|FAITH Magazine January-February 2009|
Ecumenism Today: the Universal Church in the 21st century
edited by Francesca Aran Murphy and Christopher Asprey, Ashgate, 238pp, £J0
Ecumenism Today is a classic product of a movement firmly rooted in the twentieth century. The contemporary Ecumenical Movement is generally traced back to the World Missionary Conference of 1910, as Christopher Asprey remarks in his introduction. In classic style the book collects together more than a dozen discussions by authors, varying in their ecclesial loyalty devoted to particular aspects of inter-denominational theological conflict (although one contributor from an Eastern Orthodox perspective - David Bentley Hart -allows himself to get in some powerful blows against some of his peers in his own camp). Several of the writers make particular reference to John Paul II's Ut unum sint - notably the Anglican John Webster and Susan Frank Parsons. It is clear that thequestion of a possible acquiescence to the primacy of Peter in some modified form is engaging the minds of many non-Catholic theologians with a new urgency at the start of the new millennium as they contemplate the Roman question. The chapter by the Armenian Vigen Guroian is particularly intriguing in this regard. Anyone who has followed the internal strife in the Anglican Communion in recent times must be aware that the absence of a primacy within that Communion seems to have allowed latent divisions to become even more insuperable. It is well to remember however that Protestant respect for the papacy cannot by any means be taken for granted - witness the statement of
Philip Jensen, Anglican Dean of Sydney as reported in the Tablet (26 July 2008), that the Pope's claim to be the Vicar of Christ is "an appalling blasphemy".
The editors have performed their task well, and the fifteenth-century Russian painting depicting the Council of Nicaea on the cover looks most attractive. There are some intriguing discussions of lesser-known ecumenical byways such as Nicholas Thompson's treatment of the Worms Book drafted by the Protestant Martin Bucer and the Catholic Johannes Gropper in 1540. The most substantial contribution comes from Francesca Aran Murphy -'De Lubac, Ratzinger, and von Balthasar: a communal adventure in ecclesiology'. As translator of The Spirit of Celibacy by Johann Adam Mohler, I was delighted to note the attention Murphy pays to his thinking. At the end an epilogue, with contributions by John Pontifex and Robin Gibbons, offers timely reflections on how external threats tend tounite us - ecumenism powered by the spirit of the Blitz.
But there are elephants in the room. I began by saying that the book is a classic product of a twentieth-century movement; but towards the end of that century there was a tectonic shift in Protestant mentalities which has already begun to complicate ecumenical relations between Protestants and both their Catholic and Orthodox interlocutors. I have in mind two features of the recent history of the Protestant denominations (and I include the Anglican Communion here). First, the quickening trend towards the abandonment of historical Christian moral positions in matters of sexual morality. This means that the most important divergences between Catholic and Orthodox on the one side and Protestant on the other are now in the field of morality, an area passed over in silence in EcumenismToday. Second, the rapid development of ever more Christian communities and groupings entirely outside the mainstream denominations. These movements -house churches, charismatic fellowships, 'non-denominational' Christian communities and the like involve millions of the most enthusiastic
and committed Protestant believers - and they are left out of the loop in books like the present one. But the plain fact is that the growth in Protestantism since World War II has been mainly among these myriad evangelical movements, while the so-called 'mainline' denominations are in free fall. A large part of the problem here, as I pointed out in a recent CTS booklet entitled Protestantism from a Catholic Perspective, is that those members of the intelligentsia who dominate in the media despise the evangelical movements. A classic example of this contempt could be found in The Independent of 16 July 2008, where a Catholic commentator, Paul Vallely, referred patronisingly to 'theologically primitive and doctrinally ideological evangelicals'. Hang on a minute, MrVallely, were those fishermen called by Jesus perhaps not 'theologically primitive' too? Such observers overlook St Paul's coruscating talk about the foolishness of human wisdom. It is the evangelicals who drive the most popular and productive 'new movements' in Protestantism like the Alpha Course and New Wine. It is the evangelicals who power massive communities like Willow Creek in Chicago and the Vineyard Fellowships with all their huge appeal to the young, as well as what is claimed to be the largest single congregation not just in London but even in Europe - Kingsway International Christian Church. The absence of all of this dimension from books like Ecumenism Today says a great deal about ecumenism today.
