Latin Mass Society

Chairman's Blog

13/05/2016 - 10:00

Maria Montessori, children, and the Liturgical Reform

I've been reading The Child in the Church by Maria Montessori 'and others'; it is a collection of different bits of writing from Montessori and some of her followers on religious education.

Some people will be surprised to hear that Montessori was a Catholic. She was, and a very devout one. She had great affection and reverence for the rituals of the Church, and makes reference to such obscure things as the beautiful blessing of bells found in the Roman Ritual. She regarded religious instruction as so important that she wanted - as an ideal - an entirely separate school-room devoted to it, filled with displays and the manipulable aids to learning which characterise her movement, about every aspect of the Church's history, art, and liturgy.

She died in 1952, and her references to the liturgy and the way children could be inducted into it are redolent of the Liturgical Movement of her era. A revealing footnote in the 1965 edition of The Child in the Church which I have explains how the exciting reforms being planned by Vatican II are going to make things much better from a Montessori point of view. It is fascinating to see why the editor imagined that, how people influenced by Montessori took things forward, and also how things went wrong.

I need to take a step back, however, to explain how the Montessori 'method' applies to the liturgy. The leading idea of the Montessori philosophy is that children should be allowed to learn things in their own time and in a way appropriate to their age. Instead of waiting till the child is seven and then teaching the child in the propositional way of the classical catechisms, which they can begin to grasp only at that age, Montessori points out that much younger children can learn, but in a non-intellectual manner. This is, of course, obvious: they learn to walk and talk, use a knife and fork, and all kinds of things, with great rapidity and tenacity, and, as she points out, without the 'fatigue' of the school room.

Montessori wants to make place children in the conditions best suited to their spontaneous early learning, so it can be as effective as possible. Indeed, failing to do this she likens to failing to give children the food, clothing, and fresh air necessary to their physical development. She saw children playing with bricks and absorbed by illustrated books, so she and her followers surround small children with educational bits and bobs to manipulate and look at. Visitors to Montessori-influenced home-schoolers can find it difficult to find a place to sit down, or space on a table to put a mug of tea, not occupied by cunningly-conceived objects designed to illustrate mathematical relationships or stimulate the imagination.

I should emphasise that I've nothing against this stuff, and indeed the inflence of this kind of thinking is so pervasive that no house in the developed world with a small child is entirely free of it. My only qualification would be that, in my personal experience, its effectiveness is not exactly magical, and children differ in their preferred learning methods more than Montessori seems to have realised. But that's not to my present purpose.

Motessori's point is that children should be assisted in learning. The process is (to use modern terms) 'child led', but it is not that the children are left to fend for themselves, and it is far from being the case that Montessori had no substantive educational goals. It might shock her secular modern followers to read her saying (p54):

It is our duty as parents and teachers to pass on to the next generation the "Deposit of Faith" which has been handed down through the centuries by the Church. Our problem therefore is not so much a questions of what to teach but of how and when.

But say it she did. The 'child led' stuff is simply a technique for getting the target information into the childish mind as effectively as possible.

The progressives will be more reassured to read her saying that adults can be obstacles to learning, and over-zealous and misguided teachers are worse than useless. Indeed, her 'golden maxim' is: "Every usesless aid arrests development". The reason is that the cack-handed adult can get in the way of the child's fruiful personal engagement with something.

Here's another Montessor quotation, from a different book (The Child, Society and the World: Unpublished Speeches and Writings, p16):

The fundamental help in development, especially with little children of three years of age, is not to interfere. Interference stops activity and stops concentration. 

This is all slightly scary as it suggests that each parent and teacher has to navigate a narrow channel between the Scylla of innapriate interference and the Charybdis of neglect. Getting it right, especially when one realises that different approaches work better with different children, is a matter of sensitivity and judgement. Like many charismatic founders of movements which fail to live up to their early promise, I suspect Montessori herself had an acuteness of judgement which could not in any simple way be passed on to her followers.

