Wednesday, 23 March 2011

A criticism of the English and Welsh Bishops, from an unexpected quarter

The year is 1985, the publication is a small magazine for priests called 'Vox Sacerdotalis - but can you guess the identity of this person who levels some good critical remarks to their Lordships? He or she is obviously a staunch Catholic who dislikes the liberal trappings of guitar Masses and the like. How have their views changes some 25 plus years later? It is a good article, and it paints an interesting picture of the state of the Church in England and Wales in 1985.
Have you guessed who the author is yet?
No? Well read the article in extract form, sorry it is so long, and make an educated guess, the answer will be revealed in tomorrow's post!
My thanks to Mrs Linen who kindly transcribed it for me.

"The Pope has called a special Synod of the Bishops of the Catholic Church in November.  The idea is to review progress since the Second Vatican Council in the mid -1960’s.

Here in Britain the latest statistics from the Catholic Education Council give a picture of what is happening.  Meanwhile the Bishops of England and Wales have sent their own submission to Rome in preparation for this event.  It makes extraordinary reading.

The Bishops claim to have “carried out consultation among Catholic people” in preparing for the Synod.  This is a peculiar assertion, since they contacted only a tiny selection of Catholic organisations, and although it is true that in theory any Catholic was able to make his or her own comments to their lordships, this was certainly not widely publicised despite the fact that there is a ‘Catholic Media Office’ which might have been asked to undertake the project.

The episcopal submission says that “the renewal of the liturgy has played a large part in helping to achieve a deeper appreciation of the Church as People of God … the word of God has been more thoroughly heard as the source of enlightenment and animation of the community of believers …”.

But whoever is getting the “deeper appreciation of the Church as people of God” it isn’t the majority of the people themselves.  They’re staying at home.  This is revealed in the Catholic Education Council figures:  Mass attendance as 2,114,219 in 1966, dropping to 1,570,230 in 1982 and 1,512,552 in 1984.
That is a drop of 30 thousand per year, at a time when the official Catholic population was steadily rising.  If the drop continues at this rate, there will be no Catholics attending Mass in Britain in 45 years time.

What about baptisms?  For these figures, it is useful to consult the Catholic Directories published annually.  Infant baptisms fell from 137,673 in 1964 to 71,887 in 1981, while the nominal Catholic population rose from 3,827,000 to 4,220,262.

Catholic marriages are down, too.  In 1964 there were 45,592 but in 1982 there were 27,774.

Is it a case of quality rather than quantity?  In the case of priests, it had better be.  In 1984 just 92 were ordained, and 152 died.  The lack of priests is going to present a crisis in the not-too-distant future.

Above all, the Catholic Church in Britain seems to have been unable to hold its young people – they are lapsing annually in their hundreds and thousands from the practise of their faith and are not returning.

The reasons for people absenting themselves from hearing God’s word or partaking of His Sacraments are probably very wide-ranging, but the present liturgy, which the Bishops claim has helped so many to a deeper appreciation of the whole subject, must be examined as a major factor.

As one Catholic lay movement has put it, in a report of its own to the Synod, “Every conceivable kind of experimental liturgy has at one time or another been foisted upon the unfortunate laity in the name of the Second Vatican Council.  In the process, the deeply reverent and spiritual atmosphere that had traditionally been associated with the celebration of the liturgy has been lessened and often enough completely lost”.

“There is no doubt that this has been a contributory factor in the decline of Mass attendance.  Much of the new liturgical celebration has been tasteless, ugly, badly performed and irrelevant …. Instead of using the words and rituals provided by the Church at the Second Vatican Council and having the humility to do so in a liturgical celebration hallowed by tradition and the authority of the Church, many clerics prefer their own way. To the laity, who have to listen and receive these things, it looks like pride and self-glorification.  The young are not deceived and soon look elsewhere for spiritual, liturgical and religious fulfilment”.

The Bishops assert that more and more lay people are gaining from involvement in the life of the Church.  But of whom are they talking?  Presumably not of the people who no longer go to Mass, the children who remain unbaptised, the young who marry outside the Church.  They seem to be referring to that tiny minority of people who sit on the new Episcopal commissions and committees, the heavy (and expensive!) structure of bureaucracy with which the Church in England and Wales is encumbered.

........The falling Mass attendance figures are the key to the tragedy.  As a prominent Catholic layman and political commentator, B.A. Santamaria, said in The Tablet  recently after listing the statistics of the decline:  “If these facts are false, let them be shown to be so.  It they are true, for God’s sake let us not conclude our assessment with the monumental absurdity that, in proportion as Catholics vote with their feet and empty once-full churches, the Holy Ghost is ‘renewing’ what is visibly ceasing to exist.”

The episcopal submission ends with the startling assertion that the overall picture seems to be one of welcoming and acceptance of the decrees of the Second Vatican Council among Catholic people in Britain.  But how many Catholics here have actually read them, or know what they say?  The evidence would appear to be that Catholics who truly know and love their faith, and are prepared to make it an active force in their lives, are a diminishing number in Britain today.

Meanwhile every kind of crazy cult, from Rastafarianism to the occult, is gaining adherents, thousands of unborn children a year are destroyed by legal abortion, the divorce figures rise, violent crime increases, Christianity no longer has a central place in the curriculum of our state schools, and many young people – Catholics among them – get involved with drugs, cohabit rather than marry, and view the Church as irrelevant to their lives.

