After The Silence A Few Words

On Wednesday I posted here about a request to take a one-day break from posting on blogs, Facebook, Twitter, Google +, Pinterest, etc… Then, on Thursday, May 24, we were asked to share the fruit of that day of prayer and silence with everyone, by posting our answer to the question: 

“What in Catholic Media has had an impact on me during the past year?”

I found it difficult to single out just one single source from the Catholic media that significantly impacted me over a year because there are several favourite blogs that mean a lot to me but I think that the Tablet Periodical is a worthy publication in terms of breadth of coverage and serious attempt to present reasoned, articulate and earnest Catholic voices from people who may not always agree with many areas of the current institutional church and are critical of it.

On The Tablet periodical website there is a freely accessible section here called Letters EXTRA (to The Editor )with archives. This free section is in addition to the letters published weekly which is available only to the subscribers of the magazine.

It is a useful one that provides in compact form, well written and considered comments on a number of hot topics and issues which are of wide global concern in the church today.

Yesterday I trawled through them and selected a variety of letters from May 2011 to May 18th this year and which illustrate for me a spectrum of constantly recurring issues of contention over the last year (and beyond).

The letters are all from people who ask for reform and change in our church.

For once (!), I have left out most letters dealing in depth with LGBT and the USA sisters issues because I feel my blog often deals with these on a regular basis.

Although it has meant a longer than usual post , I think it has been a useful exercise to collate these under one compendium- like post, and I hope it will be useful for others too...  

Doing it certainly helped me to reflect and crystallise my thoughts on why many key issues in the institutional church are causing concern for many faithful Catholics and why these issues are unlikely to " go away" and need addressing by the church hierarchy in a more enlightened and imaginative way. 

The issues dealt with are :
  • The reformed liturgy, 
  • Vatican II
  • The nature of authority
  • The role of the laity and Bishops, 
  • Position of divorced and remarried
  • Celibacy
  • Lack of priests
  • Reasons for people leaving church

The posts are not necessarily in chronological order

“We all pray for the Holy Spirit, but as soon as the tongues of flame begin to appear we all run for the fire extinguishers.” Melvin G. Kyle

 I hope that the views represented and expressed by these tongues of flame will not be extinguished by the hierarchy.

Imitating the early Church would include more debate

Cardinal Napier (Letters, 23 July) takes to task those who criticise the new English liturgical translations. It is interesting that he directs us to look at the way in which the early Church conducted itself. However, if he reads the events of the early Church more carefully as set out in the Acts of the Apostles, he will come across quite a different atmosphere than we have in the Church today.

Acts 15 describes some people wanting to insist that new male Christians were circumcised "as the law of Moses requires". This resulted in gathering of the apostles and elders "to consider the question".

 They held a "long debate". There are two interesting differences between this and the current debate on the new English translations. The first difference is that it is clear that all sides were given a good listening to in the early Church. 

The second is that Peter concluded that people should not be burdened with unnecessary strictures. In the same vein, I am quite sure Peter would not have insisted on an unnecessarily obtuse use of a modern language as a way of praising God.

However, what concerns me most about Cardinal Napier's letter is his use of words such as "simple faith" and "humble submission". The laity has now learned to question any such requests from the Church hierarchy after what has occurred in the past years. Unfortunately if our church leaders continue to use such language, they will sadly continue to forfeit any credibility. They may indeed benefit by looking to the early Church in the way it conducted itself.
Chris Larkman, London SW20  5 August 2011

Refreshing the faith

The Holy See wishes the Catechism of the Catholic Church to be a major guide for the Year of Faith (Church in the World, 14 January). As this guide is now 20 years old and in view of the enormous amount of theological development that has taken place in the 50 years since Vatican II, would it not be timely, even necessary, if it is to retain credibility, to consider revising the Catechism, especially in such areas as the scriptural exegesis of Genesis 1-3 and sexual ethics?
Kevin Dean, Rishton, Lancs 26 January 2012