The Wisdom of Nazareth. Stories of Catholic Family Life
selected & edited by Sr Crucis Beards FMDM & Anna Schafer, Foreword by Lord Alton, Introduction by Michael O'Brien, Family Publications & Mary vale Institute, 20Jpp, £8.9J
This is the first book to be published by the Centre for Marriage and Family of the Maryvale Institute. It draws together thirty one articles from the Nazareth Journal, a magazine produced by a Catholic family apostolate that worked in the 1980s and '90s in Canada. In his introduction, Michael O'Brien, former editor of the Nazareth Journal, rightly points out the growing amount of theology on the "domestic Church" in recent years, and writes that these stories, "from the front lines" (13) of Catholic life, demonstrate such theology in action.
Several of the articles fulfil this aim in a particularly impressive and moving way: the parents who adopt three children with disabilities despite already having four children of their own; how a child's grief at his parents' quarrelling brings them back to the Church at Christmas; the "quiet desperation" (64) felt by a man who is the only bread-winner for his large family; a married couple who have been using contraception for twenty five years gradually coming to a full appreciation of, and adherence to, Humanae Vitae. This last is a rare instance of explicit theological reflection in the book, which tends as a whole towards the emotional rather than the intellectual. This is fair enough - it is meant after all to be a collection of personal testimonies -but the downside isthat articles can become bogged down in domestic detail: in one entitled "A Day in a Catholic Marriage", the author goes through her day minute by minute, detailing exactly what she cooked for her family and what she put in the freezer for later. Some stories descend into sentimentality, a notable example being a mother who decides not to pursue a Master of Arts degree because she already has the double title of MAMA bestowed on her by her heavenly Master.
Perhaps responding cynically to this kind of writing simply shows the cultural differences between English and American Catholicism. In his foreword, David Alton maintains that despite coming to us from "across the water", the stories "have a perennial value and speak beautifully of so many family situations." (10) His need to state this may be indicative of the cultural barrier which British readers face on encountering these stories. One instance of this North American flavour is an account of a Catholic family of twelve building their own house on a farmstead, encouraging each other with the words: "This is America! People can do anything they set their minds to, God willing!" (132) The energy bursting from this story is admirable, but this is a long way from the problems of an averageCatholic family in Britain, who are more likely to be worrying about what the local primary school is teaching their children, rather than the best way to shoot a rat.
This is the chief problem of the book: the stories are being published in a context for which they were not written. The authors are mostly drawn from one particular community, writing stories aimed in tone and substance at that community. There is considerable repetition - six of the articles are written by the same author on more or less the same theme. The book as a whole focuses mainly on the relationship between parents and children within a large Catholic family in a suburban setting, often home-schooling, with a non-working mother. There is nothing wrong with this, but it is not the only possible model of Catholic family life, which is of necessity more diverse, and it would be interesting to explore some different relationships, those between siblings, for example, or the role ofaunts, uncles, cousins and god-parents. A brief reflection on how a father relates to his sons and daughters-in-law is one of the more interesting articles, and points towards what this kind of book could do, hinting at the wideness of the family circle, and showing how all family roles, however apparently obscure, can be drawn into the life-giving work of Christ and His Church.
It seems almost churlish to criticise a book in which there is so much good will and genuine devotion to God and His teachings. The problems with the book are not with the individual parts, many of which point towards (in the words of Pope Benedict XVI) "the beauty of human love, of marriage and of the family" (11), but with the rather uncertain whole that the parts construct. It is difficult to imagine who the target audience is for this book and how it will be read, if not in the fashion of a monthly journal. However, the reader who overcomes all the barriers that this book presents may find themselves unexpectedly touched and moved by the humility, love and moments of grace that the stories record.
The Faithful Departed - The Collapse of Boston's Catholic Culture
by Philip F. Lawler, Encounter Books 272pp, £12.9J
This book has this commendation on the dust cover: "If St John Chrysostom is correct when he says that the road to hell is paved with the skulls of bishops, it would be a mistake for any bishop or priest to miss this book." It is made an even more striking recommendation by the fact that it is made by a Bishop, the Most Rev Fabian Bruskewitz of Lincoln, Nebraska.
With clear evidence Philip Lawler explains how one of the most thriving Catholic dioceses in the world collapsed into one with a drastic shortage of priests, closing parishes, and a complete lack of political influence.
Of course, the sex abuse in the diocese is given full treatment. But this is what Lawler says:
"The thesis of this book is that the sex-abuse scandal in American Catholicism was not only aggravated but actually caused by the willingness of Church leaders to sacrifice the essential for the inessential: to build up the human institution even to
the detriment of the divine mandate. I argue that in Boston, Catholic culture lost first its integrity and then its power because Church leaders made the same fatal mistake, offering their first fealty to the church that is "it" rather than the Church that is 'she.'"