This Scylla and Charybdis problem takes on a particularly acute form in the liturgy. Montessori notes that children are fascinated by things like liturgical colours, and the statues and art in traditionally-decorated churches. Again, she tells us that they can take a very keen and exacting interest in ritual. The Scylla of innapropriate guidance would have us navigate in the direction of leaving children alone in this environment: answering their questions, of course, but certainly not interuppting their prayers. On the contrary, however, Montessori seems worried only by the Charybdis of neglect. Taking her successful experiements with allowing small children to manipulate things, she makes an astonishing assertion - particularly astonishing, when applied to the the liturgy (p59):

Everyone knows that, unless children are asleep or inhibited, they are always in motion. What is there special about the kind of activity which accompanies the operation of the absorbant mind? ... it must be a form of what we call "synthetic activity", that is movement which brings into full co-operation the two main elements of the child's personality--mind and body--the intelligent, directing will on the one hand, and the co-operation of the voluntary muscular system on the other.

What does this look like in Mass? (p60)

... such actions as making the Sign of the Cross, with or without holy water, genuflecting, kneeling down and standing up during a service, carrying lighted candles without spilling grease, placing flowers at the foot of a statue and so on.

The possibilities for this in the traditional Mass are fairly limited, but they were being expanded at the time she was writing, and among her examples is the experimental practice of laity bringing up the gifts at the Offertory. It is surely not a coincidence that the reformed Mass held all sorts of additional opportunities for 'synthetic activity'.

The introduction of rehearsed 'synthetic activities' into the Mass is particularly surprising given Montessori's emphasis in another work, her The Mass Explained to Children, that children must not be instructed during Mass (p3), as happened in her experience.

Even at the Consecration, during those moments of silence and recollection, one hears the voice of the zealous teacher raised--more often than not an unmusical and expressionless voice--droning out explanations, as though fulfilling a dry duty. The less over, a shart "Sit up!" shoots all thoese young bodies upright again, and in those children--with the best intentions in the world--every spiritual impulse is thus stifled.

The first edition of The Child in the Church was published in 1929; The Mass Explained to Children appeared in 1933; these two positions must be taken together, in tension, as part of the Montessori outlook. It was the stress on 'synthetic activity' which went on to be influential in the movement to establish special 'children's liturgies' and efforts to stop Mass being 'boring' which followed the Second Vatican Council.

Montessori has much to say about how we should let children wander about on their own and look at flowers and get out the educational toys of their choosing. Perhaps this 'free range' learning is even a bit over the top. It is doubly surprising, then, that we find in this essay in The Child in the Church an extension to the liturgy of her observations about children running their fingers over geometrical study aids, and the like, as if children had no capacity for silent and still contemplation. The reality is that young children can stand or sit transfixed with fascination looking at a sheep in a field, at a workman putting up shelves, or at a beautiful painting, long after the adults would have preferred to carry on with the walk, gone for a cup of tea, or moved on to the next room in the art gallery.

In my next post I will say something about the chickens which came home to roost from these ideas, in the form of the 1973 Directory for Masses with Children from the Congregation of Divine Worship, signed by Cardinal Villot and Annibale Bugnini.

Just to whet your appetite, Michael Davies remarked of this document that it was the most disgraceful ever to emerge from a Sacred Congregation.

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12/05/2016 - 13:53

New Mass of Ages available in parishes this weekend

Members should have received their copies by now, and it should be in parishes this weekend. See details and order a one-off copy through the website here.

Some of the contents:

Regular columnist the ‘Lone Veiler’ warns of the dangers of a celebrity civilization
• In an interview with Edmund Adamus, Director of the Department for Marriage and Family Life at the Diocese of Westminster, he outlines his views on the greatest threat facing the family today and what role the family has in the work of salvation. He is asked, “Is the family facing a particular attack by diabolical forces in our own time?” and concludes by saying why Pope Saint John Paul II has been the greatest influence on his life.
• Fr James Bradley, a priest of Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham, looks at the relationship between Divine Worship (the Missal for the personal ordinariates erected under the auspices of the apostolic constitution Anglicanorum coetibus) and the Extraordinary Form?
• LMS Chairman, Dr Joseph Shaw, explains why the recent petition to Rome by the Bishops of England and Wales for the prayer, ‘for the conversion of the Jews’, used in the Extraordinary Form Good Friday service, be replaced by its equivalent in the Ordinary Form is deeply troubling for the international movement in support of our liturgical tradition.
• Clare Bowskill, LMS Publicist, reports on the recent Family Retreat and Gregorian Chant Course. And, in another article, reports how extraordinary numbers attend the Triduum in the Old Rite this year.
• Barbara Kay, a regular worshipper at Christ the King in Bedford reveals how St Margaret Clitherow led her to the Latin Mass. 
All our regular features are there, including comment and opinion pieces, book reviews, Lone Veiler, Rome Report, your letters, a prize crossword, reports from our network of Diocesan Representatives, full listings of Traditional Masses across England and Wales, and much more besides. 
Read the summer edition of Mass of Ages HERE.