Little cause to celebrate

The new English translations have had time to bed in by now; I have not heard a single parishioner express satisfaction with the finished product. Every comment has in fact been negative: impenetrable language, long rambling sentences, ignoring the context of the English language, failure to grasp the nettle of inclusive language, Eucharistic Prayers for use with children discarded, the needs of people whose first language is not English are ignored - what a parish with 25 language groups near Melbourne make of it, I dread to think.
Bishops whose encouragement to embrace the translation are not very convincing - they thought they had an approved translation from Bishop Maurice Taylor and his ICEL, but stood silently by while ecclesiastical civil servants binned the fruits of ten years' work. They should have had the courage to resist. A diocesan bishop is not a branch manager, as the Archbishop Emeritus of San Francisco had the temerity to claim in his book. It cost him his post.
The number of groups who have exemptions is infuriating: disenchanted Anglicans; SSPX; Syro-Malabar; Ambrosian Rite and so on. The zeal and energy being devoted to reconciling the rift between Rome and SSPX is not edifying. The present administration seems intent on going down in the annals of church history as the force that brought about reconciliation and unity. Their efforts impress nobody apart from the revisionists who have until now been keeping a low profile in the hope that the documents of Vatican II will be binned and we will return to the clericalism for which they seem to yearn. Roll on retirement, when I can celebrate the Eucharist privately using my carefully preserved Sacramentary.
Fr John B. Farrell, Strathaven, Motherwell 2nd February 2012
 The Cardinal Archbishop of Durban's letter about objections to the new English translation of the Mass is profoundly distressing, and symptomatic of much that is amiss in the Church. Objectors are not being disloyal. The reason why the first followers of Christ listened to Peter and Paul was that they heard words of truth from men of faith, not because they laid the law down. If the "Magisterium" (a silly word of recent coinage as far as Church governance is concerned) is to command respect and assent, it has to speak and act in a manner that warrants respect and assent. The necessary counterpart to the "humble obedience" of the faithful that the Cardinal-Archbishop calls for is the prayerful and responsible guidance, enlightened by the Holy Spirit, of those whom Christ has called to lead His flock.
In respect of the new English text of the Mass, the arbitrary imposition of the views of those (such as Cardinal Pell) who unfortunately happen to be for the time being in positions of power and authority, is self-evidently not prayerful, and the intrusion of curial officials and others who have no relevant competence, in the technical discipline of translation, is self-evidently irresponsible. They should have acknowledged their limitations, but curial officials habitually arrogate to themselves the infallibility of the Pope. Plainly the Holy Spirit has been excluded from the whole lamentable process.
Tim Hemming, via email 5 August 2011

 I have followed the correspondence in your columns regarding the "new" translation of the liturgy with great interest, and increasing anxiety.
I taught English Language and Literature for over 30 years, and Latin for several, loving both. I find that I agree with all of your correspondents who oppose the new versions, and find the arguments in favour completely unconvincing.
The Mass has become an irritating distraction from serious devotion, and a hindrance to prayer. Is it too much to hope that the English bishops might still defend their own heritage, and reject this Vatican imposition?
Michael Courtney, Talaton, Devon 12 January 2012

Tacit disapproval of the new Missal

Michael Ryan ("Time to say 'yes'", 3 September) is right to say that the new English translation of the Roman Missal will be judged deficient; indeed many of us have already made that judgement. But I cannot agree with his decision to implement it without any changes. Because of the shocking misuse of power by influential groups in Rome there is no chance that a further revised English Missal will be produced in my lifetime. My own personal integrity demands that I join in when I can and remain silent when I cannot. I would certainly feel free to join in with any priest who changed offensive gender-exclusive language. I empathise with Fr Val Farrell (Letters, 3 September). Like him I am 71; like St Augustine I hope to die a Catholic Christian in communion with the Bishop of Rome.
Chris Feetenby, Leeds

Michael Ryan's suggestion that "It's time to say 'yes'" to the new translation by encouraging all priests not to modify the new text on their own initiative as we the faithful deserve to hear all the proposed sexist, archaic and elitist language of the new translation is rationalisation in the extreme. I personally do not want to be insulted by having to listen and to respond to such offensive language and I would ask all priests to respect their congregations by suitably omitting any words or phrases that may reinforce and encourage especially misogynistic and archaic attitudes . Isn't it amazing that after 50 years of using texts that respected the totality of the human being and the equality of men and women (or at least attempted to do so) that reactionary forces within the church have finally triumphed. Is there a lesson there for the rest of us?
Brendan Butler, Co. Dublin  9 September 2011

