Plagues, Interdicts, Omissions and Possibilities

IN THE MID-14th century the Black Death swept through Europe. Between 30 and 60% of Europe’s population perished, and perhaps even as many as 200 million people died if the Near East is included in the calculations. It would be scores of years before Europe’s population recovered. The Church in many respects did not meet the challenges of the time.

In part this is because in many places as many clergy as peasants succumbed to the plague. But in many places the clergy did not wait to die; they fled. Robert Gottfried, in his work on the Black Death, reports that in the dioceses of York and Lincoln (NB Lincoln reached as far as Oxford and the Thames) 20% of the parochial clergy. Many of those who remained in their posts succumbed. The result was that the numbers of clergy could not meet the needs of a society united in the faith and practice of one religion. Despite the losses of the faithful clergy, clerical reputation suffered immensely. Says Gottfried:

Many parish priests fled, leaving no one to offer services, deliver last rites, and comfort
the sick. Flight might have been intellectually explicable, but it was morally
inexcusable…[I]n a world in which performance of an appointed role was very important, many clerics no longer seemed to be doing their jobs.

The Black Death: Natural and Human Disaster in Medieval Europe (1983), pp.84; 94.

Gottfried is not alone in his assessment of the records that can be found of the period; Philip Ziegler affirms that,

[the clergy] lost in popularity as a result of the plague. They were deemed not to have risen to the level of their responsibilities, to have run away in fear or in search of gain, to have put their own skins first and the souls of their parishioners a bad second.

The Black Death (1969), p.211

Even before the plague had abated surviving clergy began to gather up the now-unclaimed clerical spoils. The ranks of the clergy were filled with young men, of poor education and little if any experience; some could not even manage to say Mass properly. Pluralism was rife. As society recovered from the scourge, the Church was ill-equipped to take the lead. Divinely-inspired charity, which had so well-endowed many a parish church and monastery, began to be directed elsewhere after the plague, not least to hospitals which provided the care and nurture that the clergy had so singularly failed to provide. Continue reading “Plagues, Interdicts, Omissions and Possibilities”

Mass, Covid-19 and testing the Faith

NOT ANOTHER pestilence post on the information superhighway?! Yes, but it will be brief and have a different point. Notice please, to begin with, that the title says “the faith” not merely “faith.” The distinction is important for the point to be made.

Every plague, pestilence, disease, affliction, cross et cetera, is a test of faith. Contrary to progressive theories, the biblical data is clear that God tests the faith in him of humans as a family and as individuals. It is also clear, by the way, that he does lead us into temptation, also as a test of faith. But that is another story. The challenge of every cross is to trust in God that he wills our good, the good that perhaps we cannot see for ourselves, but is no less real for that. To endure a cross willingly is an act of faith in God as all-loving and all-wise.

But a cross can also test the content of our faith. We all believe in God, I presume of you readers. (If you do not, feel free to join the rest of us.) But what exactly do we believe about God; and about his Church and her life?

There are many examples at present of churches being closed and Mass suspended, though recent papal remarks may slow that trend. Where Mass remains mostly now Communion will be by the Host only and the option for the handshake of peace converted to a nod or a bow, or even omitted altogether. People’s reactions to these will tell us much about the content of their faith. Continue reading “Mass, Covid-19 and testing the Faith”

Why the Amazon Synod?

BEAR WITH ME HERE. I am trying to work things out, and the following will be me showing my working. Things seem rather opaque. One thing is the lack of comprehensive data to work from. That itself is unsettling. Nevertheless, onward and upward…

The Apostolic Exhortation on the Amazon Synod released last Wednesday has been received by “progressives” as a disappointment in that it evaded “needed” reforms and innovations, and by “conservatives” as the Church having dodged a bullet.

Yet I am left wondering about the very synod itself. Why was one held in the first place? In Rome? At such expense? And producing a claimed total of 572,808kg in CO2 emissions? It seemed to me that there must be a massive Catholic Church down there, hidden from my narrow ken, and so long neglected that it needed the assistance of a Rome-based synod. Continue reading “Why the Amazon Synod?”

Web Address Update (ie boring but short)

IN A FEW DAYS the hughosb.com domain will expire. It makes the blog easier to find but it is an extra for which I cannot justify the expense in these straightened times! It is $18/yr, which does not sound much but… it all adds up.

So if you have been using that handy form of the web address, you will need to add in wordpress from 16 February—ie, hughosb.wordpress.com.

Sorry for the inconvenience to those who found it convenient!

Cardinal Pell’s Appeal

LAST WEEK THE DUE DATE PASSED for the last submissions to the High Court of Australia with regard to Cardinal Pell’s appeal against his conviction for sexual assault. Next month the High Court, the Commonwealth’s highest court which can hear appeals from state supreme courts as in Pell’s case, will hear his appeal.

