Missing the real point: the debate on Communion for remarried divorcees

The deeper issue beneath the debate on the admission of remarried divorcees.

Synod or no Synod, I still believe this.

Pax.

Another bishop falls, by his own hand

Having just hours ago posted about the deposing of an ostensibly orthodox and upright bishop in Paraguay who sadly lacked good judgment when perhaps it mattered most, news has come through that an ostensibly liberal bishop much closer to home has resigned due to his failure to keep the priestly vows.

Bishop Kieran Conry of Arundel and Brighton this afternoon released this statement:

I am sorry to confess that, going back some years, I have been unfaithful to my promises as a Catholic priest. I would like to reassure you that my actions were not illegal and did not involve minors.

As a result, however, I have decided to offer my resignation as bishop with immediate effect and will now take some time to consider my future.

I want to apologise first of all to the individuals hurt by my actions and then to all of those inside and outside the diocese who will be shocked, hurt and saddened to hear this.

I am sorry for the shame that I have brought on the diocese and the Church and I ask for your prayers and forgiveness.

There will be no further comment.

It is a sad day for the Church in England, and as sad a day for Bishop Conry whose career has now come to a crashing halt in such public fashion. We can only pray that as he considers his future he will make sound decisions that are for his own spiritual good and the good of the Church. Cardinal Nicholas commented that this affair “makes clear that we are always a Church of sinners called to repentance and conversion and in need of God’s mercy.” Repentance and conversion are indeed the order of the day for Bishop Conry; may he embrace this path and make his amends, at least with God.

Bishop Kieran Conry

Bishop Kieran Conry

Not surprisingly, the demise of an outspokenly liberal bishop has not been without some degree of satisfaction in some quarters. More significantly, some are asking questions that we can safely expect to assume some prominence in the next few days and weeks of fallout. Some are obvious enough, so we may as well prepare for them. Conry’s infidelity, by his own admission, goes back “some years”. Some will ask for more clarity as to this vague measure of time. Some will ask, why now resign? Some have already noted the longstanding rumours about Conry’s private life and have asked how much those in the English hierarchy knew when they pushed him forward to be bishop. Was this yet another cover-up, perhaps more palatable because the dalliance did not involve (1) a male nor (2) a minor?

Indeed, some have desired at least one outcome to this sad affair:

But perhaps at last Rome will wake up to the fact that the Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales is an old boys’ club that looks after its own. Kieran was one of the lads. If he hadn’t been, I suspect this scandal would have broken years ago.

I am too lowly to offer informed opinion here on such an assessment of the state of the English and Welsh bishops’ conference, nor would I want to do so. Nevertheless, in the light of the recently reported negative attitude of the Paraguayan bishops’ conference towards one of their own, the question arises almost naturally as to whether the local bishops’ conference held Bishop Conry in such positive regard as to be dangerous both for him and for the Church in England.

Looking back at Bishop Conry’s statement, some other questions will no doubt emerge from it. Of particular interest will be his future. Some might wonder of the wording of the statement is so composed as to allow for his leaving the priesthood altogether to be with his companion. He has been breaking his vows with her for “some years” (and so is not a lapse or a moment of weakness), and confesses and apologizes for the infidelity to his vows and to those who will be “hurt” by it, and for the shame it has brought on “the diocese and the Church” – but not, it seems, on himself. In other words, he seems to repent not of the relationship itself, but of its circumstances.

If so, that is better than nothing, and better late than never. However, one might wonder how a continuing relationship with his partner would cope with the aftermath of any resignation from the episcopacy and priesthood. It may only bring further harm on himself and his partner. Another path he could take is to repent fully and comprehensively, to re-commit to his vow of celibacy and resume, after a suitable period, the priestly ministry. Then, indeed, something of great and manifest value could be salvaged. The Church always benefits from the example of sinners who repent. Why could this not be the new direction his life should take? What fruit he could bear!

Whatever happens, all of us should be praying for him, that having confessed he might now repent and so experience the lavish mercy of God.

