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Pace George Osborne, we are not in this together. An editorial in The Tablet (27/04/13) notes the Von Hugel Institute’s mistaken assertion that the ‘Big Society’ reflects many features of Catholic Social Teaching (CST). The Von Hugel assertion was music to the ears of Ian Duncan Smith who claimed his policies were based on CST. He became the poster boy for CST’s impact on current political and social policy. Paul Ryan, US Republican vice-presidential candidate and disciple of Ayn Rand, made a similar claim. Smith’s demagogic boast that he could live on £53 a week sounded worse than hollow. It was insensitive and arrogant.
The devil can quote Scripture. The neo-liberal Right can quote CST. The Left has not read it. CST can be read by Right, Left and Social Democrat. It is interpreted through the prism of their respective ideological presumptions. After all it was born in the diseased entrails of a rampant capitalism yet to be corralled. Its authors, our Popes, wanted to teach society to act ethically, morally and with collaboration between the classes.
CST is not a clear-eyed, radically prophetic instrument to slay the dragon of a governmental policy which cripples the well-being of the weakest members of our social body. It does not call for radical social change towards a society more justly organised and legislated for. Its implicit hope is that present society can run more ethically. The last years have given us scandals caused by parliamentarians, bankers, clergy, police, journalists, carers and medical professionals. Can this society possibly be a moral society?
During the 1980s this country went on a shopping spree that stopped in 2008 when the last bubble popped. Despite Gordon Brown the boom busted. During her term in office Margaret Thatcher said that: economics is the method; the object is to change the soul. Ian Duncan Smith is a poster boy for that soul-changing experience.
Cardinal Raymond Burke recently gave the De Lubac lecture at Manchester University. In the course of the lecture he stated that stasis is to be preferred to change in the Church. Friedrich Nietzsche, father of post-Modernity, wrote in The Gay Science that he could not believe in a God who did not know how to dance. He went on to say that in looking at the church all he saw was gravitas and by gravitas all falls down.
Our institutional church has lived in a post-Trent, post-Vatican I mode for the past 400 years. The official Church struggled to remain in a permanent state of stasis. It had not promoted the formation of a laity able to explain and give witness to the person of Jesus Christ and the teachings of the Church. It had given itself a clergy attuned only to the life of the church, not to the life of the world, not to the poor of the earth.
The bishops of Vatican II tried to open the church to the needs of a wounded world. To do that an alert, articulate and committed laity was an essential necessity. That laity came forward, men and women who wanted a church for the world, able to be salt, light, leaven and mustard seed. It was an adult laity who wanted to assume adult responsibilities in the pastoral mission of the church according to the charism and vocation of each. But that was going to mean that the laity would exercise its baptismal powers of priesthood and mission. Generally speaking, bishops and priests felt threatened and moved to curb an ebullient energy generated by the Spirit who wanted to dance, to move mountains, to bring joy—in a word, to renew the face of the earth.
Sadly, our church leadership is opting for stasis and gravitas. It is reaching out to the most reactionary forces in its fold to forward a march to the past when everything appeared as God wanted: static, uniform and patriarchal.
Our church is losing its soul because it cannot hold opposites in creative tension. Those opposites are: male/female; heterosexual/homosexual; lay/cleric; married/divorced; leader/led; secular/religious; have/have not and others. Our leadership is resolving those tensions in favour of its own institutional needs; thus it relegates huge numbers of talented and committed persons to the margins.
The church cannot be a Good Samaritan sort of neighbour to the divorced and remarried, to the abused child and its family, to the single parent, to the homosexual et al because it is incapable of crossing the frontier of exclusion and woundedness to become healer and pastor. The present church wants only the “pure”, the docile, the infantile and the co-dependent. From a culture of change, openness and hope we are reverting to a culture of fear, suspicion and reactionary conservatism.
We want a church in the spirit of Vatican II’s Gaudium Et Spes. That church will be engaged in the struggle to nurture and conserve our planet against a man-centred exploitation. It will be concerned with poverty global and local which lacerates the human spirit and threatens human life. It will be a Peace church which ceases to bless tanks and bombs. It will be person-centred able to accompany those on the spiritual journey in their search for depth, meaning and identity.
The institution wants to inaugurate a New Evangelisation. That will not happen because the church rejects inclusivity, transparency and accountability. These so-called modern values are the hallmark of an institution which has credibility and which deserves the trust of souls given into its care.
Stasis as a preferred way of existence is an invitation to a living death. The exterior will be pomp and circumstance, Disney-style international Youth encounters, Eucharistic mega-meetings and papal decrees and audiences. But what is there but a hollow body and a dispirited soul? Therein lays the tragedy of our institutional church.
Frank ReganNovember 2011
(This is the editorial for the forthcoming edition of Renew)
"Wherever one puts a finger, pus oozes out". Manuel Gonzalez Prada
Manuel Gonzalez Prada was a Peruvian Creole aristocrat, of Anarchist convictions, and an acerbic critic of his late nineteenth century society. He wrote elsewhere of the unholy trinity of judge, police prefect and priest who preyed upon the poor. Gonzalez Prada loved his people but despaired of the society and the mores by which his people lived.