Latin Mass Society

Chairman's Blog

01/07/2018 - 10:00

Some worries about Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament: Part 1

 I saw this image in Twitter (h-t @SteveSkojec ). I am also inspired to write by this article by Fr Alexander Sherbrooke on the forthcoming introduction of perpetual adoration in his church of St Patrick's, Soho Square: more of that in Part 2.
There are a number of possible reactions to this photo. As Steve Skojek himself said, one must admire the devotion, while worrying about what is happening here.
This is not an isolated case from a far-away country. Below are photos from Youth 2000, one from a celebration in Cardiff, the other from Scotland. Notice the gesticulating young layman in the first, with the Blessed Sacrament, exposed, between him and the standing people. In the second it is possible to see the strange pyramid of candles supporting the monstrance, while a friar preaches, and the people (as far as I can tell), sit.
There is a lot going on here which needs to be unpacked. One thing is that this kind of event is a reaction against something clearly bad: the banishing of the Blessed Sacrament to an undistinguished corner of the church, if He is there at all; the loss of moments of contemplation in Mass; and the disappearance of Benediction and Blessed Sacrament Processions. These young Catholics want to be able to pray before Him.
But interestingly enough, in the Youth 2000 photographs, they are actually being prevented from doing so. Clearly the conflict has not been articulated by anyone involved, but instead of focusing on Him, they are being asked to listen to a preacher.  In the black-and-white photograph below, a priest preaches during a pause, at an outside Altar, in a Blessed Sacrament procession in Oxford in the 1940s. For this reason the Blessed Sacrament, in a monstrance on a 'throne' on this Altar, is hidden - yes, hidden - behind a specially-designed screen called a 'baffle'. (From the photographer's angle, you can actually see the monstrance behind the screen.) When the preacher finished, the baffle would be removed.
My concern is not to criticise people for failing to follow customs and rules which have not been in force for many decades. My point is rather to draw attention to the difference of attitude. When Our Blessed Saviour is exposed to view at the Elevation in Mass, or in Benediction, or in any other context, the tradition of the Church is that He takes centre-stage. He is not just a visual aid or prop. You don't just have Him sitting there while you do something else.
The first photograph is not about that, but it also illustrates the underlying problem. This is the problem of overfamiliarity. This will I am sure be incomprehensible to many Catholics who regard themselves as totally orthodox and devoted to the Eucharist. But if you believe that this little white Host is actually Our Lord, in his Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity, then you should act accordingly. The actions which reflect and articulate this belief are actions of reverence. The touching of the monstrance in the first picture is indeed a traditional gesture of reverence, one made to devotional images - you see this a lot in Catholic countries. Here is has been transferred to the monstrance. While the gesture is undoubtedly sincere, what this transference means is the demotion of the Blessed Sacrament to the level of a devotional image. 
That is also the level suggested by preaching in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament exposed: it looks exactly like the traditional practice, especially associated with the Franciscans, of preaching next to a crucifix, to which the preacher could from time to time draw attention.
Of course, the people in these photographs would be much less likely than their grandparents to touch, devotionally, the foot of a statue of St Peter, or see a priest point to a crucifix while preaching. What this means, nevertheless, is that the entire coinage has been debased.
Fr Ray Blake has pointed out that exposition should be something very special: it should be a high point of devotion. It should be done with the maximum possible solemnity: the largest possible number of candles, with incense, and so on.

Think about traditional ceremony of Benediction with the priest, who ordinarily has the privilege of touching the Host with his fingers, touching the monstrance only with a humeral veil for the moment of Benediction itself. What does that remind us of? It reminds us of the Altar Servers who should not touch the bishop's Mitre or Crozier with their hands, but use a special cloth, the vimpa, to hold them. It reminds us of the lay sacristan who puts on white cotton gloves, or uses a cloth, to move a ciborium. It reminds us of the subdeacon in High Mass who uses a humeral veil to hold the paten. The ceremony is making another kind of transferance: it transfers a practice necessary to a person of lesser dignity than the priest, to the priest himself, and by doing so it magnifies the status of the Blessed Sacrament, at that special moment. Instead of demoting the Blessed Sacrament, it demotes the priest, the better to allow us to see, at that moment, the vast gulf which separates the priest from the Christ he serves.
It does not devalue the coinage of symbolic gesture: it revalues it.
To be continued.
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29/06/2018 - 10:00

Another Pro-Life Mass in Oxford

Further to my proposal, following the abortion referendum in Ireland, for Masses of Reparation for abortion, we had one such Mass in Oxford recently; another is shortly to take place in London.

Wednesday 4th July, 7:30pm
7pm Wednesday 4th July, Sung Mass.
Our Lady of the Assumption, 10 Warwick Street, London W1B 5LZ

These are both Votive Masses pro remissione peccatorum: for the remission (forgiveness) of sin.