The Disturbing Case of a Bishop Deposed

When the news broke a few days ago that Pope Francis has removed Bishop Rogelio Ricardo Livieres Plano from his office as bishop of the Paraguayan diocese of Ciudad del Este, it seemed on the face of things fairly clear why the action had been taken. Bishop Livieres had promoted to the rank of Vicar General a priest who, over a decade ago, had been at the centre of a messy scandal in the US diocese of Scranton, Pennsylvania.

Bishop Livieres

Bishop Livieres

Fr Carlos Urrutigoity had been at the head of a new traditionalist institute of priests, the Society of St John (SSJ), who had taken up residence as chaplains in a boys’ school, St Gregory’s Academy, which was conducted by the Fraternity of St Peter (FSSP). Disturbing allegations began to surface, not least from the man appointed to be headmaster of the school of their own they planned, Dr Jeffrey Bond. The allegations centred on the profligate spending of donor’s money by the SSJ (a dining table costing thousands of dollars comes to mind) and on the overtly sexual behaviour of at least two of the SSJ priests, including Urrutigoity, towards boarding students, including sexual assault and, in Urrutigoity’s case, sharing bed at night with pupils (I remember, but cannot now find the reference, that Urrutigoity claimed he wanted to help break down the culture of machismo among American youth). Eventually the bishops of the day, who had been supporting them, had to suspend the priests and eventually suppress the SSJ.

Carlos Urrutigoity

Carlos Urrutigoity

What makes this imbroglio more disturbing was that Urrutiogoity had previously been expelled from the Lefebvrist SSPX seminary in Winona for sexual misconduct. Prior to his resurfacing in the mainstream Church, he had a history. It is possible that he had been the victim of malice in Winona, but surely prudence would have prompted most bishops to discretion in dealing with him.

So when it came to light earlier this year that Urrutigoity was now in Paraguay, a priest in good standing, and moreover a Vicar General, many were disturbed. Many suspected that the American diocese of Scranton had kept silence on Urrutigoity’s record so that he could quietly transfer to Paraguay, and thus out of it responsibility. The current bishop of Scranton was stung and issued a statement clarifying matters, in particular that the diocese had in fact warned the Paraguayans about Fr Urrutigoity’s troubling history, and advised against taking him on as a priest, let alone making him vicar general. In the wake of these revelations, Rome announced an apostolic visitation of the diocese of Ciudad del Este in July. On the basis, we presume, of its findings the pope has now deposed Bishop Livieres.

———–

It all seemed fairly straightforward and sensible, if drastic. Though Bishop Livieres had claimed that Urrutigoity was the innocent victim of defamation and malice, and despite the diocese supporting the bishop, it was clear enough that the bishop had shown seriously poor judgment at the very least. But enough to depose him?

Well, Fr Lombardi of the Vatican Press Office has clarified the reasons the pope has deposed Bishop Livieres, and in answering one set of questions he has opened up another. Fr Lombardi, it seems, has suggested that Bishop Livieres was deposed not so much because of his gross indiscretion in accepting and promoting Fr Urrutigoity, but because he had a very poor relationship with the other bishops in Paraguay. The other bishops accused him of breaking “ecclesial communion”, and of fraud and embezzlement. Also, some highlight Bishop Livieres’ opposition to the Paraguayan President, Fernando Lugo, who left the episcopacy and the priesthood in order to stand for high political office; the other Paraguayan bishops approved this extraordinary step by Lugo.

President (and ex-bishop) Lugo

President (and ex-bishop) Lugo

So we are left with the impression that Bishop Livieres has been deposed primarily because he is out of step with the other bishops in Paraguay, and in particular with the onetime-bishop-now-President, who preferred secular power to spiritual authority. Many have argued that the creation of national bishops’ conferences has compromised a bishop’s rightful sovereignty in his diocese and introduced pressures to conform to the national consensus. Here we have a case in point. It is not as if Bishop Livieres was a poor performer by many measures. He opened his own seminary and, despite rejecting over 50% of candidates, priestly numbers in his diocese have grown from 79 to 140 since 2004. In the same period baptisms have risen from 9,543 to 21,556. Most bishops would covet such numbers as a measure of an effective episcopal administration.

