The NCP Convention

The NCP Convention

The current edition of The Swag reproduces a blog post by Fr Norm Langenbrunner, one of the founding members of the newly formed Association of United States Catholic Priests.

The AUSCP styles itself as an association of ‘Vatican II priests’ who wish to keep alive the Spirit of the Council. By way of clarification, Fr Norm relates in his post the content of a talk he heard at a recent AUSCP regional meeting:

In his presentation Father Bacik clarified the difference between Vatican II priests and JPII priests under two operative models of priesthood: servant/leader (inspired by Vatican II) or spiritual father (inspired by Pope John Paul II).

The servant/leader model tends to see a priest in terms of ministry shared with the laity, of witness to social justice issues, of exploring how the Gospel is to be translated into today’s world.

The spiritual father model tends to see a priest in terms of directing the laity in their service to the Church, of piety in prayer, of maintaining orthodoxy.

Bearing in mind that I didn’t have access to the actual text of Fr Jim Bacik’s talk, and Fr Norm wasn’t attempting to reproduce Fr Bacik’s talk in any detail, I shook my head as I read these paragraphs.

I consider myself a ‘JPII priest.’ John Paul was still pope when I discerned a priestly vocation and entered the seminary, and his writings and spirituality have had a big influence on me. Nonetheless, although I happily identify with piety in prayer and with orthodoxy, I certainly don’t pretend to “direct the laity in their service to the Church.” That’s a brand of clericalism which I’ll always reject. I suspect most ‘JPII priests’ do likewise.

Knowing your adversary

It’s never an easy thing to faithfully describe an adversarial position. I’ve failed at it myself. People sometimes ask me why I wear a clerical collar, and why many other priests don’t wear the clerical collar. My answer was always thoughtful and charitable, but for a long time it was wrong. I misread the motives of the older generations of priests who eschew the collar. I realised that when I asked a priest whom I respect why he had taken off the collar. His answer startled me, because his motivation to hang up the collar was identical to my motivation to take it up again: “It opens doors.” That’s not a reason I had attributed.

Because I get it wrong myself, I am patient with people who misrepresent an adversarial position. Misunderstanding one’s adversary is not on its own sufficient grounds to discount a voice, which is typically more authoritative when expressing more sympathetic positions. I persevered with Fr Norm’s article, and the rest of The Swag, for the insight it can offer on “Vatican II priests.” What are they thinking? What are they feeling? I did this, not only because they are my brother priests and it’s good to take an interest in family, but also because this past week, I attended the NCP Convention in Warrnambool.

Warrnambool 2012

I like to think I’m open minded, and that I went into the convention with a positive attitude. One of my favourite quotes comes from James Joyce’s Finnegans Wake:

Catholic means, ‘Here comes everybody.’

I can deal with the fact that I disagree with other priests on many things. Nonetheless, walking into the convention room that first evening, I was very tentative. To my mind, The Swag is often beyond the pale, and the NCP excessively negative. Apart from that, any large clerical gathering can become something of a minefield. An old saying — often repeated by priests — came to mind:

Priests are like manure. Grouped together they produce hot air and bad smells; spread out they do a lot of good.

At best, I expected to receive deeper insight into the minds and hearts of self-styled “Vatican II priests,” while enduring unfair and inaccurate characterisations of my own generation.

But I received much more than that. I received the hospitality of priests who were sincere in their welcome, and quite willing to engage. And in the keynote addresses by Fr Timothy Radcliffe I received universal insights into the Church and the world. Radcliffe showed himself to be not only a clear and deep thinker, but someone who is able to understand and express his adversaries’ positions as well as his own. He set the tone for a convention which was not pessimistic or self-obsessed, but hopeful and supernatural in its outlook.

My differences with many in the NCP remain. I think I may have cast the sole dissenting vote on one motion. (I didn’t look around at the show of hands.) But all Catholic priests share a lot in common. I learnt a lot at the convention — from its speakers, and from its attendees. And I enjoyed the week immensely.

In many ways, I was more “at home” at last month’s ACCC Conference. But I felt a welcome guest at the NCP Convention, and I will go again. I recommend it.

Loyal criticism and reform

Loyal criticism and reform

Here’s an interesting story about a modern-day saint-to-be. Don Pino Puglisi had been parish priest of a mafia stronghold for 3 years when he was gunned down in 1993.