I had proposed the celebration not only that Votive Mass but also of Masses in honour of Our Lady of Guadalupe. This title of the Blessed Virgin Mary refers to her appearance in 1531 in New Spain (now Mexico). Among other things she arranged a miraculous image of herself to be indelibly imprinted on the cactus-fibre cloak of the seer, a humble peasant; this image can still be seen. Its survival for nearly 500 years itself defies natural explanation; so does the means used to create the image. Our Lady of Guadalupe was declared Patroness of the Americas by Pope Pius XII in 1946. She has been adopted as a patron of the Pro-Life movement because the image represents her during pregnancy: a state indicated (in accordance with the conventions of the time) by her black girdle.

Her feast-day, where it is celebrated, is on 12th December (the date in 1531 when the miraculous image was created). My intention is that we have a Votive Mass of Our Lady of Guadalupe as close as possible to this date, and if possible before the end of the University term.

I can now announce that a Sung Votive Mass of Our Lady of Guadalupe will be celebrated in Oxford for the intentions of the Pro-Life movement:

6pm Wednesday 28th November
SS Gregory and Augustine, 322 Woodstock Road, OX2 7NS

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27/06/2018 - 11:28

Cardinal Müller on the liberal agenda


These astonishing but perceptive words of Gerhard, Cardinal Müller, former Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, from an interview with Catholic World Report, deserve as wide an audience as possible.

They consider the secularization and de-Christianization of Europe as an irreversible development. For this reason the New Evangelization—the program of John Paul II and Benedict XVI—is in their view a battle against the objective course of history, resembling Don Quixote’s battle against the windmills. They are seeking for the Church a niche where it can survive in peace. Therefore all the doctrines of the faith that are opposed to the “mainstream,” the societal consensus, must be reformed.

One consequence of this is the demand for Holy Communion even for people without the Catholic faith and also for those Catholics who are not in a state of sanctifying grace. Also on the agenda are: a blessing for homosexual couples, intercommunion with Protestants, relativizing the indissolubility of sacramental marriage, the introduction of viri probati and with it the abolition of priestly celibacy, approval for sexual relations before and outside of marriage. These are their goals, and to reach them they are willing to accept even the division of the bishops’ conference.

The faithful who take Catholic doctrine seriously are branded as conservative and pushed out of the Church, and exposed to the defamation campaign of the liberal and anti-Catholic media.


It is important to recognise the shape of the liberal project.

1. It is not motivated in the first place by a rejection of the Faith. It is motivated by a reading of history which concludes that a restoration of Catholic culture is impossible, and that in order to survive the Church must find ways to accommodate herself to the hostile secular culture.

2. This process of adaptation, however, leads to a rejection of the Faith. Once the Real Presence, the historic understanding of sin and the priesthood, and the Indissolubility of Marriage have gone, it's not Catholicism any more. This is not consciously accepted by the liberal, however, who thinks he's rejected the chaff and kept the wheat.

3. Implementing the liberal strategy means dialling back any attempts at evangelisation which look as though they are in danger of being successful. It is not the tone or the liturgical preferences or the bad manners of the leaders or followers of this or that apostolate which is the problem. The problem is anything which draws attention to and makes attractive those aspect of the Faith which the liberal thinks should be jettisoned for the good of the Church.


This is a difficult point to grasp but it is important. The answer to the question 'is liberal Catholicism a diabolical conspiracy to destroy the Church?' is 'No': liberal Catholics are almost always sincere, often pious, frequently hard-working, with a serious analysis of the situation of the Church and the World which focuses on genuine, difficult realities about the current state of things.

The problem is that they strategy they have adopted, unlike traditional apostolic work, requires not just that they do things; it requires other people to stop doing things. This pushes them into a position in which they end up doing their utmost to shut down entirely orthodox and pastorally effective initiatives. Indeed, the more orthodox and the more effective, the more they must be shut down. And this looks quite remarkably like a diabolical conspiracy to destroy the Church.


Photos from Corpus Christi at SS Gregory & Augustine's, Oxford.

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26/06/2018 - 10:09

My presentation to the Rome Study Day

I gave the short opening address at the Study Day on Modernism in Rome, organised by the Lepanto Foundation, which took place on Saturday. Here it is.


Reverend Fathers, ladies and gentlemen.

The Roman historian Ammianus Marcellinus, in his history of the lamentable 4thcentury AD, observed that, as it became overwhelmed by barbarian invaders, the Empire behaved like an inexperienced boxer, moving to protect that part which had just been struck, instead of countering the blow to come. Those charged with the defence of the Catholic Faith, whether as Pastors, theologians, or simple members of the laity with the graces and the obligations which the sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation imply, have in recent years had a very similar experience. One day we find the indissolubility of sacramental marriage is under attack, an attack apparently supported by prominent Cardinals. A serious defence of this doctrine requires serious work. One looks up from one’s books six months or even six weeks later and the talk is no longer of the indissolubility of marriage: that topic has almost been forgotten. No, the internet is now alive with the question of whether homosexual unions can be a means of grace. However outrageous the proposal may seem, we may be sure that its proponents will be taking it for granted as a stepping-stone to something yet more shocking a year from now. What will that be? The mind boggles. How could one possibly prepare for the blow next to come?

