Latin Mass Society

Chairman's Blog

14/03/2016 - 13:08

The English Bishops, the Prayer for the Jews, and bad PR

IMG_0369An image from the Mass of the feast of St Gregory the Great, who threatened
excommunication for anyone attempting to force Jews to convert to Christianity.I explained in the last post in this series that there are, in the reformed Liturgy of the Hours, numerous prayers for the conversion of the Jews: specifically, the conversion of Jews to Christianity, by accepting Christ as the Messiah, as in:

Let Israel recognise in you the Messiah it has longed for; 

may the Jewish people accept you [sc. Christ] as their awaited Deliverer [Latin: 'Messiah']

In the Bishops' Conference press release about the need to change the Extraordinary Form Prayer for the Jews in the Good Friday Liturgy, Archbishop MacDonald complained that by comparison with the 1970 Novus Ordo equivalent, the 2008 version 'reverted to being a prayer for the conversion of Jews to Christianity'. Other have noted, as problematic, that the title of the prayer in the Missal is 'pro conversione Iudaiorum' instead of, as in the Novus Ordo, simply, 'For the Jews'.

How are we to understand these complaints? Naturally, we must assume that spokesmen are being honest and are reasonably well-informed. What this is about, on those assumptions, is presentation, of controlling perceptions, above all by Jews. As I noted in the last post, the suppression of the more explicit language of conversion in the Novus Ordo cannot be explained theologically, since the explict language was retained in the Liturgy of the Hours published the year after the reformed Missal: 1971. Nevertheless, the Good Friday prayers have come to Jews' attention (why? as a result of briefing by whom?), the Liturgy of the Hours prayers have not, so - the argument must be - it will be possible to make progress in terms of Catholic-Jewish relations if we talk about changing the Good Friday Prayer and ignore the Liturgy of the Hours.

So the question arises: the Bishops of England and Wales made their move - how did it go down? This question of public relations, from its normally peripheral importance in theological and liturgical matters, becomes central: this was the whole object of the exercise. It is of course easy to answer. England is a small place, and the Jewish community has a long-established and widely respected newspaper, the Jewish Chronicle, which covers all things of interest to the Jewish community, and is available online without a paywall. So what do we find?

The Catholic press had a smattering of coverage of the issue. The Catholic Herald had an analytical piece with quotes from me and others, and the other Catholic papers just had little news items. But to repeat, this is not about perceptions by Catholics, it is about perceptions by Jews. What did the Jewish Chronicle (JC) have to say?

As far as news is concerned, there was nothing. Despite the involvement of the Chief Rabbi in the dialogue leading up to the announcement, and his willingness to give quotes to the Catholic Universe and so forth, the JC did not think the think the event was worth reporting. Most unfortunately, however, it was noticed by its leading op-ed columnist, an academic historian called Geoffrey Aldermann.

Now, to understand his angle on it, you have to remember how the whole issue has been spun in recent years. As we all know, John Cornwell published his book Hitler's Pope in 1999. The massive publicity given to this book has established a media narrative that, never mind Medieval anti-Semitism, the actions of a recent Pope, Pius XII, should be explained in terms of sympathy for Nazism, and contemptuous indifference, if not hatred, towards the Jews. The dark past of the Catholic Church, on this issue, sweeps up through Medieval anti-Jewish riots, through French anti-Drefus activism, and into support for Hitler, not just by German Catholics but by an Italian Pope. It was opposed by the progressive faction at Vatican II, because that was about a break with the past, and the past is bad. Any move towards theological conservatism, any move towards making use of the Church's past, is tarred by the anti-Semitic brush.

Cornwell's followers might express it like this: don't tell us about the good points of the Catholic past, any more than you should tell us about the good points of Hitler's economic policy. It is all tainted. It must all be rejected. In this way, Cornwell's book might be said to be more about the ailing Pope John Paul II, and the question of who would succeed him, than about the events of the 1930s and 1940s.

When Pope Benedict liberated the Traditional Mass in 2007, the narrative swung into action. It was very handy that a contrast could be drawn between the traditional and the new Prayer for the Jews on Good Friday. Bishop Williamson's remarks on the Holocaust were a stunning boon to the narrative. The fact that Pope Benedict XVI was German also helped. Plenty of people in the Church who hated Pope Benedict and also hated the Traditional Mass were on hand to push things along. The whole thing gained, in media terms, a 'new pair of legs'.

This is a powerful media narrative, but it is not a universal one. It can be undermined and confronted. Great work has been done on this from all sorts of angles, and it is worth stressing that, motivated by a love of the truth, many Jews have played an important part in this: see Rabbi Neusner on the Prayer for the Jews, Rabbi Dalin on Pius XII, and a columnist in the pages of the Jewish Chronicle, on Pius XII here. But it remains a safe and lazy option for many liberal Catholics and secular commentators.

So here is what Geoffrey Alderamann wrote. Those of a sensitive dispostion, look away now.

