Dr Anthony Lowes ends his examination today of the bleak state the institutional church with nine dot point priorities of what needs to be done to return a bit of joy to this institution which played such an important part in shaping us and indeed Western culture. Our increasing view here at Catholica is that pigs might fly before any of it happens. What he writes about though might well be very important in shaping the Phoenix that arises from the burnt out ruins of the church that Josef and Karol built out of the excitement and hope of Vatican II.
Who is left among you
Bad faith, muddle-headedness and mistiming
Not least of the contributions to the lamentable nature of the current crisis within the church and to the deep angst afflicting many who strive to live out their lives of faith within it, are the many simply wrongheaded decisions made by church leaders. Not merely the patent blunders and evident decadence from times past, but the many which have afflicted the church in recent years. Clearly the paedophile abomination is at the forefront. More scandalous than the horror of the actual abuse and its extent is the apparent bad faith in bishops minimising the seriousness of the harm done to the innocent, while attempting to shelter and move on perpetrators. Not infrequently this entailed translation into situations that afforded further opportunity to continue their criminal activities.
As John Allen, correspondent for the NCR, recently observed, the response within the church has been most exemplary in countries where democratic and judicial processes have been most refined and most aggressive. Less so, in countries where the church is more dominant culturally and where it seems less ready to be answerable to public opinion and legal action.
But such grave matters aside, for a church that claims even a severely circumscribed infallibility in its leader, it seems to have a pronounced penchant for muddled-headed decision-making and mistiming. Witness the debacle of the very well thought through and pastorally effective introduction of the Third Rite of Reconciliation. It was popularly attended and spiritually impactful. And then quirkily withdrawn to the puzzlement, annoyance and vocal cynicism of priest and layperson alike. If its withdrawal was to urge a return to individual reconciliation, the intent abysmally failed.
Of lesser import, but still cumulatively distressing, there was the overbearing and monomaniacal sledging by American bishops of Barak Obama on the singled out issue of abortion, and its extension in their opposition to his invitation to speak at Notre Dame. Of greater global import there was the skulduggery and doublespeak entailed in the takeover of the ICEL by Vox Clara to produce a 'new' liturgical language — by intention closer to a transliteration than a translation and therefore short on English idiom, Latinate and of necessity fustian in rhythms and vocabulary, unnecessarily theologically complex. In view of the questionable strategies employed to implement the new translation and the questionable principles employed in the translating process, it is rather odd of William Oddie to have labelled the outcome a triumph for the 'good guys' in a February issue of the Catholic Herald.
I suspect this decision may prove to harbour the same generic folly as the directive from Rome while I was studying in the seminary in the 60s, to have all lectures delivered in Latin. The professors lacked fluency in Latin, we students were even more ignorant and halting in the language. Together we floundered through uninspiring texts, first with Latin commentary then the translation in English, until some more enlightened bureaucrat in the curia revoked the edict.
The list could be added to, but the point needs to be made by way of conclusion. What is so tragically irksome about the wrongness, mistiming and misdirection of so much that makes for ecclesial leadership, is that it wastes energies that need to be poured urgently into projects which alone can rescue the church from the titanic catastrophe that lies immediately ahead.
A final diagnosis...
What is needed urgently is:
In the face of the bleakness...
To return to Haggai, as a post script: is it still possible and prudent or rather rash and romantic to draw (even tenuous) hope from his encouragement, in the face of the bleakness of the house?
But now take courage, says the Lord,
And to end Dr Lowe's thought-provoking series here is some music and imagery to help lift your spirits above the bleak state of contemporary Catholicism. Tom McMahon first introduced us to this video in one of this commentaries back at the beginning of March. Sit back, turn the volume up, and think: it isn't that bleak. The Spirit has not left the Body of Christ nor our world. There is enormous cause for optimism and joy whatever might be happening in this magnificent institution that did so much to form all of our attitudes towards life and our world!
©2011Dr Anthony Lowes