Latin Mass Society

The Church in Collapse

In an uncompromising analysis, written more in sorrow than in anger, Michael Davies lays bare the disaster which has engulfed the Church, particularly in the West, since the Second Vatican Council and spells out the consequences for the Latin Mass Society and all Traditional Catholics. We have a very difficult role to play in the new millennium – that of a remnant on fire to restore the Church.



Taken from the Latin Mass Society's February 2003 Newsletter.

The principal objective of the Latin Mass Society is to secure the celebration of Mass according to the 1962 Missal in the cathedrals and parish churches of England and Wales which, of necessity, involves permission from the diocesan bishops and a supply of priests able and willing to use this Missal. There can be no doubt that the LMS must grow or decline into oblivion. The factors precluding growth seem almost insurmountable, but it would be unrealistic to ignore them and simply hope for the best. The principal factor militating against growth is that the LMS has to recruit its members from a rapidly shrinking Catholic community which is itself likely to have declined into oblivion within thirty years, if not sooner.

The disaster begins

In his opening speech to the Second Vatican Council in 1962 Pope John XXIII used stern words towards those whom he designated as ‘prophets of gloom who are always forecasting disaster’. He portrayed his council as a new dawn for the Church, rising, he claimed, like daybreak: ‘a forerunner of most splendid light’. But within three years of the close of the council, in 1968, Pope Paul VI lamented in public the fact that the Church was engaged in a process of self-destruction. In 1972 on the feast of Ss Peter and Paul he attributed this process to the fact that ‘by means of some fissure the smoke of Satan has entered the temple of God’. He added that, ‘It was believed that after the council there would be a day of sunshine in the history of the Church. There came instead a day of clouds, and darkness, of uncertainty’.

Cardinal John Heenan warned in 1972 that, ‘One does not need to be a prophet to realize that without a dramatic reversal of the present trend there will be no future for the Church in English-speaking countries’. The trend to which he referred has not been reversed but has accelerated with each succeeding year. Cardinal Daneels of Brussels stated in an interview with the Catholic Times, 12 May 2000, that the vocations crisis has become so severe that the Church in Europe could disappear: ‘Without priests the sacramental life of the Church will disappear. We will become a Protestant Church without sacraments. We will be another type of Church, not Catholic’. Cardinal Paul Poupard, President of the Pontifical Council for Culture, stated bluntly in January 2000: ‘The dechristianization of Europe is a reality’. Professor James Hitchcock assessed the situation with total accuracy in 1972 when he wrote:

There are many curiosities in the history of the Church in the post-conciliar years, and not the least is the fact that so few progressives have noticed the extent to which the reactionaries' predictions prior to the Council have been proven correct and that their own expectations have been contradicted. They continue to treat the conservatives as ignorant, prejudiced, and out of touch with reality. Yet the progressives' hope for ‘renewal’ now seems largely chimeric, a grandiose expectation, an attractive theory, but one which failed of achievement. In the heady days of the Council it was common to hear predictions that the conciliar reforms would lead to a massive resurgence of the flagging Catholic spirit. Laymen would be stirred from their apathy and alienation and would join enthusiastically in apostolic projects. Liturgy and theology, having been brought to life and made relevant, would be constant sources of inspiration to the faithful. The religious orders, reformed to bring them into line with modernity, would find themselves overwhelmed with candidates who were generous and enthusiastic. The Church would find the number of converts increasing dramatically as it cast off its moribund visage and indeed would come to be respected and influential in worldly circles as it had not been for centuries. In virtually every case the precise opposite of these predictions has come to pass. . . in terms of the all pervading spiritual revival which was expected to take place, renewal has obviously been a failure . . . Little in the Church seems entirely healthy or promising; everything seems vaguely sick and vaguely hollow.

The statistics of collapse

Every aspect of Catholic life subsequent to the Council that is subject to statistical verification confirms what has been described as ‘the negative assessment’ of Pope Paul VI and James Hitchcock. Incredible as it may seem, there are those in the Church who claim that we are undergoing a renewal rather than a crisis, and that day by day in every way things are getting better and better. The question of whether the Council has been followed by a fruitful renewal or a disastrous decline can only be answered by examining the relevant statistics. It is a question of fact, not of doctrine. It does not involve loyalty or disloyalty to the Pope. Facts are facts and cannot be loyal or disloyal. What is posited as a fact is either true or untrue, and the Holy Father himself accepts that in the West there is a crisis in priestly vocations due to a diminishing ‘faith and spiritual fervour’.