In the matter of Jews, the Second Vatican Council reached some brave conclusions. It stressed the Jewish roots of Christianity and God's love for the Jewish people. It declared that "although the Church is the new people of God, the Jews should not be presented as rejected or accursed by God". These bold statements appear to have angered many of the Catholic faithful, and the demotion of the Tridentine Mass appears to have angered many more. Benedict XVI - formerly Joseph Ratzinger, one-time member of the Hitler Youth who, as the Vatican website calmly put it, "enrolled in the auxiliary anti-aircraft service" of Nazi Germany - was determined to make amends. He revived the Tridentine Mass, with the result that each year, on Good Friday (commemorating the execution of Jesus), the Roman Catholic faithful are once more enjoined to pray "for the conversion of the Jews". Where the faithful were once expected to "pray for the Jewish people, the first to hear the word of God, that they may continue to grow in the love of his name and in faithfulness to his covenant," they are now enjoined to cry out "Let us pray also for the Jews, that the Lord our God may take the veil from their hearts and that they may also acknowledge our Lord Jesus Christ."

(The Jewish Chronicle declined to print my or any other letter responding to this article.)

Having read this, my readers will be able to answer the following question. Has the decision by the Bishops' Conference of England and Wales played well, from a PR point of view?

Instead of confronting the negative media narrative about Catholic anti-Semitism, instead of supporting brave authors like Rabbi Neusner who stuck his neck out for the truth, they have chosen a different approach. To concede, at least by implication, that there is truth in the narrative, but it is ok because we are making that break with the past which the narrative demands.

The degree to which such a move strengthens the narrative can be seen in technicolour in the passage from Dr Aldermann. He ends on a positive note: that Pope Francis looks like a man who is going to make a really big break with the past, and isn't that great? But in the meantime, the problem remains that celebrations of the Traditional Mass continue, and accordint to the narrative the problem with the Traditional Mass is far from being just about this one prayer. Furthermore, the whole thing is going blow up in the bishops' faces when, as seems overwhelmingly likely, Rome declines to change the prayer.

At least, it will blow up in their faces if anyone notices. Dr Aldermann may not find out. The bishops had better hope he doesn't find out, either, about their tolerance and in many cases support for the Traditional Mass, their work of architectural and spiritual restoration, and their use of those prayers for the conversion of the Jews of the Liturgy of the Hours. The great thing about a lazy media narrative is that the kind of people who use it tend not to be the kind of people who'd spend even a few minutes on Google exploring its implications, and aren't the kind of people who revisit their old articles when they are proved wrong. But you never know. What would Dr Aldermann make of the fact that Archbishop MacDonald himself created an official Chaplaincy for the Traditional Mass when he was Archbishop of Southwark?

We will probably never know. But a note to my readers: don't tell anyone.

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12/03/2016 - 10:48

The other Prayers for the Jews

IMG_0362'But their minds were made dull, for to this day the same veil 
remains when the old covenant is read.
It has not been removed, because only in Christ
 is it taken away.' 2 Cor 3:14
Over on Rorate Caeli I am today publishing a Position Paper on the Prayer for the Jews said during the Good Friday Liturgy in the Extraordinary Form. Go over there to read it.

Here I am going to add some additional commentary, in a hope a digestible form. The first thing I want to tackle is the other Prayers for the Jews: the ones the English bishops don't want to change, at least not at the moment, or at least aren't petitioning Rome about.

So here's a little competition. Which of the following prayers is a serious threat to peaceful and productive dialogue between Catholics and Jews?

A. Let Israel recognise in you the Messiah it has longed for; fill all men with the knowledge of your glory.

B. Let us pray also for the Jews: that our God and Lord may be pleased to shine the light of his face over them; that they too may acknowledge Jesus Christ our Lord as the Redeemer of all.

C. Let us pray also for the Jews: that Almighty God may remove the veil from their hearts so that they too may acknowledge Jesus Christ our Lord.

D. Christ, Son of David, fulfilment of the prophecies, may the Jewish people accept you as their awaited Deliverer [Messiah].

E. Let us also pray for the Jews: That our God and Lord may illuminate their hearts, that they may acknowledge Jesus Christ the Saviour of all men. 

The answer, according to the English Bishops, is E. C is the version found in the 1962 Missal. If it were in use, no dount the Bishops would object even more strongly to that.

But what of B? This was composed by Annibale Bugnini and his collaborators, and promulgated in March 1965. Nostra aetate was promulgated by Pope Paul VI that October, but it had been debated and approved by the Second Vatican Council in the course of 1964. The debate would have been ringing in Archbishop Bugnini's ears, and that is presumably precisely why he wanted to substitute a new Prayer for the Jews. The old one, in a phrase used in the 1940s and 1950s on the subject, 'sounds bad'. So out goes the reference to the 'veil' over their hearts, for all its Pauline origin (the image is used in 2 Cor 3:15). Does Bugnini also remove the reference to the Jews being converted? No.

And nor does his team have any qualms about having prayers for the conversion of the Jews again and again in the Liturgy of the Hours. For that is where A and D come from, and they are used, not just annually, but over and over again. (Full details in Appendix B of the Position Paper.)

In that case why, you may ask, is the Prayer for the Jews in the Novus Ordo Good Friday Liturgy so vague? The most this says is that the Jewish people 'may continue to grow in the love of his [sc. God's] name and in faithfulness to his covenant.' and 'may arrive at the fullness of redemption.'

First off, it should be noted that this prayer is not quite as vague as all that. Asking that the Jews arrive at the 'fullness of redemption' (a perfectly literal translation of the Latin, if you were wondering), implies that they do not have the 'fullness of redemption' at the moment. It is obvious that redemption, properly speaking, is like pregnancy: either you have it, or you don't. The non-full redemption currently enjoyed by the Jews must refer to the promise of redemption, which is not, for them, yet fulfilled. That is the only possible meaning the idea of 'fulfilling redemption' could have.

