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June 25, 2015

When Popes Make Mistakes

I shan’t be blogging for the next fortnight or so: I shall be in Gardone on Lake Garda attending a symposium organised by the Roman Forum on “Forbidden Topics: A Free and Rational Catholic Challenge to the Frightened Modern Mind”. I am hoping it will give me some ideas for future blog posts.

In the meantime, if  you are still puzzling over the papal encyclical Laudato Sii, you may find this sermon by Fr George Rutler as helpful as I did. Fr Rutler is parish priest of St Michael’s in New York, and—like so many other purveyors of good Catholic sense—a former Anglican.

A museum curator showed me a contemporary copy of the papal bull Inter Caetera by which Pope Alexander VI divided the world between Spain and Portugal with a meridian. While not without effect, it was generally ignored. John Henry Newman’s letter to the Duke of Norfolk lists popes who were mistaken in certain policies: St. Victor, Liberius, Gregory XIII, Paul IV, Sixtus V, and St. Peter himself when St. Paul ‘withstood’ him.

Pope Urban VIII and his advisers, in the misunderstood Galileo case, inadequately distinguished the duties of prophecy and politics, and of theological and physical science. St. John Paul II said that ‘this led them unduly to transpose into the realm of the doctrine of the faith, a question which in fact pertained to scientific investigation.’ Father Stanley Jaki, a physicist, cautioned me against using the ‘Big Bang’ as theological evidence for creation. On a loftier level, the physicist Father Georges Lemaître likewise restrained Pope Pius XII from conflating the parallel accounts of the universe.

Father Lemaître pioneered the ‘First Atomic Moment’—contradicting the prevailing thesis of a cosmological constant, or ‘static infinite’ universe. Sir Fred Hoyle mocked it as the ‘Big Bang’ but the term now has lost its condescension. Lemaître told the pope: ‘As far as I can see, such a theory remains entirely outside any metaphysical or religious question . . . It is consonant with Isaiah speaking of the hidden God, hidden even in the beginning of the universe.’  It was like the counsel of Cardinal Baronius: the Scriptures teach us how to go to heaven, not how the heavens go.

Pope Francis’ encyclical on the ecology of the earth is adventurously laden with promise and peril. It can raise consciousness of humans as stewards of creation. To prevent the disdain of more informed scientists generations from now, however, papal teaching must be safeguarded from attempts to exploit it as an endorsement of one scientific theory over another concerning anthropogenic causes of climate change. It is not incumbent upon a Catholic to believe, like Rex Mottram in Brideshead Revisited, that a pope can predict the weather. As a layman in these matters, all I know about climate change is that I have to pay for heating a very big church with an unpredictable apparatus. This is God’s house, but He sends me the utility bills.

The first pope, from his fishing days, had enough hydrometeorology to know that he could not walk on water. Then the eternal Logos told him to do it, and he did, until he mixed up the sciences of heaven and earth and began to sink. As vicars of that Logos, popes speak infallibly only on faith and morals. They also have the prophetic duty to correct anyone who, for the propagation of their particular interests, imputes virtual infallibility to papal commentary on physical science while ignoring genuinely infallible teaching on contraception, abortion and marriage and the mysteries of the Lord of the Universe.

June 23, 2015

Laudato Sii?  Nooo!  I Think Not…

Now that the Holy Father has come out quite strongly against air conditioning, maybe he will consider scrapping the popemobile and restoring the old eco-friendly sedia gestatoria, which relied solely on human  muscle power. Perhaps while he’s about it he might bring back the flabella—those  decorative processional  ostrich feathers which used to flank  every  pope right up until the time of Pius XII.  They must have been deliciously cooling in a Roman summer, and so cheap and easy to operate. Just a couple of gentle flaps every few seconds.

                           The flabella: the ecologically-sound solution to all a Pope’s cooling needs

I can’t really claim credit for this wheeze, which comes from the Catholic archiblogipoios  Fr John Zuhlsdorf.  But in the  Brandsma Review quite a few years ago  I did once call for the return of the sedia gestatoria,  only for a rather different reason:

I can’t help feeling it was a mistake for the post Vatican II Church to set its face so firmly against what used to be called ‘pomp’. Gone are the Noble Guard, the ostrich feathers—even the papal tiara which recalled the Pope’s three-fold role of ruling, teaching and sanctifying.

Now that the old Latin Mass has been given its proper, honourable place, I suppose there’s no chance of getting such things back? Did any of them prevent conversions to the Faith, or drive anyone away from the Church? I don’t think so.

The old sedia gestatoria, which was used for carrying the Pope on important occasions, actually had a very practical use. It wasn’t to make the Pope feel superior; it was to enable the crowd actually to see him. When I attended the beatification of a St John of God Brother in St Peter’s, you couldn’t see Pope John Paul II at all. In the old days, borne on the shoulders of retainers, he would have been clearly visible.