After the failure of his heroic efforts to delay the introduction of the new missal, Michael G Ryan reveals the most extraordinary political optimism in arguing that Rome will listen to the people when they eventually judge the new translation to be deficient. It is obvious that most of the flaws in the translation are the result of a drive by the Vatican to construct a Latinised pseudo-vernacular which mimics the Tridentine aesthetics and rhetoric of the newly resurgent extraordinary form so dear to our present pope. And the same cultural and ideological conservatism which inspired this exercise of taste and power will ensure that clericalism and authoritarianism will remain (in spite of all the scandals) in comfortable self-perpetuating ascendency in the church for decades to come. What will be expected of the "faithful" is not response and judgment but deference and obedience. Unlike Michael G Ryan, I am ruefully certain that, by the time a new aggiornamento inspires the Church to give the people the spiritual joy of a translation in their own real language, I and probably most Tablet readers will have been dead a good while.
John McLaughlin, Birkenhead  9 September 2011

I celebrate Mass at two parishes every weekend.  In both congregations there are numerous children who obviously have a limited command of English. Yet they have every right to a Eucharistic celebration that is understandable. Despite its limitations, the 1973 Mass texts were within the range of understanding of a child seven years and older. The new texts are far beyond them. As a matter of fact, even with Nicholas King's brilliant analysis (Lost and Found in Translation, 19 November), much of the new translation is beyond me. And I have spoken English (my first language) for 70 years.

Sadly, we know that many children in the past have been sexually abused. However, there is also a reality called emotional and spiritual abuse. To cut children off from fully (and joyfully!) participating in Mass by using words and a style of language that are incomprehensible to them is unacceptable. Indeed it is an abuse of the virtue of charity to make them feel unwelcome and left out by the use of the new English Missal. An apology is in order.

In Matthew's gospel (chapter 19) we read how the apostles tried to keep the children away from Jesus but couldn't. This new translation has succeeded where the apostles failed.
Fr Alan Phillip CP, Sierra Madre, California 2nd December 2011

Christ didn't take 'this precious chalice'

Joseph Shaw (Letters, 8 October) is right: "he took the cup" is not an accurate translation of the words accipens et hunc praeclarum calicem in the Roman Canon. But it is an accurate translation of labon to poterion, (literally, "getting the drinking-cup") which is what we read in Matthew (26:27) and Mark's (14:23) accounts of the institution of the Eucharist. Luke (22:20) and Paul (1 Corinthians 11:25) use the same word, poterion, which means "cup". There is no suggestion that there was anything praeclarus ("excellent" or "noble") about it, nothing to justify our calling the cup Jesus used at the Last Supper a "precious chalice" – still less "this precious chalice" (hunc means "this"). So what is Dr Shaw claiming: that an uninspired prayer trumps the Word of God?
(Fr) Paul Browne OSB, Leyland, Lancs  13November 2011

The new Missal is no model of collegiality

In calling the new Missal "a model of collegiality", (News from Britain and Ireland, 6 August) doesn't Cardinal Pell exaggerate? The present translation, prepared 1964-74, was certainly such a model. The process started with the bishops, and they appointed the translators. Every bishops' conference provided the experimental texts Pope Paul asked for. His and their pastoral concern was for priest and participating faithful and the deeper theological understanding of the Mass already glimpsed in the readers' missals of the 1940s. The bishops were involved at every stage. The work was far advanced by 1969, when the ICEL translation of the Ordo Missae itself was accepted - one hears suggestions, from ignorance, presumably, that translation only began then.

The present translators, however, were appointed by the curia, not the bishops. Would any bishop who knew Mgr Harbert's published eccentric views make him Executive Secretary? Would any well-instructed bishop endorse translation principles condemned by Catholic masters of language from Jerome to Newman? A novel intrusion, Vox Clara (it means "loud, piercing voice", incidentally, not "clear voice") further distanced the diocesan bishops. Conferences with able, qualified bishops, but no conservative to invite, had no voice in Vox Clara. And has Cardinal Pell forgotten the pressure that was put on the conferences to make haste and accept the Vox Clara draft, and thereafter to suggest changes against time? Is that what he means by collegiality?
Tom McIntyre, Somerset 18 August 2011

Chris McDonnell ("The way we pray forms the way we believe", Letters Extra, 27 May) has hit the nail on the head regarding the pastoral letters from the bishops (I would add Scotland to his reference to England & Wales) not acknowledging and addressing the genuine pain and concerns felt by large numbers of the faithful regarding the content and process of establishing the new missal.

