Thursday, 6 June 2013

Over at Mr Coyne's flat earth society...

A few days ago I wrote a post on the abuse scandal that was extremely critical of the Church's handling of the issues to date.

Integrity and morality

In the past I've been a little bemused by the fact that Brian Coyne's aCatholica crowd have actually found some of my past posts on this subject worth reading (even while shaking their heads over my other material).

It is true that we do actually have a small amount of common ground, and that is in our acknowledgement of the dire state the Church in Australia is actually in, as opposed to the denialist world what is left of the mainstream Church seem to live in.

We differ, however, when it comes to solutions!

I, of course, want to see the rejection of the failed directions of the last fifty years, a return to traditional morality, the conversion of those who have lost the faith, and if they can't be converted for those who don't actually believe what the Church teaches to be prevented from continuing to subvert from within.

Articulating that position has provoked a series of increasingly outrageously rude and obnoxious comments from Mr Coyne (the latest claims inter alia, that Pope Benedict resigned because of traditionalists!  Cone on Brian, of all the conspiracy theories out there, that one surely takes the cake!).   While I'm sometimes easily amused, there are limits to my tolerance, particularly when he started attacking my other commenters.  Accordingly, I've stopped posting his outrageous attacks.  I thought I would however make a few points on them here.

The flat earth view of the world

First, for those unfamiliar with Mr Coyne's views (and I really don't recommend going over to his site to read his and friends assorted rants), truth is apparently whatever the majority believe.

His storyline goes, 90% of Catholics have walked out the door because they no longer believe what the Church teaches, therefore the Church should change what it teaches in order to get them back and stop the remainder leaving.

It is as if he is saying (some centuries ago) 'everyone knows the world is flat - so stop telling us anything different before we fall off the edge of the world into the void'.

But here is the thing Mr Coyne.  Truth is an absolute.

If something is true, it is true regardless of how many people do or do not accept that truth.

Death of the Church in Australia?

Mr Coyne constantly warns of the possible death of the Church in Australia.

I agree this is a possibility, even a strong one.

The Church is growing vigorously around the world, and we have a guarantee from Christ that it will endure to the end of time.

But Our Lord gave no guarantees whatsoever about the Church in particular places and at particular times, and in fact it has been wiped out over and over again in some places.

The infant Church fled Jerusalem in advance of its destruction under the Romans in 70 AD, for example.  Countries like England have a claimed Catholic history goes back to not long after the death of Christ, under the Romans - yet it has had to be re-evangelised many times.  St Augustine's North African community of Hippo was invaded by the Arian Vandals as he lay dying, and burnt to the ground not long after his death.

Perhaps there is still time to turn things around in Australia.

It certainly won't be easy though, for the Vandals are indeed at the gates once more.

Who is to blame?

Mr Coyne blames neo-conservatives (who he confuses with traditionalists) for the mess.

Actually I do too (blame neo-conservatives that is, though some claiming to be traditionalists certainly do seem to be doing their best to help things along, actively or passively subverting that movement from within).

The Liberals have long had the numbers among our bishops, and their post-Vatican II wreckovations can certainly be blamed for the collapse in vocations and pastoral life in this country. Though their worst excesses, such as widespread misuse of General Absolutions have been reigned in, many practices, such as faux ecumenism, continue to undermine the Church in many places in Australia (though I'm encouraged to read complaints, over at aCatholica, at priests in south-East Queensland actually insisting that non-Catholics should not receive at a Catholic Mass) .

In countries where Mr Coyne's liberal agenda has actually been implemented, such as the Netherlands, the Church has been all but destroyed.  That they continue to hold sway in many dioceses here is a scandal.

But in many ways, I think the neo-conservative response is more dangerous, because while the liberal approach is clearly contrary to Church legislation in most cases, the 'conservative' approach (which actually only 'conserves' what has happened from Vatican II onwards) has the superficial appearance of being consistent with it.  Yet conservatism has demonstrably not worked in holding back the tide, creating instead a generation of Canute-style bishops and lay acolytes thereto (want to prove otherwise? Make public the latest Church attendance figures at the diocese and parish level!).

