Saturday, 11 June 2011

Rash judgment, calumny, detraction and worse: the problem of the internet

As a blogger I am of course all in favour of the internet.  But I have to say that there is a very nasty, deeply disturbing side of it that comes to the fore at times, even (perhaps especially) amongst Catholics who should know better.

Climate change commentator threatened...

The extremes to which words will stir some people is nicely illustrated by this story bought to my attention by a reader, relating to a satirical piece in the Sydney Morning Herald on the climate change debate.  When originally published, the article in question caused little stir in Australia; but when picked up by a right-wing US magazine the author was subjected to a deluge of hate email threatening all kinds of violence.

In the last week we've heard of assorted climate scientists having to upgrade their personal protection because of threats to their life.

Now the Catholic blogosphere doesn't usually descend to quite those depths.  But at times it comes pretty close, as witnessed by some of the commentary on the case of case of the deferral of the priestly ordination of  John Hunwicke.

Now some material is in the public domain, and therefore fair game for appropriate comment.  I've been taken aback, though not entirely surprised given past outbreaks of similar attacks, by some of the inappropriateness and lack of sensitivity of at least some comments on this subject!

Rash judgment and some sensitivity

Now I'm somewhat inclined to the view that a lack of a sense of humour and ability to detect irony and dry wit is the greatest sin of all, but this is I suspect a case of  quasi-'invincible ignorance' that in most cases is irremediable. 

But honestly, to suggest that telling an inappropriate joke (assuming you really think it was inappropriate) disqualifies one from ordination strikes me as just a little over the top.  Certainly based on many of the sermons I've heard over the years, if that were the criterion, the ranks of the priesthood would be considerably thinner than they are!

Secondly, this next comment may strike many as somewhat ironic coming from someone like me who is not exactly known for their advocacy of ecumenism, but I do think a little ecumenical sensitivity might be appropriate here in relation to titles! 

A number of bloggers and commenters have suggested the use of the title 'Father' is inappropriate for someone who is (not yet) a catholic priest.  I know many traditionalists will disagree, but although the conceptual content may differ, Father is a title used by a number of denominations including Anglicans. 
So ok we don't accept that anglican bishops are bishops, or that anglican priests are priests in the same sense as catholic ones - but common courtesy normally dictates according them those titles nonetheless. 

I think we also have to bear in mind the extremely short timelines involved here - ordinariate clergy resigned from the Anglican church but a few months ago, entered the Church during Holy Week and some have already been ordained as priests.  So a few months compared to nearly forty years...

Moreover it is the case that the Church does give some recognition to the previous ministry of those who previously served as Anglicans, Lutherans etc, both in terms of acknowledging the length of their service and other concessions (such as allowing them to be married).

Anglican Orders?

Thirdly, some have suggested that (?Deacon) Hunwicke is implicitly or explicitly rejecting Church decisions on the invalidity of Anglican Orders by referring to the anniversary of his Anglican ordination, continued use of his previous title, and more. 

In fact, on his blog at least, he has adopted a carefully nuanced position that I think is perfectly arguable, and indeed has been argued by some reasonably prominent catholic theologians who are by no means liberals!  The reality is, as some have pointed out, that Apostolicae Curae last century made a judicial (not doctrinal) decision about the lack of validity of Anglican orders, based mainly on the wording of the then (and past) Anglican Ordinal and the intention of a generation or more of consecrators. 

But some Anglo-catholic clergy took action to address its findings, such as finding bishops to ordain them who clearly were in the apostolic succession from a catholic perspective, and using ordination formulas that complied with catholic requirements.  The net result is that it is at least arguably that some Anglican priests may well have valid orders; the Church has in the past recognised this, including through conditional ordinations.

The then Fr Hunwicke's position on his blog was that it would have been possible for some clergy (presumably including himself) joining the ordinariate to go through the established processes to establish the validity of their original ordination - but doing so would have delayed the process by several years.   So instead they accepted the process of starting from scratch, including refraining from receiving the eucharist or saying anything resembling mass for a period.  In short, they were willing to live with the presumed invalidity of their Anglican ordination.

On the face of it, that seems a reasonable compromise to me at least.  And of course, if it were the case that they hadn't in fact been properly ordained previously, then sacramental grace would no doubt have its proper effect...

The cause of Christian unity

The Ordinariate, and attempts to reconcile the SSPX and the Orthodox are, it seems to me, wonderful initiatives of the Holy Father.  They don't involve compromising on doctrine, or the silly exercizes of the past (and it seems present with ARCIC III!) to try and persuade everyone that they agree on something when really they don't!

Moreover, in some cases, not least this particular one, there will be a net gain to the Church not just of a soul, but of real intellectual force for the recovery of the Catholic patrimony.

Those moving to full communion with the Church have been called on to make real sacrifices, take real risks. 

We should be urging our bishops to minimise those sacrifices and make things as easy as possible for Tiber swimmers. 

We should be extending every possible courtesy to them. 

And above all, we should be avoiding the sins of calumny, detraction and rash judgment particularly of those not currently in a position to defend themselves.


A Canberra Observer said...

I also pray Fr Hunwicke's situation is resolved quickly.

I wonder how many 'cradle' ordinands have been ordained who hold views and opinions that could not be defended?

I also agree with your analysis of the approach that many traditionalists might take to these questions - universally humourless and rigid. There I go again - I suspect I am viewed in some catholic circles as a 'dangerous liberal' while in my secular circles as 'a dangerous traditionalist'. Maybe that means I'm near the middle? But it is dangerous to presume ...

Kate said...

As to 'cradle ordinands' indeed, and on matters of dogma too. Not that that is a good thing mind you! There is certainly a need to insist on orthodoxy, but that is different from what I personally view as quite over the top rigidity where there is room for legitimate debate!

As to the humour deficiency - I'm merely going on the comments I've seen plattered over sites such as the UK Catholic Herald's report and assorted blogs now and in the past. But I'm not suggesting the problems are universal...

Anthony S. Layne said...

A very well-written and charitable post indeed, Kate. What Fr. Hunswicke has had to go through at the hands of the humorless and uncharitable is inexcusable from any disciple of Christ, traditionalist or liberal. I hope his situation is resolved soon and that the Ordinariate isn't set back too much by this episode.