Are we to believe that no individual bishop in these islands has concerns about the content or process behind the new missal? Are we to believe that no individual bishop has concerns about dilution of episcopal collegiality?
Can we hope that even one bishop is prepared to put his head above the parapet both to make public any concerns he may have, and to identify with those members of the people of God who are having grave concerns about the direction of the Church as reflected in this process?
Jim Boyle, Edinburgh 3 June 2011

The pastoral letter from the bishops relating to the introduction of the new translation of the Missal has now been read in our churches. The oft-quoted passage from Proverbs, "that without vision the people perish", is never more true. It is this vision that we urgently need in the midst of the turmoil that we will undoubtedly face as we come to terms with a flawed translation.

There have been those, both in our own country and other English-speaking countries, who have been willing to speak out over the last 18 months, offering a vision that is respectful of tradition, that is rooted in deep faith, yet recognises the cultural need and language experience of our times. Their voice has been a blessing for the people. We now need to move forward in that faith and together, bishops, priests and people, and be supportive of each other in the difficult days ahead.
Chris McDonnell, Staffordshire 3 June 2011

Teaching children Catholic guilt

As a parish priest in my sixty-fourth year of priesthood I am deeply concerned about the new translation of that very adult prayer, the Confiteor. The children who come to my church are not people who have "greatly sinned", through their most grievous fault". To tell them they have, would be to led young lambs not into "pastures green" but into the sad swamps of "Catholic guilt".

Fr Brian Coogan MHM, Isle of Wight 7 July 2011 

Bishops' conferences are not a modern construct

Brian Wicker (Letters, 13 August) is not correct in stating that bishops' conferences are due to the advent of the sovereign state. The letters of Paul were all addressed to the Church at a specific location. He saw each community as distinct with its own culture, leadership and needs. Apostolic tradition is one of the soundest of our theological foundations. It is in ignoring this tradition that most damage is done to the Church. In this very tradition in about 215 AD, Hippolytus seeking to preserve the established practices surrounding the election of a bishop wrote:

"He who is ordained as a bishop, being chosen by all the people, must be irreproachable. When his name is announced and approved, the people will gather on the Lord's day with the council of elders and the bishops who are present. With the assent of all, the bishops will place their hands upon him, with the council of elders standing by, quietly."

This is very much a bottom-up tradition and its abuse by Rome in recent times has contributed to the decline of the Church and the sense of involvement needed to foster collegiality at all levels. The ineffectiveness of our bishops in having their say with the new translation of the Missal stems from their skewed relationship with Rome.
John Canavan, via email 18 August 2011

Influences on Pope Benedict

In the review of Georg Ratzinger's book Mein Bruder der Papst, ("My brother the pope"), (The Church in the World, 17 September) your correspondent refers to the author's "understanding" of the much-maligned Cardinal Alfred Ottaviani, who was Secretary of the Holy Office from 1959 to 1968. It is suggested that Pope Benedict exhibits sympathy for his forerunner. There can be no doubt the cardinal was the whipping-boy for the press though there were a fair number of curial officials who shared his rigid and static view of dogma. He was certainly the most powerful curial official at the time of the Second Vatican Council and was seen rightly as one of the fiercest opponents of the views that were to be embodied in the Council. With a group of like-minded, hard-line theologians, he attempted to hijack the Council's agenda in an attempt to steer discussions away from the fundamental issues facing the Church. Fortunately, the bishops whose pastoral experience convinced them that renewal was essential were able to ensure that the debates were open and uninhibited. The council documents were for Cardinal Ottaviani a bitter pill to swallow as their tenor ran counter to his whole concept of theology and the Church.
It is generally agreed that, as a person, he was a brilliant scholar, devout, dedicated, urbane and good company. However, during his tenure of the Holy Office, he supervised a harsh, suspicious and unbending administration with nostrils flared for any whiff of unconformity. He himself, in an interview with a reporter from the Milan weekly Gente in 1966, admitted that the curia had over the generations been guilty of "dogmatic imperialism" and had departed from the guidelines laid down by Pope Benedict XIV (1740-58) as part of his reform of church government procedures. The other dicasteries exhibited the same rigorous supervision over bishops, directors of seminaries and university professors; promising careers were snuffed out by the curia's readiness to react swiftly and harshly to denunciations however ill-founded they were. After his election, Pope John XXIII demanded to see the file that had been kept on him in the Vatican archives. To his dismay, he found that for years he had been under surveillance: he had been accused of being a modernist because he had received a postcard years before from a former seminary classmate who had left the Church.
I hope that Pope Benedict XVI will not allow his "understanding" of Cardinal Ottaviani's pre-Vatican II stance to overlook the fact that the latter presided over a regime that did great harm to the Church. Sadly, there are still Catholics who yearn for the old fortress-Church and its authoritarian concept of religion. If the curia were to implement the findings of the rich seam of Vatican II documents to which the Council fathers assented and which are not widely known even among devout Catholics, the face of the Church would be transformed. But how will that come about unless the Curia's remit is drastically overhauled, the term of office of heads of dicasteries is curtailed, bishops are accorded the role assigned to them in the Vatican II documents and synods be able to deal with issues affecting national and local Churches. The Holy Spirit has his work cut out.
Robert A Murphy, Newcastle upon Tyne 30 September 2011

