to be the room in which the Royal Stamp Collection was kept safe. Let us hope that he did not interfere with the perforations or smudge any of the postmarks. Somehow, there is just a whiff of P G Wodehouse about this, yes?

And now, Enoch Powell's widow has died. I never met her, but we did once have Enoch himself to dinner. My main recollection is that we discussed Rhetoric, Classical and modern, and the sad days upon which that noble art had fallen. With due and deferential reference to his own eminence in this field, I asked him who else, in the politics of the early 1970s, he believed to be considerable in the art. With no hesitation, he replied "Michael Foot". I had not known, until I read it in last week's obituary of his widow, that the Powells and the Foots, at the opposite extremes of politics, were close friends who often dined together.

Quorum animabus propitietur Deus.

11 December 2017

Will he never stop ... (2) Pope Francis, the Our Father, and the next Conclave

Lead us not into temptation. It is unlikely that the Greek and Latin words translated by temptation meant the sort of thing we mean by 'temptation' in the confessional ... the 'temptation' to steal something, or to speak uncharitably, or to suspend the Custody of the Eyes. Peirasmos has been thought to refer much more probably to the time of testing, that is to say, of being tortured or intimidated to give up our Faith. Scripture teaches us that the End Times will indeed be marked by just such testings or persecutions. It is natural to ask God, whose providence disposes the times, to spare us this. [See for example Mt 26:41; Luke 8:13; Apocalypse 2:10 and 3:10.]

(And, by the way, Evil could be either masculine or neuter (tou ponerou). Many, probably most,  people think it refers to the Evil One.)

So, in my opinion, PF is proposing a revision which is not, as he appears to have been told, a revised translation but a radical change in the meaning of the Greek original. With sorrow, I have to say that this new example of his gigantic self-confidence does not surprise me.

What repeatedly ... it seems, almost daily !! ... irritates me about PF is his endless propensity to treat the Depositum Fidei, the Universal Church and what she has inherited from the Apostles or from the generations since, as something which is at his disposal to change, to criticise, or to mangle in any way that appeals to his personal whimsy at any particular moment. He is like a toddler who has been given toys to play with ... a big, boisterous and wilful child who likes to play with them rather roughly; whose commonest phrase is "I want ...". If anyone suggests that he should perhaps handle them rather more gently, he throws a tantrum. I am immensely sorry to have to write like this about Christ's Vicar but, ever since his election, PF has appeared to me to want attention to be drawn particularly to those parts of his personal 'style' which mark him as most radically different from his predecessors. A pope who disliked close scrutiny and the consequent criticism would keep the journalists and cameramen at a distance, say a very great deal less, and speak only after taking competent advice. An ecclesiastic who deliberately sollicits attention is ill-placed to complain if he gets it, nor can his sycophants plausibly do so on his behalf. This pontificate did not invent the unfortunate modern phenomenon of the celebrity pope, but it has shown how very dangerous and divisive that cult is.

PF's election was, I suppose, the responsibility of the Cardinal Electors ... to whom one has to add such Cardinal non-Electors as Murphy O'Connor, who, we are told, dinnered his way around Rome encouraging his friends, and the other Anglophone Cardinals, to vote for Bergoglio (as he had every right to do). But there are also perhaps systemic problems here too. I do not think that even those whose analysis of this pontificate is totally different from mine will wish to disagree with much in what follows. Firstly ...

Time was when the Church was blessed with perhaps a dozen or two cardinals, pretty certainly not more than seventy; so that, in a conclave, each elector was more likely to know something about at least the more prominent and papabili of his brethren. If there are 120 or more electors, you are inevitably going to have the sort of situation in which an Eminent Father "from the peripheries" who knows next to nobody, will be open to be influenced by fellow electors who appear knowledgeable and who combine to assure him that Cardinal X is a Splendid Fellow. Additionally, PF has (significantly) suppressed the open discussions which the Cardinals used to be allowed to have with each other when they met formally in consistories. His once-claimed passion for parrhesia did not survive his experiences in his two 'synods'.

Secondly, it has come to be felt that it is edifying ... that the World will be impressed ... if a pope is elected within a couple of days. Almost as if it would be dangerous if the electors got to know each other, or if it became apparent to the waiting Press that there were deep divisions inside the Sistine Chapel. Even those simple souls (Ratzinger and I think they are misguided) who believe that the Holy Spirit chooses the pope, might have trouble giving a plausible theological explanation as to why the Holy Spirit should be so keen to operate through a quick-fire conclave rather than through a more lengthy and carefully considered one.

And, thirdly, PF will bequeath to the next interregnum a Church ... and a Sacred College ... much more deeply and ideologically divided than has been true for a very long time, possibly for ever.

