Friday, 13 February 2009

What damages the Church? And does salvation matter....

There has been an interesting debate going on around blogdom on the idea of 'damaging the Church'. It started of course in the context of the poor handling of the lifting of the SSPX excommunications. But then moved to the core issue which I guess comes down to, how much should we worry about what people think of the Church?

Who damages the Church most?

Fr Z even posed the question as who does the most damage to the Church Lefebvre vs Fr Kennedy (and his ilk). Amongst Fr Z's readers at least, heresy (well apostasy really) still trumps schismatic tendencies (by 91:9). Still, I rather doubt that reflects the general view.

Fr Sean Finnigan seemed to suggest, in the post that triggered this particular debate, that who represents the greater threat to souls is actually pretty clear cut ('Well duh!). But as Fr Fr Blake points out, it is an important question, and the answer won't be self-evident to many. But it does go to what the whole SSPX affair is really about:

"For the last forty years, in one way or another, to a greater or lesser degree, we have been following Fr Kennedy's course and decrying Archbishop Lefebvre's. The question today is, should we? This is ultimately what is behind the furore over the Williamson business, and the squeals and noise from the Catholic left at the possibility reconciliation of the SSPX."

The real issue is what criteria we use to judge 'damage' - the salvation of souls, or the public image of the Church here on earth.

And it is important, because it is a debate that will keep on getting played out, not least in how the next twist in the Brisbane saga will be managed (Fr Kennedy is apparently planning on refusing to leave St Mary's, and says he will sleep there from February 20).

Does it matter what they think?

Don't get me wrong, I'm all for bringing the Vatican (and many other Church organs) into the 21st century in terms of media management. There was a lot of unnecessarily negative fallout, and worse, confusion amongst the faithful about what it all meant, from the SSPX affair (not helped in the least, as some commenters on Cooees have pointed out, but the likes of pots like Cardinal Pell calling the kettle black!), and there is enough anti-Catholicism about without adding to the feeding frenzy. Negative publicity can put an unnecessary barrier in front of people interested in converting to Catholicism, and so is important.

Still, it is only too easy to lose a proper perspective on these issues. The Pope is doing things which will, no matter how well managed, have some negative fall-out in the short term. But in the long-term they may have huge payoffs in terms of the vigour and health of the Church militant, and hence the salvation of souls.

Yet in the meantime, the mainstream persist in wanting to be seen as caring, sharing, dialoguing people, happy to invest huge resources in activities that have little if any connection with the Church's actual actual mission of bringing all nations to the worship of God.

Showing that we care.... 1. Canberra's prison

Let me give two current examples.

Canberra is about to open its first prison (!), and the diocese is putting together a chaplaincy team. Fair enough.

But what should we make of these comments from the 'chaplain', Sr Janet Glass, on the front page of the diocesan newspaper The Voice:

"...But pastoral care is really about listening, the plan of action comes later. I try to establish a bond of friendship with the prisoners and when you get their trust then you’re able to ask questions.

We never know the full story – I only know what they choose to tell me. But you can’t judge, you come in with an open mind to show them the Church cares.

Sr Janet said prison ministry is not about “saving souls”, [OK, so its not actually really ministry at all but secular social work?] but being different things for different people.

It’s very ecumenical – I don’t know who is a Catholic and who’s not. [If you don't know whether they are catholic or not, you can't arrange for them to see if a priest if they need to. You can't talk to them about the need for conversion. Isn't this a bit of a problem?] It’s about compassion and getting across the message that God loves them and forgives them."[Does he? In the absence of sacramental confession how can we be sure?!]

Strange stuff in a week when the Pope once again reiterated that the greatest need of all that people have is God in a world that has forgotten him.

Showing that we care...2. The bushfires

A second example is a little debate going on over at Sentire cum Ecclesia over whether or not the bushfires might perchance be a response to Victoria's Abortion legislation (prompted by reports of a Pentecostal minister who claims to have had a vision to this effect).

Now let me make it clear that the Church seems to have been doing the right things for the right reasons in Victoria by way of response - organising a relief fund, saying mass for the victims, providing pastoral support.

But the general tenor of response to Mr Schulz's very tentative suggestion that there might be some causality has been utter outrage. First at the notion that punishment can be collective rather than just individual (a violation of the illusion of control over our lives that is a basic tenet of modern secularism). Secondly at the notion of punishment full stop, at the notion that God is not just a nice cuddly guy who 'loves and forgives us' (no matter whether or not we are actually sorry for what we did). And thirdly over the notion that the Church might actually have an obligation to voice the hard truths as well as provide support and comfort. Because we wouldn't want to give the media a free ride would we....

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