Rebels or reformers?

Congratulations on your article about the protesting priests in Austria ("Rebels with a cause", 15 October). But is it fair to call them rebels? I think not. They are not aiming to overthrow the sovereign and his government, nor do they advocate switching to another Church. Still less are they planning to create a new one. Their aim is simply the effective reform of the existing Church, so that we can undertake a realistic mission to our contemporary society.
Dr Michael M. Winter, London N19 20 October 2011

So Cardinal Raymond Burke says the reforms urged by the Austrian priests would not help evangelisation (News from Britain and Ireland, 15 October). Really? And if there are no priests, who does he think will do the evangelising?
Joseph Fitzpatrick, Ilkley, West Yorkshire 20 October2011

Tackling the taboos

Human gender issues and personal relationships, as they occur in the Catholic Church's teachings and elsewhere, are regular themes in your editorials and features. Indeed 50 years on from Vatican II three big subjects recur week after week - priestly celibacy, the role of woman in the Church, and homosexuality.
However much public opinion and Western society's views on these matters has changed over recent decades - dramatic and vociferous as this change has become - I think most Catholics still look with enormous respect to the holiness and judgement of the Church's centuries-old teachings in these areas. But there comes a time when the genuine shift in society's attitudes, its decencies, practices and understandings, both cultural and scientific, are so fundamental that to totally ignore them begins to call into question the grace and spiritual wisdom of the church's hierarchy in interpreting what is the real will of God in our time, and how God wants His spiritual leaders to respond to the development of people, both for their good and for the survival of Christianity.

The Catholic Church has moved its position on many issues over the centuries. It has had to. Respect for human dignity and scientific discoveries alone have forced the church to alter its stand on slavery, torture, burnings alive, crusading wars ... Galileo and Charles Darwin made the Church accept that Genesis was perhaps not meant to be historically accurate. Positive relativism in practice, maybe.

The time is well overdue for a prayerful, honest and conscience-seeking examination of how today's Catholic Church should respond to the changes in attitudes to human relationships and gender issues we have seen these last 50 years. Not just in Austria but led by Rome, in open debate. Is it, for example, God's wish that his priests are forever to be denied the option of a full loving married life - that women should never be ordained - and those people with a natural gay orientation be regarded as intrinsically disordered in their unions? Or is this the Church trapped by the inertia and obscurancy of its senior clerics, too timid in their own positions, naive, or just plain unworldly to genuinely question the dogma of some traditions in the light of God-inspired twenty-first century understanding, and not open to the will of the Holy Spirit and God's intentions?

