In favour of liturgy shaming
View 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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The Pope and Nuns in the Congo
The 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.
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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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