Admittedly the wording is extraordinarily convoluted, in a way which seems designed to cause confusion, which is exactly what it has done. Why did Bugnini and co. do this to the 1970 Missal and not to the Liturgy of the Hours in 1971? 

The answer can be found by looking at the other petitions of the series in the Good Friday Liturgy. These 'Orationes sollemnes' are, in the Old Mass, really fantastic prayers. They go back to the third century, when they were said throughout the year. Their preservation in the Good Friday service gives us a glimpse of the atmosphere of the early centuries. And they are wonderfully robust.

The Prayer for the Unity of the Church (for heretics and schismatics), which immediately precedes the Prayer for the Jews, calls on God to 
'look upon the souls deceived by diabolical fraud, that abandoning all heretical depravity, the hearts of the erring may regain sanity and return to the unity of truth.'

The Prayer for the Conversion of Pagans, which immediately follows the Prayer for the Jews, calls upon God to ‘remove iniquity from their hearts’ and ‘deliver them from the worship of idols’.
It is clear from these prayers that it is the objective state of those referred to which is addressed, and not their subjective blameworthiness for being in that state. Nevertheless, they are hard-hitting. Clearly the Catholics of the heroic age of the Church knew that they had the True Faith, and others did not. 
What happened to these in the Novus Ordo? Well, they are, ahem, phrased rather more diplmatically. Of heretics and schismatics (the 'Unity of the Church' has become 'the Unity of Christians') we ask God to 'keep us one in the fellowship of love'. For pagans ('Those who do not believe in Christ') we ask that they may 'grasp more fully the mystery of your [God's] godhead, and to become more perfect witnesses of your love'.
In the context of these prayers, the Prayer for the Jews in the 1970 Missal seems rather emphatic. There certainly isn't any suggestion that the Jews have their own, unique, path to salvation, which does not involved Christ, any more than pagans do. The reason Bugnini left in a more explicit reference to conversion in 1965, and then took it out in 1970, was not a change of theology, but the application of a consistent policy covering the whole series of prayers, which was, for the first time, being re-written from top to bottom. The new prayers were to be totally anondyne.
In short, there is no justification in the 1970 Missal, any more than in the 1971 Liturgy of the Hours, for the view that the Jews have a separate path of salvation: the 'Dual Covenant' view condemned in a series of recent official documents. This fantasy theology was dreamt up since then. 
Not for the first time, here I am defending the orthodoxy of the Novus Ordo. What surprises me this time is that those impugning it, at least by implication, are not the usual foam-flecked letter-writers to The Tablet, but our revered Bishops of England and Wales. I can only say: they have not been well advised.
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10/03/2016 - 15:00

LMS Sponsored places for the Roman Forum 2016

The unique and wonderful annual Roman Forum conference on the shores of Lake Garda in Italy is taking bookings: the dates are

June 27th-July 8th 2016

The conference is ten days of talks from some of the best-known figures on the Traditional Catholic scene, including Fr John Hunwicke from England, accompanied by the Traditional Mass, good food, and beautiful surroundings. The President of the Roman Forum is Dr John Rao, who gave a talk to the LMS One Day Conference in 2012.

The theme of the conference this year is:

Half a Millennium of Total Depravity (1517-2017): A Critique of Luther’s Impact on the Eve of His “Catholic” Apotheosis

From the LMS website:

The LMS is offering two bursaries of £500 Sterling each towards the cost of attending the Summer Symposium in 2015 (the full price is $2,900). Our bursary, together with a further concession from the organisers of the Symposium, will reduce the total amount payable by each of these two participants to £500 each (based upon shared accommodation). The bursaries are for young adults up to 35 years. This offer is not limited to members of the LMS but is available to anyone from England and Wales.

Click here for more details.

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09/03/2016 - 13:26

New Prayer to St Joseph

The Friars at Gosport are promoting a prayer card with the image of St Joseph from the National Shrine to St Joseph now at Farnbrough Abbey. St Joseph is crowned: he is of the royal house of David. The prayer has been approved by Bishop Egan of Portsmouth.

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07/03/2016 - 16:52

Hear Prior Cassion Folsom, John Smeaton, Fr Serafino Lanzetta and others at the LMS Conference, May 14th

LMS One-Day Conference - Saturday, 14 May 2016

Edmund AdamusFr Serafino
Lanzetta FI
John SmeatonPrior Cassian
Folsom of NorciaDr Joseph Shaw

This is the third bi-ennial One-Day Conference organised by the Latin Mass Society, the theme of which is 'The Family'.

VENUE: Regent Hall, 275 Oxford Street, London W1C 2DJ [map]
(opposite BHS, less than 5 minutes’ walk from Oxford Circus)
Doors open at 10.30am and the conference is expected to end around 5.00pm

The speakers will be:
Mr Edmund Adamus, Director for Marriage & Family Life Archdiocese of Westminster.
Father Serafino Lanzetta, of the Franciscan Friars of the Immaculate, and parish priest of Saint Mary's, Gosport.Fr Lanzetta's book Il Vatican II: Un Concilio Pastorale is being translated into English and we hope to have copies on sale during the Conference.
Mr John Smeaton, Director of The Society for the Protection of Unborn Children and Vice-President of International Right to Life Federation.Prior Cassian Folsom O.S.B., founding Prior of The Benedictine Monks of Norcia.Dr Joseph Shaw, Chairman of the Latin Mass Society, a Research Fellow at St Benet's Hall (a Permanent Private Hall of Oxford University) and St Benet's Dean of Degrees.

