UK’s CH: Can anything stop Catholic infighting?

At the site of the UK’s best Catholic weekly, the Catholic Heraldthere is a preview article from their upcoming 14 July number which merits your attention. I ingested it with great interest along with my at least quadruple espresso ristretto this morning and a couple of digestive biscuits.

The piece in question is by Damian Thompson, who delighted me with the opening sentence and kept me reading onward:

My first parish priest was a little old man with pebble spectacles who looked like a gorgeously coloured beetle as he bent over the altar in his Roman chasuble.

Damian, with whom I’ve had both resonances and dissonances, goes on to describe his own experience of growing up in the upheaval of the post-conciliar Church in England.  He then makes distinctions about the sort of upheaval experienced then, and what we are experiencing now.

He thinks that the Church is in trouble.  Yes, I know, I know.  Water is still wet, etc.  But hear him out:

Specifically, Catholics in the West – and that includes those in the Vatican – have adopted the liberal-versus-conservative mindset that has fractured non-Catholic denominations. It’s as if Christians are required to choose between two set menus, in which social justice comes with a side salad of transgender blessings – or, alternatively, you can opt for solemn liturgy with free-market seasoning.

That’s both clever and well-crafted.  However, I wonder if he isn’t missing something.  For example, it seems from this that those who choose a side are then content with their resting on that side with no further aim.

Clearly, I am in the second camp, opting for solemn liturgy and free-market economy.  However, I opt for those from my conviction that both are transformational forces.  Solemn traditional sacred worship, wide-spread and frequent, will serve to revitalize our liturgical worship of God across the whole of the Catholic spectrum.  It will help to form more and more priests, who will create their own knock-on effect in congregations.  It will give other initiatives of the Church the best possible foundation.  Free-markets are the best way available to raise the largest number of people from poverty and to expand the creation of wealth in a way that is consistent with the human dignity of work.  For me, liturgical worship and free-markets are not ends in themselves.  The ends, for me, are the reordering of love and worship of God (religion) and proper treatment of neighbor (justice), both virtues being transformed by charity.

Damian also makes some suggestions.  Here are the first two of the four he offers:

I won’t presume to suggest a route out of this mess, but I can think of some necessary-but-not-sufficient steps that the Church should take as an insurance against going down the route of the Anglican Communion.

First, liberal Catholics must accept that they’re not going to get women priests or gay marriage. Ever. The Church’s ruling on these matters is absolutely definitive. Married priests fall into a separate category: I sometimes think that if Francis had pushed through this change, instead of entering the quagmire of divorce and Communion, he might have been surprised by how may orthodox Catholics supported him. [I’d be surprised if any supported that.]

Second, the Tridentine Mass (I can’t bear the term “Extraordinary Form”) must not be banned again. That would be a betrayal of those traditionalist priests and lay people who stayed faithful to papal authority during the decades when they were treated as second-class citizens by their own pastors. [Do I hear an “Amen!”?]


Go over and read the whole thing.  Damian is a good writer and his musings are worthy of discussion.


About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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

    I think the “war” is still between Catholics and Protestants. Only now we have Catholic Protestants battling Catholic Catholics. Just sayin……

  2. Riddley says:

    It’s a good article, and I think Thompson is right to say that the dichotomy people use is rather unhelpful when applied to the Church.

    For instance, there seems to be widespread anxiety in the conservative parts of the Church that the rules on contraception will be “changed”, but no less ardent a traditionalist than HJA Sire says in his book “Phoenix from the Ashes” that the current rules apply only to married couples, and that it’s probably a good thing for fornicators to try to mitigate the effect of their acts (I don’t know if I agree with him, I’m just sayin’).

    I’d also agree that a lot of orthodox Catholics are fairly relaxed about married priests. Many people I know are, partly because they’ve come to admire the very solid married priests who have come across from Anglicanism. A view I hear sometimes is that people like the FSSP or Oratorians should be celibate, but that perhaps married men could become diocesan priests. Again, just sayin’.

  3. Saint110676 says:

    Good analysis. As a priest and economist, I opt for “rules” rather than discretion, in the debates about economic policy. The traditional Mass is based on rules for the celebrant and congregation, which facilitate worship and minimize distractions. In the economic world, a free-market economy is precisely a rule-driven system, rules governing property rights, transparency in pricing and trade, credibility in policy statements, and limits to discretionary, time-inconsistent government involvement in the world of economic interactions. We see what happens in the celebrations of the liturgy as more and more rules are abandoned and more discretion is given to the celebrant. The same happens in the economic world when rules governing property rights or transparency or credibility are abandoned. Added uncertainty only reduces investment, employment and economic growth, thus keeping people poor. Being in favor of a free-market economy and the traditional mass are mutually consistent and reasonable positions.