The picture in Britain is emphatically not one of renewal but of weakness, decay and decline.  Bureaucracy, humbug and doctrinal compromise have got to be swept away if any progress is to be made.  Fortunately, the man in charge in Rome is a Pole whose view of the Church is one tinted with an ability to detect all three.


This year the conference spent more time than usual listening to prepared speeches.  They were entertained by among others, Mgr. Bruce Kent, whose speech was utterly predictable; and by Fr. Austin Smith C.P., who for some time has been working in Toxteth.  Just like many priests who work in Latin America, the latter has espoused liberation theology and besides calling for more help for the deprived people (I nearly said depraved), he called for a renewed Church, less clericalism, born again from the grass roots of basic communities, totally dedicated to the poor and oppressed.

The third main speech from Bishop Kelly of Salford was far better.  Eighteen resolutions were voted on.  The theme was ‘Violence’.  The conference looked to have voted both ways on Military Chaplaincies.  One resolution called for the continued recognition of the right of men and women in the Armed Forces to pastoral care and affirmed the Chaplain’s role in seeking to preach the gospel and celebrate the sacraments with them.  With that there can be no dissent I would think (except that 5 abstained and 2 voted against.)  The next resolution said “We ask our Bishops conference to re-examine the conditions of service of our military chaplains”.  I thought at first this was saying, “let us not have any” but it transpires that what the members were getting at is the fact that full time chaplains have the status of officers, wear uniforms and are paid for by that awful body, the Ministry of Defence.  The members were looking to some sort of unranked chaplaincy arrangement.

I will not list all the resolutions.  Most of them I would have voted against or abstained.  For one or two, however, I would probably have lost my temper and shouted out “shame” at their being passed if I had been present.  Thus the following come in that category.

“On the occasion of an interchurch marriage, if the non-Catholic party expresses true faith in the eucharist and wishes to communicate with his/her partner, this should be allowed and welcomed”.  However this failed with 42 for and 22 against with 8 abstentions.

“As Clergy we lament our ignorance of the violence of Northern Ireland (what ignorance? We see it every night on screen!) and the injustices underlying it, in particular the operation of the Prevention of Terrorism Act”.  What about the daily horrors perpetrated by the I.R.A.???

“That this conference should place on record its concern over the exercise of authority of any level in the Church which submits members or sections of God’s people to moral or psychological violence.  In particular we uphold the right of theologians to legitimate enquiry and speculation which should be encouraged as essential to the life of the Church”.

”We fully endorse the vision of the Church as expressed in the submission to the synod secretariat containing as it does, a clear indication of the priorities for the local Church”.  The previous issue of Vox dealt with this submission.  Only 6 abstained on the vote.

Much of the remainder of the conference wasted its time by dealing with issues like unemployment and social deprivation.  When will they deal with prayer, lapsation, the Devil and other topics truly suited to an assembly of priests?  Regrettably a picture published in the Catholic papers of the entire assembly revealed that most of the august gathering had discarded clerical collars and/or clerical dress at least for the conference.


Education.  “Church schools should certainly stop playing the numbers game by claiming that so many have taken first communion, or so many practice their religion on Sundays.  This tells us nothing about how many religiously mature people we are helping to produce later in life, whether as mature Christians or mature Atheists.  When teaching atheists, one’s aim is not to convert them but to produce serious reflective atheists who have a sensitive appreciation to Christianity and religions generally (the sort of appreciation no doubt that will dispatch you quickly to the Gulag in Russia!).  After all, as Gerald Priestland has reminded us, to be an atheist you have to know a lot about religion”.

From a Review of Gabriel Moran’s ‘Religious Education Development’ (Chapman 1984).  Well there is another book to avoid.  See the review of Fr. Purnell’s book for similar ideas.

Youth Masses from the publishers blurb for ‘Masses with young People’ by Fr. Donal Neary SJ.

“These Masses were composed for use with groups of young people from the age of about 14 years upwards and they take into account the normal level of religious and liturgical experience and difficulties for this group … the themes of the Masses are Easter, Compassion, Heart for Justice, Friendship, Risk/Courage, Trust, Flowers and Weeds, The Cross, Jesus the Revolutionary, Exam Time, Christmas, Self Image, Vocation, God, Hope, Suffering, Forgiveness, The Breaking of Bread, The Good Samaritan, Choosing a Career”.  Well liturgical books are really on the way out in the Church of the future !!!

Radio Mass “If there is one sound which brings on in me a strong urge to switch off, it is that of guitar and recorder music in Church services.  I have nothing against guitars and recorders as such, but when they announce themselves in Church as they did in last Sunday’s Mass on Radio 4’s Morning Service, I feel that what follows will make me feel the reverse of uplifted.  Now this sort of prejudice ought to be resisted.  With this in mind I stuck out the broadcast from Our Lady of Lourdes Church to discover only once again that where guitar and recorder music is found in church, so are cheap and tinny hymn tunes, reedy singing from a congregation patently uneasy with syncopation and a general air of matinees about the whole business guaranteed to bring on nausea.  In future I shall know better than to doubt my own worse fears.”  Gillian Reynolds in ‘Sunday Telegraph’ September 1985."

It surely can't be Damian T as he was still in the 4th form then, mmm, maybe William Oddie?.......or maybe not!

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