I suppose it’s too much to hope  that the Noble Guard will be brought back into existence, but why not pay  a dozen or so unemployed young Romans to carry the sedia and the flabella? That way, Pope Francis would be helping to alleviate youth unemployment, which he has described as one of  the “most urgent” problems facing the Church, and one of the “most serious” of the evils  afflicting the world today.

As for the general message of Laudato Sii you will no doubt be expecting me  to try to say something profound. I have to  echo, rather wearily, a combox comment by one Nicholas Bellord, an old school fellow of mine, in response to Fr Hunwicke’s warning that one should take great care to deal respectfully with all papal teachings:

The problem is,  what is teaching which we should treat with respect and what is just some very strange assertions about  technology etc.  I can accept the teaching that we should take care of God’s creation but am I obliged to respect the  idea that air-conditioning is a bad thing?

There is much that is profound, and indeed beautiful , in the encyclical, whose title comes from a hymn of St Francis of Assisi, the Pope’s patron, which praises “Brother Sun”, “Sister Moon”, “Brother Wind” etc.  The Holy Father’s  criticism of a Western world hyper-stimulated by its own wealth and clever ideas should impress not just his fellow-Catholics but the rest of the world as well.  Charles Moore, a Catholic and editor of the Daily Telegraph believes Laudato Sii  is timed to appeal to public opinion in the run-up to the next big UN climate change conference in Paris in December.

If past form is anything to go by, Brother Wind will be working overtime at the Paris conference, but Mother Earth will not benefit. There is a fundamental reason for this. and I am afraid that the Holy Father does not confront it.

Why is the developed world rich? The answer lies in the name: it developed more than other places.  Development happens by uniting the resources of the earth with the capacities of the human brain and the institutions of human society.   The resulting innovations are driven by energy, the cheaper the better. Hence the overwhelming (and present) importance of fossil fuels…

…The encyclical contains an attractive passage reminding us that Jesus Himself was a carpenter, working with his hands ‘in daily contact with the matter created by God’. but it misses the interesting  conclusion that lurks in that thought.  What craftsman on the precarious edge of the Roman Empire would not have welcomed technology that improved the qualities of his tools, improvements in forestry that ensured the plentiful supply of wood, market demand increased by rich colonials? If you truly see things from the point of view of the have-nots, the desire to make natural resources work better becomes overwhelming: a tractor becomes preferable to an ox virtually every time…

…Any Christian is naturally shocked by the disparity between the advantages God gives us and the mess we make of them; but it should be acknowledged that modern industrial society does many things better than any previous form of social organisation.  One of these is self-correction. Even ‘bad’ things sometimes have good effects. Petrified forests (otherwise known as coal) stopped us cutting down all the remaining living ones for heat. The scientific ingenuity which produced the internal combustion engine also increased the means to increase its fuel efficiency. It is true, as the song says, that you won’t get to heaven in an old Ford car, but it does not follow that our technology is sending us to hell in a handcart.






June 20, 2015


The following piece by the redoubtable Daphne McLeod first appeared in  in Issue 45 of the  Brandsma Review in the year 2000. It originally been commissioned by the Catholic Herald, which declined to publish  the finished article—presumably for fear of annoying the English Catholic catechetical establishment.

Dr Kevin Treston, author of A New Vision of Religious Education told us he hugs a tree every morning to give him energy for the day. The 62-year-old Australian—who has written 11 other books on RE—was giving a day for catechists of the Portsmouth diocese on Saturday, September 25.

He was introduced by Sister Bernadette Duggan, Co-ordinator of Adult Education in the diocese. She told the 40 catechists present she had discovered Dr Treston’s books four years ago, and since then she had invited him over from Brisbane, Australia three times to address teachers and catechists in Portsmouth.

She didn’t say that in his books (A New Vision of RE, for instance) he teaches that “at the Consecration, the physical appearance of the Host doesn’t change, but the meaning does for those who believe” (p.75); that he “finds it hard to relate to a Church that treats women like second-class citizens” (p.68).or that “the only structure initiated by Jesus was the institution of the Twelve, and this structure disappeared after the death of Stephen” (p. 64).

Sister only said that we must all be open to the Holy Spirit and that She speaks to us in different ways.

Ambiguous input

Dr Treston’s presentations consisted of a great deal of trivia, long pauses while we thought about what he had just said, and then time spent “sharing” our thoughts with our neighbour and with the whole group. His own small input was ambiguous if not directly contrary to Catholic teaching.

For instance, he seems to believe that Revelation depends on experience, not the teaching handed down to us by the Apostles, for he said that people who say “I’ve got the truth” make him nervous , when they can’t know what experiences God has in store for them.

He described the Eucharist as “when we break bread with Christ together”, and Jesus as “an incredible person calling us to God’s love”. He told us that the miracles have nothing to do with proving that Jesus is God, and that no modern Scripture scholar would say that they have; that at Pentecost there was no wind, no fire and no gift of tongues, as these all came from the Old Testament.