No one doubts the fact that clerical sexual abuse and misconduct has been more widespread than had been previously assumed, insofar as it was even envisaged at all. What has aggravated the matter has been the number of cases in which ecclesiastical authorities have mishandled cases when they have become known. Some bishops and religious superiors in earlier days acted in a combination of ignorance of the effect that sexual abuse has on minors, whose youth magnifies the trauma not least because they have precious little of the psycho-emotional equipment needed to deal with it healthily, and a naive optimism that either a change of scene or professional therapy would set things to right. We know better now.

Other bishops and religious superiors have acted far more cynically. Revelations of such cynicism and duplicity are emerging most clearly from the United States. While the more egregious examples have led to the downfall of the prelates concerned, that is certainly not universally so. Some prelates seem teflon coated, others seems able to ride out the storms of revelations with gritted teeth but little more than that. Continue reading “Cardinal Pell’s Appeal”

Fools Rush In—Brexit

On Facebook I decided to repost an article which reported on the Liberal Democrats’ extreme, and highly odious, policies on abortion. Therefore I advocated against voting for the LibDems. In response some have been enquiring as to whether I now support Brexit. It is something of a non-sequitur but not totally illogical, since the LibDems are explicitly committed to reversing Brexit.

However, responsible voting must allow for the fact that there is more than one issue involved in general elections; they are not single-issue referendums. That so many elections often revolve around single issues is another matter. That the LibDems advocate abortion with the barest of limits, and desire to export their anti-life advocacy overseas, represents a single issue which acts as an effective veto on their desirability. What good is it staying in Europe if we condemn our unborn, and therefore powerless, fellow human beings to arbitrary death? To vote for a single issue is usually unwise; the foregoing notwithstanding, to vote against a single issue is sometimes morally necessary.

Labour is no pro-life party either but Labour’s current advocacy of a second referendum should not be allowed to entice Remainers into its camp. The first referendum was a grotesque mistake; another wrong will not make it right.

The problem is the mechanism of the referendum in the British system. It is a glorified, and vastly expensive, opinion poll of those who can be bothered to give their opinion. It requires only a simple majority across the entire United Kingdom. A referendum is not legally binding and there is no mechanism to balance regional variation. Such a referendum is a recipe for discord.

In Australia, also governed on the Westminster system, referendums are required to change its written constitution. Ordinarily the proposal must pass both houses of Parliament (and always at least one) before it can be put to the people. To pass, the question posed at the referendum must be supported by a majority of people in a majority of the six states; that is, there must be a majority of votes in at least four states as well as a majority nationally—a double majority. Moreover, if the proposal being voted on affects specifically the constitutional rights or status of a particular state, that state must return a majority vote for the proposal to pass. Voting is compulsory in Australia. Thus the result will authentically reflect the opinions of the entire nation.

Only eight out of 44 such referendums have succeeded in changing the constitution. There is a high threshold to surpass, and this acts as a brake on ephemeral, or merely regional, enthusiasm. But when a proposal does pass, it has the secure support of the majority of the nation. It is not a perfect system, but it superior to what transpired in 2016 in the UK.

By contrast the Brexit referendum of 2016 required a simple majority among voluntary voters taken as a whole across the Kingdom. 51.9% against 48.1% does not represent a sufficiently wide margin to ensure widespread acquiescence to the result. In total 33.6 million people voted out of a registered electorate of 46.5 million. Thus the referendum result can only be said to have reflected with certainty the opinions of 72.2% of the registered electorate across the Kingdom. Moreover there is no mechanism to take account of significant regional variation. That is why Ms Sturgeon cries foul on behalf of Scotland, that its No vote was disregarded, as in one sense it was since a simultaneous majority of the constituent nations of the United Kingdom was not required in addition to the overall simple majority.

Another referendum will duplicate this situation, and no doubt exacerbate it. Having had the referendum, and the government of the day having pledged—unnecessarily—to act on its result, that referendum needs to be respected.

A further tragedy is that, absent a referendum system fit for purpose, it is not fair to dump all the blame on Parliament for the failure to enact, as yet, the referendum result. Parliament was not legally bound to do so. It is unlikely that MPs were elected solely on their opinion about EU membership. They were elected not to conform to the latest opinion polls but to act and vote in accordance with the principles and policies on which they campaigned to be elected, and also according to their conscience (St Thomas More could teach us much on this point). That is representative democracy. The referendum has set up a rival authority to Parliament, and one that is not countenanced in the British constitution.

In all this can we surely find the roots of the current debacle.

I am not pro-Brexit, but neither am I do-or-die Remain. Another referendum would be pure and destructive folly. The bitterness that has been injected into the British body politic is appalling. The sooner Brexit is done and dusted the better. Then we get on with trying to make the best of it.

