Bishops of England and Wales unveil their future priorities

It has happened int the past, that the Vicar of Christ has traveled to a place, was met with great enthusiasm, caused a bump, a wave in Catholic identity, and after a fairly short period of time everything went back into the numb comfort zone.

I get the sense that Bishops of England and Wales don’t want that to happen.  The Pope’s message during that visit was pretty challenging.  During the lead up to the visit, lots of people thought that the bishops conference was throwing roadblocks in front of the Pope’s visit.  I must admit, at the time, I was leaning in that direction.

But, as someone has suggested elsewhere, it is possible that the bombs dropped by the Pope here and there have caused a tectonic shift.  When quakes take place, things start to lean in other directions.  You decide.

And so we look at this from the UK’s best Catholic weekly, The Catholic Herald.

Bishops of England and Wales outline mission on papal visit anniversary

By Staff Reporter on Sunday, 18 September 2011

The Bishops of England and Wales have unveiled their future priorities in a message to Catholics on the first anniversary of the papal visit to Britain[We have to keep in mind that the visit was a “state visit”.]

In the message, the bishops said that their priorities for “the next three to five years” related to three areas: “mission, teaching and witness”.

They said: “Integral to this work is recognising the importance of being confident, faithful and courageous in our mission, teaching and witness[In order to give witness, we have to know who we are and what we believe.]

“Following the wonderful example Pope Benedict has given us, in our mission we must be gentle but also confident in manifesting the ‘beauty of holiness’, a beauty which can lead the heart of every person to an intimate knowledge of Christ.  [Manifest the “beauty of holiness”.  Sounds like the place to start is our liturgical worship.]

“In our teaching, we must be courteous but also faithful in proclaiming the ‘splendour of truth’ through ‘the witness of lives lived in integrity, fidelity and holiness’.

“In our witness, we must be humble and open-hearted but also courageous in testifying to ‘the joy and freedom born of a living relationship with Christ’.” [And work on the Church’s preeminent form of communication: liturgical worship.]

The bishops continued: “In respect of our mission, our first priority area of work will be: ‘To proclaim the universal call to holiness in Christ – by promoting a culture of vocation within the corporate identity of the Catholic Church, marked by a confident Catholic faith’. [Couched sort of in newspeak, but does that sound a bit like the “Marshall Plan” I have ranted about? An ad intra and ad extra approach?]

“In relation to ‘teaching’, the second priority area of work will be: ‘To proclaim Christ and his Gospel as saving truth – by fostering and encouraging a culture of dialogue and solidarity’.  [Not sure what that means.  But where is liturgical worship?]

“And in terms of witness, our third priority area of work will be: ‘To proclaim the coming of the Kingdom of God – by serving and witnessing to the whole community, especially by supporting marginalised and vulnerable people.’ ”  [There for a moment, I thought the “coming of the Kingdom of God might have included the Four Last Things.]

The bishops then named seven “aims and objectives”.

“We have re-established Friday abstinence as a common act of witness and of solidarity with those who are in need or suffer and as an expression of our vocation to follow Christ who sacrificed his life for the good of all humanity,” they said.  [Okay.. this Friday abstinence has been in force for less than a week.  It needs to take root.  But it is good to plan!  Very good.]

“We are actively encouraging lay Catholics to witness publicly to their faith with renewed confidence and to communicate a culture of vocation to a wide audience.  [The Church’s primary form of communication is liturgical worship.]

“We are creating a national vocations framework, offering discernment opportunities to all, not only to ecclesial vocations but also to marriage and other forms of lay witness. [And … priesthood.]

“We will continue to encourage the programme we have begun of ‘deepening social engagement’ to bring greater coherence, support and visibility to the Church’s evangelising witness through the development of ‘Caritas’ within England and Wales.

“We will foster opportunities to ‘build bridges of friendship to other religions, to heal past wrongs and to foster trust between individuals and communities’ by building on the unique and inspirational encounter between people of faith and representatives of other religions which took place during the Holy Father’s Visit.