  4. Stevetop815 says:

    One issue is that the conservative/liberal divide gets used to legitimize or distract from the orthodox/ heterodox divide.

    Suppose two Catholics are completely Orthodox, but disagree on liberal and conservative practices of government. One may be more right and one may be more wrong, but they can reasonably disagree while holding the truth of the faith.

    But if one comes to the table with heterodox views, their whole perspective is compromised and “dialoguing” becomes not only in helpful but activity harmful.

    Unfortunately it is usually the liberal who fits this bill.

  5. PhilipNeri says:

    I love Italy. I love Rome. BUT the “Italian way of doing things” in the curia has got to go. The inefficiency, the financial corruption, the you-do-me-I’ll-do-you mentality. . .it’s antithetical to virtuous government. Decentralization is not the answer. . .that’s just Anglicanism w/o the good manners. I don’t know what the answer is, but I know it’s not More Italians.

    The Dominican curia at Santa Sabina may be a model for the Church. Defined and enforceable term-limits for ecclesial bureaucrats; regional-continental representation; and a limited portfolio of duties and powers. It’s worked for us for 800 years.

    Fr. Philip Neri, OP

  6. PTK_70 says:

    Stevetop815….preach it, brother!

    No less a figure than Hilaire Belloc – historian, writer, stalwart Catholic – railed against capitalism….see his The Servile State.

    It would appear that with the ascendency of Trump’s populism, the USA is already moving past the economic principles embodied in the figure of someone like Mitt Romney. Thank God.

  7. donato2 says:

    Were Sommorum Pontificum revoked I believe it would precipitate formal schism premised not on the liturgy but on the issues raised by the dubia.

  8. Mike says:

    While most of Thompson’s points are well-stated, it’s inaccurate to downplay the Novus Ordo Mass as a mere “cultural expression.” What it expresses is a culture whose relationship with its Creator is fundamentally misdirected. The fact that faithful celebrants (may God richly reward them all!) must go to great pains to offer a Novus Ordo that approaches Christocentricity while not falling afoul of the “Spirit of Vatican II” Gestapo makes this point stand out even more starkly.

  9. APX says:

    I’d also agree that a lot of orthodox Catholics are fairly relaxed about married priests. Many people I know are, partly because they’ve come to admire the very solid married priests who have come across from Anglicanism. A view I hear sometimes is that people like the FSSP or Oratorians should be celibate, but that perhaps married men could become diocesan priests. Again, just sayin’.

    There is a substantial difference between a married priest who was Anglican minister, converted and was ordained a priest, and a married man who became an ordained priest, which we actually have in the Latin Rite now. I won’t go into details, but I don’t think this is the way to go. Believe me.

  10. Chris Rawlings says:

    The twinning of the free market and the Mass of Ages is a real, profane, and thoughtless slip, even though you obviously don’t hold them in equal esteem. Support socially dystopian economic systems if you must, but please do leave the solemn liturgy of the Roman church out of it.

  11. William says:

    Ask the wives and children of married clergy if life for them is a bed of roses. No man should be made to choose between job and family. And what if Father’s wife should look elsewhere for attention and solace? And what if Father’s son gets in trouble with the law, or Father’s daughter has a well-earned reputation among the local swains? Folks, having married priests is a recipe for disaster and many a non-Catholic clergyman has praised our long and wise practice of a celibate clergy.

  12. Henry Edwards says:

    “Demand for the 1962 Missal may grow, but it will always be limited because there is almost no one left who grew up with it.”

    Wrong. A new generation is growing up with the TLM right now. Young families with 4 to 10 children predominate in every TLM congregation I see. Sunday I saw at least one baby with its mother who herself grew up in our Latin Mass community. Is this a U.S. phenomenon that Damian Thompson would not have observed in England?

  13. Father Philip Neri said:

    BUT the “Italian way of doing things” in the curia has got to go.

    Forgive my cultural imperialism, but I’ve often thought that bringing in a team of Americans would be the way to go. Not that it has to be Americans, but we know how to run things. Who else?

    But you can’t just sprinkle a few Americans like cheese on top of the Italian dish; it’s got to be a full-scale takeover, something like Gen. McArthur in Japan.

    Am I wrong?

  14. greenlight says:

    Thompson is pretty evenhanded on this and not as ‘a pox on both their houses’ as some, but it’s hard not to feel defensive. Yes, we all share some responsibility for the state of the Church right now, but we didn’t ask for this. We didn’t ask for heresy and dissidence at the highest levels. We didn’t ask for two radically different rites that we’re expected to have an opinion on. We didn’t ask for a situation where you can ask a question of three different priests and get five different answers. We didn’t ask for confusion and division. We didn’t ask for a situation where Fr. Z, instead of being a perfectly ordinary parish priest, is a minor celebrity precisely because he’s so unusual and giving us what most of us aren’t getting from our own pastors.