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11/05/2016 - 10:00

Trump, Fascism, Evangelisation

Proclaiming the Gospel: at the LMS Training Conference, Prior Park

I've been reading the collection of Dietrich von Hildebrand's writings published as My Struggle Against Hitler, which I highly recommend. Hildebrand, who much later emerged as one of the intellectual founders of the movement for the preservation of the Traditional Mass, was an important ideological opponent of the Nazis. He had to flee Germany when they came to power, and set up an anti-Nazi newspaper in Austria, until he had to flee from there as well.

Hildebrand was a philosopher by profession, and his analysis of the Nazi phenomenon, as a contemporary, is fascinating. He regards Nazism and Communism as feeding off a rejection of liberal individualism, but offering a false alternative to it. Instead of restoring to people a sense of identity rooted in genuine communities, they gave people an ersatz sense of belonging through the whipping up of mass hysteria, and based their ideologies on an idolisation of particular communities at the expense of all others, and of the value of the individual: for the Communists it was class, for the Nazis, race.

The tragedy of his era was that the people offering something better than the Nazis and Communists, something which addressed the real needs of the day, were not able to make their ideas, movements, and political parties more attractive than the violent and simplistic offerings of the extremists. Part of the problem was that the political establishment, which had the resources to mount effective opposition to Hitler and his ilk, at least at the earlier stages of his rise, was wedded to the liberal individualism which had already proved a failure, as far as the wavering population was concerned.

I am reminded of this situation by the Trump phenomenon in the United States. I don't think Trump a fascist; the point of comparison is that he is riding a wave of dissatisfaction which the political establishment is ideologically incapable of addressing. It remains to be seen whether he will come up with any policy ideas which actually alleviate the social problems motivating his voters. I don't personally think that American workers will end up better off without free trade, and I'm not convinced that many problems will be solved by a 'big wall' along America's southern border. But the important question is: is anyone going to offer something better in relation to the real problems of the politically excluded, which will also be more attractive to voters? It certainly does not seem so in the current electoral cycle.

Catholicism is a real solution to real problems which people have. It fills holes in people's lives, like the longing for the spiritual and the transcendant, with something coherent and true. But people who reject the spirituality of mindless consumerism don't necessarily become Catholics. Many are more attracted by other options, such as New Age ideas, Pentecostalism, or Islam. These can be packaged in simplistic ways to give the starved people a quick suger-hit of superstition, a sense of community, and moral certainties. It is not enough for Catholic evangelists that the world is longing for the things which the Church alone can provide. We have to find ways of getting it across that she does indeed provide them.

The first task is to distance ourselves from the people who refuse to see that there is a problem at all: the establishment view that yet more consumption is the answer to all problems. The aesthetics and rhetorical tone of the standard Catholic offering will have to change a lot for this to happen. Just think about the squashy seats and carpets in our more prosperous churches: what sort of message do they convey? That is a superficial manifestation of a deep problem. The Catholic Church can too easily be seen as a comfortable place for comfortable people.

More on this, see the Position Paper on the New Evangelisation.

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09/05/2016 - 18:00

Thank you, Bishop Egan: a new Oratory for Bournemouth

Ecce Agnus
Fr Dominic Jacob Cong. Orat. celebrating a High Mass for the LMS Pilgrimage to Oxford in 2008,
in Blackfriars, in the presence of Bishop William Kenney.