“We will work with other Christians and people of other religions to identify the areas of greatest need, at home and abroad, so that we can come ‘together in concrete forms of collaboration, as we apply our religious insights to the task of promoting integral human development, working for peace, justice and the stewardship of creation’ and to work ‘together for the good of the community at large’.

“We will strengthen our communication of the work of the Church through the use of new technology and build partnerships with appropriate media outlets to build on the vision of the New Evangelisation for the transmission of the Christian Faith.” [We need to develop a stronger theology of communication.  It isn’t enough to use the tools.  However, a starting point has to be our liturgical worship, since our liturgical worship is the Church’s primary form of communication.]

The bishops concluded their message with an appeal to Catholics not to view the future “anxiously or fearfully, but with renewed hope and courage”.

They said: “In coming to the UK, the Holy Father ‘wanted first and foremost to support the Catholic community, encouraging it to work strenuously to defend the immutable moral truths which, taken up, illuminated and strengthened by the Gospel are at the root of a truly human, just and free society.’ [Keep in mind that it was a state visit.] He also wished ‘to speak to the hearts of all the inhabitants of the United Kingdom, excluding no one, of the true reality of man, of his deepest needs, of his ultimate destiny.’

“We believe that the ‘beauty of holiness’, the ‘splendour of truth’ and the ‘joy and freedom born of a living relationship with Christ’ can still speak powerfully to the hearts of the people of our country. This is the inspiration for our work ahead.

“On this Home Mission Sunday, the anniversary of the Holy Father’s visit to our country, we renew our faith in the power of God to lead us all through the difficult times faced by our nation and by our world. Confidently Catholic, we look forward then not anxiously or fearfully but with renewed hope and courage. We invoke God’s blessing on our country and on our world.”

We need a renewal of our liturgical worship for any of that to be effective. The new translation will help.  Our liturgical worship is our primary form of communication.

We also need to develop a deeper theology of communication.

Read the full text of their message HERE.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. Sixupman says:

    I have zero trust in the English & Welsh Bishop’s Conference and even less in their Scottish confreres. “By their fruits ………. .”

  2. asperges says:

    I get the feeling that it is the clergy who feel failed by poor leadership and a lot of pressure. Those who came through the “bad” years of seminaries, came out very ill-equipped for the work they had to do. There is still much to be done in the seminaries to route out the old attitudes. Those of a traditional mindset are still viewed with suspicion and can still have a hard time.

    There is much to be done in the liturgical sphere and many clergy were never taught the significance and importance of the liturgy. The new translations have sharpened up that awareness, although the cracks show still: ad-libbing, shabby presentation, careless attitude. There can be huge differences between one church and another.

    Overall the hierarchy could hardly fail to see the writing on the wall before and after the Pope’s visit – over which they were initially unenthusiastic. If they respond positively – even if only to be seen by Rome to do so – it is a step in the right direction. The rest will follow. The mood has changed.

  3. nialasfitch says:

    What the bishops say is very good and they are to be commended for it. Let those of us in England and Wales collaborate with our shepherds to make this reality.

    But, like others, I wonder: does it go far it enough? With respect, any mission/vision statement which does not take into account the desperate need for the renewal of liturgical worship (and by renewal I don’t mean more guitars and youth masses!) does not inspire much confidence.

    Dear bishops, as you know, the restoration of a sense of reverence and continuity with tradition to the celebration of mass is a key part of Pope Benedict’s vision for the Church. Without this, you will be hindered in the realisation of your three priorities. Please, give the liturgy urgent, humble and prayerful consideration.

    Our Lady and the English Martyrs, pray for us. Lord, bless England and Wales.