    The phrase “de facto schism” isn’t just hyperbole anymore. Like it or not, the division of everything is here and it’s time for choosing.

  15. Phil_NL says:

    A good piece, but there are some things to scratch the back of the head about:

    * The dichotomy. Yes, it exists, and it is unhelpful, as there will always be people who – by and large rightly so – will say the Church has no business being in politics, at least not the prudential judgement type, and that is 95% of day to day politics. People can be politically to the left or right, and take offense at an otherwise good or at least tolerable priest that infuses his homilies with politics. Usually it takes only a dislike in one field to develop an aversion to a person (as being ‘wrong’ in politics is nowadays easily equated not only with having poor judgment, but poor morals too), and it does fuel some of the internal fights.
    On the other hand, getting things done usually means cooperating, and when it comes to active groups, there really are just two flavors and not four; the liturgically conservative socialists are a dying breed, the guitar-mass loving free-marketeers never found a market to begin with. This one will not easily go away.

    * Married priests. Father, you put that remark in there as bait? I do consider myself orthodox, but I would have no objection to married priests in general, and would support it given the right specifics (for starters, take married men who are well beyond the years of raising children; a man in his late fifties might still have a lot to give to the Church, and the more severe problems would likely be gone). It’s more a question of “When does having more actual priests saying Mass and hearing confessions instead of ex-sister Carol running communion services and saying you have to connect to your inner identity outweigh loosing the benefits of celibacy?” It is, after all, a matter of expediency and discipline, not dogma.

    * Having the Vatican run (not run better, but having it run at all. Instead of creeping, and like a good Echternach procession creeping backwards almost half the time.) I would say that a Pope would do well to gather a dozen or so promising priests, on their way to the episcopal ranks, each year and sent them out to get proper MBAs. That way they will be exposed to people from organisations that actually get things done quickly and efficiently, and learn the tools for that. Those are sorely lacking right now, at every level. And while it doesn’t have to be a set of Americans (but, Fr Fox, even as a European, I’d take the offer if I could get it), they should come from all over the globe, and play to their cultural strengths. Put Germans in charge of quality control (a.k.a., find another Ratzinger at the CDF), put Americans and Koreans in charge of acquisition / evangelisation. Find a Swiss or Dutch guy to do the accounting. But let the French cook, and the Italians run the vicarate of Rome, but nothing else. Above all, make sure Italians are a distinct minority, and English (ideally Latin, but I doubt you’ll get enough people conversant at a sufficient level, alas) becomes the working language. It might be the diocese of Rome, but the geographical Romans need to take a back seat to the spiritual Romans, and the latter need a lot less of the former.

    * Faith is intellectually hard. Well then, find some properly smart priests, and let them address and debate the issues head on. Make it clear that people who are very savvy and smart are not necessarily atheists. For all I care, get priests who can win quizzes of the “Smartest person in country X” type which pop up on TV fairly regularly. Let priests write books on topics for a big audience, not necessarily on hardcore theology, but in ways that show these are very smart guys, to look up to, and show that they believe. Let them sell loads of copies. Claim the high ground, and show the world faith is not for the dumb or gullible.

  16. APX says:

    take married men who are well beyond the years of raising children; a man in his late fifties might still have a lot to give to the Church,

    I don’t know about your parish community, but we have men in their 50s still raising toddlers.

    One has to look at the practical side of things. Formation can take anywhere from 6 to 9 years before a man is ordained a priest. Furthermore, formation costs money- a lot of it. My friend’s parents had to take out a second mortgage on their house just to put him through seminary. Furthermore, 75 is the mandatory retirement age for priests. That doesn’t leave many years left.

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  18. PhilipNeri says:

    Americans running the Vatican? The Church could do worse. A wise old Friar once told me — upon my complaint about Italian inefficiency — “Brother, we don’t always want the Vatican to be efficient!”

    Fr. Philip Neri, OP

  19. Ben Kenobi says:

    @Serviam, it is truly ironic that this evangelical Catholic would find himself on the Catholic Catholic side of the battle. You made me smile. It is penance for previous error.

  20. Ben Kenobi says:

    As for economics, to an economist it is no difference than the discussion around physics to a physicist. Capitalism just plain works. The outdated and outmoded alternatives are a bit like mixing poison in with your drink. It might not kill you but it’s poison all the same. We’ve gone a long way down the long slow slide to socialism with governments that take more than half of what a person makes in a year, and still run deficits. Governments where their debt exceeds that of the production of the state. We’re not *yet* bankrupt, but the argument that capitalism doesn’t work seems to me more as special pleading. What capitalism? If the largest employer is the state then you’ve moved well away from capitalism.