The great people who carry our sinfulness are Gandhi, Martin Luther King and Bishop Romero, and “the institutional Church has not always been a healing presence, for we all know people who have not been healed by it.”

Brusquely dealt with

Dr Treston seems to be more concerned with social work than with Catholic teaching as found in The Catechism of the Catholic Church. When he invited people to share their thoughts with the whole group, those who proffered Catholic teaching were very brusquely dealt with.

For example, when asked what helped to develop her spirituality, one catechist said she found that her daily Mass and visits to the Blessed Sacrament helped her. Dr Treston responded that though that might help some people, many—if not most—find God in Nature, such as trees and rainbows. Then he asked for Spiritual Experiences not connected to Mass and Holy Communion, and of course he got them.

Baptism was described as God accepting us as son/daughter and the community inviting us in, and he wasn’t pleased when another catechist reminded him that it also takes away original sin, all other sins, and bestows grace. He said he wasn’t going to go on all day about doctrinal points, and did she want to stay with the day?

Spoiling their day

Just before we broke for lunch a very angry man sitting at the back and wearing a pink shirt attacked those who were speaking as Catholics faithful to the teaching of the Church. He said he felt like going as he was fed up with people who were clinging to a kind of Church he wanted nothing to do with, and if they were not open to what Dr Treston was teaching why didn’t they go, and he would give them back their £10 as they were spoiling the day for the rest.

One lady protested that as she was a parish catechist she had every right to there, but he responded that he was glad she didn’t teach his children.

A lady who had not spoken at all remonstrated with the man in the pink shirt firmly but politely, pointing out that these people had only spoken when invited to, that they had all been extremely courteous, and that surely we could at least listen to each other. It was only when she addressed him as “Father” that the rest of us realised that he was a priest. He is, apparently, Rev. Ray Lyons, Parish Priest of St Bernard’s’ Holbury, and Executive Secretary of the National Conference of Priests, no less.

Pressing the Earth

The afternoon passed in much the same way as the morning except that Dr Treston gave us a brief lesson on Tai Chi, as he has studied several levels. We saw how to Heavenly Lifts, Shake Outs, Silk and Thread, Pressing the Earth, and the deep breathing that goes with this. Sister Bernadette closed the day, reminding us that there were bound to be tensions these days with catechetics.

But my final memory was of Pinkshirt—sorry, Father Lyons—telling some departing catechists that they were “whited sepulchres”. He also referred to what he called “those Thought Police at the front”.

On this, his third visit, Dr Treston addressed five separate audiences made up of heads of RE, school chaplains and Catholic head teachers, as well as parish catechists. One cannot help wondering:

Why does Bishop Hollis of Portsmouth keep inviting someone with such strange ideas to lecture those who will teach the children entrusted to his care?

Why did Bishop Nichols, chairman of the Department of Catholic Education—who had known the previous month that this day was to take place—not step in to protect the Catholic children who are now going to be led astray?

The situation is extremely worrying, and it calls for a great deal of prayer.

June 16, 2015

Bioethics and the Not-Yet-Dead

Here is another Straws for the Camels Back  column from the Brandsma Review: this time from Issue 45 around the year 2000. 

Australian Peter Singer, Professor of Bioethics at Princeton University has proposed early (and, of course, painless) infanticide for those whose prospects he thinks poor. There has been some mention in his writings of euthanasia for disabled adults as well.

His friends at Princeton have found themselves engaged in quite a nasty guerrilla war with a group of militant disabled adults called Not Dead Yet. On his first day’s teaching, they chained themselves in their wheelchairs to the outside entrance of the classroom, and 14 of them were arrested—something of a political difficulty for the “free thought, free expression” crowd at Princeton. Speakers at a three-hour rally included a disabled person who spoke with the help of a computer.

Singer is described as a philosopher. His full title is the Ira W. DeCamp Professor of Bioethics in the school’s Center for Human Values, no less. In a recent book, he wrote that “children younger than one month old have no human consciousness and do not have the same rights as others. Killing a defective infant is not morally equivalent to killing a person. Sometimes it is not wrong at all.”


The Roots of Apathy

I smiled ruefully at the following headline in the Catholic Herald: BISHOP BLASTS APATHY AS UNIONS BACK TERMINATIONS ON DEMAND: CATHOLICS ARE BLAMED FOR ABORTION MOVE. Bishop John Jukes, the English hierarchy’s “world of work” committee chairman was wagging a finger at Catholic trade unionists for not doing more to stop pro-abortion moves in their unions.

What does he expect? I seem to remember a time not so long ago when the English bishops heeded some very bad advice from professional Catholic politician Norman St John Stevas (who’s now Lord Somethingorother) that they shouldn’t mobilise their people against anti-life measures because it would be a bad thing for abortion to become a “Catholic issue”.