It was being announced yesterday that in September the church of the Sacred Heart in Bournemouth will become a new 'Oratory in formation', with an Oratorian from Oxford, Fr Dominic Jacob, and two priests of the Archdiocese of Southwark. This is wonderful news.

Bournemouth is an important center of population in Portsmouth Diocese, spilling over into Plymouth Diocese. Thanks to persistent local demand, a monthly Traditional Mass has been established there. We can expect the new Oratory to provide a more complete provision for the EF, as all the other Oratories in England do for their parishes.

This will bring the total number of Oratories of St Philip Neri, plus 'Oratories in formation', in England and Wales not to six, as the Catholic Herald suggested, but to seven. In addition to the long-standing Oratories in Birmingham and London, and the more recent foundation in Oxford, 'Oratories in formation' have or are being created in York, Manchester, Cardiff, and now Bournemouth. The rapidity of this growth is astonishing. It testifies to the new situation in the Church in England, a new openness to such foundations, and the availability of vocations to fill them.

This revival, with its emphasis on good liturgy, including the Traditional Mass, the availability of confession, and orthodoxy, is slowly transforming the Church in England from below.

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09/05/2016 - 10:47

Prior Cassian Folsom to say Mass in Warwick St Sat 14th

The anniversary Requiem for Michael Davies celebrated in Warwick Street by Fr Tim Finigan last year.

Prior Cassian Folsom is going to celebrate a Missa Cantata in Our Lady of the Assumption, Warwick Street, at 12 noon on Saturday 14th May. (Click for a map.)

The event is organised by the Latin Mass Society in association with the Friends of Norcia.

Prior Folsom was due to speak at the LMS Conference that day, which sadly has been cancelled.

He will also be celebrating a Sung Mass in Our Lady of Willesden on Sunday 15th, Whitsun (Pentecost), at 5.30pm (Click for a map.)

A Latin Mass Society Pilgrimage to Our Lady of Willesden.

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07/05/2016 - 12:52

Letter in the Catholic Times this weekend: English Martyrs' feast days

Grotesquely innappropriate memorial to the 'martyrs of the Reformation'
in the University Church, St Mary's, in Oxford.
Last weekend there was an interesting letter from Christopher Keefe lamenting the neglect of the English Martyrs, who are grouped together with a feast day on 4th May in the Ordinary Form calendar. I have a letter in this weekend to point out that it is still possible to celebrate the old, separate, feasts for many of these martyrs with the Latin Mass Society.

Christopher Keefe (Letters, 29th April) laments the decline of public commemoration of the the English and Welsh Martyrs of the 16th and 17th centuries, assigned a single feast day on 4th May.

In the pre-1970 calendar, used for the Extraordinary Form (Traditional) Mass, there are many separate feast days, for individuals and groups, often specific to a diocese, and this helps the Latin Mass Society in the task of commemorating these great men and women around the country. We arrange annual Masses for the Padley Martyrs in June and for St Richard Gwyn in Wrexham in October. Last weekend we honoured St Anne Line with a procession in York, as well as a splendid Mass, and will be processing through the streets of Oxford similarly to remind residents of the Catholic martyrs of that city, in October. In the last case our efforts have been rewarded with permanent public memorials at the two places of martyrdom in Oxford, which were previously unmarked. All these events are open to all.

These saints and beati certainly should not be neglected: we need their prayers more than ever today.

Yours faithfully,

Joseph Shaw
Chairman, the Latin Mass Society

I managed to write 'St Anne Line' instead of 'St Margaret Clitherow': mea culpa. I was in too much of a hurry.

The Bishops of England and Wales only succeeded in having the English and Welsh additions to the liturgical calendar approved by Rome in 2010. An aspect of this which I hadn't realised, pointed out by Mr Keefe, is that the feast on 4th May coincides with the Church of England celebration of what they call the 'English saints and martyrs of the Reformation.' All sorts of ecumenical possibilities beckon. As does the sick bag.

Quite what the Anglicans imagine they mean by this I do not know. Their liturgical texts are here. An Anglican blogger exemplifies the confusion of mind necessary for this kind of thing.