Big change in this area of teaching will come - eventually. Human nature does not stand still and God wants his church and people in harmony, engaged in their beliefs. We may bow to the whims of public opinion at our peril, but by ignoring God's directions we act against his will.
Jeremy D Lampitt, Leamington Spa 10th February 2012


Listening to those who have left

Pope Benedict says he wants to aim the New Evangelisation at those areas where an old Christian tradition suffers from a strong advance of secularisation (motu proprio "Ubicumque et Semper"). There appear to be two ways in which one can interpret evangelisation in this case. First, one can see it as the action of the good shepherd who is upset as he realises that his sheep are lost and then goes after them to get them back. Secondly, one can also see it as an attempt of the good shepherd to fortify the sheep that are not yet lost. Surely, both are necessary. It is wrong to see them as either-or options, or even use the second interpretation to nullify the first. This is what Cardinal Burke seems to do (The Tablet, 22 October), and Cardinal Schönborn as well (The Tablet, 15 October).

The first interpretation can boast very impressive hermeneutics of continuity: back to Jesus himself who wants the shepherd to leave the 99 sheep that are not lost and go after the lost one. Leaving the security of his own position, the shepherd should go and find the lost sheep. So, would it not be proper for the bishops to go to their lost sheep and ask them what it is that has estranged them? They would probably receive answers that are different from the ones prevalent among the church leaders. I know many lost faithful who are traumatised and scandalised over church standpoints regarding clericalism, patriarchy, accumulation of power, lack of transparency and ethical myopia. Many of them have an idea of God that differs much from the one presupposed in church pronouncements about natural law.

I think that much of the trouble goes back to the fact that the official Church never evangelised the Enlightenment, but rather demonised its new ideas that underlie those of today's Western thinking. The church leaders tried to keep the new wine in old wineskins; the wineskins have burst, and now the new wine is being lost, as well as the old wineskins.
Fr Hans Burgman MHM, Kisumu, Kenya  11 November 2011


Divorce, legalism and double-standards

In the debate about, divorce Jesus is constantly quoted, "What God has joined together, no human being must separate", to deny Catholic divorcees remarriage and reception of the Sacraments. But Archpriest Gregory Hallam (The Tablet, 15 October) has suggested a broader look at Jesus and the Gospel. It is ironic that the words of Jesus are used to support a legalistic, non-compassionate stance. Jesus made no laws and was very critical of those who looked to the Law for the solution of pastoral problems and those who" tie up heavy burdens and lay them on peoples shoulders, but they will not lift a finger to move them".
Jesus laid down very new and challenging standards for his followers: You must love your enemies"; "When someone strikes you on your right cheek, turn the other one to him as well", "If you bring your gift to the altar, and there recall that your brother has anything against you, leave your gift there at the altar, go first and be reconciled with your brother, and then come and offer your gift"; "Call no one on earth your father"; "What God has joined together, no human being must separate".
Jesus did not make laws, but the Church has made a law out of one of these instructions, while taking the others with a grain of salt: we have blessed arms and send chaplains out with our armies. We made a law for the instruction that involved sex. We must hold strongly Jesus' to directive on marriage, but marriages do break up, sinners like us all are responsible for this but some can be innocent victims. We condemn and ex-communicate (literally) them all: we do not do the same for those who do not love their enemies. Jesus did not condone the action of the woman taken in adultery, but neither he did condemn her. Why our double standards?
Fr Fintan Mc Donald, Kitale, Kenya  11 November 2011

Welcome to an unwelcoming Church

Why on earth would those "sheep" who have been "lost" want to return to the scenario given by Fr Hans Burgman ("Listening to Those Who Have Left", Letters Extra, 12 November)? In doing so they would be returning to a Church in meltdown with no sign of change. That most un-Pope-like character, John XXIII, gave us a fleeting glimpse of Church as Christ himself understood it: a kingdom of shared dignity and service, of compassion and integrity, of deep love, of equality, justice and generosity, of inclusive welcome to all, whoever they may be and whatever their past. 

So many Catholics, in particular the young, who are more free in their thinking and their allegiances than we were, do not see much that is positive and do not find God in their Church at present. Their trust has been undermined by current scandals and controversies, and an institution which, to them, has become ossified in its insistence on celibacy, exclusion of women, discrimination, and archaic rules about sex, obedience, power and authority.
Is it not time, as Fr Hans suggests, that bishops seriously reach out to their "lost sheep" and ask them why?

Susan Oakley, Eastleigh, Hants  17 November 2011

Prodigals: fallen away or pushed away?