When a handful of us Catholic hacks left the NUJ because of its advocacy of abortion in Ireland, we hoped that many others—above all, some priest-journalists—would follow suit. At that critical stage, a few dozen resignations could have forced the union to abandon its policy. Alas, the spiritual advice given to some was to “stay and fight abortion from within”, which of course was sheer humbug. Many of the kind of Catholics who’d sing “Faith of Our Fathers” at the drop of a hat just sat tight. Apart from some kind words from Bishop Brendan Comiskey, we had little support from the clergy. A notable exception was Fr Cyprian Candon, OP, editor of Intercom, the magazine of the Catholic Communications Institute. He joined the alternative Institute of Journalists, and published items strongly critical of the NUJ.


Liberal Censorship

The redoubtable Daphne McLeod, who was done so much to defend Catholic children from the poison of neo-modernist catechetics (and angered the English Bishops in the process) features prominently in this issue—not only among the articles but in the Letters column as well. Readers will be interested to learn that her piece, which we have headlined “Treston the Tree-Hugger Meets the Pink-Shirted Priest” was originally commissioned by the Catholic Herald—which declined to publish the finished article. [I intend to republish that  piece in this blog in the near future—Stramentarius.]

It’s not surprising, really; the Catholic Herald board in London is extremely “liberal” and therefore keeps its editors on a tight rein. There’s also pressure from the English hierarchy to toe a particular line. I am reliably informed that the late Cardinal Hume was largely responsible for the sacking of Alice Thomas Ellis—the best reason for reading the CH—because she wrote some unfashionable (and true) things about Archbishop Derek Worlock of Liverpool. (Mrs Ellis now has a cookery column in the paper, but her wicked wit is no longer on display.)

Yes,it must be a ticklish business being editor of the CH. One’s anticipated term of office, while perhaps longer than that of a British infantry officer on the Somme, would not compare too favourably with that of a wife of King Henry VIII. I understand that the Herald once went through seven editors in 10 years.

So of course one has to sympathise with the present editor, William Oddie, who has not yet fulfilled expectations that he would steer the Catholic Herald back to orthodoxy. Maybe he’s moving very cautiously and will eventually succeed. He recently carried a good piece on the perils of the Alpha evangelism course, which quoted our Welsh correspondent Robert Williams.


Good Leaven?

When are our bishops going to learn that “Catholic” feminists, far from being mollified by expressions of appreciation, will always try to use them as a weapon in the push for priestesses? When the Archbishop of Dublin issued a pastoral referring to women as the “good leaven in our society” I knew another silly letter would appear in the Irish Times within a few days.

Sure enough, far from accepting this gracious compliment in the spirit in which it was meant, Ms Soline Vatinel of BASIC threw it back in Dr Connell’s face.“As long as the only orders women can receive in the Church are orders telling them what to believe and what to do, all praise will be pious platitude, not the Good News of Jesus Christ.”.


Examiner Should Examine Its Conscience

The Examiner used to be a great newspaper. Not any more. A new low in journalism was touched by its lead story of September 16 headlined ANTI-ABORTION GROUP FLIES IN MILITANT WITH CRIMINAL PAST. It began: “An American convicted of running a criminal enterprise that threatened women considering abortion is to address a conference in Dublin at the weekend.”

The “criminal enterprise” was Operation Rescue, whose members have saved the lives of countless pre-born babies by protesting at abortion clinics. Joe Scheidler, the target of the Examiner‘s attack, was found guilty under the so-called “RICO” statute (Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organisations). A Federal jury upheld the argument of the pro-abort “National Organisation of Women” that by protesting at abortion clinics, pro-life activists were depriving those clinics of their income and that this amounted to extortion.

This perverse decision has been condemned by Professor Robert Blakey of Notre Dame University, who drafted RICO in 1969. He said that if he’d known that the law, which was intended to be used against organised criminal gangs, would be employed as a weapon of terror against social protest, he would never have drafted it.

No attempt was made by the Examiner to explain the circumstances of Mr Scheidler’s conviction. It’s a far cry from the days of the old Cork Examiner whose staff—many of whom were members of the Institute of Journalists rather than the NUJ—prided themselves on their professionalism. They would never have omitted such a crucial aspect of a news story.

Which prompts the question: who put the Examiner up to it? Predictably, the affair reopened potentially damaging splits in the pro-life movement at a most critical time.


From CMAC Denial…

When I was working part-time for the Catholic Standard some time in the early 1980s, one of my “snouts” (as British policemen call them) was involved with the Catholic Marriage Advisory Council, which has since—in the interests of Religious Correctness—changed its name to “Accord”. My informant told me that clients of the CMAC were being taught about methods of contraception and left to make up their own minds as to the morality of using them. This confirmed what I had been told by other sources.

I rang up several branch offices of the CMAC and was assured that, oh no, we don’t do things like that; we are a Catholic organisation. A witch-hunt then followed, in which attempts were made to find out who’d been talking to me. There was no reason for my snout to lie to me, and I am sure they weren’t. But I couldn’t use the story without risking exposing my source, so of course I didn’t.