Apostolic visitors do not issue public reports, so we might never know if Bishop Livieres is indeed guilty of financial misconduct. If he is, he deserved to be replaced. This, coupled with his manifest blunder in promoting the suspect Urrutigoity to high office, would be a strong argument for such firm action. However, if the real reason is, in fact, that this bishop was merely out of step with the other bishops, acted independently for the benefit of his own diocese, growing the numbers both of Catholics and clergy, and fearlessly (though possibly indiscreetly) speaking his mind on controversial local issues, then many will be left wondering if a basically good bishop has been victimized not for any crime against law or doctrine, but for rocking the boat too vigorously in his pursuit of a healthy local Church. If so, his error with regard to Fr Urrutigoity looms not quite so large. And many will now be louder in questioning what exactly might be the direction Pope Francis is seeking to take the Church. A more fundamental and enduring question might centre on the role and nature of national bishops’ conferences, and their effect on an individual bishop’s freedom to shepherd his own flock.

As a Chinaman might observe, we live in interesting times.

Yet another religious bishop

Earlier here we touched on the fact that so many of the episcopal appointments for England, and Australia, under Pope Francis have been of members of religious congregations (or, in the case of the Oratorians, quasi-religious). Today it was announced that the Bishop of Gibraltar, Ralph Heskett CSsR, a Redemptorist, has been translated to the diocese of Hallam, which covers Sheffield. He is unknown to me, but we can pray him Godspeed in his new office. The Catholic Herald adds a few more details.

In the eastern Church it is monks who become bishops. Pope Francis seems to find much to approve in this practice. No doubt there will be many attempts at explaining this emerging (though not exclusive) policy of his. Is it an attempt to strike down any vestiges of careerism in the ranks of the diocesan clergy? Is it preparing the ground for making celibacy optional and so reserving the episcopal office to religious, as in the east? Is it just a coincidence?

Time will tell…

Bishop Ralph Heskett CSsR

Bishop Ralph Heskett CSsR

The miraculous homily

The website/blog Eye of the Tiber is, for want of a better description, a Catholic satire site. From a Catholic perspective it satirizes topical issues and events in the life of the Church and beyond. Occasionally it keeps such a straight face that one takes a second or two to realize it is not wholly serious.

Today’s post there made me laugh, though it was a wry laugh. I have never preached such a miraculous homily. What am I talking about? Better go and read it there: it is not long.

Without spoiling the punchline, the post ends with this gem:

Although the parish where the homily was given has since lost more than 50% of their parishioners, for some, it has become a pilgrimage site, with hundreds flocking to the site every year to kiss the lectern where the homily was given.

Of course, like all good satire, it has a serious point. You’ll know what it is.

Not the miraculous ambo, as far as we know.

Not the miraculous ambo, as far as we know.

Eccles and Bosco do a similarly satirical treatment of a BBC man who dared to use the S-word (it rhymes with “dinner”).

Pax.

Ratzinger 1966 – An Unexpected Prophet, Part 2 Act I (!): Liturgical Reform

Following on from an earlier post dealing with the introductory remarks in then-Professor Joseph Ratzinger’s prescient 1966 article,  “Catholicism after the Council”, it is time to move to the next part of that article, Liturgical Reform. Here again we see that even before the watershed year of 1968 Ratzinger was questioning the implementation of the decrees of the Council in which he played such a major rôle.

(NB By way of experiment Ratzinger’s own words not already blockquoted will be in a different colour to give them their due prominence.)

At the outset of this section of the article, Fr Ratzinger acknowledges a real problem regarding the post-conciliar liturgical reform:

But this very reform, so eagerly longed for and so joyfully welcomed, has become for many people “a sign of contradiction”.

He asserts straight way that “something really great and important” has been achieved in the reform, and introduces the two most common objections being then raised against it. The first is “ the movement towards the vernacular“, which was being lamented by many as denying to “the element of mystery in religion… a language all its own“, and also removing from the unity of the Church’s members across the globe its “linguistic extension… in the language of their worship” and their unity across time in those “who have praised and will praise God in the same way and in the very same language“.