What is significant about this day is that we are not simply remembering ‘our own’ martyrs, those like Cramner, Ridley and Latimer, who died for maintaining adherence to the Church of England in the face of Roman Catholic persecution. We are also remembering those Roman Catholics who died at the hands of Protestants for maintaining their Faith and allegiance. We are recognizing that there was true Godliness and great courage in martyrs on both sides of that divide, and therefore also recognizing that there was terrible error and great evil committed by those who ordered the martyrdoms on both sides!

Er, right. So when St Thomas More and Archbishop Cranmer ordered the execution of heretics and recusants they were 'evil', and when they died for the faith for which they had struggled in life, a faith which included the appropriatness of their actions towards their victims, they were Godly martyrs. Yeah, that really makes sense.

There are two issues here. One is a matter of good taste. It is not good taste to commemorate together those who would not wish to be commemorated together. It is a corralling of their historical memories for purposes to which they would have violented objected. It betrays monstrous arrogance to attempt this, and it is negates their historical importance and their heroism to say that the actions of all sides were just a hideous mistake.

The other issue is the question of what it means to be a martyr. I don't expect non-Catholics to understand this, but for Catholics the concept of martyrdom is a technical theological one with important implications. It washes away all sin, even Original Sin, and in this way acts as a sort of baptism, if the person involved in not already baptised. But to be martyred does not just mean 'to be unjustly killed': it means to be killed for the Faith, for the truth.
Here are the admirably clear words of Mgr Ronald Knox.
A martyr, in the essential signification of the term, means a man who dies, not merely to bear testimony, but to bear testimony to the truth. Edmund Campion died because he believed in the Pope and the Mass. Thomas Cranmer died because he disbelieved in the Pope and the Mass. It is an intelligible attitude to say that Crammer was a martyr and Campion was not. It is an intelligible attitude to say that neither Cranmer was a martyr nor Campion. But to say that both Crammer and Campion were martyrs is to say good-bye to all reason and all common-sense. Each of them died in the belief that he was bearing witness to the truth; and if you accept both testimonies indiscriminately, then you are making nonsense of them both. The only point in common between the two men is that both died for their religious opinions. It is ridiculous to suppose that either of them accepted death as a protest against the theory of religious persecution. On the contrary, Cranmer persecuted with the best of them. Neither of them minded being put to death for the sake of religion; but either protested that the religion which he died for was the true one. It is a poor compliment to such heroism to conclude that after all it does not much matter one way or the other!

I've written more about this here.

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05/05/2016 - 09:42

Sorrow hath filled your heart

John 16:5-11
But I told you not these things from the beginning, because I was with you. And now I go to him that sent me, and none of you asketh me: Whither goest thou? But because I have spoken these things to you, sorrow hath filled your heart. But I tell you the truth: it is expedient to you that I go: for if I go not, the Paraclete will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. And when he is come, he will convince the world of sin, and of justice, and of judgment. Of sin: because they believed not in me. And of justice: because I go to the Father; and you shall see me no longer. And of judgment: because the prince of this world is already judged.
Jesus leaves us, in one sense: his earthly ministry has come to an end. His continuing presence in the Church, in the Sacraments, and through the Holy Spirit, can seem difficult to discern. But the transition from one to the other is necessary for the Gospel to be preached universally, and for the glorification of our Lord: his final and permanent vindication by the Father in heaven, his taking up of his proper place of honour.

That vindication will be the Church's too: but not yet.

Happy feast of the Ascension.

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04/05/2016 - 10:13

Academic freedom and dissent: again

Jesus really should have made reasoned arguments which could have
been understood by those outside his faith tradition.

Back in 2012 I wrote about the argument made by Prof Tina Beattie that it was wrong for her invitations to speak at Catholic institutions (be they universities or parishes) to be withdrawn, on the basis of academic freedom.

Her argument was insane. The freedom of academics to speak and write as they wish does not imply an obligation on anyone to read or listen. It really is as simple as that. These institutions, or their leaders, are free to invite, not invite, or withdraw invitations, according to their own lights; to deny this would be to deny them freedom.

Chalcedon451, a Catholic blogger on All Along the Watchtower, has criticised Beattie's most recent critics, however. The post appears to make some concession to Beattie's claims to be using 'reason' in the service of the Church, but the central point would seem to be prudential.

