Can These Bones Live Again?

(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.

Over the course of the last five years or so we have discovered that there are places on the body politic where if you press your finger pus will ooze out. Among the first indications of canker was the Parliament’s cash for peerages and questions scandal. Later came the expenses scandal. More recently we have been made to wonder what confluence of interests exists between the media and some politicians. If we place our finger on the body economic we discover a runaway infection in the form of unregulated capital markets, rogue traders and fund managers who have missold stocks and insurance, capital banks which have misrepresented their products and guilty, irresponsible CEOs still in place receiving huge rewards for their malfeasance and politicians who bend elbows with them. The infection will spread even more as the budget cutbacks kick in.

If we place our finger on the body social we find sores too numerous to tally. The recent riots across Britain point to much more than the criminality emphasised by the press and politicians. The young people are not criminals so much as unthinking persons who are in thrall to the images of high-living footballers and reed-thin models who seem to have everything. They did not loot bookshops but rather shops whose merchandise could be sold or immediately enjoyed. Their parents are from the Thatcher/Blair years when by means of the economy the soul of Britain was changed.

Almost as alarming has been the hacking scandal. The three social pillars of Press, Police and Politics are being eaten away by the rot. The scandal has also tainted our church. It was warned of it two years ago. The church has accepted large amounts of money from one of the scandal’s protagonists. His father is owner of the newspaper which brings us Page 3 everyday and who is a Knight of St Gregory. He has paid $50,000 to be buried under the high altar of the new Los Angeles cathedral. Our church is proud of its Catholic Social Teaching (CST). It has organised seminars for bankers and entrepreneurs. CST has been called the Church’s best kept secret. Given all the shenanigans going on in our leadership, maybe it should stay a secret, an embarrassing secret.

If we place a finger on the body ecclesiastic we find a church which long ago married the spirit of the age and is now its widow (Inge). The Catholic body is wracked by scandal and cover-up. Its central leadership is embedded and sunk in its own “dysfunction, disconnection, elitism (and) narcissism” (Taoiseach Enda Kenny). Spiritually we are in a period of malaise and ennui which has our pastors seeking desperately for ways to overcome their flocks’ malaise. It seems that ‘relatinisation’ of liturgical prayer is to be the way forward.

The promise of Vatican II has been squelched by a nostalgic and imperial papacy whose ideological roots are in the 13th century. Five years ago the former head of the Inquisition (Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith) came to power. His programme is the complete restoration and galvanising of Romanism. The return to Latin language rites, ‘latinised’ translations of liturgical texts, the nomination of mostly Italian Cardinals all point to a turgid, cryogenic ultra-Montanism. The Kulturkampf against Christians living the spirit of Vatican II renewal is almost over. Only a ‘hat trick’ by the Spirit can change the deteriorating situation.

The next Pope will be a Roman even if he is not an Italian. He will be a convinced Romanist in a church organised along the lines of the circling of wagons. The internal enemy will be the dissenter, the woman, maybe even a ‘Paulus Redivivus’ who will speak truth to power and who knows that a church of the future will be truly universal, inclusive, ecumenical and multi-cultural in liturgy, theology and spirituality only if it includes in its communion those now on its margins.  The clergy will be overburdened, infected by cynicism and disbelief, mired in its own institutional corruption. Their immersion in the system blinds them to the evil which can emanate from that same system. (Paedophiles and other sinners will be deleted.)

The external enemy will be secularism. This enemy will be more difficult to defeat for it has a more sensitive and elevated humanistic and moral instinct. Its intrnanscendent, quasi-religious tone evokes a more generous compassion and inclusiveness. It will be almost prophetic in its denunciation of, for example, Christian homophobia disguised as the practice of religious freedom. The late philosopher and novelist Iris Murdoch called for a contemplative exercise which could draw attention away from ourselves to a “distant intranscendent perfection, a source of uncontaminated energy” which could “be a source of new and quite undreamt of virtue”.

There is a sort of neo-conservative Christianity emerging. It is antipathetic and aggressive, particularly in the areas of sexuality and the family. Other issues which provoke its ire are the position of women and gays in the Christian community. One could think that the churches are energising themselves on the basis of this pseudo-renewal. Curiously, Oswald Spengler, in his book, The Decline of the West, reflected on a similar phenomenon at the beginning of the 20th century. He noted the rise of a ‘new religionism’ characterised as anachronistic and reactionary. For him it was the last gasp and flailing of a dying culture which could no longer renew itself authentically. We realise now that the 20th was the bloodiest of centuries. God died, in a manner of speaking, in the midst of the carnage wreaked by peoples and governments who called themselves ‘christians’. And God is still dying…in Afghanistan, in Somalia, in slums and sink estates all over the world, in drug wars, in the Pentagon and even in the Vatican Curia.

Our own present CCC situation seems a mere sidebar and mini-drama when compared with what is happening in our larger church. We are in a “where the rubber hits the tarmac” moment in which we are aware of a challenging future. We might not survive, nevertheless we must be faithful. We need not be optimistic, but we must be full of hope. We need not be strong, but we must be strong enough to be weak. Our institutional future is not important and it is not our own. Desmond Tutu once prayed about God being in charge, but he dearly wished that it was more obvious. After 40 years we are called upon to step out into an unknown space and leave much of our baggage behind. We are asked to let go though we tremble and quake. But once the new space becomes familiar and better known I suspect we will recognise it again for the first time (T.S. Eliot). As we approach the AGM we can say a profound ‘thank you’ for all we have received from membership of CCC and a hopeful ‘yes’ to what God’s future will bring.

We need a few good people. Writing in this issue Michael Hornsby-Smith gives us a few pointers on a church where a few good people would feel at home. We need to learn how to make room for creative minorities written of by Arnold Toynbee so many years ago. I fear that as long as our church remains dominated by a clerical male caste we shall continue bereft of women’s creative input. We must also make room for a gay Christian culture and for so many others--single parents, divorced, singles, ex-clergy—who live on the margins of membership. Many have left. But there are so many more who have stayed despite feeling that the church is no longer their spiritual home.

Our political leadership harangues us today about moral collapse as illustrated by the recent rioting. They forget the moral collapse which they themselves have fomented in the Press, the Parliament, the Police and The City. As Church we are all implicated in this collapse and to blame in our own particular ways. And we are called to respond.

Frank Regan
August 2011