9.00am at Our Lady of the Assumption, Warwick Street, London W1B 5NA, which is about 10 minutes' walk from the conference hall. For a map to the church click on this link. Many thanks to the Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham for hosting the Mass.
Come along and listen to the excellent range of speakers we have lined up for you.

11 am: Mr Edmund Adamus "Truth and Freedom - Twin Pillars of the Domestic Church."
12 noon: Fr Serafino Lanzetta "The sacrament of Marriage as spousal love of Christ for his Church."
2pm Mr John Smeaton: "Building a pro-life resistance movement."
3pm Prior Cassian Folsom:  "Pius Pater: Insights into family living from the Rule of St. Benedict."
4pm Dr Joseph Shaw: "Marriage and the Complementarity of the Sexes."
5pm Prior Cassian will give a blessing and Conference ends.

A buffet lunch will be provided for those who book this in advance. A vegetarian option will be available, and this should be noted on the Registration Form. You are free, of course, to make your own arrangements for lunch.

Delegates MUST book in advance, by completing the Registration Form found here. The closing date for bookings isFRIDAY 30 APRIL 2016.
LMS Member £15 + £10 for lunch
Non-member £20 + £10 for lunch
Payment can be made using the PayPal facility at the bottom of the Registration Form.

If sufficient interest is shown, we shall organise a post-Conference dinner in the evening. The cost of this is expected to be in the region of £70. If you are interested in this please indicate such on the Registration Form.

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04/03/2016 - 10:22

Family Retreat and Gregorian Chant weekend: 1-3 April, Ratcliffe

Right after Easter the St Catherine's Trust Family Retreat will take place: from the afternoon of Friday 1st to lunch on Sunday 3rd, at Ratcliffe College near Leicester. It will be led by Fr Magdala F.SS.R and Fr Jean F.SS.R from Papa Stronsay; there will be High Mass and other liturgies (Benediction, Vespers etc.) in the Extraordinary Form; as always there will be a Marian procession through the lovely grounds of the Oratory School; the priests will give spiritual conferences; there will be activities for children.

The theme of the conferences will be 'Eternal Truths'.

Don't get left out! Discounts available if the headline price is a problem.

Everyone is welcome; we call it a 'family retreat' because we make special provision for families, but no one is excluded! More details; online Retreat booking form; online Chant Course booking form.

IMG_9813A past Family Retreat in the Oratory School
Alongside it is the Gregorian Chant Network's annual Weekend Chant Course - a chance for something more than a day-long training session, with a bit of theory with the practice, and plenty of opportunity to sing 'for real', in the liturgy. Led by Colin Mawby and Dr Christopher Hodkinson.

All levels of experience, men and women, everyone is welcome! There are special discounts for groups coming from the same schola. All the details are here.

Bring your choir! Get up to speed together, and you'll be able to put it into practice right away when you get home. And it will be very cheap per head.


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01/03/2016 - 10:00

LMS Mass in Milton Manor


Last Saturday I had organised a Sung Mass in the Chapel of Our Lady in Milton Manor House. This was consecrated by Bishop Richard Challoner in penal times, and continues in the owership of the family who built it.


Mass was accompanied by the Schola Abelis, and celebrated by Fr Daniel Lloyd of the Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham.


It was the Mass of the day - a Lenten Feria - with rather long readings, which Fr Daniel chanted with great skill. The Prophecy (Old Testament reading) was of Jacob sneakily getting Isaac's blessing instead of Esau; the Gospel, the Parable of the Prodigal Son. Two stories of older and younger brothers.


Fr Lloyd reminded us to pray for the victims of the disaster which took place at Didcot power station, which is being demolished only a short distance away from the house.

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28/02/2016 - 15:57

In favour of liturgy shaming

IMG_0337View from the choir loft: LMS Mass at Milton Manor, a historic Catholic house where Mass was said in secret.I was struck reading this, from my old friend William Bornhoft (linked to by the normally sensible Deacon Greg Kandra), about people who posted negative comments on a parish's Facebook photo album of grotesquely innapropriate and mostly illict liturgical frolickings.

Parish problems should be dealt with on the parish level, when possible. If that fails, they should be dealt with on the diocesan level, and so on.

Excuse me, but have you tried it?

Bornhoft is a young man, and doesn't know any better. Indeed, his naivety on this subject might even be said to do him credit, insofar as it is not a matter of wilful refusal to face the facts. The reality is, however, the course of action he recommends will very rarely have any tangible positive effect, but unless handled very carefully can easily do harm.

As Chairman of the Latin Mass Society I know a thing or two about appealing to the proper authorities, and I have heard the stories of people who have been in this game since the 1970s. Whether it is liturgical abuses, heretical school textbooks, or refusals to allow the Traditional Mass, the pattern is the same. Yes, we have had our successes, but success requires a combination of factors which rarely occur.

1. An exceptionally clear-minded and brave parish priest, bishop, or Roman curial official, who must be prepared to suffer the consequences, including removal from office, of enforcing the law once too often. Naturally, such men pick their battles, so there are further conditions.
2. It must be a really extreme and clear-cut violation of norms.
3. You must be able to provide totally irrefutable evidence that the violation took place.