I have thought about the choice of Rembrandt's "Return of The Prodigal Son" as emblematic of the Crossing The Threshold programme ("On The Way Back" by Jonathan Tulloch, 19 November 2011) and think it is not appropriate in such cases as mentioned in the article's text such as "And then there are the particularly sad absences, those that haunt the empty pews, our ghosts of sorrow: those turned away because of divorce, because of a sense of rejection for being gay, because of the tragedy of sexual abuse."
Based on my personal experience, I suspect that these cases represent a large percentage of "formers". The prodigal chose to leave the father's house in pursuit of things more to his liking.

 Way too many "fallen away" self-identified Catholics haven't fallen away so much as are pushed-away Catholics. If there is anything prodigal, it is the Church that was so quick to reject, not welcome or actively discourage. Until and unless this Church steps outside of its self-defined and protective threshold rather than waits for "leavers" to proactively cross that threshold, it will way a long, long time for many to return.
Jim McCrea, Piedmont, California  24 November 2011
I found much to commend in Jonathan Tulloch's piece on the "Crossing the Threshold" initiative and I hope the same compassion and readiness for dialogue will be in evidence when this programme is presented at other venues around the country.

The Prodigal Son analogy troubles me, however. In the biblical narrative, the younger son demands his share of the inheritance, breaks off all connection with home, and in so doing causes the father unfathomable grief. We can imagine the heartbroken father longing for the son's return, and scanning the horizon for sight of him. 

Yet for many of us who have left or who are leaving the Church, this does not ring true as a comparison. It feels rather as though we have been ushered to the door, perhaps because of our sexual orientation, or the end of a marriage, or the advent of a subsequent relationship. However great the compassion and solidarity offered by individual priests or fellow Catholics, and I have been fortunate enough to experience both, the official line is very much still a firm "Sorry, but...".

Returning means at best a conditional or limited acceptance; certainly no fatted calves, and no dancing; in fact, no real welcome at all if we are hoping to be accepted as the people we really are. So, the "cataclysmic falling away" which Jonathan Tulloch describes may look quite different from the other side; the God who knows and loves each of us just as we are may be drying our tears and leading some of us to worship and serve within more inclusive and welcoming faith communities.
Joanne Adams, Leamington Spa 24 November 2011

Wanted - the British voice of dissent (but content applies to other states too!!- my addition.)

Why is it that in this country we do not appear to have a vocal group of priests similar to the Austrian "rebels" in their demand for reform? (The Tablet, 11 February). The requests made by the Austrian priests seem to so many of us to be perfectly sensible and acceptable and have been discussed in this country for the past 50 years or more. Most relate to the lack of credibility that exists in the Church over issues such as contraception (98 per cent of practising Catholics in the USA use it to plan their families), celibacy (not necessary as a condition of priesthood and often a liability), treatment of the divorced and remarried, same-sex relationships, married priests (already accepted in this country) and women deacons and priests.


The Austrian priests are wise in refusing to spend their weekends moving around from one parish to the next delivering "superficial rituals". In the UK parishes continue to merge and dissolve into huge "pastoral areas", while the few priests who are left rush from one church to the next, often becoming little more than "itinerant celebrants" with no time to talk to anyone. 

Their lives often become quite intolerable. As a psychotherapist I see excellent priests becoming worn out, stressed out, highly anxious and finally sinking into depression through being asked to work under intolerable conditions without the help, support and supervision required for such a role. I wonder how many bishops have been responsible for parishes in recent times and can therefore fully understand the workload their priests now have to undertake, and empathise with them?
Meanwhile many lay people, including those on the fringes desert these large, impersonal pastoral areas to search for that authentic welcome, peace and sense of real community that often can only be found in sacred places such as the chapels of small convents and monasteries around the land.
Susan Oakley, Hampshire  17th February 2012

Awkward questions in the Church

 The article in The Tablet of 7 May, "Bishop forced to retire over call for priesthood debate" raises many questions for the ordinary Catholics in Australia. There has been much media coverage and it is hard to understand how the Catholic Church, which preaches social justice, could allow such a debacle to occur. It would seem that Bishop Morris has merely asked that the whole question of married priests, male or female, be discussed as the situation in regional and rural Australia is already without leaders in the many communities.