The sequel to this squalid tale is that my snout shortly afterwards left the Church and became a freelance evangelical/pentecostal Protestant. I don’t know if the hypocrisy he/she had encountered in this Catholic organisation had anything to do with this decision, but I suspect that it may have helped start the process.


…to Accord ‘Maturity’

All this came back to me on reading a piece by one Jarlath Judge in the Irish Catholic a few weeks ago. Mr Judge and his fiancée attended the compulsory marriage preparation course organised by Accord, which they found a “worthwhile exercise”. As one would expect, there were two “course facilitators” and much discussion in small sharing groups. Participants were asked to reveal what made them angry, ashamed, hurt, or scared—and about their secrets.

Family planning, wrote Mr Judge, was dealt with “maturely”:

Both the male and female facilitators contributed. There were no blushes. Just the facts about the various forms of contraception.

That can only mean there was no attempt to defend Catholic teaching on the sinfulness of contraceptive acts. Well, at least Accord’s policy on these matters is now out in the open. All those years ago, the CMAC was already an Augean stable in need of cleansing, but the bishops could at least have had the excuse that they didn’t know what was going on. They’ve no such excuse now, with Accord.

Incidentally, I am reliably informed that one clerical gentleman has been going round the Dublin deaneries telling priests that while it’s too soon after Humanae Vitae to change the Church’s teaching officially, such a change is bound to come; and in the meantime, they should take a soft line in the confessional.

Now that makes me angry and ashamed.


Return of the Real Domini Canes

Another interesting piece in the Irish Catholic was by editor David Quinn. He’s been doing a useful piece of investigation on the Irish Dominicans, and his researches confirm some encouraging reports I’d heard about the Order. It would appear that the dead wood which has been calling the shots since the 1960s (sorry about the dreadful mixed metaphor) is beginning to be replaced by orthodox younger men who aren’t particularly interested in Vatican II, and are insisting on behaving like proper Dominicans. They actually want to wear their habits in public instead of baggy old ganseys, they like praying the Rosary, and prefer studying St Thomas Aquinas to Küng and Schillebeeckx. They’d rather preach the Word of God than sub-marxist sociological cant.

The Dominican Master-General, Englishman Fr Timothy Radcliffe has been travelling around the Order’s houses in various parts of the world telling the progressive old codgers to let the orthodox youngsters behave as they want. It looks as if he may have had a real change of heart. Anyway, he must have done some hard thinking and realised that if the young men were to leave in disgust, there won’t be any Dominicans left in 25 years or so.

One youthful Dominican (properly clad in black cloak and white habit) told me recently that the Friars Preachers are the only major Order never to have had a split.


An Appropriate Omen

The National University of Ireland, Maynooth, has let it be known that from next year onwards, it no longer wishes to take part in the Mass celebrated with St Patrick’s College every October at the start of the academic year. The motive, we are asked to believe, is ecumenical: the NUI does not wish to offend the susceptibilities of our separated brethren. It transpires that among 4,000 students, NUI Maynooth has 40 non-Catholics. Of these, just 12 are Protestant Christians.
At the last of these academic year Masses—on October 20—the emblems of the NUI Maynooth and of St Patrick’s College were displayed in the sanctuary. During the Our Father, at the words “Thy Kingdom Come” the NUI Maynooth emblem fell down.


Druidic Dowdstown

Some more treats from Dowdstown House retreat centre in Co Meath, which, Delphic-oracle-like, “seeks to promote and support family life in all its diversity in our changing world”, and aims “to empower leadership in ministry…in order to pursue healthy change in all areas of life”. How about this?

Reiki is a natural healing art using universal life energy to promote harmony, healing and wholeness to body, mind and spirit…These workshops attune you to the universal life energy and allow you to channel the energy for healing yourself, your family and others.

Or this?

Evenings of sacred circle dancing. Experience dance in all its different moods, empowering the body in a gentle way to flow to the rhythm of different styles, including Celtic and African dance.

They also offer training courses for “special ministers of the Eucharist” and retreats for senior pupils.


June 14, 2015

An End to Medjheadery?

I don’t know if Pope Francis had Medjugorje and its “seers” in mind last week when he criticised those “who always  need novelty in their Christian identity”, adding  “but where are the visionaries who tell us today about ‘the letter that the Madonna will send tomorrow at 4 p.m.?’”  I certainly hope so. The Pope told reporters earlier this week that a decision on Medjugorje  is due soon.

There is overwhelming evidence that Medjugorje  is a fake, and it is high time for a definitive decision to that effect.  Thousands of  people have been deceived, and if the Holy Father is about to grasp this nettle he will deserve the undying gratitude of all Catholics—although there are many who won’t see it that way.

Yes, I know there have been some good fruits, such as people returning to the sacraments—particularly to confession. But it’s the roots that are rotten.