It is tempting, in this situation, to respond to each issue in a superficial, polemical, way. And indeed many of the challenges thrown at the Faith in this age of social media deserve no more. However, the danger is that in the end the arguments in favour of our august Faith, revealed by God and entrusted to the safekeeping of the Apostles and their successors, begin to look as flippant and shallow as the arguments they oppose. It may appear to onlookers that they are observing merely two groups of people scoring debating-points off each other, a spectacle which is neither enlightening nor edifying.

There is, however, an alternative. There is a way of counting the blow just struck and the blow to come, because they both, in fact, derive ultimately from the same root. This entire debate, this entire dogmatic crisis, is driven by a set of closely related fundamental issues. Roughly speaking, these are the issues of the objectivity of the sacraments, the nature of sanctifying grace, the place of tradition and authority in theology, and the nature of truth itself, in faith and in morals. These issues have come to prominence in the historical context of the Modernist movement, of the Nouvelle Theologie, of Neo-Modernism, and of the liturgical reform.

This shifting of the focus from the specific to the general and the fundamental has been the approach of the Appeal to the Cardinals of 2016, and of the Correctio Filialis of 2017, of both of which I had the privilege of being the Spokesman. It was the approach of the Four Cardinals’ Dubia, also in 2016, and it is the approach of the present Study Day. My experience of the debate arising out of the earlier initiatives has confirmed to me that this approach is the correct one.

It was clear to the signatories of the Appeal and of the Correctio Filialis alike that only in the context of dissent from, or serious misunderstanding of, the Church’s teaching on the fundamental issues just noted can the specific, startling pastoral proposals we encounter each morning in the news make sense, let alone be found attractive. And yet it is also seems to be true that few of those who disturb the tranquillity of the Faithful with these proposals recognise that they are connected with such fundamental and problematic issues. If you point out the fundamental issues, many of these individuals are genuinely baffled, as though they had never given them a moment’s thought.

In the course of the intense debates following, particularly, the Correctio Filialis, I was not aware of anyone coming forward, for example, with a theology of marriage which would allow divorce and remarriage; a theology of the Eucharist that rejected the Real Presence; or a theology of Grace which rejected the distinction between mortal and venial sin. It would not be difficult to do so: such theologies are two-a-penny in Protestant circles. But the new pastoral orientation of Pope Francis, or whatever its defenders wish to call it, is not to have fundamental theological foundations of any kind. We may think that it calls for this or that theological presupposition, but the official line of its supporters is that it is compatible with all the fundamentals of the Catholic Faith, but that this compatibility should not be clarified or discussed, on pain of disloyalty to the Holy Father. There is simply a zone of compelled silence where one would expect a theological argument to be.

The benefit of pressing the fundamental issues, then, should be apparent. By doing so we were able to force our critics to come to a decision. Either they care about the teaching of the Church, or they do not. Still without setting out a coherent alternative theological structure, we found at this point in the discussion that a number of our more committed critics began to ridicule the idea that Divine Revelation, Tradition, or the historic Papal Magisterium could bind the Church or the Holy Father today. One of the high points of this process was a Tweet, which became famous, despite its subsequent deletion, by the theologian Massimo Faggioli:

Problem is the theological view conveyed by some of the most active promoters of the Old Mass—theological views that are not Catholic any more.


A similar sentiment was expressed by Austen Ivereigh, Papal biographer and co-founder of  Catholic Voices, only a few days ago; it is still being ridiculed on Twitter.

One time, the fringe at big Catholic events was made up of LGBT groups, women’s ordination & ‘Church of the poor’ advocates, complete with their friendly bishops. Now the fringe is occupied by traditionalists (incl bishops) pushing a 1930 encyclical as a way out of ‘confusion’.

The 1930 encyclical referred to is Pope Pius XI’s Casti conubii.

Such responses brings serious discussion to an end. One can only argue with a person with whom one has something in common, such as a shared commitment to the principle of non-contradiction. But this exchange revealed to faithful Catholics and to non-Catholics alike that there is a real difference between the parties in the current debate. It is not simply two groups of people scoring debating points off each other, to re-use my own image. It is, rather, the difference between a serious and sincere attempt to engage with theological issues and something essentially frivolous: an attitude which says, in the end, ‘I don’t care what past Popes said—what Vatican II said—what Our Lord and Saviour said. That was then and this is now.’ On the one hand, it is impossible to argue with this, but on the other, it is unnecessary to argue with it. By saying that, one’s opponent has revealed his empty hand.

I believe that Faggioli’s tweet did more benefit to the supporters of the Correctio than many thousands of words written by the Correctio’s often academically distinguished supporters. But he would not have been provoked into making that admission had it not been for the spotlight being forcibly shone onto the fundamental issues.