I have written to Rome on a number of occasions, having gone through all the proper channels, with full documentation, and expert canonical advice. It hasn't been a complete waste of time, but getting an acknowledgement is not to be taken for granted. And I am writing on behalf of a lay association in good standing with the Church, with 2,000 members.

I think it is worth doing this because it leaves a paper-trail and goes into files. When history comes to be written, no one will be able to say that the laity acquiesced in what is going on. Historians with access to the files will be able to see that we constantly tested the system, and were constantly, with rare exceptions, rebuffed.

But we pay a price for this activity. Mr Bornhoft will be mortified to learn that this kind of thing is regarded, and denounced, by many of the people who hear our complaints or see our letters as aggressive, uncharitable, and contrary to a proper Catholic attitude. The accusations he makes of those posting comments on Facebook are exactly those made of those who are doing what he thinks they should be doing. It has happened to me, it has happened to peoople with far more native tact and personal skills than I can lay claim to. When push comes to shove, these accusations against whistleblowers and 'delators' (those who 'delate', denounce, to Rome) can be made public. There can be public scandal, division, and bitterness; the whistleblower can find himself persona non grata in the parish and diocese; he can lose friends, be excluded from activities and ministries, and be ostracised.

This of course is exactly what happened to those complaining about clerical sex abuse. For while the Church has gone a long way to institute procedures and change attitudes about sex abuse, few people have noticed the parallel. In abusive liturgy, the laity, seminarians above all, but often ordained clerics as well, are treated unjustly by those with power over them. They are humiliated and made to suffer. They are forced to act against their conscience. They are persecuted in subtle ways if they do not aquiesce, or at least stay silent. And many, sadly, are driven from their vocations, from the practice of the Faith, and even from the Church, by this injustice. And there is nothing they can do: the 'proper procedures' and 'proper authorities' do not want to know.

Now we have a new situation, with social media. It is possible to use ridicule, larded with references to Canon law and other authoritative documents, to raise the issue of liturgical abuse, not personally, in a parish where one can be punished for it, but with a degree of anonymity, about parishes the other side of the world. Parishes which, in the example Bornhoft raises, glory in their abuse, boast about the injustice which they visit on the wounded body of the Church, and plaster their Facebook pages with photographs to leave us in no doubt about what they have been up to. Should good Catholics stop themselves responding to this kind of thing? Out of charity?

Well here's a thing. I too have qualms about the kinds of things which can be said by social-media lynch-mobs. I too have concerns about the deformation of soul which can result from endlessly using vituperation to attack easy targets like liturgical dancing. As Bornhoft says, people can be too quick to attribute base motives for what they see, and don't always understand the niceties of liturgical law. I myself gave up banging on about liturgical abuses - I had got to the 'letter to the parish priest' stage of irritation - when I started making the Traditional Mass my habitual form of worship. Thereafter, forays into the Novus Ordo simply confirmed me in my decision: it wasn't very prayerful to see abuses, but it no longer drove me to despair. I think it would be better for the souls of those unhappy folk who don't like liturgical abuses to make the switch, if it is physically possible for them, to regular attendance at the Traditional Mass. We sometimes disagree about specific liturgical practices, but it is vanishingly rare to see anything which is actually sacrilegious. Come over, calm down, and say some prayers.

But I know not everyone is ready to do that. And as one priest said to me, about his own celebration of both Forms, you can't just let the Novus Ordo 'collapse like a soufflé'. And I will not condemn those who take the only means available to express their entirely justified anger and to oppose liturgical abuses.

What is more, contrary to Mr Bornhoft, this method works. Yes, it has worked, not every time, but again and again. The priest with the hoverboard in the Phillipines: suspended. The Australian priest allowing 'help yourself' Communion, leading to Communion being given to a dog: excommunicated. Even in the weird and wonderful diocese of Linz in Austria, they aren't still having the Blessed Sacrament procession with a foccacia in a huge pair of tongs. It is almost inconceivable that a written complaint to a bishop would have resulted in action in cases such as these, had not the incident gone around the world's media. In the case Bornhoft mentions, the parish took the FB page down. The deacon whose preaching implied Pope Benedict was a show-off for wearing red shoes took his sermon off YouTube. Again, the Gay activists who used to gather in Our Lady of the Annunciation, Warwick Street, in London, learned eventually that they could not put their Bidding Prayers of thanksgiving for Civil Partnerships online, without generating the wrong kind of publicity. Small victories, you may think, but significant ones, because it means that they will never again gloat over their implied heresy or their liturgical abuses, and say to each other: well, no one cares about the rules any more, we can be as open as we like about what we do.

There is an enormous difference between doing these hideous things in secret, worrying that there might be someone in the congregation with a hidden camera in his lapel or a microphone in his pocket, and bragging about them online. Can Mr Bornhoft not see it? The latter is vastly more scandalous, vastly more dangerous to souls, vastly more undermining of the Faith, to a potentially vastly larger audience. Feeling able to do these things openly gives them far more confidence, it emboldens them in going further and doing more. If only the social media had been around in the 1970s, when parishes in the USA were encouraging people to bring honey cookies they had made to be used in Mass - despite their being invalid matter. This scandal, public in the sense that the recipies were in parish newsletters, went on for years and years before pressure from Rome finally suppressed the sacrilege, which actually involved not only depriving the Faithful of Holy Communion but idolatry: the worship of biscuits. Social media would have blown it open in a matter of weeks, and the ridicule and outrage would have made it unsustainable, at least in months.

