Wednesday, 15 February 2012

On treasures lost and saved....

There are three stories that have been dominating the blogs in particular countries of late: and now at least one of them has been resolved positively!  So herewith a quick update.  The three stories are:
  • in the US, the Obama Administration's attempt to require employers to include contraception, abortion and related 'services' in health insurance;
  • in Italy, 'Vatileaks', a series of leaks claiming corruption and more in the Vatican bureaucracy; and
  • in England, outrage over the proposed sale at auction by the Benedictine monks formerly of Ramsgate of a number of sacred vessels and ornaments originally associated with their former residence, which was designed by Augustin Pugin.
I've rather been ignoring these, but they are each very important in different ways, so here is a quick summary of the current state of play.  Let me take them in reverse order.

The Ramsgate auction

The Ramsgate story was yet another sorry episode in the continuing decline of the English Benedictines, who over the last year have faced major sex abuse scandals at both Downside and Ealing Abbeys in relation to their schools, and has seen a number of monasteries sell up and move to smaller quarters.

The Ramsgate monks were a case of the latter situation: the monks have moved out of the monastery associated with the splendid St Augustine's Church that Pugin, well-known here for his Australian work, designed and built next to his own house, and ensured was furnished with appropriately splendid sacred vessels.  The proposed sale also included a number of other donations made to the churches they ran and the monastery itself.

The proposed sale prompted widespread outrage, and a major blog campaign concerned over both the ownership of the goods, the desire to preserve Pugin's legacy associated with the Church, and the risk of profanation.

And as a result of the pressure applied, all has now been resolved satisfactorily.  A week or so back it was announced that some goods associated with the Pugin legacy has been withdrawn from sale.  Now the Bishops Conference, in conjunction with Farnborough Abbey, have announced that the rest have been withdrawn, and will be kept in catholic hands.  That's good news indeed!

The story of the proposed sale - and now rescue - of Church treasures is interesting from several perspectives. That it could even be contemplated testifies to the continuing wreckovation mindset that has been at work in the Church over the last several decades. That it should prompt a successful social media based campaign aimed at protecting the patrimony is a more positive sign of the times!


The second, equally unedifying story, alas, is yet to be satisfactorily resolved.  It concerns ongoing leaks from the Vatican including allegations of corruption and more. 

The story started with a letter from the now Apostolic Nuncio to the United States. 

It turned into a full-blown Dan Brown novel, with claims of an assassination plot against the Pope.

And it continued with a series of leaks that have been described as a 'mutiny of the monsignors' directed at Secretary of State Cardinal Bertone.

Now the Vatican is appealing for calm, with this statement from the Vatican Press Office's Director, Fr Lombardi:

"Nowadays we must all have strong nerves, because no one can be surprised at anything. The American administration was affected by Wikileaks, now the Vatican too has its disclosures, its leaked documents, which tend to create confusion and bewilderment, and to throw a bad light on the Vatican, the governance of the Church and, more broadly, on the Church herself.

"We must, then, remain calm and keep our nerve, make use of reason, something which not all media outlets tend to do. The documents in question are of different kinds and importance, drawn up at various times and for differing situations. One thing is the discussion of the improved economic management of an institution such as the Governorate, which has many different activities; another are notes on current juridical and legislative questions, about which it is quite normal that there should be contrasting opinions; quite another are delirious and incomprehensible reports about plots against the Pope's life. Yet, putting them all together helps to create confusion. Serious reporting should be capable of distinguishing the issues and understanding their differing importance. It is obvious that the economic activities of the Governorate have to be managed wisely and rigorously. It is clear that the IOR and financial activities must be correctly integrated into international anti-recycling norms. These are of course the Pope's instructions. At the same time, it is evident that the story about a plot against the Pope, as I said immediately at the time, is nonsense, madness, and does not deserve to be taken seriously.