His assassination was the ironic culmination of his mission to re-evangelise Sicily and exorcise it of organised crime. His murder unleashed a popular backlash against the Mafia from which it hasn’t recovered. Still, within days of news breaking about his impending beatification, police thwarted a serious bomb attempt against a centre Don Pino founded. “The task of exorcism” is ongoing.

Don Pino interests me for his example of “loyal reform” of the Church. Sometimes I get so fed up with the barrage of internal dissent against the Church, that I’m tempted to present a reactionary defence of all things ecclesial. But that in itself is an act of disloyalty. The Church is in constant need of reform, which no saint failed to recognise and engage in.

Don Pino was well known for his sense of humour, and at times even made light of the lack of support from the Church hierarchy. He was ordained by Cardinal Ernesto Ruffini from Palermo, who was said to regard communism as a greater threat than the Mafia and once even questioned the latter’s very existence. According to the National Catholic Reporter, when asked by a journalist, “What is the Mafia?” the cardinal flippantly replied: “So far as I know, it could be a brand of detergent.”

Don Pino saw it as necessary to challenge such attitudes, but to do it sensitively. “We can, we must criticize the Church when we feel it doesn’t respond to our expectations, because it’s absolutely right to seek to improve it,” he said, jokingly adding: “But we should always criticize it like a mother, never a mother-in-law!”

I’ll have to learn more about Don Pino. I might start by watching his biopic, In the Sunlight. Anyone know where I can get a copy?

Cathnews bias

Cathnews bias

Kate Edwards is one of the most prolific bloggers in the Australian Catholic sphere, and I wholeheartedly recommend her blog, Australia Incognita.

Kate is currently waging a campaign to reform Cathnews. I had no intention of weighing in on this debate, but circumstances demand I take a public position.

Chris Kenny recently wrote on how groupthink has overwhelmed the ABC. He argues that ABC journalists frequent a circle of “academics, public servants and hipsters of the inner city,” for whom the ABC is never progressive enough. Against this measure, ABC journalists can sincerely believe themselves to be balanced: ‘If Andrew Bolt thinks we’re too far left, and Tom Horton, Associate professor of journalism, thinks we’re too far right, then we must be doing something right.’

I think the same thing can be attributed to the thinking at Cathnews. ‘If Kate Edwards thinks we’re too far left, and Brian Coyne thinks we’re too far right, we must be doing something right.’

Well, yes. And no. What this shows is that people can sincerely aspire towards balance, without achieving it. If the ABC was truly balanced, it would broadcast as many outspoken conservative voices as it does outspoken progressive voices. And Cathnews would be more balanced if voices like Joan Chittester’s were balanced by voices like Michael Voris’. If one of these is too outrageous for Cathnews, then both should be. If one of these can be legitimately broadcast by Cathnews, then both should be.

In conclusion, and for the record:

  • I agree with Kate that Cathnews is biased. Its editorial voice can be compared to those of the National Catholic Reporter and The Tablet, which are both progressivist.
  • In my dealings with Christine Hogan, Communications Manager at Church Resources, she has always displayed good will and professionalism. I know some people have complaints against her, but my bet is those grievances have everything to do with the incivility and anger which the Internet fosters, and nothing to do with Christine herself.
  • I have no grievance against Cathnews, and I like its service. I have acknowledged on previous occasions that a mention in Michael Mullins’ BlogWatcher column is something of a double-edged sword — a gift of extra readers, with an unwanted spike in abusive e-mails. I certainly don’t blame Cathnews for that! There are a few times when Michael has misrepresented me, but not willfully. The fault was my own. If I expressed myself more clearly, misunderstanding could not occur.

The debate within the SSPX

The debate within the SSPX

More than one friendly reader has advised me to keep my blog positive. They have a point. The secular media can be relied on to cover “the bad news.” I would do better to give “the good news” some coverage for a change.

Be that as it may, I do want to comment on “the bad news” of the debate currently occurring within the SSPX. When I received the following dialogue last week, I assumed “the three with one do not agree” referred to three of the SSPX bishops agreeing to reconcile with Rome, while one was opposed.

Sadly, it seems the opposite is true. Bishop Fellay, who has led the dialogue with Rome, is in a minority. He is for the agreement; the other three are against it.

The following dialogue is purportedly written by Bishop Williamson. I have no idea if that is true. But whatever of that, it is an informative exposition of the debate within the SSPX.

SL = SSPX soft-liner. HL = SSPX hard-liner.