Two other responses from critics of the Correctio are also worth noting. I found myself in direct dialogue with Robert Fastiggi and Dawn Eden Goldstein, who encapsulate the Ultramontanist response. The discrepancies between, for example, the guidelines for the implementation of Amoris laetitia by the Bishops of Buenos Aires, and Pope John Paul II’s Familaris consortio, simply didn’t matter, on their view, and need not be examined: Pope Francis’s authority is enough.

Again, I think it is useful to take a step back from our attempts to persuade each other, and ask how this looks to others, viewing the debate online. What they see, as with the earlier examples, is one side presenting substantive theological and philosophical arguments, and the other side trying to close down the debate by appealing to the authority of the living Pope. We needn’t wait to see how they will react to a new Pope with different ideas to those of Pope Francis: we have already seen how they reacted to the transition from John Paul II and Pope Benedict to Francis himself. This is not an intellectually serious position.

Finally, the most theologically intricate response came from Rocco Buttiglione, building on an article he wrote defending Amoris laetitia in L’Osservatore Romano.


To the extent that Buttiglione engages in a serious way with the arguments his contribution is to be welcomed, as part of a theological discussion which many of Pope Francis’ self-appointed partisans would prefer not to have. His position makes clear the disadvantages, for them, of this approach, however, since his conclusions do not permit the concrete pastoral proposals which are put forward under the cover of Amoris: notably, he wrote that sinners should receive sacramental Absolution before receiving Holy Communion.

On the other hand, his argument hinges on the claim that Amorisproposes disciplinary rather than doctrinal changes, and to establish this he found it necessary to insist repeatedly that public sinners, such as those living in irregular unions, were ‘excommunicated’ until the time of the 1983 Code of Canon Law. This of course is a historical nonsense which is, moreover, a simple matter for historians to establish. It represents a more subtle example of the denigration of the past than those offered by Faggioli and Ivereigh, but it serves the same purpose. We should not seek guidance from any documents more than a few years old because they belong to a time of darkness.

And so, today, we gather to study and discuss some of these fundamental issues. Far from this being a distraction from the current crisis taking place at the messy, pastoral level, in dioceses and parishes around the world, I believe it is the approach which can address our practical problems in a uniquely productive way, and lends significance and weight to the sensible things being said on the less fundamental, specific issues, issues which shift from day to day like sand-dunes in the desert.

The matters we address today are large ones, and our purpose today is to open, or progress, a debate on them, rather than to close the debate on them. We do not have a pre-conceived set of conclusions, we are not aiming to produce a joint statement, and we have not limited our speakers to those of one, narrow, viewpoint. We wish to investigate, to debate, to shed light, in such a way that will ultimately help provide an intellectual and cultural basis upon which a coherent and attractive defence of the Faith may be built, one which will be proof against the full range of fashionable errors. We do so in all humility, as theologians, philosophers, and historians, not simply willing, as the conventional phrase has it, to submit our judgement to the judgement of the Church, but aiming above all to bring to light, to clarify, and to recommend to all men of good will not our own speculations, but that very judgement of the Church. In the words of St Vincent of Lerins:

Now in the Catholic Church itself we take the greatest care to hold that which has been believed everywhere, always and by all... . We shall hold to the rule if we follow universality, antiquity, consent. We shall follow universality if we acknowledge that one Faith to be true which the whole Church throughout the world confesses; antiquity, if we in no wise depart from the interpretations which it is clear that our ancestors and fathers proclaimed; consent, if in antiquity itself we keep following the definitions of all, or certainly nearly all, bishops and doctors alike... .

What will the Catholic Christian do, if a small part of the Church has cut itself off from the communion of the universal Faith? ... He will prefer the healthiness of the whole body to the morbid and corrupt limb. But what if some novel contagion try to infect the whole Church, and not merely a portion of it? Then, he will take care to cleave to antiquity which cannot now be led astray by any deceit of novelty. But what if in antiquity itself two or three men, or it may be a city, or even a whole province be detected in error? Then he will take the greatest care to prefer the decrees of the ancient General Councils... . But what if some error arises regarding which nothing of this sort can be found? Then he must do his best to compare the opinions of the Fathers... . And whatever he shall find to have been held, approved and taught, not by one or two only, but by all equally and with one consent, openly, frequently, and persistently, let him take this to be held by him without the slightest hesitation.



Tweet dated 2nd October 2017


July 19th2016


Commonitorium, II: 3 - III: 4

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25/06/2018 - 13:15

Blog post reproduced on Conservative Woman

A post from this blog about Feminism, weeds and jerks has been re-published on Conservative Woman: go over there to read it.

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24/06/2018 - 10:00

Masses of Reparation


I've been getting behind with my photos, but I want to remind readers not only that the Mass of Reparation for the Abortion Referendum in Ireland took place in Oxford as planned, on Friday 15th, but that another will take place in London:

Wednesday 4th July, 7:30pm
7pm Wednesday 4th July, Sung Mass.
Our Lady of the Assumption, 10 Warwick Street, London W1B 5LZ

The Mass in Oxford was well-attended. It was low-key but beautiful. It is important to understand how the ancient liturgy, and in general authentic Catholic culture, calls on us to embrace a mortified life, a life of penance, but that this does not mean ugliness. Sorrow does not exclude joy; repentance implies hope. The Votive Mass pro remissione peccatorum is about sin, yes, but about God's willingness to enable us to overcome it. The gospel gives us the saying of Our Lord, 'Ask and you shall receive'. If we ask for the grace of repentance, we will receive it. If we ask for forgiveness, God will take us back into his love and friendship. If we ask him to help us restore the evils done by ourselves and by others, he will listen to that also.