The documents of Vatican II themselves, and the Magisterium thereafter, most especially under Pope John Paul II rarely if ever explicitly refer back to previous statements Catholic teaching.  Instead, under Pope John Paul II the current Magisterium was given an unduly elevated status, by the John Paul II the Great crowd, and everything that came before was ignored or discarded unless it happened to be personally given the nod by the Pope himself.  As a result novelties that have been gravely injurious to the practice of the faith, like communion in the hand and altar girls, were allowed.  And this approach helped create the impression that everything could be changed, if only a Pope decided it should.

It wasn't until Pope Benedict XVI's hermeneutic of rupture speech, and his insistence that there were some things, including certain aspects of the liturgy, that could not be changed, that a recovery could start to occur.  It was only under Pope Benedict XVI that action started to be taken to deal seriously with the abuse scandal.

Of course JPII style denialism (St Marciel anyone?) still survives, reflected in the couple of comments I've received from someone (a priest?) calling themselves Harry Flash whose latest attempt is this curious piece:

"...The moral authority of the child abuse panic is hysteria. Don't buy into it, please. Don't fall victim to the sick spirit of the age: that is, politicised scandal mongering; the fashion for turning incidents of individual misconduct into battering rams against theologies some people detest, and against the idea of hierarchical organisation itself."

This is the mentality that almost (but not quite) justifies Mr Coyne's rage at the organisation.

But, Mr Coyne, you are living in fantasyland if you think traditionalists have any real sway in the Australian Church!

As Joshua recently commented on his blog, most of us have long since given up complaining save on our blogs.  And even then, half the time the effects are often shall we say mixed (my favourite example of kind of clericalist aggressive-passive reaction that occurs in novus ordo and traditionalist circles alike being when I complained about a lack of confession times on the blog after in person representations by others had failed. Some time later the bulletin added some confession times before each weekday mass.  But of course if in reality the priest typically arrives at the Church well after the nominated time and then fiddles around in the sacristy and at the altar such that Mass starts anything up to half an hour after the advertised time, then the nominated confession times are rendered mere fantasy).

In fact we live in a country where, despite Summorum Pontificum, one bishop (Bishop Wright of Maitland-Newcastle) continues to prevent his people from accessing a traditional mass on Sunday and many others lack any provision for it.

We live in a country where it took twenty years to stop the invalid baptisms (due to the failure to use the correct form of words) regularly occurring in a Brisbane parish.

And in a country where, far from Rome hanging on every word of complaint from the laity who want actual catholicism from their priests and bishops as Mr Coyne claims over at his place, the Vatican dithered for at least ten years over the case of Bishop Morris.

If only we were indeed in control!


Harry Flash said...

Dear Ms Edwards. No. I am not a priest. Why would you assume that? Just put me down as a concerned citizen who enjoys reading your blog. Best wishes and God bless.

Stephen K said...

Liberals - neo-conservatives - traditionalists - and other categories: each one an umbrella label for what I believe is a myriad of combinations of feelings and religious convictions. I believe it is perilous to make too many generalisations, especially about the 90% or thereabouts of nominal Catholics who do not attend Mass. How does one know what they feel or think unless they say, or except by inductive reasoning based on other secular polls and trends?

Yet I think the fact that so many not only cease to attend Mass but to observe even purely cultural practices formerly associated with the Catholic ‘tribe’ very significant. I may be wrong but I get the sense that Mr Coyne might think everyone in that category would agree with him, an assumption which I am loath to adopt. But nor do I imagine they are people who would return ‘if only there were Latin Masses everywhere’.

No, I think the statistic indicates simply the fragility and sparseness of religiosity, faith-intensity, and the power of several ideas underpinning the current zeitgeist: the complexity of reality, the idiosyncrasy of perception, the elusiveness of truth and the curious tension of a desire for security coupled with a desire for freedom.

Whether this spirit is any more durable than others will take more time than I fear any of us have to find out; one thing that I think is apparent is that, at least right now, the attempt to re-create a kind of golden-age Catholicism represents a kind of thinking that many people no longer understand or use: there seems to be a real evolutionary pressure building both within and without the official borders of the Catholic Church qua institution.