He details how the Second Vatican Council was used to propagate ideas which were exactly the opposite of what it said. This led to an 'anything-goes' mentality that allowed child sex abuse to flourish and led timid bishops not wanting to appear to be "homophobes" by opposing it.
One could weep when one considers what the Boston diocese was like. Cardinal Cushing in the 1950s had a target to ordain 100 priests a year; he did not obtain it but over 80 priests a year were ordained. In 2006 it was five. Mass attendance used to be 80\%. More than 60 parishes have been closed since 2002.
"The whole thrust was on public relations."
When the sex abuse scandal broke, Lawler explains how the bishops prevaricated and eventually brought out rules that left priests open to action for a single accusation while they, the bishops, escaped all blame. The whole thrust was on public relations and spin, not on protecting children and certainly not on putting right what was and is wrong in the Church.
Has this any relevance to what has happened in the UK? I can imagine a reader saying, "Of course, the child abuse numbers were not as bad over here." My reply to that is, "How do we know?" Where are the figures in the Nolan Report? The Nolan Committee was given and produced no figures of abuse and did not even say that there had been abuse. Nolan was simply asked to report on Child Protection; there was no mention of any crisis, nor does the Report say that anything has ever gone wrong. In America, society is much more open. There, meetings of the Bishops' Conference are open to the public and are even televised,
and bishops cheerfully are interviewed by lay journalists. So in America there was a National Review Board which reported on the crisis, which Nolan was not asked to do. That Review Board reported that 81 \% of the cases involved male-to-male contacts. Of these victims, 90\% were adolescents. From the statistics, and after analysis from the American Linacre Centre, Lawler reports that: "Faced with that statistic, some analysts began to say that what had been seen as a crisis of paedophilia was really a matter of ephebophilia", a term meaning the sexual attraction of men towards adolescent boys. And what do the statistics show in England? No one knows because the statistics are, incredibly, kept secret. COPCA, the Catholic Office for the Protection of Children and Vulnerable Adults, and theresponsible archbishop, have steadfastly refused to give any breakdown of the annual figures that might enable an analysis to see whether it is men or women committing acts of abuse and whether on boys or girls. What is there to hide? Such lack of clarity might well be contributing to priests being inappropriately suspected and encouraging, for instance, that stalwart ladies have to have criminal checks to do the flowers with their own grandchildren. In any situation, risk assessments are necessary. Without the facts, proper risk assessments are impossible.
So though Lawler is critical about America, things are much worse here. Incredibly, the Catholic Education Service, is backing the government's plans for sex education for five-year old infants. Gerald Warner rightly says about this on his Telegraph blog "The most widespread child abuse in Britain is perpetrated by the Government." True and the Catholic Education Service supports the government.
The book finishes with a section on Restoration. The key here is for the Church to admit that things have gone wrong:
"Reform cannot begin until the corruption is acknowledged. And since the American hierarchy apparently
cannot or will not recognise the corruption with itself, other Catholics must call the bishops to account and demand the sort of responsible pastoral leadership that the American Church has not seen for years. Under these circumstances, lay Catholics who criticise their bishops are not showing their disrespect for the bishop's office. Quite the contrary. Those who revere the authority of a Catholic bishop should protect that authority - if necessary, even from the man who occupies that office."
Americans can have hope that, although the majority of bishops still refuse to admit the problems, at least everything is in the open and an increasing number of bishops are facing up to the facts. The situation in England may or may not be better than that in America but what Damian Thompson calls "the culture of secrecy and evasion" in England means that we simply do not know.
In recent decades there has been a serious decline in people going to Confession. Many priests and religious go seldom. Not a few laity report that confessors have discouraged frequent confession. Parish timetables often only indicate half an hour of confessions on Saturdays. "You don't know what you've been missing" could be the summary of this book; "and I'm going to tell you".
Fr de Stoop, from Sydney, tells us why it is good to go to Confession. The sacrament of Reconciliation doesn't just take our sins away. It also brings many benefits. He lists twenty-five, each receiving a chapter in this highly readable book.
