The signs of division
Their last action in Rome was to commit themselves, in a statement on Bishop Morris, to 'healing the wounds of division' in the Australian Church. So just how should they go about it?
At the moment the signs of the de facto schism in the Australian Church are blatant and ugly.
In the continuing name calling and attacks on traditionalists and conservatives, and attempts to deny them the right to pursue their distinctive spirituality.
In the continued efforts of priests and people to undermine the implementation of the new missal (how many Masses have you attended where the priest has made snide remarks about it, or otherwise engaged in passive resistance? Personally, I can attest to quite a few).
In the continuing rejection of orthodoxy and orthopraxis from the pulpit and from the virtual pulpit offered by outlets like Eureka Street and Cath News.
And I could go on.
What is to be done?
So what can the bishops do, both straight away, and in the context of the upcoming Year of Grace, to heal the divide? No doubt the bishops already have given some thought to this, but here are my suggestions. Do offer your own as well.
1. Focus on rebuilding catholic commitment and identity
Perhaps the stress on Catholic identity went too far in the 50s and earlier - certainly no one wants to go back to the days when catholics and protestant schoolchildren felt obliged to throw stones at each other. But equally, the reaction went too far in rejecting the value of any markers whatsoever of our identity, anything at all to mark our commitment to the faith and provide witness of it to the wider world. The reality of human psychology is that we need symbolic demands to signal that something is important.
A few simple things that could be done:
- reintroduce Friday abstinence from meat, as has been done in the UK recently;
- reinstate a few Holy Days of Obligation - a measure that could also help increase Sunday attendance by signaling the importance of the Mass;
- ditch the ties, scarves and tiny crosses and ask all clergy, seminarians and religious to wear garb appropriate to their state in life, viz clericals (even a soutane!) or a habit.
A lot of work has been done to promote the new Mass, but at the same time, much occurs that undermines all that effort. And then of course poor attention to the ars celebrandi, awful music and much more does the rest. If we want to improve Sunday mass attendance that has to change.
When the Holy Father gave free permission for priests to say the Traditional Latin Mass, he suggested that it could help the 'reform of the reform' process by exposing people to the Church's traditions in relation to the liturgy. But for that to occur, people need to have a chance to actually attend one!
- All bishops could offer either a solemn Traditional Latin Mass in their cathedrals for some significant occasion - such as the start of Advent. Or if that requires too much work, commission someone to do it for them;
- All bishops should ensure that the TLM is available daily and on Sundays in their dioceses, and that their priests and seminarians are taught how to say the TLM, even if they don't wish to regularly say it, and that the laity are encouraged to attend on a 'go see what it is about' basis;
- To ensure that priests and bishops remember that Latin is the official language of their rite, perhaps each cathedral could ensure that at least once a month the main Sunday mass was either a TLM or a Novus Ordo Mass performed in Latin, said orientem and with sung chant;
- All bishops and priests should be encouraged to put their personal views on the new missal aside, and preach a series of sermons (perhaps some common notes to use could be compiled) on the reasons for the major changes;
- Run chant workshops in all dioceses and in schools, designed to teach everyone the basic repertoire of chants that all Catholics should know set out by Pope Paul VI (of all people!). And then ensure that they are sung regularly in all churches;
- implement Vatican II's promotion of the Liturgy of the Hours by mandating Sunday Vespers (in the OF or EF) in all churches.
There have been promising increases in vocations in many dioceses. But they aren't going to be nearly enough. Even more effort is required to help people understand why priests and religious are essential. Some things that could help:
- Ensure that confession is available somewhere in the diocese every day, including before (and after) Sunday Masses, for several hours (at least) of the day. The loss of a sense of sin is at the root of many of the problems in the Church today, and the idea that God gives forgiveness through priests is essential both to countering that and helping people understand why lay parish leaders are no substitute for priests! There are other things priests currently do that can and probably should be delegated to laypeople, in order to help recover this central part of the priestly ministry;
- Ban altar girls, eliminate the need for Extraordinary Ministers of Communion by reverting to communion in kind only, encourage reception of communion kneeling and on the tongue, and ensure Adoration is a regular feature of all churches. The other central element of the priestly vocation is the Eucharist. But belief in the real presence and the sense of the sacredness of priestly hands has been almost lost by many, undermined by subtle things that accumulate. But they can be readily reversed.
Bishops have the power to decide who can use the term Catholic. And they have the power to regulate who can teach the catholic faith. They even have some control some of the outlets that currently regularly promote dissent. It has to stop:
- close down Cath News and give the contract to monitor and report on what is happening in the secular media to Xt3 or a new organisation that can put it in context and be an active voice for the New Evangelization;
- revoke the authority to teach of dissenting theologians infecting the next generation of students at our so-called catholic institutions. Test all Catholic teachers in our schools, and require an explicit to orthodoxy and orthopraxis from them (ie no one who is a practising homosexual, divorced and remarried without an annulment, or living in a de facto relationship should be able to teach in a catholic school);
- close down or take away the right to describe themselves as Catholic from dissenting outlets such as Eureka Street;
- redirect the efforts of the Bishops' Conference bureaucracy to the things that really matter. We are supporting a bureaucracy devoted to things like producing film reviews (!) and lobbying the Federal Government on assorted public policy issues. All of these things could be better done by the laity. So redirect effort to supporting lay activism in these areas, while the bishops focus on how to improve transparency and accountability in the Church at all levels (opening Bishops Conference meetings to interested people would be a good start) and how to address the internal problems of the Church.
A lot of lip service is currently given to the importance of the role of the laity. And a lot of effort is currently misdirected at promoting 'lay ministry', trying to make the laity into pseudo-priests as Extraordinary Ministers and more. All this does is reinforce clericalism and the idea that the only way to holiness is through 'ministry'.
What is really needed, in my view, is much greater focus on accountability and transparency within the Church, particularly on things like how money is spent, and how well the Church is doing in achieving its mission - the number and proportion of baptisms, of conversions, of Catholic marriages, and so forth.
And much more active education and support for Catholics to engage in the real lay mission set out clearly in the documents of Vatican II, of seeking personal holiness and transforming the wider world:
- Invite the Catholic media (including new media!) to attend and report on Bishops Conference meetings;
- Encourage each diocese to produce an annual report with useful information to promote accountability, and then have a pseudo-Senate Estimates process to allow the laity to ask questions based on it of the responsible diocesan officials;
- Run regular, solid programs on the Church's Social Teaching and back it up with concrete practical charity initiatives at the parish level - ensure every parish has a visible charity outreach of some kind, whether a food bank, soup kitchen or whatever;
- Run a program (there is one in the UK) to encourage lay people to act as spokespeople for the Catholic perspective;
- Actively support the formation of lay organisations to dismantle assorted bureaucratic bodies on issues like refugees, freeing up the priests concerned to act as priests;
- Encourage bishops and priests to give active support to lay initiatives on key issues such as abortion, for example by regularly attending abortion clinic vigils, or holding prayer vigils on these issues in their cathedrals;
- And encourage certain bishops to refrain from regularly sharing their personal views on every issue under the sun with the media...
We can hope that our current bishops come back from Rome inspired and reinvigorated.
But the real hope has to be with the large crop of new bishops about to be appointed. So if there are good priests in your diocese who might be being overlooked, let the Nuncio know about them! And if there are ones you fear are up for promotion, but will prove to be unfortunate choices, make sure that is known too.
We've already seen what seems to be one fairly bad appointment. We don't need more.