No more politics hereafter, but it does at least save me writing at length to all those who suspect a change of opinion on Brexit. And it took my mind off the Church for a while…

From Naaman to Newman

In my early-onset amnesia, I wrote a homily for this Sunday (28C) having wholly forgotten that we have a pastoral letter from the archbishop appointed to be read. To save myself from the feeling of utter futility I post it here so that at least it was not totally for nothing! Continue reading “From Naaman to Newman”

An Ill-Starred 1960s Ad Campaign

An ad campaign is probably trivialising what was clearly a campaign not to sell a product but to advocate for the traditional liturgy when the tide was perceived to be turning against it. The average person in the pew might believe the Church went from the old Mass to the new almost overnight. Seen in the context of the entire history of the Church some might argue it was little short of overnight. Nevertheless there were 5 years of official transition from the old liturgy to the new, with a new Ordo Missae in 1965, which was further reformed in 1967. Contiguous with this official universal reform was a melange of official, semi-official, unofficial and illicit experimentation and adaptation. Most of this was centred on and moulded by the local churches, almost invariably involving the introduction of the vernacular to the Mass to greater or lesser degrees.

In 1967 the Latin Mass Society had clearly taken fright. Continue reading “An Ill-Starred 1960s Ad Campaign”

Pell—For the Record

A COUPLE OF COMMENTS have not made it through the combox moderation process. They take me to task for defending such a “vile creature”, for serving to “perpetuate the silence”, asking “why does the church at least try to stop it [sic]”, as well as “blind support of a convicted pedophile” and asserting that “the suffering of the victims seems to be of little interest to the Church.”

I give such comments little time as they exhibit such profound ignorance that it seems reasonable to conclude these are people who want only to sound off, not to listen, and certainly not to try to learn the facts. You would have to be in a coma not to know that the Catholic Church has been so obsessed with safeguarding that it often errs on the side of the complainant and priestly ministries have been destroyed on the flimsiest of evidence on some occasions. The Church is not as centrally run as the uninformed seem to think, so some parts of the Church differ from others, to be sure. But even secular observers now conclude that a Catholic church is, statistically, a safer place for children than the family home.

Silence about child abuse? It is impossible to take such a charge seriously.

Blind support of a convicted pedophile? Well, if he had read the blogs and articles and the vast array of coverage even in secular media, the charge of ‘blind’ support would be found absurd. Convictions are not infallible acts; many innocent people have been convicted of crimes they did not commit. It should be obvious that I, among many others even outside the Church, do not believe Pell committed these crimes. Therefore I do not see him as vile. Since I believe he is innocent I feel obliged to support his cause. You may disagree with me, think me even a fool, but it is itself vile to accuse me and other believers of Pell’s innocence of being party to a cover-up, of not taking the abuse crisis seriously or any other form of bad faith. It is ignorant.

As to the alleged victim, there is a grey area here. Since I do not believe Pell abused him (and since the other alleged victim for whom Pell was charged asserted that he had not been abused by Pell) then I do not believe this person was a victim of Pell. Archbishop Comensoli has allowed that the complainant may be have been abused by someone else whom the complainant has mistaken for Pell. If that is the case then he deserves full support and the real justice of the actual offender being identified and prosecuted.

However, given the evidence as presented, there is no way that Cardinal Pell could have committed the offences of which he has been convicted in the way he is alleged to have committed them. It does not add up. What does add up is that the toxic atmosphere that built up against Pell, especially with the Victoria Police fishing for anything they could get on Pell even without a single complaint or allegation being made, and especially with Louis Milligan’s poisonous book—all this made it almost impossible that Pell could get a fair trial in Victoria. As has been shown, in fact.

Those who blindly assert that Pell must be guilty simply because a jury has said so and because the media say so would do well to read around and beyond their own small radius of news and information. They would do well to read Justice Weinberg’s dissenting judgment. (Is he, too, blindly supporting a vile predator?) Those who are convinced of Pell’s guilt, for sound reasons or for poor ones, should have no fear of an appeal to the High Court. If his conviction is safe then the High Court would hardly overturn the decision. If his conviction is unsafe, then everybody wins if it is overturned. When justice fails so blatantly for one, then it could more easily fail for those who have no profile and no wide support—the little guy, who always gets trodden on when things go awry.

The Church continually prays for victims of abuse as well as paying compensation and providing other support, is highly active in ensuring people with such tendencies are not admitted to seminaries or religious orders, and deals robustly with even the merest hint of suspicion. There will be failures since no system is perfect, but the Church’s systems in the areas where I have lived and worked are very robust indeed and the risk of such failures is vastly reduced. But of course, if one is informed only by a biased press, limited reading and the content of headlines or 30-second items on news’ bulletins, then one would never know this.

Besides it is much easier to bash the Church. Hypocrisy found in it makes it easier to ignore the hypocrisy often found in state institutions, and in the family home indeed. Or even more disturbingly, in ourselves.

Victims are best served by true justice not the injustice meted out by lynch mobs, real and metaphorical. So let’s pray and work for justice, even when it hurts.