    As for married priests. Eugh. I left a Church that had them. I like the Latin rite. Sometimes I feel that I must be the only one attracted to plain ol Novus Ordo under the Latin rite. I *like* being Roman Catholic. I like that we are ruled by Rome not whatever country that I happen to be in. It makes me very sad to even be debating these things. It’s like going in for a Whataburger and being told that they are going all taquitos. Yes, I might have liked a taquito, but it’s not what I’m going there for!

  21. Phil NL:

    The thing that frustrates me about nearly all discussion of “married priests” is the unseriousness of it. To be clear, I am not meaning you. There are so many downsides that never get explored, but let me mention three.

    First, it is rare that anyone points out that we’re talking about ordaining men already married, not allowing ordained priests subsequently to marry. Without getting into why the latter will never happen, it’s important to understand the practical difference this makes. If a man knows that he can be married — and a priest — if he gets married first, but he loses that option if he gets ordained first, what’s the most natural thing to do? Wait and see, right? So I am convinced that allowing ordination of married men will delay a lot of vocations; and many delayed vocations will never materialize. A man becoming a priest at, say, 56, instead of 26, means far less priestly ministry — not only because of the lost 30 years, but also because a married priest is more likely to be a part time or only full time priest, rather than an all-the-time priest who is unmarried (remember what Saint Paul said!). I did the numbers, and my guess was that you’d need to get five times as many older priests to compensate for each lost younger priest; if not, then introducing the get-married-first option will cost more priestly ministry than it will bring.

    Second point: there’s no reason to treat all this as a hypothetical. We already have married clergy — they are called deacons. What I’m describing happens right now with men who are considering the diaconate. They will delay pursuing it precisely because of their marriage and family. And I have known men who wanted to pursue the diaconate, but never did — because of family.

    Third: while it’s true that this is a matter of discipline, not dogma, nevertheless, this is an extremely ancient discipline. So while it’s true to say that yes, it *can* be changed, that doesn’t answer the question of how disruptive such a change might be. In my own judgment, such a move would be the height of imprudence, because I doubt anyone can be so wise enough to foresee all the consequences. The analogy I might draw would be re-arranging the liturgy willy-nilly. As disruptive as that was, this would be far worse, in unanticipated ways.

  22. Phil_NL says:

    Fr Fox,

    You’re right that there are significant downsides. And many in that discussion who propose married priests are not only unserious about negative consequences, but quite serious about reshaping the Church into their image, or at least creating a Church that’s wholly different from the one we have. That is annoying and at times dangerous.

    I would therefore also add that in my analysis – trying to weigh the upside with the downside, and see what comes out of it – one would have to take the circumstances into account. In many countries, the situation is bad, but probably not catastrophic enough to warrant such strong medicine (with matching side effects). But in some, I think it is, or is getting dangerously close to it. So to add some precision: I would not favor a blanket dispensation. But a last-ditch effort, in some countries or parts thereof, with case-by-case dispensation? I could see that outweigh the downsides, especially when you have just about zero vocations to begin with. On those lines, I think a serious discussion can indeed be had.

    And regrettably, we indeed rarely get that variety.

  23. gracie says:

    “The ends, for me, are the reordering of love and worship of God (religion) and proper treatment of neighbor (justice) . . .”

    Also, the proper treatment of self.

  24. PTK_70 says:

    greenlight says, “Like it or not, the division of everything is here and it’s time for choosing.”

    Today, the division (or choice) is between the “hermeneutic of continuity” and the “hermeneutic of rupture”. I realize there is more than one way to embrace the hermeneutic of rupture.

    Having to confront and turn away from false options, so as to stay true to Her Lord and to the Gospel, is not new to the Church. As just one example, in the 19th century She had to reject modes of thought which would set Faith and reason in opposition to one another.

    Nowadays, there are those who would set old and new in opposition to each other, with the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council as the fissure. This is the “hermeneutic of rupture” which the Church is having to reject, indeed, has already rejected, thanks to the Holy Spirit and to the beloved Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI. Let us instead embrace the “hermeneutic of continuity”.

    Fr Z writes that “liturgical worship” is not an end in itself, but that “the reordering of … worship of God (religion)” is an end. A distinction without a difference, perhaps? In any case, the point is obscure to me.

  25. Ranger01 says:

    Serviam … is correct.
    This is a fight to the core of what makes the Church Catholic and universal.
    We are beyond the point of no return as regards unity. The current bishop of Rome has ensured that will never take place. He has no intention of compromise with any rigid traditionalist. Grand, isn’t it?
    So be it.

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