Who could possibly find fault with Pope Francis’ assertion that “God’s last word is called Jesus and nothing more.”  Fr Hunwicke  thinks it is a wonderful and beautifully terse expression  of Christian Orthodoxy.

It puts down the errors of Islam; it is a rebuff to the neo-Gnostic convolutions of the Kaspers and Marxes. It is a superb expression of the function of the Roman Pontiff to act as a barrier, what Blessed John Henry Newman called a remora, against innovation, whether dogmatic or moral; and it could serve as a summary of the the decree Pastor aeternus of Vatican I. Four cheers for our beloved Holy Father!







June 13, 2015

Papal Slaps for Stalin and the Flappers

We’re within the Octave of the Sacred Heart, so here’s a thought-provoking sermon on the subject by Fr John Hunwicke. He preached it before he was reconciled with the Catholic Church, while still vicar of the (very) Anglo-Catholic parish of  St Thomas the Martyr  in Oxford.

As I read the prayer Iesu dulcissime, prescribed by Pius XI in 1928 to be said in all parish churches, I wondered if my neighbour at St Ebbe’s* was remembering to do the same. That prayer is an act of Reparation ordered to be offered to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, for all the insults and blasphemies against that Sacred Heart. Pius XI, you will remember, was the Pope who revised the propers for Mass and Office and endowed the Feast of the Sacred Heart with a (short-lived) Octave. And, in this Act of Reparation, one of the offences to be expiated is: immodest and unbecoming dress.

Immodest dress in 1928! I rather think that 1928 means we were moving towards the era of the Flappers; slinky dresses; jazz; cocktails; the Charleston. Pius XI was also the pope who ordered the feast of Christ the King to be observed, as a marker against the Age of the Great Dictators and of the overmighty state. What a combative pontiff Papa Ratti must have been, despite his dusty decades as Prefect in the Vatican Libraries. He was a veritable Pope of the Church Militant, with one hand swiping at the Dictators of Left and Right; with the other, administering a firm smack to the Flappers.

But is there really an equivalence between Stalin and the Flappers? The Flappers may have been a trifle naughty, but they surely weren’t murderous? They didn’t send you to gulags or contrive a genocidal famine in the Ukraine. Yet … I wonder. This age of ours, an age of sexual license, of which the Thirties were perhaps the first care-free dawn, has led to a new Holocaust: of the unborn. I don’t think you have to be over-imaginative to join up a line of dots between the flirty skirts of the Thirties and the era of the overmighty abortionists. Which may serve to remind us that it was Pius XI who also, in his Encyclical Casti Connubii, defended the principles of Christian Marriage.

I suspect one could draw conclusions about the prophetic role of the Papacy from all this. But today, in conclusion, I want simply to underline Pius XI’s promotion of the cult of the Sacred Heart. The Sacred Heart is an iconographical topos only too easy to ridicule. You remember how that acute liturgical commentator, Professor Richard Dawkins, not long ago, evoked a wonderful picture of the Church tumbling around Pope Benedict’s ears ‘amid a stench of incense and a rain of tourist-kitsch Sacred Hearts’: rhetoric almost worthy of the great Goebbels himself. Indeed. The World does not admire those who find refuge in the widely-opened Sacred Heart of Jesus; our idols, our ‘celebrities’, are only too often the shallow and the promiscuous and the foul-mouthed, not the quiet contemplative rapt in adoring and intercessory prayer before the pierced Heart of our Saviour. But God has chosen what the World calls Foolish to shame the Clevers; what the World calls weak, to confound the Macho; because in the opened Heart of Christ crucified, what the World calls foolishness and weakness is made to be the strength and the wisdom of God.

*Fr  Hunwicke was being a bit bold here. St Ebbe’s describes itself as a “large, friendly evangelical church” which of course means it is “low church”. It would  have no time for Catholic  devotions like the Sacred Heart, and would certainly not feel obliged to accede to the wishes of any Pope.

June 11, 2015

The ‘N-Word’: the New Obscenity

When I started my first proper job on a Bristol newspaper in 1960, Lady Chatterley’s Lover had just been published, and liberals everywhere were delighted when a charge of obscenity brought against the publishers, Penguin, was thrown out.  It was a defining moment. There had  been much mirth when prosecuting counsel Mervyn Griffith-Jones QC  recounted the number  times the F-word was used in the book. The total was 30.

Charles Moore of the Daily Telegraph (no liberal he) thinks that in some ways it was no bad  thing that the prosecution failed. As he says, there has always been an unpleasant streak in the British character which likes punishing people, and until the 1960s this trait was dominant among the judiciary. However, he points out that the post-60s society brought about by the Chatterley decision is far from being liberal in the good sense—open-minded, generous, freedom-loving:

Today, no avant-garde production is complete without a scene of sexual violence or (to use a word that is not treated with enlightened tolerance) perversion. Indeed, ‘avant-garde’  is an absurd term for what has become a rigid convention. The brave, innovative play today would be one about a vicarage tea-party in which everyone said ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ throughout…

…The tale of Jimmy Savile is the classic example of how the Sixties concept of ‘fun’ acted as a cover for something much darker. Mrs Whitehouse’s warnings about the exploitation of women in  the brave new liberated world were seen as fuddy-duddy at the time. They now seem almost fashionably feminist as we learn more about how powerful men were able to exploit the breaking down of boundaries.