Conservative prelates and indeed Curial officials hate this kind of pressure. But if they had been doing their jobs, it wouldn't happen. As it is, it is the Savoranola, the St Catherine of Siena, the Erasmus, the Robert Grossteste, of our times. It should be done with care, with charity, dispassionately, with reference to authoritative documents, but it would be completely wrong to say that it should not be done at all. And it can be done with humour, and it can be done, with persistant offenders, with the kinds of measured mockery used by so many saints and great men in the Church, and by the Prophets and by Our Lord himself, when faced with a situation in which appeal to the 'proper authorities' gets you nowhere.

So no, Deacon Kandra, it is not a Lenten good work to allow Our Blessed Lord to be trampled underfoot, sometimes literally, and turn a blind eye to it. It is not something to be recommended to those outraged by abuses, as a good action, that they should see their fellow Catholics spiritually abused over and over again, and give it tacit consent. And unless you are doing it just to prove a point, and know how to write a letter, and have a good canon lawyer, a liturgical expert, and a Latinist, to help you, and (above all) can't be harmed by the reaction of those who could see your letter, then you'd better think twice about using the 'proper procedures'. You will be doing far more good, dear reader, sharing the latest scandal with your Facebook friends. It might even make a difference.

But don't forget to feed your own soul with the liturgy and the sacraments. Don't only go to Mass to make a list of abuses. Don't only go online to vent your fury. Come to the Traditional Mass. Calm down. And say some prayers.

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27/02/2016 - 10:00

The Pope and Nuns in the Congo

IMG_0268The Annunciation. From the Rosary Walk at Aylesford Priory.Here is a post of some rather technical ethical reasoning. But if you want to understand the debate on the 'Nuns in the Congo' case, read on.

The Pope referred to the famous case of the 'Nuns in the Congo' in the latest aeroplane interview. The case is about nuns who, fearing rape, take some kind of contraceptive pill. Pope Francis' exact purpose in making the reference was unclear, but not nearly unclear enough for the Vatican spokesman Fr Lombardi, who relived his triumphs in obscuring the teaching of Pope Benedict XVI on the dangers of condoms for people with AIDS, and in throwing sand into the eyes of everyone trying to make sense of Pope Benedict's remarks about male prostitutes using condoms.

In the meantime, Sandro Magister seems to have uncovered the history of the 'Nuns in the Congo' discussion, which wasn't what pretty well everyone had assumed up to now, claiming that Pope Paul VI said nothing on the subject. Rahter, it had simply been discussed by some theologians under Pope John XXIII.

Being a moral philosopher rather than a historian or, for that matter, a mind-reader, I think the contribution I can best make here is to explain why the Nuns in the Congo case is important, regardless of whether Pope Paul VI or any other pope authorised any ruling about it.

It should be obvious that the non-contraceptive use of devices or chemicals designed with contraception in mind is not necessarily wrong. Blowing condoms into balloons; using the Pill to control menstruation, and so on. Condoms are not intrinsically evil; it depends on what you do with them. What the Magisterium has also taught, for a long time, is that doing or omitting certain actions with the intention that conception will not take place, is not necessarily wrong either. If a couple don't think it prudent to conceive at a given moment, and choose accordingly to abstain from the marital act, this is permissible (assuming they have good reasons for doing this: I'm going to ignore this issue from here on, but have discussed it here).

What is wrong is (Pius XI) is the 'frustration of the natural act' with regard to its procreative potential, or to 'deprive it [sc. the marriage act] of its natural force and power'. (Casti conubii 1930)

Paul VI needed to emphasise that a pill taken hours or days before or after the sexual act was still wrong: it didn't need to make a difference, like a condom, to the act considered as physical behaviour. So he put it slightly differently: he condemned 'any action which either before, at the moment of, or after sexual intercourse, is specifically intended to prevent procreation—whether as an end or as a means.' (Humane vitae (1968) 14)

Both encyclicals make it clear that abstinence with the intention of not begetting children, even when the abstinence is targetted at moments when the woman is fertile, does not necessarily contravene the moral law. This of course is what has led to the development of more accurate methods of determining fertility with a view to 'Natural Family Planning' (NFP). You don't have to be an enthusiast for NFP, however, to see that any other ruling by these Popes would have been impossible. It would be absurd to say that couples are obliged to engage in the marital act when there is a war, plague, or famine raging and they are concerned about what will happen to the baby.

This means that an intention not to have a baby is not intrinsically immoral. What is intrinsically immoral is this intention coupled with the intention to engage in a sexual act (as opposed to not engage in such an act). To clarify, a couple using NFP will not engage in the marital act with the intention of not conceiving. That intention wouldn't make sense, because they have not done anything in relation to that act which will impede its leading to conception. Rather, the acts which they perform with an intention not to conceive are, in fact, ommissions to engage in the marital act at this or that time. There is no marital act whose 'natural force and power' towards procreation has been deliberatly frustrated by the couple; it is just that the potential marital acts which would have the most efficacious 'force and power' don't take place at all.

But if what is intrinsically wrong is the combination of these two intentions, or, as Pius XI describes it, to 'frustrate the natural act', then not only is abstinence permissible, but so is the use of contraception, even with the intention that it prevent conception, if there is no intention to engage in a sexual act. This would normally be nonsensical, but it could be at issue with cases of rape.