The second feature being lamented was “the movement towards the community and communal worship” which eliminates “a sacred silence which is more suited to the mystery in religious worship than loud speech, a silence in which God can speak more audibly and in which the individual can really encounter his Lord…“, an encounter that suffers in the

uninterrupted succession of praying aloud, singing, standing, sitting, kneeling and so on. Liturgy then degenerates into movement and activity for its own sake, and this takes the place of the one thing that is vital in worship, namely the encounter between the individual soul and God.

Ratzinger has given a remarkably even-handed description of these objections given that he prefaced them by asserting that there would be “no difficulty in dismissing as superficial and unjustified the[se] two objections“. To them he briefly adds a third, “an iconoclastic strain in present-day communal worship” which replaces “artistic treasures of music and song” with

mob declamations which, in their want of taste and dignity, are neither suited to the greatness of the mystery being celebrated nor calculated to attract people to worship – if anything, they have rather the effect of repelling them.

It is worth pausing here to re-read what Ratzinger has just written. He is directly quoting no-one, but presenting in his own words the primary objections to the post-conciliar liturgical reforms as they were already manifesting themselves in Europe in 1966. Even though he feels they can be dismissed, his refusal to caricature or ridicule them suggests already to the alert reader a certain, if incipient, degree of sympathy. Perhaps he is beginning to feel torn.

ratzinger_1960s

 

Professor Ratzinger now sets out to deal with the matters raised by these objections by employing two categories: theory and practice. On the level of theory he seeks to show how untenable he believes these objections are, and how valid are the conciliar principles of liturgical reform. For this post we shall look at his comments regarding the theory; the next post will address his commentary on the practice.

THEORY

Ratzinger has little time for the general tenor of the appeal to mystery:

We can easily prove that the argument about the element of mystery in religion is not a valid one, anymore than is the argument about retreat into the silence of individual piety, not to be disturbed by the community at worship; in fact, both these arguments stem from a basic failure to understand the essence of Christian worship.

He then proposes a more adequate understanding:

The essence of Christian worship is that it is the announcement of the Glad Tidings of God to the congregation bodily present, the answering acceptance by the congregation of this acceptance, and the whole Church talking together to God… Thus the liturgy, viewed solely from its linguistic structure, is built on an intermingling of the “I” and the “ye”, which are then being continually being united in the “we” of the whole Church speaking to God through Christ.

It is important to keep in mind he is speaking of the liturgy through the logic of its verbal structure, how it reveals itself in the language it employs. In a sense, it is to see how the liturgy understands itself through what it reveals of itself in its own language. So in liturgy,

language is not for the purpose of concealment but for the purpose of revealing, it is not meant to allow each one to retreat into the stillness of his own little island of prayer but rather to lead all together into the single “we” of the children of God, who say all together : Our Father.

On this understanding, the subject in the liturgy is not the individual but the Church, in particular the Church as embodied in the congregation gathered for worship. This authentic view is fostered by the conciliar releasing “of the word from the fetters of ritual… [to give] it back its original significance as a word”. He gives a particularly sharply-edged illustration:

We are gradually becoming aware today of how meaningless it was, in fact, of how unworthy and dishonest it was, when the priest prayed before the Gospel that God might purify his heart and lips… so that he might worthily and in a becoming manner proclaim the Word of God, when he knew very well that he was about to murmur this Word of God softly to himself just as he had done with the prayer, without any thought of proclaiming it… The word has lost its meaning and had become an empty ritual, and what the liturgical reform has done here was simply to restore meaning and validity to the word and to the Church’s worship which was enshrined in it.

Ratzinger here touches on a subject that I am yet to see satisfactorily dealt with by more exclusivist proponents of the Extraordinary Form. Silence does indeed have a place in the liturgy, but its true value comes from its contrast to the ritual language and action. Silence allows the word to echo, or resound, in our minds and hearts, to implant itself more deeply within us. This process is short-circuited when there is nothing but word and action. Yet it can never begin unless there are words actually proclaimed in the first place that can then echo in our hearts.

gospel proclamation

Naturally, the words in question are generally those addressed to the people, though it can be argued the the collects and prayers offered on behalf of the people by the priest should be heard by those very same people: it is their prayer too. The silent canon, however, is more easily justified since the words are changeless, needing no fresh proclamation in the ears of the people. It is a most intimate moment of Christ addressing his Father, an intimacy heightened by the inaudibility of its words.