  4. Supertradmum says:

    Living in England and knowing priests and sisters from Wales in active ministry, I would positively state that the Pope’s visit is having a ripple effect in the hierarchy and the clergy. There is an awareness among the people in the pews that the great body of bishops is stirring, like a lion too long asleep. This awareness is bigger than individual bishops’ statements on particular issues, cuts across parochial and county lines-something that most Americans do not understand, that the Church is much more “localized” here and not as “nationalized” as in the States-and is being displayed in various ways. The New Mass and the Friday Fast being implemented at the same time is like a shot of adrenaline for the laity. They see the hierarchy moving in a direction of Catholic identity not seen for perhaps centuries. That England and Wales are missionary countries is a fact; that catechesis is necessary, and revival of respect and dignity in the Church a necessity is well-known. I am very hopeful, and I think we need to continue to pray to Our Lady of Walsingham, whose great feast is coming up next week, to take back her dowry. The “fog” described by Blessed John Paul II is lifting. The Church is a remnant Church, but there is hope of that remnant being strengthened at this time.

  5. Ben Trovato says:

    For me, as a Brit living in Northern England, the jury is still out. On the one hand, the re-establishment of Friday abstinence, and the rhetoric around the corrected translation of the Mass are very welcome indeed: the most Catholic our bishops have sounded, collectively, for years.

    On the other hand, there is so much that needs urgent correction: the notorious Soho Masses for dissenting homosexuals; the bullying of the parents of one of London’s most successful Catholic Schools and the attempts to make it more like the other (less Catholic, less successful) ones; the total failure to take a stance on any of the serious ethical and life issues that confront us; the shameful way in which CAFOD, the Catholic Bishops’ Aid Agency has deceived the Catholic in the pew and compromised Catholic teaching, the adulation of the Blairs despite their public dissent on many aspects of Catholic moral teaching, the refusal to pay more than lip service (at best) in most dioceses to Summorum Pontificum, and so on and so on.

    So let us hope and pray that these really are the stirrings of a new spring in Catholicism in England and Wales and that the bishops have really been set on fire by the Holy Father’s visit; but let us also work and pray harder than ever, as there is so much still to do…

  6. SonofMonica says:

    It’s true, Father Z. I don’t feel I can invite anyone to Holy Mass with any integrity, because the current liturgy is impossible to explain, without saying “well, the theological reason would be more evident if we hadn’t completely removed that from our liturgy…. well, see the reason for that that reredos would be more evident if we still used that altar… well, those rails are there for when we used to treat the sanctuary as holy… well, I don’t know why we don’t use those side altars… well, I’m not sure why we use felt banners… well, those steps are there because we used to…. well… well… well… sorry about the horrible guitars.” :-(

  7. I hate to play wet blanket here, but this sounds like a whole lot of the same social justice can’t-we-all just-get-along fluffiness that so many have been spewing the last 4 decades. They put in Friday abstinence to make it look “catholic”, other than that it sounds like something from any modern American protestant denomination – lets feed the poor, hold hands, sing, and feel really good about ourselves!

    This doesn’t seem like a tectonic shift to me, more like one of those 0.5 tremors that you need a seismometer to know even occurred. Until there are new people in charge, nothing significant will change, because the changes that are necessary require a de-facto admission that pretty much everything that has been done for the past 40 years was totally wrong, and those who are bishops now are largely the ones who implemented those changes and therefore will never swallow that pill.

  8. thereseb says:

    “one of those 0.5 tremors”

    CarolinaR- I am inclined to agree. I remember the first tremor I ever felt in 1984 (Nefyn North Wales)- its sole victim was a parrot who dropped off his perch in Llandudno. Too many Tabletistas are glued to their respective perches in the Church, but perhaps we will wake up one day to find that, like Monty Python’s Norwegian Blue, they are ex-parrots who have gone to join the choir eternal.

    Perhaps it will be a quantum leap in it’s true sense of a tiny but very significant wobble, that will take us in a different direction. I hope so.

  9. Supertradmum says:

    For those above who want new faces, we shall have four retiring bishops within three years and there is one vacancy now because of death. That makes five new bishops in the next three years, and there may be more vacancies coming up with which I am not familiar. I honestly believe we shall see a huge shift in the make-up of the hierarchy, and the new priests being ordained are terrific.

