Via Protect the Pope comes news that an apparatchik of the Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales has written to Catholic peers and MPs to assure them that there are no plans to do anything that might in anyway show support for Bishop Egan of Portsmouth’s re-affirmation of consistent Church teaching, expressed in Canon 915, that those who persist in manifestly grave sin must be denied Holy Communion. Politicians who ignore Church teaching and use their parliamentary office to push through legislation contrary to Church teaching fall under this canon. As Bishop Egan made clear, denial of Communion is not only an act of justice, but of mercy, that being denied the highest privilege of a Catholic they might come to their senses and repent.
Now if Greg Pope, the Head of Parliamentary Relations at the Bishops’ Conference, has actually written with the knowledge and approval of the Conference, then the Conference has hung one of its own out to dry. Is this how collegiality is to be practised – subverting one of their own who has enough courage to stand up to politicians’ time-serving and reiterate solemn Church teaching? If so, there is no better argument against the novel doctrine of collegiality. Far better to go back to the situation of the previous 1900-odd years, and let a bishop shepherd his diocese without hindrance, subject only to the Sovereign Pontiff and the occasional Council. Then the bishop could concern himself with toeing the Universal Church’s line rather than that of a conference all too often desperate to appease the secular establishment.
Perhaps that is the greatest weakness of bishops’ conferences: that they foster national churches with an identity too distinct from that of the Universal Church. History is replete with examples of how such nationalized Churches have acquiesced to the demands of their local governments and sold out the teachings of the Church. The Orthodox churches today are fitting reminders of the inherent weakness of nationalized churches. An even better example is the Anglican communion, founded on the craven submission of English bishops to the murderous and adulterous desires of Henry VIII. Do we want to go that route?!
Under Henry VIII there was a least one bishop who stood for the right, St John Fisher. He, too, was abandoned by his episcopal brethren, and eventually lost his life. If Mr Pope (the bitter irony of that name!) has indeed acted for the Bishops’ Conference, then it appears we might have another John Fisher today, though we pray that Bishop Egan will not lose his life for it.
Of course Mr Pope has a vested interest: in his previous role as a Labour Member of Parliament, he voted consistently against Church teaching in matters such as abortion, adoption and contraception. Yet he has been able to hold two jobs for the bishops’ conference. What teaching does this give the faithful I wonder?