This seems to me a real problem. I disagree with Professor Beattie’s views on abortion (and other matters), but to attack her in the way that has been done – as though no Catholic should ever dissent from the teaching of the Church on anything – and to make some of the comments I have seen on social media sites, is simply to turn her into the victim of what looks like a witch-hunt. If the aim is to get the Bishops to look at her activity, this seems not the way to achieve that objective. What Bishop wants to look as though he is trying to stifle the freedom of a woman academic to speak her mind?

'As though no Catholic should ever dissent from the teaching of the Church on anything': Eh? Obviously Catholics shouldn't dissent from the teaching of the Church. Even Beattie is not arguing in favour of dissent; she is arguing for a different understanding of the teaching of the Church.


I cannot imagine that those in positions of responsibility will feel inclined to act in a way which might produce allegations of bowing to mob pressure. The arguments against her position on this, as on other matters where she disagrees with the Catholic consensus are obvious and, as with Austen Ivereigh’s piece, should be deployed. But that should be done in a way which wins support from those who do not necessarily agree with the Catholic position – not one which confirms such people in their view that we are interested only in suppressing free speech and are uneasy with strong women. Own goals should be avoided.

Allow me to state the obvious. A number of bishops in England and Wales since the era of the Second Vatican Council have used official or unofficial means of reining in theologians or other Catholic commentators who were uncomfortably, for them, too conservative. But I challenge Chalcedon451 to give me any examples of bishops disciplining progressive dissenters other than after pressure from below. In the old days it was letter-writing campaigns; today it is social media. Such pressure has historically been most effective when it is mediated by Rome, but the only times Rome acts is following such local protests.

Certainly, bishops will invariably tell you that such pressure is counter-productive, that it makes things harder for them, that they don't want to be seen to be giving in to a lynch mob, etc.. Officials in Rome often say the same thing. I have written about this kind of argument, and why they make it, here. But just show me the cases in which they have acted without such pressure. The conservative 'mob', if that's how we want to look at it, doesn't catch every individual or every instance of dissent: far from it. Bishops have numerous opportunities to deal with problems without the mob getting in the way. And they do not.

Indeed, knowing a little about some of these cases, I can tell Chalcedon451 that it has frequently been the case that bishops have received detailed information about serious problems privately, and have done nothing about it for years and decades, unless and until the matter has either gone to Rome or gone public. It has worked in exactly the same way with theological dissent as it has with clerical child abuse: why would it work any differently? In these cases we know the bishops who needed to know, knew. Again and again, it is only pressure from outside which has stimulated action - in the relatively small number of cases where there has been action at all.

Going to Rome is, of course, almost a complete waste of time at the current moment in the history of the Church. It was pretty hopeless in previous decades, but sometimes something would happen, perhaps if Cardinal Ratzinger took an interest and the people causing the problem didn't have big backers in Rome itself. Today - forget it. So we are left with the social media on its own.

So a first point, Chalcedon, is that the kind of fuss being created over Tina Beattie, her petition in support of legal abortion, and CAFOD, is not counter-productive or an 'own goal'. It is the only means available to Catholics to address the problem, and it is a means which has some, albeit small, prospect of success.

A second point is that, while naturally we can all deprecate some of the things said on Twitter and Facebook on this topic, this is true of any topic which is discussed publicly, so doesn't serve as any guide to our actions, unless the suggestion is that we should simply ignore what Beattie says. That would hardly be engaging in reason for the good of the Church, now, would it? The only relevant question is whether what Austen Ivereigh, who is discussed in the post, or I, or Caroline Farrow, or anyone else making a serious, more-than-140-character comment on the subject, have done so in a way which is open to criticism, and what that criticism is.

The criticism these kinds of contributions make seems to be this. We should be making our arguments
in a way which wins support from those who do not necessarily agree with the Catholic position – not one which confirms such people in their view that we are interested only in suppressing free speech and are uneasy with strong women.