  10. robtbrown says:

    It’s good that the E & W bishops have reinstituted abstinence on Friday. The other points, however, are little else than platitudes and seem the product of an American political consultant.

  11. robtbrown says:


    I agree that there is going to be a shift in the hierarchy. I doubt that it will consist mainly of men who are FSSP enthusiasts. The change will be to pragmatists, who are willing to face the facts that the Church in the past 40 years (incl the liturgy) has been anything but a pastoral success.

  12. pjthom81 says:

    I have a question regarding the changes of the liturgy. Since I am too young to know, was there much difference between the 1969 and 1975 books? The reason I ask is that the changes within the liturgy seem to have gone through three stages.

    (1) Translation (by and by large) into the vernacular. (1964).

    (2) “Simplification” of the Liturgical books aka the Novus Ordo. (1969-70).

    (3) Seperate translations using dyanamic equivalence so as to better integrate with each nations presumed culture (1975.)

    The new translation seems to definitively get rid of the 1975 changes. My question for those who were around is, does it do more? I am able to look at multiple 1964 translations, but I have not been able to look at a 1969 translation. It appears, to my reading, that we have moved a considerable distance toward the 1964 translations, and that we have dealt with some, but by no means all of Cardinal Ottaviani’s critiques of the Novus Ordo. In other words, how is our progress in reconciling the two forms of the rite?

  13. Jacob says:

    That did not inspire me to be more Catholic.

    Platitudes explained by more platitudes. Very circular. :(

  14. Jacob: I think we can be more positive than that.

  15. RichardT says:

    I would love this to be the start of a great renewal. But let’s look at those “seven aims and objectives”:

    1) Friday abstinence – yes, good, unambiguously.

    2) “encouraging lay Catholics to witness publicly to their faith” – if they really mean this, then great. But do they really mean they want lots more James Preeces or John Smeatons, or is this going to be more VatII-era women leading eucharistic services?

    3) “national vocations framework” – could be good, could be the last attempt of the Magic Circle old guard to keep keen young traditional-minded men out of the seminaries., and to stop any new bishop becoming an English equivalent of Lincoln.

    4) “deepening social engagement” … through Caritas. The main English agency of Caritas is CAFOD, which doesn’t exactly have a good record of supporting Catholic teaching.

    5) “build bridges of friendship to other religions” – more of the inter-faith and false-ecumenical stuff that’s failed for the last 40 years.

    6) “work with other Christians … come together in concrete forms of collaboration … stewardship of creation” – see (5), but with added trendy eco-nonsense.

    7) “strengthen our communication of the work of the Church through the use of new technology” – see (2). What do we think will be the fruits of this – more vibrant lay bloggers, loyal to the teaching of the Church, or more money for the Ecclestone Square gang to employ supposed “social media” experts to create websites that no-one reads?

  16. RichardT says:

    Father, we have to be hopeful. But confident?

  17. Ezra says:

    build bridges of friendship to other religions

    The problem is, one often has the impression that the English bishops are more interested in building bridges of friendship to other religions than in getting people to cross them.

    Friday abstinence is great, but a straw poll of practising Catholics I know in England would seem to suggest that only those who read the Catholic press are aware of its reintroduction. No mention in the parishes. Also, if “Catholic identity” is a real priority – and it should only be a priority insofar as Catholicism is true, not because we’re in the business of building pseudo-ethnic communities as part of the multicultural rainbow – then the hierarchy of England and Wales might want to look at what is being taught in the schools for which they are responsible.

  18. catholic luke says:

    Speaking as an englishman I would like the Bishops to take a more active role in the pro-life movement. At present they don’t seem to show any leadership on this issue.

  19. Moscatelli says:

    “It’s true, Father Z. I don’t feel I can invite anyone to Holy Mass with any integrity, because …”

    Exactly my same feeling for years and years; now I have the possibility to bring friends and colleagues to the “old” Mass – with very incouraging results. Old Mass for New evangelization!!