I pray that the next conclave may be very, very, lengthy, even if that does encourage the Vatican press corps endlessly to lecture the watching World on such arcane mysteries as Blocking Thirds. Surely, their Eminences will have learned the lessons of the last five disastrous, destructive, divisive years?

10 December 2017

Will he never stop ... (1) Pope Francis and the Our Father

PF thinks the traditional translations of the Oratio Dominica need to be changed. Lead us not into temptation displeases him. Why should God lead people into temptation to sin? Obviously, this must be a Bad Translation. Would May we not be led into temptation be better?

Fundamentalist traddies are likely to be outraged. Changing the Our Father!!!!!

Although of course I am a Rigid Pharisee, I am not that sort of fundamentalist. The Lord's Prayer contains a number of mysteries. Let me go off at a tangent and give you an example from elsewhere in the Prayer. Let me tell you about Give us this day our Daily Bread. The Greek word translated Daily is particularly mysterious. Epiousion is pretty well a hapax legomenon (a Greek word occurring only once) and Origen remarked that you never heard it used in his time. It looks as though it should be related to epiouse, which means coming. Put that together with hemera (day) and it would mean our bread of the coming day, and S Jerome knew of a Hebrew Gospel which did indeed render it by mahar, of tomorrow. Might it mean the Bread of the Kingdom? Might it mean the eschatological Food, tomorrow's Bread which we are allowed to receive today ... i.e. the Blessed Sacrament? Or might epiousion mean supersubstantial? Etymologically, it could do so. And so on. Far from finding my Faith disturbed, I find such questions exhilarating. If you wanted to go further, you could compare the Lucan version of the Our Father with S Matthew's. TheTradition, in all its breadth, gives us such riches upon which to meditate ...

Despite the different possible interpretations of parts of this Prayer, if I were a person of immense authority, I would not choose to use my power to change one single inherited rendering. My first reason for not doing so would be that I am profoundly aware that I am not infallible. And that a rendering which appealed to me 100% today might no longer do so in a year's time. And it is worth remembering that the Church has got along for two millennia without prescribing to us what meaning we should each attach to the words of this prayer. Two Millennia of hermeneutical freedom ... until we reached the Age of Mercy, the Aetas Bergogliana. Now, it seems, we need to be tied down to those particular interpretations and meanings which appeal to this particular, all-wise, pope.

It's almost as if PF has decided to give a big plug to the recent e-book, The Dictator Pope by Professor Marcantonio Colonna, about which I wrote a few days ago.

And let me make this clear: the Greek original and its Latin version do not mean what PF wants them to mean. Anybody who claims that they do, is either ignorant or dishonest. PF's proposal is not a translation, but an alteration. But I'll return, D v, to that tomorrow. (I'm afraid it has occurred to me that all this might be a ploy to provoke yet another disagreement with Cardinal Sarah, with the intention of finally getting rid of him. After all, PF is suggesting that a change be made in liturgical texts which involves eliminating the actual words of what the Greek and Latin and Syrian bibles say the Lord actually said, and replacing them with what a twenty-first century Roman Bishop says he prefers. It is Cardinal Sarah's job, quite frankly, to resist the imposition of a gratuitous mistranslation of an authorised original.)

My second reason for making no change is pastoral. Back in the 1970s, we in the Church of England did indeed experiment with 'modern' translations of the Pater noster. Those experimental forms are now, I think, rarely used. The reason is: the clergy discovered that among infrequent church-goers, including the house-bound sick and elderly, and those attending Baptisms, Weddings, and Funerals, and the Midnight Mass brigade, the Lord's Prayer was the only formula they knew. Any other liturgical memories they had lingering from their childhoods had been rendered out-of-date by the liturgical revolutions of the 1960s. Was it 'pastoral' to deprive such people of the only remaining bit of a worship-experience which was in the least familiar to them ... which had any sort of purchase upon their memories? So most of us just changed Our Father which ... into Our Father who ... , and left it at that.

Incidentally, the 'modern language' Anglican version ... in case you were wondering ...  finds no problems whatsoever in the phrase which makes PF and, we gather, some French and Italian bishops, lose so much sleep.

We were right not to meddle.

(Concludes tomorrow, by examining Lead us not into temptation.)

9 December 2017

Appeal for information

A kind friend has sent me an interesting text: the oath fidelitatis that (?) newly consecrated or translated bishops have to swear in the Latin Church (how about the sui iuris Oriental Churches?).