The point about 'strong women' is a bit strange; I really don't see what Beattie's sex has got to do with it. I fancy rather that Chalcedon451 may be 'uneasy with strong women' if they take the form of critics of Beattie like Caroline Farrow or Claire Short; would it help if I made a list of female Catholic conservatives? This is a profoundly silly game to play.

But why are we supposed to be concerned with gaining the support of non-Catholics in our opposition to Tina Beattie's role in the Catholic community? I am quite sure there are serious issues at stake when Jews or Muslims or Anglicans criticise each other theologically, accuse each other of inauthentic understandings of their shared tradition, and so forth, but I am equally sure that it is no business of mine to get involved. The suggestion is preposterous. Were anyone from those communities to appeal to outsiders to judge between them, everyone would recognise how innappropriate it would be. The question of whether Tina Beattie should be regarded as an authentic Catholic theologian is a question for the Catholic community - ultimately, for those who wield authority within the community, but in the first instance it is a matter for exploration by reasoned discussion in the ordinary way.

The last quotation from Chalcedon451's post also raises the question of 'free speech'. Who, pray, is going to take away Beattie's right to speak and write? Is she in imminent danger of being thrown into a dungeon in the Castel San Angelo? Is she going to be sent to a penal convent in Antarctica? I hardly think so. The most serious consequence she faces is that certain Catholic institutions which might otherwise listen to her, decide they can do without her pearls of wisdom after all. Possibly, just possibly, CAFOD will decide she is no longer needed on its 'Theological Reference Group'. I strongly suspect the position is unpaid. Even if it were paid, it must be insignificant in terms of Beattie's income or time, or come to that her theological influence. Its importance, such as it is, is as a way for CAFOD to signal its critical distance from Catholic teaching. Catholics who are asked, as Catholics, to support CAFOD, Catholics who are obliged, indeed, whether they like it or not, to support CAFOD, since it receives a grant from the Bishops ultimately supported by pennies in the collection plate, have a right to make their concerns known. Sensible ones will do so sensibly; the less mature denizens of social media will do so in the only way they know how. Unlike Tina Beattie, who can only appeal to a secular conception of free speech which is itself contrary to the teaching of the Church, we can appeal to our right and obligation to oppose the misrepresentation of Church teaching and to protect the innocent.

Objections like Chalcedon451's are not going to stop us doing that.

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02/05/2016 - 10:00

The Beattie petition pro-abortion fringe

One of the most striking things about the Open Letter calling for continued legal abortion in Poland is the list of signatures. The petition has been promoted by some of the most well-connected people on the liberal Catholic scene, and yet the list of signatories they came up with is derisory.

Tina Beattie is ubiquitous on the liberal Catholic scene. She holds a professorial chair in Roehampton University, she sits on the Tablet's board, she is on CAFOD's  'Theological Reference Group', and she has been around a fair while - she must know everyone who matters. To promote this petition, she's been assisted by such liberal luminaries as Elriede Harth, the European representative of Catholics for Choice. And what have they come up with?

From the list it looks as though they started out with the idea that it should include only female Catholic academics, but gave up on this when they realised they were only going to get a tiny number. So they've puffed out the list with people with no academic credentials. A bunch of these are teachers, some retired; others are simply students, and others again have nothing to say about themselves at all. The notorious Twitter troll Maureen Clarke (@retrochbabe, down simply as 'UK') would probably prefer as little said about her as possible.

They've filled some corners with a few men too, like the gay activist Martin Pendergast, who describes himself as a 'Pastoral worker'.

They clearly wanted to get signatures from Poland, and around the world, so they've ended up with a Polish icon painter, an art historian, and a choir director, and a handful of people from outside Europe with only a place of residence as their claim to fame:

  1. Verónica Díaz Ramos, Valparaíso, Chile
  2. Betty C. Dudney, Nashville, Tennessee, USA
  3. Gladys Via Huerta, Perú

Oh yes, very impressive: I'm sure the Polish Bishops will sit up and take notice when they see those names. They are 'prominent theologians' all right.

The purpose of the petition is not really to influence the Polish Bishops. It is to create headlines of a certain kind, and it succeeded in this up to a point: see the National Catholic Reporter headline screenshot above. It would have gone  lot further into the non-Catholic media if the names had been more impressive, so this must be a frustration for Prof Beattie. Why did she do so badly?

