Before departing to fulfil my role as sacristan at my church, I listen to the radio, usually BBC Radio 4, which runs a programme with the imaginative title of ‘Sunday’. Last Sunday we had the former Conservative Cabinet Minister and all-round establishment grandee, Lord Patten, talking about his work advising the Vatican on its communications. I am not terribly sure that a man who presided over one of the worst-handled BBC scandals, and whose own PR could do with some help, is necessarily the man I would go to, but senior Catholics are thin on the ground in the British Establishment, and from Rome, these things may look different. Among other things he said was that he hoped we would now have a ‘listening Magisterium’ – especially in the aftermath of the Irish referendum result. My ears pricked up.
Now, it may, of course, be my natural (and hard-won) cynicism which made me think he was not advocating that the Magisterium should listen to bloggers such as Fr Z, or Fr Dwight Longenecker, or Cardinals Burke and Napier. If I have failed in charity and he was meaning that, I apologise and say splendid. But, not least in the context in which he mentioned it, I think we can be sure he was thinking about those like Cardinals Marx and Kasper and others who want to find forms of words which, in the name of ‘mercy’ and ‘pastoral reality’ will allow the Church to effectively forge a new doctrine on the subject of homosexuality, divorce and communion. Since his own voice tends in that direction, I should imagine that what Lord Patten had in mind was that the Magisterium should get with what ‘the people’ want.
Social media has been awash with statements such as ‘I am a Catholic and I believe that homosexuals have the right to be married’, and ‘no one owns the church’ and, one of my favourites, ‘the church believes in equality and love and so should support same-sex marriage’. Were there a need to evidence the utter failure of Catholic catechesis, several dossiers worth of it could be had very readily.
Quite apart from the effect of such language on those Catholics who, out of obedience to the teaching of the Church, live celibate lives in which, through prayer, they try to resist the temptations of same-sex attraction, and on those other Catholics who also try to abide by its teachings on the subject of the various sins of the flesh to which heterosexuals are prone, its proponents ignore the fact that the Church is not a democracy in which doctrine and dogma are decided by majority voting among the faithful. They do that because they do not like that fact. They want, in effect, a form of catholic congregationalism in which, they hope, they would have a decisive say.
It may well be that life-long Catholics like Lord Patten are unaware of the reality of the Established Church in England which does, indeed, follow all the lines which they are advocating that the Catholic Church should take. At least I should hope it was so, for if they are advocating these things in full knowledge of where the Anglican Church is, then they are either fools or knaves. In the last three years the Anglican Church has lost 1.7 million members. The former Archbishop of Canterbury, Lord Carey, has warned that the Anglican Church is a’decade away from extinction’. And yet it is this example that the Bourbons of the spirit of Vatican II wish the Church to emulate – they have forgotten nothing and learned nothing.
As readers here will know, I have myself been criticised here for too liberal a line, and I am far from being one of those who supposes that we should turn the clock back to St Pius IX’s day. The Spirit guides the Church, and the Magisterium has to be alert to His promptings. But if we mistake the spirit of the age for the Holy Spirit, we shall find ourselves where the Anglicans are. Not, I think, the sort of ecumenism one wishes to encourage.