Let us now examine the facts. The most evident characteristic of the Catholic Church in England and Wales is that it is shrinking at an alarming rate into what must be termed a state of terminal decline. The Catholic Directory of England and Wales documents a steady increase in every important aspect of Catholic life until the mid-sixties, that is until the conclusion of the Second Vatican Council; then the decline sets in. It is evident that Catholicism cannot have a future without Catholics. The birthrate necessary for a nation to reproduce itself is 2.2 children per couple. In Europe as a whole it is 1.4; in France 1.7 (the highest birthrate in Europe), in England 1.64, Italy 1.2. Germany with a birthrate of 1.3 kills 350,000 babies each year by abortion, filling more coffins than cots. It is the same story for thirteen other rich nations. The Catholic birthrate conforms to the national pattern, and therefore Catholics are contracepting their Church out of existence; but even on the thirtieth anniversary of Humanae Vitae not one British bishop wrote a pastoral letter reminding the faithful that contraception is intrinsically evil and can never be resorted to by a Catholic in good conscience. The subject now seems to be taboo in this country. The void created by the collapse in the Christian birthrate is being filled by Muslims. By the year 2013 the number of Muslims worshipping in their mosques in Britain will be greater than that of Catholics assisting at Sunday Mass, and by 2039 Muslims attending their mosques will outnumber all British Christians who worship on Sundays.

Precipitous decline

The fact that the Catholic population of England and Wales is declining into oblivion is made clear by the disastrous figures for marriages and baptisms. In 1944 there were 30,946 marriages, by 1964 the figure had risen to 45,592, but in 1999 had plunged to 13,814, well under half the figure for 1944. The figures for baptisms for the same years are 71,604; 137,673; and 63,158, and with fewer children born to fewer Catholic couples the rate of the decline in both marriages and births must inevitably accelerate.

In 1944 there were 178 ordinations to the priesthood in England and Wales. The number rose to 230 by 1964, but in 1999 ordinations had plunged to 43, while 121 priests died in the same year; that is three deaths for every ordination. This is not a crisis but a catastrophe. There will soon be only two seminaries in England in place of the five before Vatican II. Ireland has supplied many priests for this country, but in September 2002 came the sad news that only one of the six pre-Vatican II seminaries in Ireland remains open.

The loss of the young

It cannot be presumed that even half the declining number of children who are baptised will be practising their faith by the time they reach their teens. An examination of the figures of a typical English diocese indicates that less than half the children who are baptised receive the sacrament of confirmation. A report in The Universe as long ago as April 1990 gave an estimate of only 11% of young Catholics practising their faith when they leave high school. This is hardly surprising as there is not a single Catholic diocese in Britain where the texts used in Catholic schools are even remotely Catholic. Our young people cannot be said to be lapsing from the Faith as they have never been taught what the Faith is. This is fully acknowledged in the editorial to the November-December 2002 issue of Faith, a journal edited by a group of young priests loyal to the Magisterium which conducts an apostolate aimed at young Catholics. The editorial refers to a group of ageing liberal ideologues who live in a Vatican II time-warp. It explains that:

A really crucial generation gap now exists between this dwindling band of modernist ideologues, both clerical and lay, and the truly young generation of teenagers and twenty-somethings for whom ‘the Council’ and the concerns of those who were young back then, are simply a matter of ancient pre-history and utter indifference.

The editorial continues:

This is the generation that has almost completely lapsed. However, we should take note that they did not lapse from a rigid, guilt ridden, clerically dominated Church, but from parishes and schools that have bent over backwards to make Catholicism socially ‘relevant’ and acceptable, with deconstructed liturgies and doctrine-light catechesis. Those precious few who do remain are frankly turned off by priests and teachers who are still shadow boxing the demons of a failed revolution of forty years ago. These young people do not come to us full of prejudice about how bad things were in the ‘bad old days’—they were not even born until the nineteen-eighties—rather they are just curious to find out what Catholicism really means, because no one has ever told them.

Catechetical betrayal

How did it come about that Catholic schools and colleges no longer provide those who attend them with even a cursory knowledge of the Faith? When the bishops returned from Rome in 1965, most of them were convinced that everything must change in what they believed to be the spirit of the Council, and that any change must be a change for the better. Change and renewal were seen as synonymous. In most cases the changes that they imposed had no basis in the official teaching of Vatican II. In his opening speech to the Council, Pope John XXIII made it clear that the teaching of the Church was not to be changed, but simply to be made more comprehensible to the contemporary mentality. The catechetical bureaucracy set up by the English hierarchy threw out the traditional catechism and replaced it with an endless series of new texts. Having taught in Catholic schools throughout the first thirty years following the Council, I can testify that these texts soon reached the point where they could hardly be termed even vestigially Catholic. New methods of teaching the Catholic religion were replaced by a requirement to teach a new religion. Parents, priests, and teachers who protested were treated as Neanderthals. In 1977 a very good friend of mine, the late Canon George Telford, resigned from his position as Vice-Chairman of the Department of Catechetics for England and Wales because, he assured me, there was not even one bishop in the country who was even interested in ensuring that children in Catholic schools were taught the Catholic Faith. In his letter of resignation he stated bluntly: ‘Modern catechetics is theologically corrupt and spiritually bankrupt. Its structures and innovations are irrelevant and unmeaningful for the Catholic Faith, and can achieve nothing but its gradual dilution’.