One can't rule out simple incompetence, of course, but her basic problem was that you have to be very far gone as a Catholic liberal actually to support 'safe, legal' abortion, as the petition does (while the signatories are 'personally opposed' to abortion, naturally). Like the promotion of women's ordination, it is a fringe view. Not that we can expect liberal Catholics to lift a finger, generally speaking, to oppose abortion actively, but their support for it takes the form of criticising orthodox Catholics for being 'obsessed' by the subject, rather than actually signing petitions in favour of legalisation. As you move away from the full possession of the Faith, as you become more and more liberal, there is a very narrow area of intellectual territory in which anyone is likely to say 'I'm a fervent Catholic but I believe abortion should be legal'.

Indeed, most people, on their way out of the Church, would give up being a self-identifying supporter of Church teaching, even 'as they understand it', before they start advocating for legal abortion. Catholics For Choice has always struggled to present more than a handful of non-lapsed Catholics in leadership positions. Those who do hang in there as nominal Catholics are either under some unusual intellectual delusion, or are motivated by the influence or paid positions which go with being a Catholic. In either case, there is a strong whiff of cognitive dissonance about the whole enterprise.

And that, in fact, is something the Church can be proud of. Abortion is perhaps the only major issue on which a person being a Catholic (of some degree of seriousness) is a strong indicator that he or she will not agree with the secular consensus. When this stops being the case, we'll know the decline has plumbed new depths.

Where does that leave Tina Beattie? She is out on a limb even compared with her fellow Tablet trustees. I don't suppose they'd criticise her, but they've not followed her lead. She puts the bishops in an awkward postion, and her role at CAFOD looks anomalous. I don't expect anything bad to happen to her, but she's making things harder for her friends.

A lot of good stuff has been written about the contents of the petition (and I don't just mean by me!) You can see my analysis here; Caroline Farrow here, and Mark Lambert here; there's more about Prof Beattie on Cranmer's blog here.

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01/05/2016 - 10:00

Two insights into Latin from non-Catholic sources

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Two recent news stories stuck me for their relevance to the debate about the use of Latin in the Church.

First, the Victoria and Albert Museum are putting on an exhibition of English needlework from the Middle Ages, called 'Opus Anglicanum', The Guardian carried a story about it, noting

'for the first time in decades, the museum has dared to use Latin in an exhibition title.'
It explained:

“We were a bit worried that people would find the title baffling,” said co-curator and textile expert Clare Browne. “Older people thought that younger people would find it off-putting – but in fact younger people thought it was mysterious and exciting.”

This is a startling assertion, but only because it is so exactly what we have found in the movement for the Traditional Latin Mass. I could have said it myself.

The second is a report in The Economist about whether being a native English-speaker is an advantage in a world where English is increasingly the language of business. It reported some interesting and surprising advantages enjoyed by those working in English for whom English is not their cradle language.

Ingenious researchers have found that sometimes decision-making in a foreign language is actually better. Researchers at the University of Chicago gave subjects a test with certain traps—easy-looking “right” answers that turned out to be wrong. Those taking it in a second language were more likely to avoid the trap and choose the right answer. Fluid thinking, in other words, has its down-side, and deliberateness an advantage.

(I've found an article about this research here; the reseach paper itself is here.)

From about the 8th until well into the 17th century, almost all theology and philosophy in the West was done in a language at some distance, at least, from the cradle language of those involved: Latin. In theology, a great deal of work continued to be done in such a language into the 20th century. This had so many advantages that it is hard to know where to begin: the ability of people to discuss ideas in the same language across the many linguistic barriers of Europe; the ability of people to engage directly with writers from the distant past in a language equipped with all the necessary technical terms; the levelling of the playing-field between linguistic groups; all the educational advantages ascribed to bi-lingualism, plus the special advantages of learning an inflected, and linguistically influential language like Latin.
But in addition to these manifold advantages, it would seem that people doing their philosophy and theology in Latin would actually have been doing better academic work because of the dispassionate 'deliberatness' involved in talking and writing in a second language. 
No wonder things went downhill after the loss of Latin as a working language for academics.

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