  20. jacobi says:

    If I may comment on the Bishops statement, from outside of their jurisdiction, I find it somewhat timid and very PC. “a culture of dialogue and solidarity”, what on earth does that mean? Secularists would also advocate a “just and free society”.

    What we need is clear teaching of the Faith and doctrine of the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church, and as you have said Father, reform and renewal of the liturgy we have been saddled with since Vatican II.

    Evangelisation is very noticible in my area. Nearly every Protestant church displays bannisters inviting people to explore their version of Christianity. These are banners are conspicuous by their absence in Catholic Churches, whose congregations are turned inwards and who mostly wouldn’t know what the word evangelisation meant. Yet as we slowly come round to a proper understanding of Vatican II, it is the call to evangelisation, loud and clear, not restrained and politically correct, that is important.

    Yet so far, I see little response.

  21. tecumseh says:

    Concrete forms . . .yeah right . . .lumps of rubble . . .about right for the Church in Scotland and England

  22. Genna says:

    Fine words butter no parsnips, I’m afraid. The bishops are adept at saying what is pleasing to Rome. I’m not saying they are consciously cynical but actions speak louder than words. For instance, they could withdraw their support for graphic sex ed in schools, clamp down on the gay Masses in Soho, speak up more forcefully for the unborn, not endorse a (recent) peace and justice conference, also attended by priests, at which there were two pro-abortion speakers, and a whole raft of other issues.
    On very big matters of Church teaching which ought to consume their energies they remain largely silent. It’s as if over the last 30 years they’ve got into a spiral of accommodating the mores of secular society and are frightened of being thought of as the nasty religion.
    Blessed Pope John Paul II urged “Be not afraid”. Pope Benedict is underscoring that call. As FDR said: “………the only thing we have to fear is fear itself—nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance………..”
    I hope the bishops’ statement signifies a beginning, not an end.

  23. Supertradmum says:


    The Friday abstinence was in the bulletins of the Diocese of East Anglia and preached from the pulpit in Kent, where some of my friends heard the sermons.

    The “Catholic” schools, I agree, are heretical and should all be shut down, unless the bishops impose the oath and promise I keep reminding people about and I print them here for reference:
    Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith

    As conforming to Pope John Paul II’s Apostolic Letter Motu Proprio Ad Tuendam Fidem, this Profession of Faith and Oath of Fidelity supercedes the Profession and Oath of 1989.

    I, N., with firm faith believe and profess everything that is contained in the Symbol of faith: namely:

    I believe in one God, the Father, the Almighty, maker of heaven and earth, of all that is seen and unseen. I believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father, God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten not made, one in Being with the Father. Through him all things were made. For us men and for our salvation, he came down from heaven: by the power of the Holy Spirit he became incarnate of the Virgin Mary, and became man. For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate; he suffered death and was buried. On the third day he rose again in accordance with the Scriptures; he ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father. He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead, and his kingdom will have no end. I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life, who proceeds from the Father and the Son. With the Father and the Son he is worshiped and glorified. He has spoken through the Prophets. I believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church. I acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins. I look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come. Amen.

    With firm faith, I also believe everything contained in the Word of God, whether written or handed down in Tradition, which the Church, either by a solemn judgement or by the ordinary and universal Magisterium, sets forth to be believed as divinely revealed.

    I also firmly accept and hold each and everything definitively proposed by the Church regarding teaching on faith and morals.

    Moreover, I adhere with religious submission of will and intellect to the teachings which either the Roman pontiff or the College of Bishops enunciate when they exercise their authentic Magisterium, even if they do not intend to proclaim these teachings by a definitive act.


    (Formula to be used by the Christian faithful mentioned in Canon 833, nn. 5-8)

    I, N., in assuming the office of __________, promise that in my words and in my actions I shall always preserve communion with the Catholic Church.

    With great care and fidelity I shall carry out the duties incumbent on me toward the Church, both universal and particular, in which, according to the provisions of the law, I have been called to exercise my service.

    In fulfilling the charge entrusted to me in the name of the Church, I shall hold fast to the deposit of faith in its entirety; I shall faithfully hand it on and explain it, and I shall avoid any teachings contrary to it.

