Sunday, 17 October 2010

The Bishops' Conference: Is unity more important than truth?

Reflections from the lounge bar of “The Four Horsemen”:

I have been trying to think of an appropriate word for the degree of authority which supports anything I write on this blog. It is only right to say that I am Mrs Nobody-in-Particular. So the answer is: Nil. However, in the free-for-all spirit of the blogosphere, why should that stop any of us? Nevertheless, I promise to try to keep on the doctrinal strait and narrow, and I will aim to be charitable.

Imagine me, therefore, sitting in a comfortable chair in my local, in the company of like-minded friends, saying: “What I can’t understand is … “, or “Why can’t they just …”, or “Have they all got something on one another? Like that film - what was it called? Oh yes: I know what you did last summer.” We are somewhat inclined to conspiracy theories, my chums and I; but then again, there’s no smoke without fire …

That excellent blog, Protect the Pope, published a post on 26 August concerning the recollections of Daphne McLeod, head of Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice, of her conversations with Archbishop Nichols of Westminster. Here are some choice extracts:
… he admitted that he couldn’t speak out against the homosexual movement’s agenda promoted in the UK because of fears that it would create disunity among the bishops …

‘We must have unity at all price. If I speak out against it, there’ll be disunity among the bishops, and we can’t have that’.

My post is not specifically concerned with questions relating to the homosexual movement. The import of the words attributed to Archbishop Nichols applies across the whole range of the Church’s teaching on matters that go against the grain of the way people want to live their lives.

I think it has been assumed that the Archbishop himself would like to speak up for the teachings of the Church, if he were not so afraid of the episcopal heavies who would come round with their pit-bulls. I too am very willing to assume this. However, the words as quoted are “If I speak out …”, and not “I want to speak out, but …”. They are therefore rather more impersonal than a quick reading would suggest. I look forward to hearing clear statements of all the teachings of the Church, including the unpopular ones, together with encouragement to follow them or to return to their observance.

According to the Penny Catechism, one of the ways in which we may either cause or share in the guilt of another’s sin, is by silence. This applies to all of us, including bishops. How much more so, in addition, does it apply to the successors of the Apostles, who are commissioned to teach the truth and to refute error?

“They” (to use a catch-all word that has the advantage of not pointing a finger) appear to be hiding behind a falsely inflated representation of the powers of the Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales. On this subject, here is a fine article by Bishop Robert F Vasa, taken from the Catholic Culture website, on the role - and the limitations - of bishops’ conferences. It is written in the context of the USA, but it applies equally in other countries. Here are some salient quotations from a long but important document:
Episcopal Conferences must keep in mind the good of the Church, that is, the service of unity and the inalienable responsibility of each bishop in relation to the universal Church and to his particular Church. (Pope John Paul II, Apostolos Suos, 7)

We must not forget that the episcopal conferences have no theological basis, they do not belong to the structure of the Church, as willed by Christ, that cannot be eliminated; they have only a practical, concrete function. (The Ratzinger Report, 59-61)
The national level is not an ecclesial dimension. It must once again become clear that in each diocese there is only one shepherd and teacher of the faith in communion with the other pastors and teachers and with the Vicar of Christ. (The Ratzinger Report, 59-61)
The bishops’ authority to speak out and to preach the truth is laid upon each of them, individually, in direct union with the successor of Peter, under our Lord Jesus Christ. The Bishops’ Conference has no power to obstruct that authority. Each bishop has his own charge and his own flock; and each has the continuing and imperative duty to examine his own conscience and his own faithfulness of mind and heart and will to the teaching of Christ’s Church, in all its fullness. He then has the duty to go out and teach that fullness, neither adding to it, nor - which is most pertinent in these days - subtracting from it.

If, in consequence, we see differences emerging in the witness given by the various members of the Bishops’ Conference, so much the better. We shall know exactly where each of them stands. And so will Rome.


Anonymous said...

Thank you for a most interesting post.
Please keep speaking the truth and publicising hypocrisy and cowardice. Charitably, of course.

Ttony said...

Is there something in the air? I've been bitten by the same insect!

Kate said...

Perhaps what he (the Archbishop) meant was that he couldn't speak out against the homosexual movement's agenda promoted in the UK because of fears that it would expose disunity among the bishops.