My first impetuous reaction was to feel that no man with any sense of his dignity would sign such a grovelling formula (vide praesertim verba atque consilia prope finem) . Then I recollected that, over the last thirty years, hundreds, perhaps thousands, of bishops may have signed this piece of paper with no intention (exempli gratia) of doing anything to implement Canon 249 (seminarians being taught to be fluent in Latin). Or of doing anything to repress liturgical abuses. So I expect this 'oath' is just an empty formality that one performs and then has a good laugh about. As when we Anglican clergy used to swear an oath to use only the Book of Common Prayer. Ha Ha Ha. Indeed. Ha Ha Ha.

I would be interested, nevertheless, to know the history of this formula, and to what extent its wording is recent. Quite a bit of it seems to me to be redolent of the catch-phrases of Vatican II.

8 December 2017

Litany to a Lady ...

Stella orientalis,
Fulgidum lumen,
Libertatis propugnatrix invicta,
Exemplum fortitudinis,

... no; good guess; but you're wrong. This is not a recently discovered fragment of a medieval Litany to the Theotokos. Just some of the phrases lavished in this University by Mr Orator Jenkyns and my lord Chancellor upon Aung San Suu Kyi on the emotionally highly wrought occasion when she received the degree of Doctor of Civil Law honoris causa in 2012.

She seems to have been less than successful in teaching Civil Law to her own military. So here is my proposal for succouring the Burmese refugees who have fled to Bengal. Let every institution which has showered honours on Aung San Suu Kyi, from the exquisite heights of Oxford University all the way right down to those risible idiots the Nobel Peace Prize Trustees, chip in with, say, £5 million each.

As a penance for infringing the prerogatives of the Mother of God.

Tu Gloria Jerusalem

Throughout the opening chapters of S Luke's Gospel, like the insistent tolling of Great Tom after nine o'clock each evening, there rings the insistent phrase kata ton nomon Moyseos. Mary, the truest Daughter of Jerusalem, who is herself the antitype of Sion, obeyed punctiliously the Torah, as gradually, storing away like a miser in her Immaculate Heart the wonders of which she had been made a partaker, she came to full understanding that the Child upon her knee was himself the blessed Torah Incarnate. "Whatever he says unto you ..."

Mary Immaculate is, surely, meant to be known as an icon of Redeemed Israel; Israel as she and all men were meant to be if Eve had not fallen; as in God's promises she will be, purged from the disobediences against which her prophets preached, washed in the waters of Baptism, joyful in the knowledge that her God is faithful and that his promises will be fulfilled.

Condemn me as a 'judaizer' if you like, but my heart lifts whenever I see a family of what our nasty secular Media disdainfully call "the Ultra-Orthodox"; the mother caring for her children, the father, as likely as not, with his nose in the Torah. Surely we should pray for those whose devotion to the Torah needs but the gentlest removal of the veil from their eyes so that, seeing, they may grasp Who that Torah is. And especially at this time for those communities in the Holy Land who, I gather, are now at risk of being made to serve in the armed forces of the Israeli state. And for the Departed, especially those millions who were victims of the rabies Germanica.

Living and departed, may they be all faithful, like Mary, to the End (telos), knowing finally Who the End, the Omega, is, and, like Mary at Golgotha, hearing the proclamation tetelestai.

7 December 2017

The See of Westminster; Episcopal Conferences; and Cardinal Mueller again.

This piece was originally posted in March 2015. Subsequently, I refined and strengthened and shortened it using information supplied by kind readers.  In my view, the most important parts of this are the two passages from Cardinal Mueller.

I would like to emphasise that this is not some attack on Archbishop Nichols. I have simply taken the English situation as an example of a very important ecclesiological point which relates equally to every part of the Latin Church. I just happen to know a little more about the ecclesiatical history of England than I do about that of Portugal or Poland or Peru.

Non-Catholics often misunderstand the position of the Archiepiscopal See of Westminster; and this can lead to unfairness towards its occupant. I think this whole question is of importance because it bears on matters of ecclesiological doctrine which, in fact, are the real basis of many of the Church's current upheavals. Which is how Cardinal Mueller will, nearer the end of this piece, come into the question.