Liberal theology is the theology of despair. It says that repentance is impossible for us, a life of grace in the future is impossible for us, a restoration of justice and beauty and innocence is impossible: it tells us to accept the ugliness and depravity and make the most of it. This is absurd: evil, even. At every moment in her history the Church has been making reparation, has been restoring, rebuilding, and purifying: a work of joy which overcomes sorrow. We have restored the fabric of our churches, we have restored the fabric of our societies, and above all, and most lastingly, we have restored the tattered fabric of the human spirit.

These things are only possible with God's help: contrary to the liberal, that is not a euphemism for 'impossible'; it draws our attention, rather, to the need for prayer, and collective, liturgical, prayer, as the centre of our endeavour.

It is not too late to make a start: and not too early, either.


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22/06/2018 - 12:00

Conference on Modernism, Rome, Saturday: follow online, live

This promises to be an interesting conference, with a host of interesting speakers. I have a cameo appearance, giving the short opening address. You can watch the whole thing live on YouTube.

You can't be in Rome on June 23rd?

Subscribe for € 10 and follow the live streaming of the study day on the theme:

Old and new modernism. The roots of the Church's crisis

To view the program click here.

The conference will be broadcast on the YouTube channel of the Italian press agency Corrispondenza romana. The speeches will be in the original language.

All subscribers will receive a private link that will be active from 9am on June 23rd. To register for the live conference click here.

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21/06/2018 - 07:00

Corrupt bishops: why it is a problem: Part 1

The shocking news about Cardinal McCarrick prompts me to repost this, from September 2014. The subsequent posts on the series can be seen here and here.


It is hard to think of a precedent in England and Wales for what has happened to Bishop Kieran Conry, though there are plenty from other countries. The downfall of Cardinal O'Brien over the border in Scotland is an obvious one, a closer parallel, however, is afforded by the career of late Bishop of Argyll and the Isles (in north west Scotland), 'Roddy' Wright. I discussed this on this blog because Mgr Basil Loftus had declared that Bishop Wright had merely wanted to get married to the woman he loved. How sweet. Loftus neglected to mention that the wretched Wright had been having affairs with two women, one of them married, simultaneously, and eloped (this was back in 1996) with the one by whom he had not had a child; other affairs had apparently preceded this.

I have no wish to engage in prurient judgmentalism about Bishop Conry, but precisely because this is a new thing for us in England and Wales it is important to consider what we should learn from it.

What Basil Loftus would like us to conclude - and Catherine Pepinster, editor of the Tablet, was quick to make this point on Twitter - is that it is further evidence that mandatory clerical celibacy should be ended. This reaction has become such an ingrained reflex among liberals that they haven't stopped to think about the circumstances of this case. What sort of 'marriage' would have suited Bishop Conry or Bishop Wright? Some sort of free-wheeling polyamorous ménage, one assumes, open to women who are inconveniently married to other men, men who aren't necessarily very happy about sharing the marital bed with their bishop.

No, one must recognise this for what it is. Liberals can talk chirpily about priests merely 'falling in love', and how the problem could be solved by letting them marry, but there is a huge problem here of the priest's spiritual authority, a problem exacerbated when the cleric is a bishop. I've no idea what happened with Bishop Conry, but the stereotyped story, which has happened often enough, is of a woman who comes to a priest with a problem about her marriage, and if the priest is 'down with the kids' and lacks the formality and boundaries vital for the job, they end up in bed together. The priest may be a calculating serial adulterer or he may be naive, but this isn't a normal relationship of equals, or even a 'normal' adulterous affair, because the priest's spiritual authority has the effect of making the women think that, at least in its opening stages, what is happening must be ok, and anyway she is both in awe of him, and aware that he can make things difficult for her if resists. The priest's prestige and authority makes the situation intrinsically problematic, even abusive.

In the recent past, when sanity had not yet departed the education system in despair, it was thought a matter of serious professional misconduct for a teacher or even university tutor to have an affair with a pupil or student, because the teacher's prestige, in the student's eyes, and power over the student, makes the whole thing unfair. This is true to a far greater extent with priests, and even more so with bishops.

Does this mean that it would be hugely problematic simply to end 'clerical celibacy'? Yes it does. How do the Orthodox deal with the problem? They don't: their priests and bishops are not allowed to marry. How can this reality be conveyed through the liberals' thick skulls? Let me say it again: the Orthodox churches do not permit priests and bishops to marry. On the eve of their diaconate seminarians conventionally find a wife, before ordination; if she dies, they may not remarry. Only celibates - generally speaking that means monks - are consecrated bishops. Priests flirting and courting and getting married among the Orthodox? No, no, no.