This example from Ratzinger is, I presume, the sort of thing that the Council Fathers had in mind for the liturgical reform: that the ritual words and the ritual action should be more clearly in harmony, and make sense of each other. The attendant danger, of course, is to over-rationalize liturgy, to subject it to the efficiencies of time-and-motion experts, which would be to make it more and more exclusively a work of man. Nor does this mean that the whole of the liturgy was in need of such refinement. It is still totally beyond me why the Eucharistic Canon had to be changed, and even others added. I can find so conciliar justification, however oblique, for this unnecessary tampering.

Ratzinger now moves, reversing the order of the objections, from the matter of the communal nature of the liturgy to the matter of its language, which is to say, its tongue. The argument that the Latin liturgy must be retained so “that the Catholic should be able to find it wherever he goes, even on Mars or the moon…” (NB Ratzinger is not being sarcastic; he is referring explicitly to Friedrich Heer’s critique.) This, says Ratzinger, “would amount to making the liturgy a museum piece, an artistic and aesthetic treasure from the past”. He makes a more positive argument in favour of the vernacular by referring to St Paul’s assertion that he would rather speak 5 intelligible words than 10,000 in a tongue (I Cor 14:19). Though St Paul had in his sights the practice of ecstatic speaking in tongues or glossolalia, nevertheless it is on the basis of this Pauline teaching that “the Greek liturgy, which by this time had become unintelligible, was translated into Latin in Rome in the fourth century, in other words, it was made available again in the vernacular of the time”. Ratzinger cites liturgical historian Theodore Klauser in agreement that the Roman liturgists in the fourth century were confusing the unintelligibility of glossolalia with the incomprehensibility of a foreign language. Nevertheless,

St Paul would have had no objection whatever to this interpretation of his pronouncements; even if he was referring to glossolalic utterances rather than foreign languages, the one was just as much at variance with his idea of liturgy as the other.

Ratzinger dismisses the idea of a language of mystery for the liturgy, as if the veiling of the liturgy in words not understood by the majority somehow safeguards, or even enhances, the mystery embodied in the Sacred Mysteries. The text of the Mass details an engagement, and even a dialogue, at the appropriate times, between priest and people which does not sit harmoniously with the employment of a mystery language. For “it is not the purpose of liturgy to fill us with awe and terror in the presence of sacred things… [nor] to provide a festive and richly-adorned setting for silent meditation and communion of the soul with itself, but rather to incorporate us into the ‘we’ of the children of God”.

That said, there are still compelling arguments for the retention of Latin as the universal language of the liturgy. Its use would eliminate the divisive debates about vernacular translations especially in such political languages as English. Moreover, in a word growing smaller yet more divided the use of Latin would circumvent ethnic and national tensions and provide a point of unity. How tragically absurd it was, for example, that in the wake of the Council the great Catholic University of Leuven/Louvain in Belgium was split in two between Flemish and Walloons, as indeed were some Belgian monasteries.

It is very much a 1960s theologian speaking here. That said, Ratzinger raises issues that still demand the attention of those whose preference is for the pre-conciliar Mass, especially those who would prefer to restore it as the sole liturgical form for the western Church. These issues do seem to be faced in the liturgies of 1964-67, even if by 1967 the observant could see where it would all end in 1970. Ratzinger appears to be one of them, to judge by his critique of the post-conciliar liturgical practice as it was rapidly developing. That critique is for the next post, act II of Part 2!

Missing the real point: the debate on Communion for remarried divorcees

Most Catholics will be aware of the recent, vigorous debate that has emerged the last few months on the subject of whether remarried divorcees should be admitted to Holy Communion. The debate was given impetus by the desire of German bishops to change the immemorial teaching of the Church. Following the explicit and unequivocal teaching of Christ, the Church does not recognize the possibility of divorce. Spouses can separate without any canonical consequence. Any civil divorce has only civil effect, and does not affect the sacramental bond which endures. The problem comes if a civilly-divorced spouse re-marries. It would have to be a civil wedding, naturally. In the eyes of the Church, with the original marriage bond intact, that spouse is now officially and publicly committing adultery. Adultery is a grave sin that precludes one from receiving Holy Communion.