The Archbishop of Westminster is not, as journalists and others often appear to assume, a sort of Catholic equivalent of the Archbishop of Canterbury. The common notion that 'primate' and 'archbishop' and 'metropolitan' are interchangeable terms is historically false. The Archbishop of Canterbury is a Primate. And he is Primate of All England (totius Angliae), with certain powers (of a legatus natus sanctae Sedis continued to him by Parliamentary Statute after the Schism) even within the Province of York. When he visitatorially enters another diocese, the Diocesan Bishop automatically if temporarily loses his diocesan jurisdiction. He was known sometimes colloquially as alterius orbis papa, and his primatial dignity, remarkably, is sustained by the possession of an episcopal Curia comprising a Provincial Dean (the Bishop of London), Chancellor (Bishop of Winchester), Vice-Chancellor (Bishop of Lincoln), Precentor (Bishop of Salisbury), Chaplain (Bishop of Worcester), and Cross-bearer (Bishop of Rochester).Whatever you may think about the theological or sacramental status of a modern Anglican Archbishop of Canterbury ... and you are probably right ... these structural and legal arrangements are, substantially, in continuity with the very grand position and considerable primatial authority held by medieval Archbishops of Canterbury, as the holders of an office that historically went far back before the time when there was a King or a Kingdom or even a concept of England.

Archbishops of Canterbury have behaved accordingly ... as when a medieval ABC attempted (unsuccessfully) to enter the Diocese of Exeter on Visitation, accompanied by his private army; and when Archbishop Fisher summoned John Robinson Bishop of Woolwich to see him after the publication of Honest to God. Robinson was an auxiliary bishop of another diocesan; but Fisher greeted him with "Now look here, Woolwich, you just can't do this sort of thing" vel sim.. (But even Fisher, I suspect, would not have behaved thus towards a subject of the Archbishop of York.)

The See of Westminster has never been constituted or recognised by the Holy See as a Primatial See. An obvious moment to have given it that dignity would have been in 1911, when the Sees of Birmingham and Liverpool were raised to metropolitan status. There was indeed at that time a desire (see the thread) to preserve a national position for Westminster; its Archbishop was made the permanent chairman (Praeses perpetuus) of episcopal meetings and given the right to represent the national Catholic community to the Civil Power (as long as he said only what his fellow-bishops had by a majority vote agreed). But he was given no jurisdiction and the only dignities conferred were the purely ritual ones of using pallium and cathedra and cross throughout England and Wales. This falls far short of the old 'primatial' conception. Indeed, it shows a very laudable determination on the part of the Holy See to preserve the rights and status of diocesan bishops.

And, in any case, under the current CIC, primacy would be purely nominal dignity.

The position of the Archbishop of Westminster is thus simply as it is described in the front of my Breviary in a decree signed by Cardinal Griffin: Coetus episcopalis totius Angliae et Cambriae Praeses Perpetuus (by contrast, in another Breviary I possess, the corresponding part of a parallel decree from the Archbishop of Malines describes him as Primas Belgii). He is, additionally, Metropolitan of his own province [comprising the dioceses of Brentwood, East Anglia, Northampton, and Nottingham], with the distinctly tenuous and limited metropolitical powers described in Canon 436. He has no metropolitical relationship with the four totally independant metropolitical provinces of Birmingham, Liverpool, Cardiff and Southwark, or with four extra-provincial and extra-diocesan entities, the Ukrainian Eparchy, the South Indian Eparchy, the Military Ordinariate, and the Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham (all four of which, incidentally, extend beyond the boundaries of the Episcopal Conference of England and Wales).

What this means is that an Archbishop of Westminster has no substantive jurisdiction whatsoever outside his own diocese of Westminster ... which is, roughly, London North of the Thames and Hertfordshire. But, even if not a primate, does he perhaps have authority by virtue of being a Cardinal? No more than Raymond Cardinal Burke does. Or because of his Presidency of the Episcopal Conference? Not in Canon Law and not in dogma. I will, in conclusion, illustrate this by quoting  Cardinal Mueller, speaking when he was head of the CDF.

"An episcopal conference is not a particular council, even less so an ecumenical council. The president of an episcopal conference is nothing more than a technical moderator, and he does not have any particular magisterial authority due to his title ... dioceses are not branches of the secretariate of a bishops conference either, nor of the diocese whose bishop presides over the episcopal conference. This kind of attitude risks in fact the reawakening of a certain polarisation between the local Churches and the Church universal, out of date since the Vatican I and Vatican II councils. The Church is not a sum of national churches ... ".  

This continues the strong teaching Cardinal Mueller has given before; in 2013, for example, "the Roman Pontiff and the individual bishops are of divine right, instituted by Jesus Christ. ... But the patriarchates and episcopal conferences, historically and today, belong solely to human ecclesiastical right. The presidents of the episcopal conferences, although important, are coordinators, nothing more, not some vicepopes! Every bishop has a direct and immediate relationship with the Pope. We cannot have a decentralisation in the conferences; there would be the danger of a new centralism, with the presidency that has all the information and the bishops submerged in documents without the time to get ready ..." 