A question occurs to me.  Why is it that—having jettisoned all their old  taboos—people  feel free to eff and blind, and amuse themselves with all  manner of pornography, yet have burdened themselves with  linguistic restrictions which would have astonished my parents’ generation. I think this trend began, like the new liberal cultural regime, in the 1960s. The first time it impinged on me was when the BBC broadcaster Jack de Manio, in a programme from Nigeria, announced  in all innocence: “Britain—and the land of the Nigger”. Immediately after coming off air, he remarked innocently: “I wonder if I should have pronounced that “Niger”.  The BBC sent him on leave for several months. Most people then would have thought this something of an over-reaction. After all, it only means “black”. Today such an offence would have meant immediate dismissal—even for a broadcaster as distinguished as de Manio.

Today virtually nobody would pronounce that word in public. If referring to it, one lowers one’s voice by half an octave and several decibels and mutters: “the N-word”.  So sensitive has this  become that someone  in the US who used the word  “niggardly” was suspended because it sounds like the offending N-word. Yet not so many decades ago, in my favourite film Kind Hearts and Coronets,  Joan Greenwood declaims in her distinctive and delightful froggy tones: “Eeeny meeny miny mo, catch a nigger by the toe…Dear me, there do seem to be lot of little niggers disappearing, don’t there?”

I suppose Shakespeare’s line “Be not niggard of thy speech”, will have to be censored out. The trend will  not end there.  Already the word “Paki” is becoming “the P-word” . Though why it should be worse than “Paddy” or “Taffy” or “Jock” or even  “Brit” which for some reason is universally acceptable, I will never understand.

Don’t laugh, but before long I may be charged with  “hate speech” just for writing the above. I’m quite serious.



June 7th, 2015

Archbishop Martin’s Missing Backbone

His Grace of Dublin does not take kindly to criticism. I know at least two journalists who received  telephone tongue-lashings from Archbishop Martin after writing things of which he disapproved.

Diarmuid Martin

Archbishop Martin: Not a Happy Bunny…

I think if he ever sees this, he’ll go absolutely spare. I have shamelessly pinched it from a blog called  “Eccles”,  where it appeared a few days before the sodomistic pseudogamy referendum.

Bishop Philip Egan of Portsmouth has confirmed that the relics which arrived at Southampton today pertain to Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Dublin, and not, after all, to Blessed Louis and Zélie Martin, the parents of St Thérèse of Lisieux. Apparently, this was a ‘replacement item’, delivered when the real relics were out of stock.

It is normally considered ‘bad form’ to open the box and see what the relics actually consist of, but in this case an exception was made and it was discovered that what had been delivered was the lost backbone of Archbishop Martin. This was reported missing earlier today, when the good archbishop declared that, although he himself would vote against same-sex ‘marriage’, he had no wish to stuff his religious views down other people’s throats. After all, it’s not an archbishop’s job to give moral leadership and guidance (ask Vincent Nichols!)

Bishop Egan has declared himself dissatisfied with the replacement item, feeling that the archbishop’s spine is unlikely to be truly an object of veneration, nor indeed capable of working minor miracles.


Not a very sacred relic.

Meanwhile, other prominent Irish Catholics have entered the ‘same-sex marriage’ debate, including the silenced Red Emptyhead, Tony Flummery. Faithful to the Vatican’s command Pone soccum in eo, O Antoni (“put a sock in it, Tony”), Fr Flummery has maintained a dignified silence, talking only to the trees and his pet rat, O’Connor. However, lacking any concrete guidance from Archbishop Martin, a man whom he deeply reveres, it seems that Fr Flannery will probably vote “yes” in accordance with Enda Kenny’s wishes.

Enda Kenny

‘Another text from Satan. What can he want now?’


June 3rd, 2015

Prepare for Persecution

In the fairly near future, it is  likely that Irish Catholics—I mean real ones, not those who voted Yes in the “marriage” referendum—will  face a degree of persecution amounting to “white” martyrdom.  Nurses and doctors who refuse to co-operate in abortions or euthanasia will lose their livelihoods; caterers and bed and breakfast  operators will be compelled to accommodate self-declared sodomites or face heavy fines;  anyone who publicly displays less than total approval  of  perversion will be fined and possibly imprisoned for “hate speech”.

If things develop at the present rate , it is more than possible that “red” martyrdom will follow in the next few decades.  Quite some time ago  Cardinal Francis George of Chicago said:

I expect to die in bed, my successor will die in prison and his successor will die a martyr in the public square. His successor will pick up the shards of a ruined society and slowly help rebuild civilization, as the church has done so often in human history.