Bishop Morris's diocese is enormous, the number of clergy is already comparatively few and ageing. These questions have been discussed over the years - what are we to do when we do not have sufficient clergy to minister to the people. Is bringing in clergy from overseas an answer? Should we begin to ask ourselves if the Holy Spirit is guiding us to look beyond anything we have thought about in past centuries? There is no doubt that we have a different perspective today of the status of women, of marriage and so on.

The National Council of Priests has delivered a media release that has given hope to many who are appalled at the lack of natural justice and due process in the case of Bishop Morris. Alas, the bishops, while expressing their sadness at the situation, do not appear to have offered much public support. Some priests have courageously spoken out in support of Bishop Morris and there has even been a standing ovation for a priest who preached a homily in support of the bishop. I know personally priests and teachers in Catholic schools who are fearful of expressing their views for fear of losing their jobs or being transferred to the outback or whatever.
Surely such a pastoral bishop, so appreciated by the majority of the priests and laity in his diocese, should not be treated in such a high-handed way without any comment or show of support.
Rosemary Breen, New South Wales 26 May 2011

Ruth Wood, Chepstow
 A Letter To the Tablet 13th April 2012

This Good Friday I awoke to hear the disembodied voice of a radio announcer telling me that Pope Benedict had made yet another repressive pronouncement about priestly celibacy and women's ordination.

 I realised then that I was beginning to understand the Passion of Christ in a way that I never had before. Jesus was a Jew who cared deeply about his religion and his God, but also about his people, while the religious authorities cared only about power. Jesus tried to bring about changes in the attitudes of those who had that power, and indeed of many who were subject to it. In the main and for his own time, he failed, because the authorities would not listen. Leaving aside the terrible physical pain which was inflicted on him, he must have felt utterly dispirited for much of his life, as people rejected his beliefs and stubbornly upheld the status quo. 

But ultimately he triumphed over his failure and death, and established a body of men and women who would carry his ideas forward in what is known as the early Church.
Would he, or Peter, or Paul, recognise that Church now, I wonder, or would they think we had reverted to the days of the Pharisees, when no one at the top listened to the poor because they were considered to have nothing to say.

 "No surprise that there is lost confidence in the hierarchy by many  faithful Catholics worldwide when we read of so much that the hierarchy does? Are we still really expected to believe that married Catholic men cannot be ordained? 

Or that priests can't marry? And why, when the shortage of priests is causing constant wringing of hands, cannot "former" now married priests resume their ministry? Surely Truth is not served by the mental gymnastics required to reconcile the irreconcilable. The first pope was married. What is the problem?"

 Margaret Callinan, Melbourne, Australia

  A tradition of optional celibacy that has lasted nearly half a millennium is to be extinguished in a generation - odd considering that this important part of the Anglican patrimony is based on the practice of the early Church, a practice still retained by the Orthodox and Eastern Rite Catholics. 

I would refer the defenders of this mediaeval, magisterial Maginot Line to our armed forces. Here is a group of men and women, some single, some married. They live a strongly disciplined life under authority. They have to be ready at a moment's notice to go where they are needed, near or far, to lay on the line their health and their very lives.
I trust that none of those who so tenaciously defend compulsory clerical celibacy would be so foolish as to suggest that those troops who are married would be more readily available for service, more dedicated and more focused in its exercise if only they were celibate.
Patrick Bryan, Wolverhampton


Dangerous isolation of priests

Some alarm bells started ringing when I read of Archbishop Dolan's suggestion that Maynooth Seminarians should be set apart from their fellow students except for studies (The Tablet, 21 January). Most of the current living perpetrators of child abuse among the clergy came from such a segregated system.
The society from which future priests and religious come from is one where there is at one level a weakening of cultural forms that support sexual restraint and the idea of faithful commitment, but also there is an openness to talk about such matters. Most church students these days will have experienced this already, so what is the point of living apart from the people they will be called to minister to?
In Ireland in particular there is a need to rebuild a healthy relationship between clerical and lay if the church is to recover from all that has happened. The secular priesthood is not meant to be a flight from the world; surely both groups of students, both lay and clerical will grow mature and suspicions will be allayed by being in contact with each other. 

Being apart and wearing clerical dress is no sure way of protection for either group. Sex is not going to go away, and for those young seminarians the art of being a happy, sexual celibate in the world does seem to need much further development and support from fellow-students, both lay and clerical.
Fr John Michael Hanvey, Blackburn 26 January 2012

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