A big caveat is needed at this point, that the contraceptive method at issue must be contraceptive in the strict sense. If there is a danger that it will prevent the development or implantation of a fertilised ovum then it is a very different story, so I don't think this reasoning can be applied to the 'Morning After Pill,' and it doesn't look like it could be applied to the conventional Pill either. But there are many ways one can try to frustrate conception, and in principle this would be morally licit other things being equal.

In fact this conclusion was reached by Catholic ethicists long before Humanae vitae, and even before John XXIII. It is a commonplace of the old theological manuals that a victim of rape could, with the intention of frustrating conception, wash out the rapist's seed. This would not be permissible (at least, not with that intention), where the sexual act had been consensual, that is, intended by the woman.

This is all very technical stuff. I put it out here not because it sheds any light on what Pope Francis said on that aeroplane (long may it rust), but because in their frustration many Catholic commentators are making a great deal out of the fact that the 'Nuns in the Congo' case has never been authoritatively taught. This may well be true, but the theological consensus about the case is not a reflection of modernist corruption; nor yet is it an opening towards more exceptions and a hollowing out of the teaching on contraception. It follows from the moral principles which make up the teaching on contraception. The denial of the need for there to be an intention to engage in a sexual act, as well as an intention to prevent conception, to make up the intrinsically immoral 'contraceptive intention', would lead not just to pastorally inconvenient consequences, but morally absurd ones.

Related posts: questions about NFP here and here; on Pope Benedict's views on the use of condoms by (male?) prostitutes, here; on whether condomistic intercourse is always wrong here, and here.

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26/02/2016 - 10:00

Social conservatism and social Darwinism: r/K selection theory

Among the various weird and wonderful things on the internet I've been directed this idea: r/K selection theory. Some people think it explains everything in the universe. Most people haven't heard of it. The second group are onto something. But at the risk of giving some rather strange ideas unwarrented publicity, I'm going to use this post to warn my readers about it. Because although presenting itself as a defence of the family, it is not just wrong-headed, but actually dangerous.

The theory, in a nutshell, goes like this. It is a truism that if you are a poppy, an insect, an antelope or a human being, you can have fewer offspring, and devote more resources to each one, or more offspring, and devote fewer resources to each one. Certain conditions favour one strategy over the other. The theory claims that the 'more offspring' strategy ('r') is favoured by conditions where the constraint on population is not resources, but predation, and the 'fewer but better offspring' strategy ('K') is favoured when the constraint on population is resources (or the 'carrying capacity of the environment'). So prey animals tend to be r, predators K.

The contrast is not an absolute but a matter of degree, so a species can move in one direction or another as conditions change, and different groups within a species can adopt somewhat distinct strategies.

Theorists then pile up a list of characteristics correlated to r and K respectively. 'r' organisms are smaller, have shorter life-spans, are less competitive and less cooperative, don't plan for the future (resources are plentiful), are less complex and sophisticated, than K. Because K want to invest more in each offspring, who are dependent on them for longer, they tend to mate for life and have more complex and enduring family structures.

The fun part is the application to humans, where the breakdown of the family is understood as a shift from K to r in response to the plentiful resources provided by the welfare state. In essence, liberals are r, and conservatives are K. An r strategy will lead to ruin, when the resources run out, and then the K will inherit the earth. Or something. Accounts of the theory by its supporters can easily be found on the internet; I've been looking at this page and this video, for example.

Despite immediately falling foul of the facts - welfare-addicted developed countries have seen their birth-rates fall, not rise - the analysis is popular because it speaks to an enduring stereotype: that of the respectable and foresightful class or race, vs. the feckless and fecund class or race. We hear of the association between having lots of children and social irresponsibility, today, most often in the context of Global Warming; before that it was the Global Over-Population scare. However, it had its real heyday in the 1930s with 'Scientific Racism', when American and European elites noticed that non-Caucasian peoples had a higher birth-rate, and wanted to reassure themselves that the 'white races' were still superior. The idea has had a long history in Ireland, where richer Protestants consistently found themselves being out-bred by those pesky Catholics. It was picked up by National Front leaders who got excited by the publication of The Selfish Gene by Richard Dawkins in 1976 (as recounted in Joseph Pearce's autobiographical Race With The Devil).

The possibility of the superior species or race being overwhelmed by the inferior, by sheer weight of numbers, seemed a paradox to people brought up on Darwin: how could it be allowed to happen? Perhaps, they thought, things would straighten themselves out through natural disasters falling disproportionately on the over-fecund, thriftless, and uneducated: like the Irish Potato Famine. Yes, that is 'Nature's way', they mused, and shouldn't be frustrated by our charitable impluses. (People really did say that.) If that didn't work, perhaps the elite races and social groups had a responsibility, a destiny in fact, to assist nature, by colonisation, programmes of compulsory sterilisation, enslavement, even warfare and wholesale annihilation. Not to do these things would be to allow the superior human stock to be watered down and lost. It was kinder, really: the feckless would make a hash of things if they ever gained power, and they'd starve in the end anyway.