The benefits are: God's mercy is communicated in a tangible way; Reconciliation with God; Personal encounter with Christ; Divine life is restored in our soul; Grace is given; Confession reminds us of the price of sin; The profits of penance; Remission of eternal punishment; Temporal punishment can be diminished; Merit and virtue restored; Makes our prayers and works more efficacious; We benefit from the priest's prayers and penance; More fruitful participation in other sacraments; Sacrament of healing; Strengthens our faith; Cultivates hope; Increases charity; Fosters growth in humility and in self-knowledge; Helps to form our conscience; Brings psychological benefits; Prevents us from falling into more serious sins; Improves our prayer life; Source of spiritual direction; Helps us becomesaints.
The book covers all aspects of the sacrament. Its theology is sound and is backed up by numerous quotes, from Scripture first of all; then from the Magisterium (especially John Paul II and Trent), the Catechism of the Catholic Church, the Church Fathers (Cyprian, Ambrose, John Chrysostom, Augustine), Doctors (Aquinas, Alphonsus), Mystics (St John of the Cross, St Teresa, St Faustina, Julian of Norwich) and others such as the Cure d'Ars, Archbishop Fulton Sheen and Scott Hahn. In the next edition, at Ch. Twenty-Three (110), on the love of God leading to love of neighbour, a quote might be added from Benedict XVI's Spe Salvi. There are many illustrations, simple in style but effective.
Many good points are made: how much God wants the return of the sinner (7); the link between the loss of the sense of sin and the decline in confession (15); mortal sin and the shortcomings of the fundamental option theory (16-21, 130-32); Sunday Mass (35); the social aspects of the sacrament (35, 37, 44-47); mortification (38); hell exists (41-42); confession of venial sins, purgatory and indulgences (43-47); confession can lessen the incidence of divorce (67); sin leads to blindness (75-77); intellectual difficulties are often due to immoral behaviour (75-78); good confessors should be sought (79,127-28); frequent confession (83-84; 97-99); "In the single act of confession you will exercise more virtues than in
any other act whatsoever" (St Francis de Sales, 89); conscience and guilt (93-99); people need confession, if they don't go to the sacrament they'll do so in "reality" shows (101); confession can prevent depression (104); it develops our freedom (107, 119); aridity and perseverance in prayer (110-11); helps discern our vocation (114); assiduous recourse to it leads to holiness (117); grave and serious sin (129).
At the end of each chapter there are questions for personal reflection or group discussion. Terminology is explained (e.g. contrition, absolution, supernatural, grace, sanctify, merit). There are six Appendices including one on the conditions for plenary indulgences; and a guide for a good Confession. It might be worthwhile including here the full formula of absolution (145).
The book is 'straight down the line'. It has a very encouraging tone and shows real understanding for those wishing to be reconciled. The reader is left in no doubt as to the goodness of Confession: "of all the ways that can please God, nothing exceeds going to Confession" the author writes, relating it to the story of the return of the prodigal (8).
It is suggested that priests could use this book to prepare homilies on the Sacrament (2). It will also be beneficial to teachers and parents and students, and anyone who wants a clear and attractive treatment of this subject. Its approach is sensitive and workmanlike and has a useful index.
Fr Andrew Byrne
Westpark Study Centre
The late Paul Schofield has left us with the most compelling portrait of Sir Thomas More. In A Man For All
Seasons the Chancellor is shown at home with his family and in conflict with his King.
John Guy considers More from the angle of his relationship with his favourite daughter, Margaret (or Meg) Roper, drawing on neglected or undiscovered documents. The general outline of More's life is well known but Guy makes More that much more human. He shows that the Chancellor considered that he was destined for the most barbaric form of execution (which was only changed at the last moment.) He needed the comfort of his daughter, since his wife stayed away, "he was too gregarious, too emotionally dependent on his family to face Henry's terrible wrath alone."
Margaret Roper's husband William took the oath but later wrote a famous Life of his father-in-law which sanitises his own position. Guy shows that More's own brilliance was wonderfully reflected in his daughter who corrected Erasmus and published her own works but died aged 39 only eight years after her father. Through her ingenuity in smuggling correspondence in and out of the Tower we have the final picture of More, the King's good servant but God's first.
Derek Wilson places the Chancellor in the company of five other Thomases: Wolsey, Cromwell, Howard, Wriothesley and Cranmer. He is clearly not sympathetic to More whom he classifies as authoritarian "in his bulldozing way". He homes in on More's attitude to heresy, which from a modern stance seems the height of intolerance. Wilson tends to consider everything from a purely historical point of view which provides some very fascinating details. The characters do not however come to life in the same way as they do in John Guy's approach.
Fr James Tolhurst