Yes, the situation is hotting up so rapidly that Michael Voris of ChurchMilitant.TV  believes that  only heroic Catholics will survive:

In short, in the times that are just ahead for Catholics, only the truly dedicated will not become apostates and thereby lose Heaven. This was the opinion of Fr. John Hardon, a very holy priest who died 15 years ago in Detroit—a man who was remarkable owing to his holiness. What he said has come even sharper into focus in light of the wholesale rejection of the Faith by an overwhelming majority of the Irish last week.

If you are not preparing yourself now, and your family now, bracing yourselves spiritually for the darkness into which civilization is descending, you will not survive. You will inherit Satan for your father. People do not suddenly decide to suffer for the Faith. They prepare themselves to suffer great hardships for the Faith, by undergoing little hardships and sacrifices in advance. You could think of it as a kind of dress rehearsal…

…We sometimes have this too-nostalgic thought about the age of martyrs in the early centuries. We see the drawings of heroic Catholics standing straight moments before the lions pounced. What we do not see, what is not memorialized in art, is the vast numbers who committed apostasy before the jaws of those same lions, or those in whom the Faith had turned cold. They were more than content to offer incense to the Roman gods.

Fr Brendan Purcell also believes that persecution is coming, but he’s rather more optimistic than Mr Voris.  Personally,  I greatly  prefer Fr Brendan’s gentler analysis, though perhaps not his rather complicated syntax:

From the end of the 16th century— after a century of executions, last one being St Oliver Plunkett in 1681 in Ireland we had the Penal Laws, some dating from James 1st, others from later in that century—till Catholic Emancipation in 1829, Catholics had to sweat it out in Ireland, which seemed to toughen them up rather than the opposite.

So, while we can expect cases against school teachers who refuse to teach homosexuality as an acceptable alternative, closing down of Catholic adoption agencies (as has happened already in Scotland and England), already the defunding of the Catholic marriage preparation agency has been announced, well, having to pay a big price for being Catholic goes with the territory, and we’re not getting it remotely like Catholics in Nigeria, parts of Cameroon, lots of the Middle East, Pakistan and parts of India, so let’s hope we can measure up to the challenge of being, as St Paul said we should be, like stars shining in the sky!

June 1st, 2015

Did We Deserve These Bishops?

The most interesting take on the sodomistic pseudogamy referendum, in my opinion, is that of Fr John Hunwicke,  In his blog post this morning, Fr Hunwicke actually says it does the Irish Catholic laity  enormous credit, under the circumstances, that so many of them voted NO:

When I was young, there was a lot of talk to the effect that Vatican I had defined the Papacy; but had left its teachings unbalanced by saying so little about the Episcopate. Vatican II was said to have done splendidly by correcting this balance.

So, at Vatican II, we had the status of bishops being given a puff … by the bishops! And the bishops, additionally, claiming enormous moral credit for … themselves giving themselves this puff!

I wonder what narrative History will give of the First World Episcopate in the decades since the Council.

I could go on about the collapse within the Church of the religious orders, of vocations to the priesthood. I could get rhetorical about the Liturgy. But I might simply be expressing my own prejudices. I have as many, if not more, human failings than most. And perhaps what has happened since the Council constituted (as it certainly did in the case of Liturgy) in some cases simply an extrapolation of what was already happening.

But … the Paedophile Priest scandal! Here, considered objectively, we do have a massive dereliction of duty on the part of Bishops and of Episcopacy. In many cases, it seems, they disregarded juridical procedures and maintained ‘the filth’ in pastoral ministry.

And then there have been some high-profile episcopal adulterers; firstly in Ireland and then in Scotland and most recently in England (I wonder, incidentally, if there has been any enquiry into the circumstances of Kieran Conry’s appointment; and why not).

I think it does the Irish laity enormous credit, in all the circumstances, that so many of them did vote in accordance with the teachings of the Church. (One constituency voted against SSM; two constituencies, knife-edge.)

It would be reassuring if some representative body of bishops … perhaps, let’s say, a Synod … were to express some corporate regret about what their Order has done to the Church in the last disastrous half century. It has, in some parts of the world and in more than a few individuals, shown disturbing indications of a radical dysfunctionality.

Instead, we have suggestions of enhancing still further the powers of this Order by entrenching canonically and structurally and even dogmatically the Episcopal Conferences.

Holy Mother Church needs that like she needs a hole in the head.


 Liberating from What,  Precisely?

Fr H. also has  something rather pertinent to say about the appointment  of Irishwoman Professor  Louise Richardson, as Vice-Chancellor of  Oxford University:

So this University’s next Vice-Chancellor is a girl from the Co Waterford; a TCD MA.

As a seasoned hibernophile, I would view this appointment with enthusiasm but for the fact that she took a year out from Trinity to go to America and describes the experience as ‘liberating’.

Oh dear.

She’ll probably end up as president of her home country.