Towards a New Heart and Mind
Editorial Introduction Faith Magazine May-June 2010
As anyone with the most rudimentary grasp of ecclesiastical history knows the Church often takes time to stabilise after a major Ecumenical Council. However the tensions of the post-conciliar period in which we find ourselves today are so acute as to constitute a crisis. The Second Vatican Council called for renewal, but it is increasingly clear that this has been significantly held back in the West.
The international sex abuse crisis has involved revelations of the deep wounding of innocent children and their families by the sinful actions of individual priests and religious, sometimes enabled by the, at best, incompetence and, at worst, callous dereliction of duty of some members of the Church's hierarchy. It clearly throws into sharp relief the perennial need within the universal Church for development in care, formation, transparency and vision. The British sex education crisis, which we describe in our editorial, is of a different yet related nature and has some analogous messages for the British Church.
Without apportioning blame here, we would note that both crises are involving the further cultural advance of the "permissive" vision of sex and love and the further marginalisation of the only realistic alternative, the Catholic vision.
Our editorial and William Oddie's column argue that in the education crisis our permissive Government has achieved a significantly new degree of Church co-operation. This is notwithstanding the Government's dropping of the offending clauses in order to get the bill through before the General Election. Our Road from Regensburg column and lead letter show how in the abuse crisis the permissive media have thrown their significant cultural power behind the idea that there is an intrinsic link between the phenomenon of priestly abuse and the nature of the Church.
The education negotiations have made very clear the British Church's policy of close cooperation with the establishment. The abuse "reporting" has made very clear the profound anti-Catholicism of this same establishment. British democratic institutions are in many ways positive influences upon society. But it should be clear now that whatever good speaking terms we might be on with the British government and media, they are on the whole not interested in anything less than the complete discrediting of the Catholic Church's claims to divine authority. The leaked foreign office memo ridiculing the Pope and Catholic teaching in April seems to be further confirmation of this. In fact, as David Quinn puts it in his 23rd April Irish Independent reflection upon the Pope's vilification, Anglophone opinion formers seem increasingly motivated by the truth, "damage or co-opt the church [... and] you go a long way towards destroying opposition" to the permissive project. Our current Road from Regensburg reinforces this point in the light of the Pope's own recent challenges to this project.
Such unmasking of anti-life dynamics, which have had a profound impact outside and even inside the Church in recent decades, might help to set the scene for a new ecclesial ethos.
The increasingly manifest sins of priests call us to a new humility. The increasingly manifest ambivalence of post-Christian social, political, economic and journalistic institutions can lead us to a greater confidence in our vision. We may be being prepared for an even more desperately needed evangelisation.
In the end we do bear quite some responsibility for the fact that vitriol is being thrown at us. We should have been shining examples of protecting and forming the young, in our personal care, but also in our cultural influence. Our culture was once, not long ago, Christian. We are where we are because western Christianity has relinquished its social and moral influence to those of a different, reactionary persuasion. Ireland and its media is a particularly clear case in point. This is not a totally negative phenomenon. Yet since the challenge of Francis Bacon's new philosophy of science we have largely failed, in our witness and our words, to discern, let alone to check, the inexorable cultural development of attitudes profoundly hostile to Christian values.
Realistically we must acknowledge that the abuse crisis and its media spin will lead to a further weakening of the Church's credibility. This means that the ascendant permissiveness is likely to get worse, dragging our world deeper into the mire. (See our overview of the recent "Sexualisation of Youth" survey on page 8).
But, as our culture continues to disintegrate the vacuity of its agenda and the need to turn back to God will become ever more obvious; if the Church has responded with deep, sincere and thoughtful repentance to the sex abuse crisis it will be with a compelling new humility, with less apparent self-righteousness and evasiveness, that Catholicism will be able to offer the truth which sets us free. Our gratitude that God has preserved us, as He will, and given this saving truth, as He has, will surely grow. We should, then, also trust Him, especially in this providential Year of the Priest, to give us a fresh, rationally justifiable, confidence that Christ is indeed still teaching and sanctifying in His Church. (In this issue Frs Cummings and Burke, and our Truth Will Set You Free column, elucidate necessary aspects of this process concerning the clearly central issue of the relationship of sex and love.)
At their Low Week meeting the Bishops of England and Wales have wisely and humbly suggested that we use our May Fridays to offer prayer and penance "for healing, forgiveness and renewed dedication". This reflects that mandated by Pope Benedict for our cousins across the water. The Bishops' statement supported his "wise and courageous leadership".
True renewal does indeed start in our own hearts. As our Road from Regensburg column brings out the Pope implies that we should all have the humility to revisit the sources of revelation, natural and supernatural, and examine our consciences for ways we might have eased the post-Vatican II turmoil. This is the only true foundation for saving broken Britain.
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