Friday 3 October 2014

The Solemn Freedom of the Laity

I was having a conversation with a cleric the other day, a cleric in another country, about how difficult it is for a priest to preach the faith whole and entire when some of his fellow priests or even bishop don't believe it or live it. Naturally Bishop Conry, who said in his defense that he had neglected to preach on sexual morality while he was having a sexual affair, was at the forefront of my mind.

It is all very well to repeat that "the gates of hell will never prevail", but hell can do quite a lot of damage as it tries, as you may have noticed in your own lives and in the world around us. Pope Benedict, when he was still just Cardinal Ratzinger, predicted a "smaller, purer" Church; the question I would have asked him, had I been his interviewer, is "How small?"

A question I ask today, it being the month of the Synod and its discussions around Marriage and the Family, is how many bishops and cardinals have, like Bishop Conry, a vested interest in not preaching the truth?  One might argue that many bishops and cardinals of the past had mistresses (or worse), and they never tried to chip away at Christ's teachings on the matter. However, I would counter that they didn't live during or after the 1960s, when hypocrisy became the only, or the worst, sin, certainly worse than neglecting to uphold Christian truths the world thought were highly out-of-date. 

Personally I think that as serious a sin as premarital sex (or extramartial or anything but marital) sex is, it is not so serious a sin as neglecting to teach the Catholic faith whole and entire when you are a bishop. 

I wrote this (in so many words) in a public newspaper, and nothing has happened to me. I don't expect anything to happen to me. I don't have colleagues to get cross at me, for I live in a different country. If I anger professors, their anger can't hurt me because I'm out of the academic system. If I anger some bishops, there's not much they can do either because I am a laywoman. The only person I have to obey (according to St. Paul, if not the modern wedding vows) is my husband. 

My status as a laywoman who is not part of the academic theological system gives me complete freedom to defend the faith in and out of season. Whether or not I have a good bishop or a bad, an unchaste bishop (as poor Cardinal O'Brien turned out to be) or a chaste bishop, a cowardly bishop or a brave bishop (as poor Cardinal O'Brien really was), I can repeat the teaching of Our Lord Jesus Christ, as interpreted and promulgated by the Christian Church from time immemorial, truths which have been accepted everywhere and by everyone in the Roman Catholic Church right up to the death of  Saint John XXIII. 

(After that things started to get a bit hairy, as anyone with eyes in their heads and any concept of what devotional life of Catholics  was like before the Council has to admit.)

I do not, incidentally, dismiss the tens or hundreds of thousands of Catholics who quit going to Mass in the decades following the  Second Vatican Council. I think it is a terrible shame that they did, but I think we should take very seriously the fact that they did and ask WHY they did. I remember reading in my predecessor's column about his parish secretary asking an ex-parishioner why he had ceased to go to church, and he told her that it was because the Mass was no longer in Latin. She (and my predecessor) thought this was a very weak excuse, and she made some witty remark about the superiority of English. But I was struck by the possibility that what he said  might have been TRUE.  And when I read about the kinds of things that were going on in churches and seminaries in the 1970s, it makes me wonder how on earth any devout Catholics managed to hang in there at all. Heaven knows how many Catholics just adopt the worldly attitude towards sex and reproduction because no-one ever told them what was wrong with it.  

But this is turning into a traddy rant, and I have to run away now and feed three cats, so I will stop there and let you all ponder your responsibilities as well-educated Roman Catholics who know how to read and, above all, how to write.

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