SL Outside the Church is not where we should be!
HL Who left the Church? Vatican II! Not we!
SL Once in the Church, we could do so much more!
HL If we detested error, as before.
SL Why should we stop detesting error, pray?
HL Because we would be joining in their fray.
SL We need to live within the Church’s law.
HL Not if it is not serving God any more.
SL The Catholic Church is visible. We’re not there.
HL The Church is holy. Do we see that? Where?
SL But things have changed since the Archbishop’s day.
HL The modernists still hold exclusive sway.
SL What Rome now offers, he would have approved.
HL Never, once Benedict to Assisi moved!
SL The SSPX stands strong, need fear no fall.
HL Let all who stand fear falling, says St. Paul.
SL But our Superiors have grace of state.
HL Did leading churchmen never prevaricate?
SL Our leaders to the SSPX belong!
HL And does that mean they never can do wrong?
SL But, Pre-condition One, Rome freed the Mass.
HL And left in place the “bastard rite”, so crass.
SL Rome also lifted the ban on bishops four.
HL But did that make them more free than before?
SL Yet Benedict is calling for our aid.
HL To make Truth prosper, or to help it fade?
SL Of harming Truth, how can the Pope be accused?
HL His modernist mind is hopelessly confused.
SL Yet truly, Benedict wants us all back in.
HL As a modernist, yes, but modernism is a sin.
SL Then do you still believe that he is Pope?
HL Yes, but we must for his conversion hope.
SL What can you mean by, “As a modernist, yes”?
HL Our true Faith he can only harm, not bless.
SL Our welfare is his genuine concern.
HL Not our true welfare, if our true Faith he spurn.
SL A lack of supernatural spirit you show!
HL If woe I say there is, where there is woe?
SL Not everything in the Church is gloomy, dark!
HL Where do you see of true revival a spark?
SL A movement towards Tradition is under way!
HL While fully in control the modernists stay?
SL Then is the official Church still God’s own Church?
HL Yes, it’s the churchmen left us in the lurch.
SL But surely Pope and Rome have both meant well.
HL So? – “Good intentions pave the way to Hell.”
SL But evils worse that Vatican Two can be.
HL The Archbishop – remember? – called it World War III.
SL You’re harsh. Your attitude to schism will lead.
HL Better than undermine the entire creed!
SL Not all the Church authorities are bad.
HL The good ones have no power. It’s very sad.
SL Priests should not say, authority is untrue.
HL But bishops were the cause of Vatican II!
SL Still, Catholic instincts seek their Catholic home.
HL Today, for Catholics, that’s no longer Rome.
SL Then where is the Church? Just in Tradition? Where?
HL “One, holy, catholic, apostolic” – there.
SL You want to solve this problem overnight!
HL No, just that a start be made to set it right.
SL We trust in God. We trust in his Sacred Heart.
HL Bravo! But humans too must play their part.
SL That part is not for us just to complain.
HL Tradcats work hard, Tradition to maintain.
SL If we went in with Rome, we could turn back.
HL No. More and more we’d follow in Rome’s track.
SL Why stop the Romans making restitution?
HL Because they’re set upon our destitution.
SL Back in the mainstream Church we’d set to work!
HL Rather we’d lose our way in all their murk.
SL But we are strong, with bishops one and three.
HL Alas, the three with the one do not agree.
SL We’re firm in the Faith. Modernists are no threat!
HL We’d easily slide. You want to take a bet?
SL Strong in the Faith, we can afford to agree!
HL But that Faith says, from heretics to flee.
SL But Gott mit uns! We are the SSPX!
HL Not if we choose to ignore all prudent checks.
SL Were we approved, Romans would learn from us!
HL O Heavens, no! They’d throw us under the bus.
SL Were we approved, the earth of Rome could quake.
HL But not before to pieces we would shake.
SL Our leader has graces of state. We must obey.
HL Was Paul the Sixth given graces to betray?
SL Rome is now weak, meaning, we could stay strong.
HL For right, Rome’s feeble. Mighty it is for wrong.
SL So what’s the answer, if you’re always right?
How can the Church be rescued from its plight?
HL The Church belongs to God. In his good time
We’ll see his answer, stunning and sublime.
Till then we grieve, and thirst for right, and trust.
That which we cannot cure, endure we must.
From error and the erring stay away,
Even while for their immortal souls we pray.
And tell God’s truth, however few will hear –
As close as the nearest door, his help is near.