A report in The Catholic Herald (3 September 1999) said that shortly before his death Cardinal Hume had lamented the fact that Catholics in this country had lost devotion to the Eucharist which lies at the heart of the Catholic Faith. He blamed the lack of Eucharistic devotion on ‘the way children are taught the faith by adults’. This is an astonishing claim in view of the fact that, like his fellow bishops, he imposed text books in which the traditional teaching was ignored.

Apart from marriages and baptisms, Mass attendance is the most accurate guide to the vitality of the Catholic community. The figure has plunged from 2,114,219 in 1966 to 1,041,728 in 1999, an average annual decline of just over 30,000 a year. If the decline continues at its present rate the Church in Britain will, to all intents and purposes, have ceased to exist within thirty years. As the marriage rate and birth rate continue to decline, the lapsation rate among the young continues to increase and the average age of the Catholic population becomes older each year, the figure of thirty years is probably far too optimistic.

The collapse and the LMS

The fact that the Catholic population is declining and ageing makes clear why, if the LMS is content simply to try to retain its existing membership, it will have no future. The most evident fact concerning our membership is that its average age is increasing, and that younger members are not being recruited in sufficient numbers to take the place of those who die each year. This corresponds exactly with the situation of the Catholic community as a whole.

The constituency from which we need to recruit members, that of practising Catholics, consists of about one million people spread throughout the country and it is continually shrinking. As the Faith editorial noted, our young people have ‘almost completely lapsed’ and have never been told what the Faith is. In most cases they are unable to relate to the traditional Faith, particularly to the traditional liturgy. I would be very surprised if one could find a sixth form student in a Catholic school in this country who could explain the sacrificial nature of the Mass unless he comes from a traditional family, or had a traditional teacher with the courage to depart from the official syllabus to give the true Catholic teaching. This is a heartbreaking situation because, as anyone who has been on the Chartres Pilgrimage can testify, Catholic Tradition makes a tremendous appeal to the young, and the enthusiasm of some of the young people who assist at LMS Masses is inspiring.

It should not be presumed that the LMS has done nothing to recruit members. It has conducted advertising campaigns in the secular and Catholic press, although with limited success. The young people that we need do not read the Catholic press and we would not be allowed to contact them through their schools. The only realistic approach is through personal contact. Appeals have been made to our membership to recruit at least one new member each. If even one in five of our members would do this the result would be dramatic, but it would be almost unrealistic to imagine that with disastrously plunging figures for marriages, births, confirmations and ordinations we can go against the trend and increase our membership.

The SSPX and the Indult

These conclusions may be criticised as pessimistic, but I would prefer to describe them as realistic. One question that could be asked is why, in view of our problems with recruitment, the Society of St Pius X is growing steadily, constantly opening new Mass centres and constantly purchasing new churches and chapels. The first and most obvious reason is that the SSPX acts without episcopal authorisation and in most of its parishes can offer its faithful a regular weekly or even daily Mass and a social life in which Traditional Catholics meet each other regularly and a significant number of marriages take place. This is a far more attractive situation than perhaps just one or two Masses a month, which is all that some bishops allow, and often these Masses are not even on a Sunday. Those bishops who will not grant a regular weekly Mass at a reasonable time are thus playing an active role in the expansion of the SSPX. It is also significant that not one bishop in the country will allow either the Fraternity of St Peter or the Institute of Christ the King to establish parishes here. The mind of the Holy See with regard to the Traditional Mass was made clear by Cardinal Medina Estévez, Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, in his letter Protocol 1411/99, dated 18 October 1999. In the course of this letter the cardinal stated:

Those who enjoy the benefit of the indult granted by the Motu Proprio ‘Ecclesia Dei adflicta’ may use this form freely both in private and in public, in the churches and at the times expressly appointed for the faithful...The Holy See urges bishops to be extremely tolerant to those of Christ's faithful who wish to participate in the sacred liturgy in accordance with the previous liturgical books and to keep their sensibilities constantly before their eyes...In dioceses, in accordance with varying circumstances, benevolence in dealing with those of Christ's faithful who adhere to the previous forms can be expressed either by appointing times suitable for liturgical celebration in some churches, or by designating a particular church which may be convenient for these faithful under the charge of a rector or chaplain, or sometimes even by the creation of a personal parish.