As any sensible pastor, like our own Bishop Philip Egan, will tell you, this canonical consequence is not an act of retribution but is, in fact, medicinal. On the one hand, it reminds the erring spouse that Eucharist is the highest of gifts, and that it is a gift that can be lost by our own actions. On the other hand, scripture and Church teaching are consistent in holding that receiving the Eucharist when in a state of grave sin will have no good effect on the soul of the grave and un-absolved sinner, but in fact will only harm the sinner, as s/he will be bringing judgment down upon them. Eucharist received by grave sinners who remain un-absolved is poison to their souls, not balm. So to deny them Communion is an act of charity.

The counter argument usually rests on the purpose of the Eucharist in the lives of Christians. As medicine, it is precisely the grave sinner who needs it, the argument maintains. What is more, some divorces come about due to situations of irreconcilable difference, or even abuse. The Church already allows separation on these grounds, but cannot permit divorce because she has no power to grant a divorce. She may determine that the marriage itself was not validly contracted, and so annul what had been thought a marriage. But a valid marriage endures till death.

However, there is an underlying point in this debate that is, by and large, not being addressed, and if it were it might take the sting out of the question. The point is this: that for the vast majority of Catholics (and even non-Catholics, God help us) the reception of Communion is just another part of the ritual, an instance of their “active participation”, and indeed, a habit. St Pius X may have been right to remind the Church that receiving Holy Communion is saving food to our souls, and so we should receive it more than once a year. But frequent Communion has, in the modern Church, become regular Communion, habitual Communion, and for many, unthinking Communion. Which raises the question: how many Catholics receiving Communion every Sunday are actually free from grave sin? This question is all the more moot given the decline in recourse to the sacrament of Confession. Have Catholics really become so holy on such a widespread scale? Or are many regularly receiving the Eucharist unworthily, and not just profaning the Sacrament but poisoning their souls? Are our parishes in fact largely administering poison to a disturbing number of those who present themselves for Communion?

Those in grave sin have no right to receive Communion at all. None. At. All. Thus, remarried divorcees have no right to receive Communion, and in fact have the right to be denied Communion for their own spiritual well-being. Reception of Holy Communion must not be reduced to a mere act of belonging the local group, of exterior participation and inclusion stripped of its supernatural reality and purpose. It is primarily a spiritual event, with spiritual consequences, and eternal ones at that. It is not a sacrament of social inclusion.

Our Sunday obligation is not to receive Holy Communion. Our obligation is to attend Mass every Sunday. Have many Catholics lost sight of this fact?

Or perhaps individuals judge for themselves and decide that they can receive despite Church teaching? Perhaps they would call this an act of conscience. While we cannot read people’s consciences, we can safely say that anyone who makes a judgment against Church teaching does so without any objective authority. It is the same for priests who unilaterally decide to offer Communion to those who are impeded by means of publicly-known grave sin or who are non-Catholics. In this case, those priests are exercising an authority they do not have. This makes them dangerous men indeed from a spiritual point of view.

So the question of Communion for remarried divorcees needs to be re-focused. The burning question really is: how many who present themselves for Communion are actually in communion with Christ and His Church and not impeded by grave sin? Another question presents itself in consequence: how many see Communion merely as an act of exterior participation rather than an essentially spiritual act with effects not only for now but for eternity?

If you are in a state of grave sin, Holy Communion is not your remedy. Confession and penance: that is your remedy. Only then will Holy Communion do you any good. Only then will Holy Communion not bring you spiritual woe. What we need now is not a campaign for frequent Communion, but one for frequent Confession. Dare we say it: Holy Communion can be dangerous – it is not for the unready.

For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, “This is my body which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way also he took the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes. Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord. Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself. That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died.

(1 Corinthians 11:23-30 ESV)