Please note that when serious people talk about changing the discipline of celibacy in the Latin Church, they are talking about the possibility of adopting the Orthodox approach, and that is what the concessions to convert Anglican clerics amounts to. No serious person imagines that the Church could just allow priests to marry. And married bishops? Forget it. And will priests be allowed to have a series of adulterous affairs one day? Er...

How do the Anglicans manage it? As best they can. One can at least observe that their theology of the ordained ministry does not place create quite such a disproportion of power in the cleric vis-a-vis the object of his, or her, attentions; that courtship and marriage during training or very early in a clerical career is somewhat less problematic, than later; and that clerical courtships have always provided our separated brethren with a rich vein of humour. Who can forget Trollope's superb fictional widow Mrs Bold boxing the ear of the insufferable bishop's chaplain, Mr Slope, in response to his proposal of marriage? The tremulous advances of Dr. Chasuble towards Miss Prism in Oscar Wilde's The Importance of Being Earnest? Or Sydney Smith's observation:

How can a bishop marry? How can he flirt? The most he can say is, 'I will see you in the vestry after service.'

When it comes to priests bound by a vow of celibacy, dealing with (often married) women in a very vulnerable emotional state, seduction, however, is no laughing matter. It is not a peccadillo we should shrug off indulgently. It is a very serious moral evil, with an ever-widening circle of victims. By all means let us pray for Bishop Conry. The revelation of his crimes should make us more vigilant, not less, about the way priests behave.

It is time we put the boot on the other foot. When this kind of thing happens, we must learn to say, not that the rules should be relaxed somehow, but that the touchy-feely, hugging-and-kissing, face-to-face confession, open-necked shirt approach to the priesthood is collapsing under its own contradictions. A more traditional conception of the priesthood is actually the only one which is going to stop behaviour in which women are hurt, children are hurt, husbands are hurt, parishes are hurt, and priests are ultimately destroyed.

2011 05 21_9735
Ordinations in the Traditional rite for the FSSP in Denton, Nabraska, USA

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19/06/2018 - 10:00

Michael Davis attacks home-schoolers

The quiz at the end of the St Catherine's Trust annual Summer School, attended
by about 50-50 home-educated and school-educated children. Details of this year's here.

Cross-posted from Rorate Caeli.

A while ago the Catholic Herald journalist Michael Davis thought he'd do a good turn to the Traditional Catholic movement (with which he apparently identifies) by describing us as hateful bigots and antisemites. Now he's decided to do a similar favour to homeschoolers.

It works like this. First, Davis starts the article with a reference to the staggering success of homeschoolers: it seems that they are providing 10% of vocations to the priesthood in the USA, a proportion vastly in excess of their numbers.

Second, Davis lists all the tired old criticisms of homseschooling. Homeschooling is against the teaching of the Church; the children aren't 'socialised'; the parents are 'helicopter parents' who 'seal off their children in a bubble'; even the apparent good of the vocations is undermined by the snarky suggestion that the vocations aren't genuine and the priests won't be good pastors.

Step three is to hold up his hands and say: Oh well, maybe these problems can be avoided by some homseschoolers. Citing one particular group, he says vocations coming from it 'won’t be stereotypically paranoid, socially awkward homeschooled kids': unlike all the other homeschooled children, right?

No doubt he expects us all to congratulate him on what a balanced article he has produced.

The problem is that, just as in the 'oh perhaps not all traditional Catholics are hateful bigots' article, he has reiterated and reinforced an extremely damaging negative stereotype which needs confronting and assessing. Is it true? Because obviously, if the stereotype isn't true, then a balanced assessment would use it even as one side of the see-saw.

The claim that home education is against the teaching of the Church, perhaps with an exception for 'crisis' circumstances, is obviously insane, since, first, the Church has always taught that parents are the 'primary and principal educators' ('primi et praecipui ...educatores': Gravissimum educationis 3, Vatican II) of their children; and, second, the existence of schools available even to the majority of the population, let alone all of it, is not only historically contingent but historically rare. It is rather more reasonable to say that good Catholic schools, where they exist, can offer educational, social and cultural opportunities homeschoolers will generally find difficult to arrange, and that parents' choice of educational options will take this into account. But that doesn't have quite the same ring to it, does it?

Are children not as well 'socialised' with home education than in standard schools? Is there any actual, you know, evidence out there? Well, here's an article in The Economist, hardly a hippy or traddy publication, which notes:

Nor, on the evidence of Mr Murphy’s book, are they socially backward: most seem confident, assured and well-adjusted. They also have fewer behavioural problems. But one study did find higher attrition rates when they enter the armed forces.