Not that the traditionalist movement is not itself part of the evolution. I think it is undeniable that the unconsciousness, the acceptance, the precise ‘spirit’ of and in the pre-War (not just pre-Vatican II) Church cannot be artificially resurrected. Today’s traditionalists may be saying the same things but they want them very differently, very consciously and very reactively. The Catholicism that they create or believe they sustain is highly politicised, and self-conscious.

Of course, in true post-modern mode, it cannot be argued that it might not after all be right, or salutary for those who desire it, any more or less than a programme that neo-conservatives or liberals might promote. The question is, though, is it likely to be right or salutary for those who disagree with it?

Religious affiliation or the pre-occupation with it can be, I believe, complicated things. To espouse the view that all those with whose religious aspirations or “shoulder-chips” one disagrees ought to forsake and renounce all connection with their native church for possibly even more alien environments is not a position I think accords with John 12:32. Far better, I think, to let these things happen organically. None of us has complete control over ourselves, let alone any other. It is probably enough that each of us expresses our opinion and tries to implement as best we can whatever it is that motivates and inspires us, and let whatever the spirit is do Its work.

Well, these are some thoughts that occurred to me. Speaking personally, I am glad that “traditionalists” are not in control. But I’m not sure I want anyone else in control either. It may be that for some time to come any ideas of anyone in control may have to be discarded, in favour of a model of fellowship that finds solidarity from the ground up not from the top down. The kingdom, I remember reading, is “not of this world”.

Kate Edwards said...


I'm certainly not suggesting that if only the Latin Mass was available everywhere, people would come back.

And I agree with you that current day traditionalism is not an attempt to recreate some golden age, but rather something consciously created afresh, drawing on what came before.

In fact the traditionalist movement is about a lot more than the Mass - the Mass is important because it is ultimately the foundation of catholic culture and life, but it is the foundation of the edifice, not the whole building.

But the point of it is that it is a complete system that provides a counterweight to the inherent fragility of the post-modern rejection of religion, a counterweight that seems far more effective in the face of post-modernity than the conservative edifice, which rests on the now dead assumptions of modernity, or the liberal one which accepts secularism in its full glory.

As for those who reject the precepts of the Church yet want to retain a nominal membership, Christ does indeed invite all. But he also demands that we actually accept his teaching, keep the commandments and act in obedience to his Church. You can't have it both ways, as St Paul makes clear over and over again in his denunciations of immorality and early heresies.

Stephen K said...

Thank you, Kate. I appreciate your response. This subject is an ocean, with great depths. But just some brief further concluding comments, if I may.

Yes, I do agree, of course, that the traditionalist movement is about more than simply the Mass. If it were only the latter, one could think it would - or should be able to - represent less a problem to the other constituencies in the church (although that may be wrong too because in the very early days of changes to the Mass in the late 1960s when other changes were still embryonic or unthought of, and the aims of Latin Mass societies were comparatively modest, there was widespread intolerance for the Latin Mass). It was shorthand on my part and I was simply trying to condense what comes through in much if not all traditionalist discourse about the causes of religious abandonment. My point in fact was that there are many nuances and streams within the various constituencies, and this goes as much for people who would self-identify as traditionalists, as for people who no longer practise religiously.

I think I would also - broadly - agree that the traditionalist paradigm is more coherently opposed to post-modernity than what you have described as neo-conservatism and liberalism.

On the point of having religion both ways, there is of course a sense in which I agree with you: there is a body of doctrine that is official, propounded by the magisterial authorities, an orthodoxy (and certainly a Roman orthodoxy) properly so called, and the corollary of one of them - that the magisterial authorities participate in an ordinary infallibility - is that ‘the faithful are to adhere to it with religious assent’ (CCC 892). Thus, there is no getting round the fact that in these terms if one does not adopt the orthodoxy - which includes this one - then one cannot say one holds a Catholic position. However I think its circularity leads to some dubious exclusions - one might conceivably reject the infallibility or magisterial doctrine but adopt all the others, like a classical ‘Anglo-Catholic’ for example.

Moreover there are other senses in which I cannot agree that dissent or alternative practice disqualifies a person’s official membership of a church - for by the official church’s own analysis (cf. CCC 2087-2089) such things are sins and do not nullify, if they wound, their baptism (CCC 1446). And how any change or development of faith or doctrine can ever occur without some dissent or rejection I fail to see.