"There is something very sad in the fact that documents are dishonestly passed from the inside to the outside in order to create confusion. Both sides bear responsibility: firstly the suppliers of documents of this kind, but also those who undertake to use them for purposes that certainly have nothing to do with pure love of truth. We must, therefore, stand firm, not allowing ourselves to be swallowed up by the vortex of confusion, which is what ill-intentioned people want, and remaining capable of using our reason.

"In a certain sense - according to an ancient expression of human and spiritual wisdom - the emergence of more powerful attacks is a sign that something important is at stake. The series of attacks against the Church on the issue of sexual abuse has been justly met with serious and profound commitment to far-sighted renewal; not a myopic response but purification and rehabilitation. We have now taken control of the situation and are developing a powerful strategy of healing, renewal and prevention, for the good of society as a whole. At the same time, there is a serious commitment to ensure authentic transparency in the working of Vatican institutions, also from an economic perspective. New norms have been issued and channels have been opened for international monitoring. And yet a lot of the recently leaked documents tend to discredit precisely those efforts. This, paradoxically, constitutes another reason to continue them with determination, not allowing ourselves to be cowed. If many people insist on attacking us, the issue is obviously important. Whoever thinks he is discouraging the Pope and his collaborators in their commitment is mistaken.

"As for the issue of the supposed power struggles in view of the next conclave, I would invite everyone to note that all the Pontiffs elected during the last hundred years have been people of exalted and unquestioned spiritual merit. Cardinals have naturally sought, and still seek, to elect someone who deserves the respect of the people of God, someone who can serve humankind in our time with great moral and spiritual authority. Reading these events as an internal power struggle depends to a large extent on the moral coarseness of those who provoke them and those who see them as such, people often incapable of seeing anything else. Fortunately, those who believe in Jesus Christ know that - whatever may be written in today's newspapers - the true concerns of those with positions of responsibility in the Church are the serious problems facing the men and women of today and tomorrow. Not for nothing do we also believe in, and speak of, the assistance of the Holy Spirit".
Obama's war on the Church
And the final saga is the ongoing struggle for religious liberty in the US, in the face of the secularist onslaught from the Obama administration, aided and abetted by assorted 'catholic' liberal/progressives, including a number of high profile women religious.
A few days back, Obama announced a 'compromise' that means that Catholic organisations wouldn't be explicitly paying for contraception etc - but would of course foot the bill indirectly as insurance companies were required to provide these services for free to individuals.
Unsurprisingly, the bishops have rejected this as unsatisfactory, and have also raised concerns at the limited number of organisations covered by the proposed exemption - they want any exemption to include any employer who objects to the mandate on conscience grounds. 
Equally unsurprisingly, the brief rapprochement between liberals and conservatives on the issue has broken down, with liberal catholics (including Oz cath news, who as a reader pointed out to me, published a fairly outrageous attack on the US bishops yesterday under the guise of linking to an 'opinion piece' from NCR online) praising Obama's claimed compromise option. 
There is a long way to go yet on this particular fight.


GOR said...

”…it becomes clear that if Obama had given the bishops an inch, eventually they would have taken six miles.”

Exactly backwards Ms. Manson!

Many bishops and priests - plus the 54% of Catholics who voted for him, plus Fr. Jenkins of Notre Dame, plus Sr. Keehan of CHA – believed the rhetoric of Obama and gave him a lot more than an inch. Now he’s the one taking ‘six miles’.

And some continue to be blind to this - notably Sr. Keehan of CHA and Catholic Charities who, contra the bishops, extolled the ‘compromise’. They have a lot to answer for – and like us all - they will eventually.

Philip said...

Unfortunately your report that 'the Bishops Conference, in conjunction with Farnborough Abbey, have announced that the rest have been withdrawn, and will be kept in catholic hands' re the sale of religious artefacts by the former monks of Ramsgate is not accurate. Only a few items were withdrawn and many were sold as planned. A very small number of particularly important items were saved by the Abbot of Farnborough and his associates. The Bishops were largely ineffectual, maybe even unconcerned, and the whole thing was a huge source of scandal amongst the faithful and is still discussed. That religious vessels and important articles can be disposed of at the whim of an Abbot and his Chapter is a terrible situation.