    I shall follow and foster the common discipline of the entire Church and I shall maintain the observance of all ecclesiastical laws, especially those contained in the Code of Canon Law.

    With Christian obedience I shall follow what the Bishops, as authentic doctors and teachers of the faith, declare, or what they, as those who govern the Church, establish.

    I shall also faithfully assist the diocesan Bishops, so that the apostolic activity, exercised in the name and by mandate of the Church, may be carried out in communion with the Church.

    So help me God, and God’s Holy Gospels on which I place my hand.

    (Variations in the fourth and fifth paragraphs of the formulary, for use by those members of the Christian faithful indicated in can. 833, n. 8).

    I shall foster the common discipline of the entire Church and I shall insist on the observance of all ecclesiastical laws, especially those contained in the Code of Canon Law.

    With Christian obedience I shall follow what the Bishops, as authentic doctors and teachers of the faith, declare, or what they, as those who govern the Church, establish. I shall also — with due regard for the character and purpose of my institute — faithfully assist the diocesan Bishops, so that the apostolic activity, exercised in the name and by mandate of the Church, may be carried out in communion with the Church.

    NOTE: Canon 833, Nos. 5-8 obliges the following to make the profession of faith: vicars general, episcopal vicars and judicial vicars; “at the beginning of their term of office, pastors, the rector of a seminary and the professors of theology and philosophy in seminaries; those to be promoted to the diaconate”; “the rectors of an ecclesiastical or Catholic university at the beginning of the rector’s term of office”; and, “at the beginning of their term of office, teachers in any universities whatsoever who teach disciplines which deal with faith or morals”; and “superiors in clerical religious institutes and societies of apostolic life in accord with the norm of the constitutions.”

    Taken from:
    L’Osservatore Romano
    Weekly Edition in English
    15 July 1998

  24. robtbrown says:


    Many years ago we found some post VatII transitional Missals and were surprised that the first parts to go vernacular were those prayers common to every mass (the Commons, e.g., Pater Noster, Gloria, Agnus Dei). IMHO, it made no sense to vernacularize those Latin prayers already known by lay Catholics. Sacrosanctum Concilium no 54., however, endorses such an approach, while at the same time saying that people still should be able to say or sing those parts in Latin. That doesn’t make a lot of sense–Latin won’t be used, but everyone will still know it.

  25. pattif says:

    As the Holy Father has taught us, there is a world of difference between Christian hope, which is based on the promises of Christ, and secular optimism, which basically amounts to whistling to keep our spirits up. With all my heart I hope that the papal visit did indeed put “fresh wind in the sails” of our bishops, and the reintroduction of Friday abstinence, together with the proposal to consult on the restoration of the Holy Days of Obligation to their proper days, seem to be grounds for hope (although some sign of such a consultation taking place would be welcome). On the other hand, as others have observed, actions speak louder than words.

    Their Lordships’ statement, “Integral to this work is recognising the importance of being confident, faithful and courageous in our mission, teaching and witness” seems hardly congruent with their decision to celebrate yesterday, in Westminster Cathedral, behind closed doors with invited guests, a Mass to commemorate the anniversary of the Mass celebrated there by the Holy Father. So determined were they not to share the occasion with the ordinary Catholic faithful, the Bishops’ Conference hired the government’s preferred private security firm to ensure that no one without a personal invitation (and photographic ID to ensure that the person with the invitation was in fact the person named on it), in order to ensure that no one else could gain admittance, despite the fact that, according to one of the priests present, there were “blocks” of empty seats.

    This was especially galling, since the clergy have, it seems, already been briefed on the appeal that will soon be launched to these same excluded faithful for the eyewatering sums of money their Lordships want for the delivery of the priorities they have outlined.

    Surely a more appropriate expression of confidence, faith and courage would have been to open the Cathedral doors, broadcast the Mass to the piazza and welcome, not only the ordinary Catholic faithful, but the tentatively interested and the merely curious.

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