It would be a considerable understatement to say that this admonition has been virtually ignored in England and Wales.

The remnant Church

A realistic appraisal of the present situation indicates that it is no longer accurate to speak of a crisis in the Church. A crisis in the medical sense of the word can be defined as, ‘The point in the course of a serious disease at which a decisive change occurs, leading either to recovery or death’. Unless there is a divine intervention any hope of a recovery of British Catholicism must be considered a delusion. Those in authority in the Church are completely unwilling to reverse the policies which have brought about the decomposition of Catholicism in England and Wales, particularly where the liturgy and Catholic education are concerned, and in the case of the latter, the teachers emerging from our training colleges since the 1970s know as little about the Faith they are supposed to teach as the children they are supposed to be teaching.

Although the Church has no long-term future in this country she will, of course, survive her present afflictions elsewhere in the world. We can be certain of this because the Church is indefectible. The word ‘indefectible’ means unable to fail. When used with reference to the Catholic Church it means that the Church will persist until the end of time, that it can never become corrupt in faith or in morals, and can never lose the Apostolic hierarchy or the sacraments through which Christ communicates grace to men. The indefectibility of the Church was guaranteed by Our Lord Who gave His powers to His Apostles in perpetuity, told them to preach His doctrine in its entirety, and promised to be with them until the end of the world. The protection of indefectibility applies to the Church as a whole, and not to any particular country at any particular time. Individual Churches may become corrupt in morals, may fall into heresy, may even apostatize. Thus at the time of the Mohammedan conquests, whole populations renounced their faith; and the Church suffered similar losses in the sixteenth century. But the defection of isolated branches does not alter the character of the main stem. There is no guarantee, then, that the Church will not wither away almost completely in Britain. All the available evidence indicates that this is precisely what is happening. It may well be that the future of the Church lies in Africa or Asia. These continents are already sending priests and religious sisters to minister to the declining Church in the West. What we can be certain of is that the Church will certainly survive. Our Lord has given His formal guarantee that the gates of hell will never prevail against it.

Catholic and Traditional

Although I have stated that Catholicism will have no more than a vestigial presence in England and Wales within less than thirty years, this presence could be truly Catholic and truly traditional. The directors of the Cocoa Cola company decided that they could increase their sales by adopting a new formula. Sales plunged. The directors met together to decide what action to take. They reverted to the old formula and called it ‘Classic Coke’. There is, I fear, no hope that our bishops who are closing down the churches of once flourishing parishes, will decide to return to classic Catholicism, above all to the classic Mass. St Thomas Aquinas remarked: ‘It is absurd, and a detestable shame, that we should suffer those traditions to be changed which we have received from the fathers of old’.

The number of Catholics who have returned to ‘classic Catholicism’ is increasing steadily, but at nowhere near the rate that mainstream Catholics are abandoning the Faith. Traditional Catholics increase their numbers in hundreds; mainstream Catholics abandon the Church in tens of thousands. We must accept that there will be no widespread return to Tradition by our fellow Catholics, and regard ourselves as a remnant. Catholics in England and Wales were reduced to a numerically insignificant remnant during the persecutions in the reign of Elizabeth I, but there was no sacrifice that they were not prepared to make, even life itself, to support and to defend their martyr priests who brought them the Missal of St Pius V.

Although Catholicism will have no more than a vestigial presence in Britain within two or three decades, this could well be a largely Traditional presence, which could then begin to expand as did the Catholic remnant in England once the penal laws were abolished. Is this merely an impossible dream? Perhaps, perhaps not.

The challenge for the LMS

We members of the Latin Mass Society would have to become a people who have come to kindle a fire upon the earth. If we rouse ourselves from our lethargy, if we make the restoration of Tradition the true motivating force of our lives, if we kindle a fire in this country and devote our lives to feeding its flames, if we emulate the zeal and the courage of the faithful remnant of penal times, then the Catholic remnant of the third millennium may indeed be a Traditional remnant. But it means that when asked to recruit at least one new member we must do so, and not just one but two, three, or even four. And when a priest is willing to offer Mass for us we must show our appreciation to him and our love for Tradition by travelling to assist at it. Masses at which no more than a handful assist are being cancelled, and this is understandable. There is little point in diocesan representatives going to a great deal of trouble to arrange Masses if members in their dioceses do not attend.

In a book that was endorsed by Cardinal Ratzinger, Mgr Klaus Gamber wrote:

In the final analysis … the traditional rite of Mass must be retained in the Roman Catholic Church ... as the primary liturgical form for the celebration of Mass. It must become once more the norm of our faith and the symbol of Catholic unity throughout the world, a rock of stability in a period of upheaval and never-ending change.

An impossible dream? Not if we become a people who wish to set the world on fire.

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