If Davis prefers to keep things at the level of anecdote, I would suggest he spends some time with children from ordinary schools and home-schooled children of equivalent ages. If he has remotely representative children to talk to, he will discover for himself the often-repeated truth that the latter exhibit greater social skills, self-confidence, and intellectual curiosity. In a good many cases, in fact, children are taken out of school and put into a homeschooling routine because the vaunted 'socialisation' of ordinary schools is threatening to do them permanent psychological damage. If Davis has not, in fact, met people who have been badly harmed by the 'socialisation' of standard schools, he needs to get out more.

So, is homeschooling 'the ultimate form of helicopter parenting'? At this point I feel like banging my head on the table. Has he actually talked to any? Home educators don't all have the same educational philosophy, any more than schools do, but it is the nature of homeschooling that teachers can't arrange 24-hr contact time, because the teachers - mostly parents - have other things to do, including other children to teach. This means that children are challenged to work on their own from an early age, and are freer pursue their own interests. Furthermore (and here's a point connected with the question of socialisation), homsechooled children will spend more time in different groups doing things like sports: unlike a parochial school, it won't be the same 30 class-mates in the playground, on the hockey field, and in the chemistry lab. What parents can do, of course, is to establish to their satisfaction that the things their children are doing, and the people they are doing them with, are ok, and intervene if they are not.

Helicopter parenting, if the phrase means anything, is a reaction to the problems of children swapping internet porn, bullying, and inadequate classroom teaching, and it is a reaction which does not work. No amount of ringing up the headmaster and attending parents' meetings can effectively deal with those issues, as we have all heard (those of us who haven't stuck our fingers in our ears) from countless despairing parents. Homeschoolers don't need to 'helicopter' their children because they can ensure that they are safe and are being educated.

Finally, do homeschoolers 'seal their children off' in a 'bubble'? Here's a funny thing. That is what schools are supposed to do. When you send your children off to school, the idea - if there is any idea at all - is that this completely artificial, enormously complicated, and hideously expensive institution constitutes a special environment, contrived after deep thought and long experience, to be uniquely conducive to education and socialisation.

As a matter of fact I don't think schools have ever been very good at socialisation: just read a few school reminiscences, such as the relevant passages of Betchman's Summoned by Bells or Lewis' Surprised by Joy, and the glory days of the English Public School quickly lose their charm. Today, with social-media bullying and the normalisation of playground rape, together with the almost total collapse of educational standards, the majority of schools in the developed world are a uniquely poor environment for both purposes. Like Anthony Esolen, I really wonder if children would be better off running around in the woods on their own. However, that's not the only alternative. Home educating parents set to work to create some kind of educational and socialising environment, and the results show that they they do so with a degree of success, even while leaving their children a lot more time to run around in the woods than children in schools have.

The claim that home educated children who discern vocations make bad priests is, I think, not worthy of a response. It is a disgusting, though apparently thoughtless, slur on hundreds of priests Davis has not met, and to those with the responsibility for forming them. Davis owes them an apology.

Davis does not appear to be interested in thinking seriously about the merits of home education. Perhaps that would be too much effort. Instead he just recycles negative prejudices on the subject while simultaneously admitting that the results don't seem too bad.

If this is what the Catholic press is about today, then it is about as much use as the Catholic educational system.


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14/06/2018 - 19:06

Counting our blessings: 10 years of Summorum Pontificum in England and Wales

Bishop Schneider in London

Last summer, on the occasion of the 10th anniversary of Summorum Pontificum, I was asked for illustratative statistics by Paix Liturgique. This is what I came up with, from the Latin Mass Society's records:

Locations with 'every Sunday' Masses (excluding Saturday evening Masses)
2007: 20
2012: 34
2017: 40

Christmas Masses (including Midnight, Dawn, and Day Masses)
2006: 10
2012: 44
2016: 71

I thought of these numbers when my attention was drawn to a post on a somewhat obscure blog which claims, without giving a great deal of even anecdotal evidence, that the Traditional Mass is 'stagnating' in England and Wales.

It strikes the author of that post as very significant that the numbers attending, for example, the 11 o'clock Novus Ordo 'bells and smells' Mass at the Oxford Oratory, have declined, in recent years, only a bit, whereas the numbers at the 8am Low EF in the same church have merely tripled, as have numbers at the equivalent, 9am Low EF in the London Oratory. I can't squeeze a great deal of pessimism for the Traditional Mass's cause out of that, but maybe that's just me.
I would like to note, however, some of the limits to growth in attendance at the Traditional Mass in England and Wales, and what needs to happen for growth to continue. The first thing for non-residents to understand about England and Wales is that the Catholic population is very low. In the United States, Australia, and even Scotland, Catholics make up about a quarter of the population. In Ireland and parts of Canada, and the historically Catholic countries of Continental Europe, even in these evil days the proportion is even higher. Since the 16th century, however, 10% has been a good reading in England and Wales, and it is currently more like 8%.
What this means is that if you have really lovely liturgy - EF or OF - in a really lovely church in a big city in a lot of these countries you can haul in a lot more people than you can in this country. The number of Catholics within, say 30 or 40 minutes' drive of a city-centre church, is of a completely different order of magnitude in an American city than in a British one. (Naturally, church-going Catholics aren't the only potential attendees, but they are going to form the bulk of the congregation.)
This means that when the ICKSP and the FSSP and indeed the new Oratories of St Philip Neri set up in English and Welsh cities and connurbations (and they have: Cardiff, Bournemouth, York, Manchester, New Brighton, Preston, Warrington) they have a harder nut to crack that their equivalents in the USA, Australia, and elsewhere. Please stop telling us it is because English Catholics are bad people, lazy, lacking in spirit, or incapable of self-criticism. They have to run twice as fast to keep up with the results you can expect in countries where there are twice, three times, or four times as many Catholics in the general population to start with.
This means that, generally speaking, congregations are going to be smaller, and resources more limited. Readers may be interested to know that even the enormous congregation at the 11 o'clock mostly-Latin Novus Ordo in the London Oratory is not remotely sufficient to pay for the music for which that church is justly famous. The money has to be supplemented by major benefactors. Unless we find the Magic Money Tree, weekly music of this standard is not going to appear to accompany the Traditional Mass anywhere in this country any time soon.