And the same erudite Cardinal repeated the same teaching in his 2017 book-interview, which, incidentally, appears to be selling like hot cakes in the Westminster Cathedral Bookshop. For some reason, there seems at the moment to be a great appetite for sound teaching. 

6 December 2017

Terminological inexactitudes? UPDATED

This morning on the BBC Home Service the Mayor of Jerusalem told us that Jerusalem has been the Capital of Israel for 3,000 years.

UPDATE: Motu proprio most kindly supplied a great deal of information about what Jerusalem was capital of for three thousand years. Unfortunately, my aging and moribund computer seemed to have endless trouble showing the Comments on screen. I hop they are now all 'up'.


So PF's letter to a bishop in Argentina has been published in the AAS. Naturally, people are worried about the status which this might confer on it. Does it turn the letter concerned into a Magisterial document to which we are obliged to exhibit respect (obsequium)? And all that.

I am not going to get into questions such as the different weight to be accorded to different levels of papal documents; or how to construe a papal document which either obviously or apparently contradicts another document of the same Magisterial level. You can find that sort of stuff elsewhere. And the great Father Zed has done the Church Militant another immense service by printing a detailed analysis of the situation by a noted canonist. The gist is: even an Apostolic Letter printed in AAS does not cancel Canon 915 (unless it explicitly and in due form says that it does).

We are in a new situation under PF, and new hermeneutical methods are both needed and implied. I offer some thoughts ... you might call them the tentative reactions of a Plain Simple Man.

It is an objective and undeniable fact that Amoris laetitia has been interpreted in diametrically  contradictory ways. Some bishops, some conferences, take the view that it has changed nothing of the teaching contained in previous Magisterial documents. Some bishops, some conferences, believe that it has opened up the possibility of giving the Sacraments to unrepentant public adulterers. A sound and common sense principle is A doubtful Law is no Law.  As Cardinal Mueller has pointed out, in a very grave matter a change can only be made in law or doctrine by an explicit statement, with accompanying reasoning, making clear beyond all doubt that a change is being made. Sending Von Schoenborn down to a Vatican News Conference to smile sweetly at Diane Montagna and say "It's a Development!! Read Newman!!!" hardly meets this criterion.

If Amoris laetitia itself is of no effect, clearly a letter (even if it subsequently appropriates to itself the grandiose term 'Magisterial') which purports to interpret AL, can hardly rise much above the level of nugacitas.

Vatican I defined that ex cathedra statements of the Roman Pontiff are irreformable ex sese and not e consensu Ecclesiae. By implication: it has not been defined that lesser papal statements are ex sese irreformable. Thus, it is lawful to take into account what conferences and individual bishops say in interpreting Amoris laetitia. That document is reformable and any force it may eventually after a few decades acquire will depend on the consensus of the Church.

A fortiori, the same is true of the note that Cardinal Parolin has so unwisely attached to the text of "the Argentine letter" in AAS. One of the cheapest and nastiest tricks of the current regime is its facile habit of plastering labels reading "Holy Spirit" or "Magisterium" onto any ill-considered novelty it wants to force down the throats of its unwilling fellow Christians.

Another objective and undeniable fact: although instructed by his Employer to "strengthen your brethren", PF has not replied to Dubia, even when submitted by patres purpurati. Quite obviously, it cannot be argued that he has taught, clearly, explicitly, and as definitive tenendum, any of those contents of the document Amoris laetitia which have caused such puzzlement.

In other words, the Petrine Ministry appears currently to be in the state which Blessed John Henry Newman neatly described as Suspense. I suggest that a general pastoral conclusion to be drawn from all this is that ordinary straightforward Christians have better things to do with their time than worrying about the precise status of ambiguous statements. Better, richer, more God-given things. Qualia essent ...

Open a bottle of wine.

Compose a limerick in English about Cardinal Kasper.

Do the Times Latin Crossword in under five minutes.

Play forfeits with your wife/husband.

Incorporate into a 'Vergilian' eclogue (with goats and shepherdesses galore) Cardinal Mueller's recent brilliant apercu that the Church is not a Field Hospital but a Silicon Valley.

Recite the Quicunque vult and make an Act of Faith.

Cram yourself full of baklava and/or halva.

Listen to the Kyries of the Missa Papae Marcelli.

Go to Ashmole and commune with Menander or Benedict XIV or both.

Walk down the river from Sandford Lock to Abingdon and count the species of waterfowl.

Convert the encyclical Pascendi Dominici gregis into Homeric hexameters.

Shoot a magpie or two or three or four.

Find a priest who will take a stipend to offer the Mass Salus populi for the Ecclesia Dei adflicta.

Kai, as Aristotle might have put it, ta loipa panta.