But the question of who is a ‘Christian’ or a “Catholic’ is something of a vortex of definitions and counter-definitions that I do not think is healthy for any of us to get too deeply into, because I fear we can never get out. It seems to me ‘nominal membership’ is quite a normal and usual condition, all things considered. I would simply encourage the leaving of sheep and goat herding to God.

Brian Coyne said...

Dear Kate,

Thank you for the magnificent runway for have provided for an extended critique of your views. I've taken the liberty of re-posting your critique on Catholica along with an extended response to your arguments.

Joshua said...

Kate, I think you left the word "not" out of your penultimate sentence!!!

Kate Edwards said...

Stephen, On leaving who is and isn't a catholic to God, I agree up to a point!

If people stay within the Church as nominal catholics and keep their dissenting views to themselves that is one thing.

If they act on them to sin that is another. And similarly if they attempt to subvert the faith of others, another thing again.

Priests and others who, to go back to the subject of my original post have somehow persuaded themselves that child rape is not a serious sin and crime need to be given the boot. Similarly, those who justify these and other sins through false views of conscious and rejection of morality need to be prevented from presenting those views as if they were catholic to prevent confusion.

Kate Edwards said...

Thanks Joshua - I've reposted the comment corrected!

Kate Edwards said...

Dear Brian,

I really hesitated in approving your response to this post with its link over to your place, firstly because I really I don't like encouraging ad hominem attacks on anyone, even myself (entertaining as I found your and others fantasies), and secondly because I don't want to encourage my readers to read error.

Still, in the interests of fairness, I've let it through.

Since you and your fellow board members don't actually seem to understand the meaning of the term 'ad hominem' though let me explain it. It is when you attack the (supposed) characteristics of the writer, rather than what they actually said.

For the record I am in fact, neither young (yes I was alive at the time of Vatican II, but too young to have useful memories of the pre-Vatican II world order) nor a convert (having been baptised a Catholic as a baby at St Joseph's Catholic Church in Hobart).

If I sound sure of myself, it is because I have arrived at my views through many years of careful reading, reflection, good instruction and a period of formal academic study. When I was in my early twenties I used to describe myself as a liturgical conservative but a theological radical. I guess that label still holds in a way, but let me just admit that back then, as a result of being subjected to texts such as the Dutch Catechism, I didn't mean the radicalness of traditionalism!

That said I'm open to debate on many topics - but for those claiming to be catholic, that debate has to be within the limits set by the Church; the limits set by Revelation.

I don't think your interpretation of Vatican II falls within those limits.

I'm afraid I found your 'rebuttal' too long, turgid and rambling to really get a grip on, and as far as I can see you've said it all before. I wouldn't recommend my readers waste their time on it.

For those who do, though, and for yourself and any visitors from over there, I'd just make one point though on your rejection of traditional morality, with its emphasis on the Commandments and all that old fashioned stuff, in favour of something more 'nuanced'. It is from Scripture:

"And behold, one came up to him, saying, "Teacher, what good deed must I do, to have eternal life?" And he said to him, "Why do you ask me about what is good? One there is who is good. If you would enter life, keep the commandments." He said to him, "Which?" And Jesus said, "You shall not kill, You shall not commit adultery, You shall not steal, You shall not bear false witness, Honor your father and mother, and, You shall love your neighbor as yourself." The young man said to him, "All these I have observed; what do I still lack?" Jesus said to him, "If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me."

The point is that morality is a foundation, a necessary but not sufficient condition for salvation. But one we reject at the cost of our souls.

Finally, one of your commentators made the point that Lincoln Diocese, despite its high Mass attendance rates, hasn't adopted the USCCB child protection processes. While I tend to agree that it should, it does have its own processes in place. More to the point, the maintenance of a traditional theology of the priesthood and morality more generally there has not only generated a huge number of vocations, it has also left the diocese almost virtually untouched by the abuse crisis: according to the bishops accountability website, it has had only three cases of priests accused ever, and one of those remains unproven.

Kate Edwards said...

To the person who wants to promote the scandal they have caused: no, I will not allow this blog to be used for that purpose.