Monday, May 24, 2010

Bishops (and priests) - hear the voice of the laity

In conversation with some laity today, the request of our Bishops to dedicate the Fridays in May to
deep prayer of reparation and atonement
for the abuse scandals in the Church came up. They were not sympathetic. Why, I was asked, should the Bishops impose upon the laity penances for the errors of Bishops and priests?

A very persuasive initiative might have been for the Bishops to declare that each one of them would spend one hour before the Blessed Sacrament, in addition to the time they normally spend in prayer, on the Fridays in May, and maybe ask the priests to do the same. Lay faithful could of course be invited to join the Bishops and priests in this act.

It is true that
we are bound together in the Body of Christ and, therefore, (the personal sins of only a very few)touch us all
but the Bishops themselves
recognise the failings of some Bishops and Religious leaders in handling these matters.

In this instance what I hear is that the laity would really appreciate some sign of repentance from the clergy and, it has to be said, they look particularly to the Bishops. It is the filth in the ranks of the clergy, the impurity within the sanctuary, that is the true threat to the Church. As the then Cardinal Ratzinger declared in his meditation on the Ninth Station of the Cross for the Annual Good Friday Via Crucis in 2005:
How much filth there is in the Church, and even among those who, in the priesthood, ought to belong entirely to him!

Referring to the scandal of sexual abuse of minors, Pope Benedict also referred to the sin within the Church as the greatest source of Her sufferings on the flight to Portugal for his recent apostolic journey:

... the sufferings of the Church come precisely from within the Church, from the sin existing within the Church. This too is something that we have always known, but today we are seeing it in a really terrifying way: that the greatest persecution of the Church comes not from her enemies without, but arises from sin within the Church, and that the Church thus has a deep need to relearn penance, to accept purification, to learn forgiveness on the one hand, but also the need for justice.

In his letter to the Irish Church, the Pope's toughest words were addressed to his brother Bishops:
It cannot be denied that some of you and your predecessors failed, at times grievously, to apply the long-established norms of canon law to the crime of child abuse. Serious mistakes were made in responding to allegations. I recognize how difficult it was to grasp the extent and complexity of the problem, to obtain reliable information and to make the right decisions in the light of conflicting expert advice. Nevertheless, it must be admitted that grave errors of judgement were made and failures of leadership occurred. All this has seriously undermined your credibility and effectiveness...

Only decisive action carried out with complete honesty and transparency will restore the respect and good will of the Irish people towards the Church to which we have consecrated our lives. This must arise, first and foremost, from your own self-examination, inner purification and spiritual renewal. The Irish people rightly expect you to be men of God, to be holy, to live simply, to pursue personal conversion daily. For them, in the words of Saint Augustine, you are a bishop; yet with them you are called to be a follower of Christ (cf. Sermon 340, 1). I therefore exhort you to renew your sense of accountability before God, to grow in solidarity with your people and to deepen your pastoral concern for all the members of your flock. In particular, I ask you to be attentive to the spiritual and moral lives of each one of your priests. Set them an example by your own lives, be close to them, listen to their concerns, offer them encouragement at this difficult time and stir up the flame of their love for Christ and their commitment to the service of their brothers and sisters.

I do not doubt that our Bishops of England and Wales are also applying to themselves the request of Pope Benedict to undergo self-examination, inner purification and renewal. The message I get from the laity, however, is that they would like some clear manifestation of this process rather than asking them to do more prayer and penance. It is, I think I hear them say, about leadership.


  1. I've got to say I agree with the laity you've spoken to. Don't get me wrong, I am praying for this renewal in the Church but I think the 'higher ranks' should be doing something more visible or just something different. I don't know.....

  2. Discreet Observer24 May, 2010 12:20

    "It is the filth in the ranks of the clergy, the impurity within the sanctuary, that is the true threat to the Church."

    In his book - 'The Priest Is Not His Own', Bishop Fulton Sheen said:
    “The moral rot of the priesthood starts with a want of lively faith in the Divine presence, and the sanctity of the priesthood starts there too. Every sick call, every word of counsel in the parlour, every catechism lesson taught to children, every official act in the chancery, flows from the altar. All power resides there, and the more `short-cuts' we take from the tabernacle to our other priestly duties, the less spiritual strength we have for them. The pastor's primary concern should be the tabernacle, not the rectory, not the ego, but the Lord, not his comfort, but God's glory. Wall to wall carpeting in a rectory goes poorly with an altar and tabernacle looking like a house on stilts."

    It is long past the time when our sanctuaries should be restored to their former 'Catholicity' with east facing Mass, centrally placed tabernacles, and altar rails in place. This would be a start to concentrating the minds about why we are in Church for the Sacrifice of the Mass. When I was trained as an altar server was back in the 1950s I was instructed never to turn my back on the tabernacle unless it was unavoidable. And every passing required a genuflection so it became instilled in us young boys that it was the most important place on the sanctuary, and in the church. Nowadays, people - servers, ministers, priests, and uncle Tom Cobley and all - stroll around the flat sanctuary with careless abandon and occasionally give a peremptory nod towards the tabernacle as a gesture. Teams of lay people are taking Holy Communion to the sick; there are no 'catechism' lessons anymore but only young ladies (from my observations) taking the 'children's liturgy'. Everything now is a 'shortcut'.

    As you say, Father, the laity, and indeed the priests, are in desperate need of true leadership from our bishops but I can see no signs of it coming. I fear that they have no idea of how to improve matters and their only collective plan is to block any attempt to restore tradition.

  3. Didn't the Irish bishops say they would be doing a joint public act of Penance? What has happened about that?

    I am as 'Catholic with Attitude' and doing my bit daily, but was very disappointed that the English and Welsh Conference, did not say what THEY were going to do.

  4. clare.lusby@btinternet.com25 May, 2010 05:47

    It is only fair to point out that Archbishop Nichols has spent the Holy Hour each Friday in May in the sanctuary of the High Altar at Westminster Cathedral.

  5. I am very pleased to hear this. May the Lord bless him.

  6. That is wonderful to hear about Archbishop Nichols. In 'exile' in France I don't get details like this. Thank you Clare. He would be my archbishop were I 'at home', and so I have a special soft spot for him.

    Anyone any news about our other E & W bishops, and the Irish bishops for that matter?

  7. But it`s the Pope who has asked for the reparation and we MUST do it: for Jesus and for the wounded ones.

    Our bishops` seeming inaction can`t have another bad result: that we don`t pray when the Holy father asks us to and when the need is SO great.

    Come on chaps! We must pray MORE: for our Bishops. Our Lord won`t ask us wehther we moaned about them, but how much we prayed for them when we knew they needed it.

  8. One of the reasons that all in the church should do penance, is that child abuse in the Catholic Church is not restricted to the clergy. According to Government statistics, the highest percentage of abuse of minors occurs in the family (one in seven girls, one in twelve boys in Australia). It is just that the media focuses almost exclusively on the crime among the clergy.


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