Another truth about England and Wales is that it is not Singapore: we don't all live in one high-density city. The spread of the Traditional Mass in England and Wales is a matter of getting it onto the parish schedules of more and more churches around the country, so that people can actually get to it. At this point people usually tell me that the Real Trads in the USA think nothing of 4-hour round trips to get to the EF on a Sunday, unlike the feeble people we call Trads here, but I would make two observations. The first is the cost of motor-fuel relative to average incomes in the two places. The second is that as a matter of fact there are a good number of Traditional Catholics who do go to extraordinary lengths to attend the EF, but that is about holding on to what you already know, not trying out something new which you might not like.

Getting the Traditional Mass into a new church, as a regular Sunday fixture, is an extraordinarily difficult thing to do in England and Wales. Our churches are heavily used and our priests are fully committed. Only in quite unusual situations can a time-slot and a priest both be made available. And so, yes, in the five years from 2012 to 2017, progress on this measure was of only 6 churches. Not much more than one a year.

As the squeeze on the number of clergy serving our churches tightens, the attempt to keep up all the existing Masses has made more and more demands on priests' time. One reaction by the bishops has been to try to protect their priests from impossible demands by stopping them creating new Masses, and trying to reduce the numbers of Masses in parishes - it's not as if they are all full - as well as by closing parishes. Drastic changes occasioned by parish mergers can occasionally make new EF Mass times possible, but naturally that is a very slow business.

However, we are winning at a more fundamental level, and this fundamental victory will in time be reflected in the number of Masses. What I mean is in the attitude of bishops and priests, particularly the influential senior clergy, to the Traditional Mass. Ten years ago, and before that, there was a great deal of hostility. While some still cling to that, for the most part this has melted away. It has done so partly as a result of generational change, but also because as the EF has become more widespread and normalised, everyone has been able to see that it, and the priests who say it and the people who attend it, are not freaks or monsters, but faithful Catholics.

Not only is the hostility disappearing, but the number of priests able and wanting to celebrate the Traditional Mass grows with every year that passes. The younger seminarians are not all keen on it, but if 50% of the brighter ones are, things are going to look very different in 20 years' time. And then there is the extraordinary number of vocations to the Traditional Institutes, notably to the Fraternity of St Peter, which have come from England and Wales.

Another issue to bear in mind is that, from the point of view of liturgical renewal, the Traditional Latin Mass has become, for practical purposes, the only show in town. The theoretical and practical impetus for 'Latin Novus Ordo' and varieties of 'Reform of the Reform', which have never spread beyond a tiny number of churches in this country, is played out. True, lots of people still go to the Latin NO in the Oxford and London Oratories, but no one is going to create new ones in new churches. It is a complete liturgical dead-end.

And here is something else. The experience of the last ten years has taught us that when the Traditional Mass is established in a new location, where there is little if any proven demand, it attracts a congregation. With the Traditional Institutes' new churches, this can be a congregation comparable or bigger than the typical prime-time congregation of nearby parish churches. Where we are talking about a church offereing both Forms, and if the Mass times provide a reasonably level playing-field, it can become the most popular Mass of the day. This has happened again and again, and reinforces my point that to spread the Traditional Mass what is needed, in the end, is for it to get into more churches.

It is frustrating to see so many priests who'd like to celebrate the EF on a Sunday in their churches not able to do so. But this pent-up supply is not going away: it is increasing. And when it is able to manifest itself in a new local Mass, it creates its own demand.

I'm optimistic about the future of the Traditional Mass in England and Wales, because of these longer-term trends. I have seen the transition from a generation of openly hostile senior priests and bishops to open-minded ones with other, urgent, issues uppermost in their minds. Knowing what the younger clergy are like, I forsee another transition among senior priests and bishops: from seeing the Traditional Mass as an eccentricity to be tolerated, or an opportunity for the off-loading of a crumbling historic church, to seeing it as a evangelical weapon to be deployed.

When that day comes, will we be ready?


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