That this utterly hideous set of ideas could make a comback in the 21st century tells us about the loss of trust in the intellectual elite, just as its popularity in the 1930s tells us about the half-baked scientism of that era. The revival goes all the way to suggesting that there is a genetic basis not only for different levels of prosperity and attitudes to hard work between races, but between classes: what we might call going 'full Sanger'. r/K theorists will tell you that most people (80% perhaps) are 'r', by a combination of genetic inheritance, epigenegic factors (genetically determined responses to environmental factors such as stress in infancy), upbringing, and personal choice. The last factor is particularly handy if you want to add moral judgment to the mix, because it soon transpires in r/K writings that it is not just a matter of different reproduction strategies, each rational and appropriate in certain conditions, but of the moral and cultural superiority of K over r.

But I need to say more about why the theory is false. The fundamental problem with it is that the r/K contrast is too simplistic to support the generalisations made on its basis. While the basic dilemma of breeding may seem a truism, there are so many other factors, apart from resources and predation, and so many distinct breeding strategies, that it fails to capture reality to a useful degree.

For example, trees are slow-maturing, very long-lived, large, and by plant standards complex organisms, but once they've put in the investment many of them shower the countryside with tens of thousands of tiny seeds. r or K? This is an impossible question to answer, because they don't consistently have the supposed traits or either. Then again, some trees put a lot of investment into a smaller number of larger seeds, like nuts and acorns. What does that tell us about the differences between Sycamores and Oaks? Not much: further implications cannot reliably be read off that contrast.

Social insects: are they r or K? Like trees, they invest heavily in a system that can mass-produce offspring. But then again, only a few of these offspring can themselves breed. What does that tell us, in r/K terms? Well, actually, nothing. Their breeding strategy varies in a way completely unanticipated by the binary r/K analysis.

Many large mammals of the ocean and plain give birth to offspring which can immediately swim or walk and keep up with their mothers. Small mammals in burrows have blind and helpless babies, totally dependant on their parents. r or K? The question is meaningless because in such cases the correlations predicted by the theory don't hold true. It is other factors which make the difference.

What of forward planning? Squirrels store nuts in holes, bears fatten up their own bodies for winter hibernation. Theorists tell us that r animals spend all their time eating, not storing, so does this make squirrels more K than the larger, more complex, predator bears? There is no non-arbitrary answer. If to fatten yourself up in case of future shortages is a K characteristic, then among humans couch-potatoes are more K than gym bunnies.

Similarly, we are told that sea turtles are a classic case of r, because they abandon their eggs in a hole on a beach, whereas birds look after the chicks. But turtles are larger, more complex, and vastly more long-lived, so the rest of the correlations fail. On reflection, however, the investment into the offspring factor doesn't work either. The turtle puts extra resources into the eggs for the growing baby turtle, which makes it possible for the hatchlings to fend for themselves immediately they emerge. The only r thing about them turns out to be the lack of interaction between the generations. Everything which is supposed to be correllated with that is not found in this case.

In sum, the r/K contrast is an attempt to impose a simplistic dichotomy onto the vast variety and complexity of the natural world, and apart from a few carefully-chosen cases it does not apply neatly, or at all, and the conclusions the theory promises don't follow.

Since Darwinism is the basic assumption of the r/K theory, it is convenient if we can show it is false on Darwinian principles. This is clearly true for the theory's alleged cosmic conflict between r and K tribes, races or classes: respectable Darwinians will tell you natural selection doesn't work at the level of groups. In fairness to Richard Dawkins, he explains the point very clearly in The Selfish Gene and his other early books (before he started devoting his time to attacking religion).

Thus we find Dawkins explicitly addressing a racist Victorian objection to natural selection. If a superior European were marooned on an island full of indolent natives, the objection goes, he might make himself the ruler of the place, but, in intermarrying, his descendants will find their superiority watered down to nothing. (Think of the parallel: if the superior races triumph over the inferior ones, but then fail to keep themselves racially pure: what then?) Dawkins responds that at the genetic level this is not so: each superior gene will spread through the gene-pool, and over the very, very long term will come to dominate (assuming they are genuinly better suited to the environment). Eugenicists and Scientific Racists think of genes being passed on as a block, but this isn't how it works. The set of genes making up an exceptional individual (the superman and the Eugenicist's 'imbecile' alike) are immediately shuffled and re-shuffled to make what may be quite mediocre sets in his or her children and grandchildren. But individual genes giving a breeding advantage will tend to enable their bearers to have more descendants, on average, so will become more common.

For this reason, and contrary to the ideas of racial solidarity and political conspiracy you hear from r/K theoriests, there is very rarely any genetic reason for individuals or groups to promote the success of other individuals or groups who are similar to themselves, over individuals and groups who are dissimilar. Siblings, sharing half one's genes, may benefit from one's genetic self-interest, but anyone else is more a potential rival than a potential carrier of one's own genes to future generations. Certainly, there are political reasons for solidarity in some cases, but there are also political reasons for alliances between completely different groups, and this is what is happening when nicely-brought up and expensively educated liberal politicians recruit a welfare-depenant underclass, let alone a Muslim immigrant community, as a voting block. Contrary to the r/K theory, these are alliances between groups with nothing in common in terms of attitudes, lifestyle, or, come to that, breeding patterns.

The reason for my interest in r/K selection theory is that, as I noted at the start of this post, it represents itself, at least in part, as a justification or defence of social conservativism, specifically in defence of the family, and against 'cultural Marxism'. The temptation for social conservatives to ally themselves with this kind of thing should be resisted. Its implications are horrifying, and it is, in any case, completely false.

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