22 March 2018

Mgr Vigano

Dario Vigano deserves our respect for his principled resignation. Continued criticism of him or his actions would be quite improper.

Have you read the exchange of letters between him and PF? As I did, our English word 'cronyism' fluttered though my mind.

I wonder what 'cronyism' would be in other modern European languages.


"You have to understand the relationship between a bishop and a priest. At your ordination, you take a vow to be obedient to him. He's more than your boss. He has immense power over you. He can move you, freeze you out, bring you into the fold ... He controls every aspect of your life."

So the Times obituary of Cardinal O'Brian quotes an anonymous priest as saying.

I don't quite understand this, since Canon Law seems to me adequately to provide for excardination. But, of course, systems don't always work the way they are described on paper. So perhaps, in the context of sexual scandals such as that of Cardinal O'Brian, the question does need to be asked: Does the Incardination system give bishops excessive power? The Church of England does very well without anything remotely like it. And, indeed, the infantilising culture of Incardination is wholly inimical to every instinct of our Anglican Patrimony. The great Catholic Revival in the Church of England could never have happened without the freedom of the 'inferior clergy' from overbearing (and often heterodox) episcopal authority; a freedom happily buttressed by "Parsons' freehold". The only real sanction a bishop had was a rather petulant threat to put your parish "under a ban", which simply meant that you had to get "colonial prelates from far-off mission stations" to do your Confirmations.

Every other structure in the modern Latin Church is scrutinised and comes under suspicion of being the root of today's problems  ... Celibacy, for example, is repeatedly under fire ... but the dangers apparently inherent in Incardination seem rarely to be flagged up.

The implication in the obituary is that Incardination enabled O'Brian, a sexual predator, to get away with abusing his clergy. Furthermore, we have previously heard it said that the bishops used to be unwilling to 'shop' their own sexually dodgy clergy to the plods because of this close relationship ... it would feel like sending a 'son' to prison. Looking at Incardination from each of these two opposing angles, I, as an outsider to this particular piece of Catholic clerical culture (I am retired, my wife and I live in our own house, off our own pensions), do find myself, well, puzzled.

Sometimes, it seems to be suggested that every malady in the life of the Latin Church would be healed by shovelling more power into the laps of those who have been grabbing more and more of it since the 1960s and who, arguably, already have far too much of it. I do rather worry that, after the death of the Pope emeritus, presbyters might start to find that increasing episcopal interventions become a massive problem in the field of Liturgy, depending on the personal whimsies of their bishop or the ability of a strong personality to sway an episcopal conference. Cardinal Nichols' document apparently in reaction to the plea by Cardinal Sarah for worship ad Orientem struck me as potentially very worrying, not least because I heard a rumour that it had circulated outside his own diocese and, indeed, yet more remarkably, even outside his own metropolitan province!!! We need Cardinal Mueller's wise reminders that the Chairpersons of Episcopal Conferences are "not vice-popes". "Nothing more than technical moderators" and "Coordinators, nothing more", as his Eminence has said a number of times.

Subsidiarity seems nowadays to be a much-honoured principle which falters or fails or runs away and hides in a mouse-hole before it gets down quite as low as the level of the presbyter or the parish.

Nothing in this piece should be glossed as anything but a question!

21 March 2018

Openness. (1)

It is a natural human instinct to wish to keep tabs on those who exercise authority. Ultimately, we want them to be accountable for what they decide and order. And when authority is exercised in and through a committee, we naturally want to know who said what; how many persons voted for a particular outcome; how a consensus was reached.

Perhaps Minutes should reveal such mysteries?

Minutes, however, are a problem. Because they put a great deal of power into the hands of those who write the minutes ... or, more likely, of the Person in whom it lies to say "Perhaps you might let me have a quick look at your draft of the minutes before you finalise them and send them round ...".

So, perhaps, a meeting should be open to the Media and the Public, like the American Episcopal Conference, whose activities can be recorded by journalists and published, in the same sort of way as the British Parliamentary Hansard.

But, human nature being what it is, if a meeting is all open and above board, before you can down a G and T, there will be another, unofficial, private, ad hoc group which, unaccountably, fixes what will happen at the open meeting. If that group is then formalised, the next stage is for it to be added to 'so as make it more representative'; and you reach the stage at which authority decides that another much smaller, unofficial, private, ad hoc group would be useful in order to ...

You get the point. Administrators crave the existence of informal groups behind closed doors which will do the real fixing before the 'formal' fora do their public and minuted business.

There is no answer to this problem. Anybody who thinks there is, is living in a fool's paradise, and has certainly never worked in anything like an English Public School.

But there are ways of attenuating the disadvantages of such inevitable recessions of decision-making.

Episcopal Conferences should follow the praxis of the Americans, and be open.

I became convinced of this two or three years ago, when the CBCEW called upon the Ecclesia Dei Commission to 'reconsider' the text of the Good Friday Prayer for the Jews in the Extraordinary Form, as it had been personally rewritten by Benedict XVI only a decade previously. Since this announcement seemed to me, and still seems, thoroughly outrageous, disgraceful, and improper, for a large number of reasons which I need not now repeat, it convinced me that data should be available about who moved the motion, who said what, how many favoured it, how many opposed, and how many abstained because they had not the faintest idea of what it was really all about.

It is possible that an even more important topic may, over the next months, come before some Episcopal Conferences. The still-simmering Amoris laetitia problem ... call it Adulterygate, or what you will.

I believe the Holy People of God deserve to be allowed to know who and how many bishops favoured what; and, moreover, to read any papers, memoranda, letters, which circulated in a Conference before its meeting. And if a repeatedly amended resolution eventually emerges as a consensus, the process of such evolution should not be opaque.

OK, there will still be secret cabals in (as the English used to say) smoke-filled rooms. We shall not see everything. Would-be fixers will still feverishly perform their private would-be fixing. But there will be data indicating where, even if at only one particular point in the process, each participant was prepared to take personal responsibility, before God and before God's people.

In his great explanation of where a Christian should look to find the Truth, S Irenaeus made great play of the public teaching of each bishop. Publicity offered an objective check that a bishop was not ... horror of horrors ... innovating upon what his predecessors in his See had taught since the Apostolic depositum fidei.

20 March 2018

82, and counting ...

I think PF will soon be 82 years old. Since more and more voices world-wide seem to be talking about the possibility of this pontificate coming to a conclusion, I have been looking through the age-at-death of recent Roman Pontiffs. According to the rough notes I have made on the back of an old envelope next to my computer, the following ages, since Pius XI inclusively, seem at least roughly right [I excluded Pope John Paul I, the one-month pontiff]:
Pius XI, 82; Pius XII, 82; John XXIII, 82; Paul VI, 82; John Paul II, 85. [Benedict XVI was elected at the age of 78 and five years later is still 'making his pilgrimage home'.]

It would be interesting to know how long popes from before this period lived. A priori, it might be expected to be less long, because they had less advantage from modern medical advances. But I don't have enough backs-of-envelopes ...

I do not intend to suggest that an actuary would consider PF's death to be imminent ... although his own words after election, that he expected his pontificate to be only four or five years long, might suggest that he had himself used the backs of his own envelopes! No; my object is totally different.

(1) Conclaves seem very willing to elect quite old prelates to be pope. Curious, when the retirement age for bishops is 75; and, curiouser, one might have thought that bishops had less work and less strain than popes ... but, well, there you go.
(2) We seem to be in the middle of increases in the numbers of the elderly suffering from senile dementia. A quick foray into the Internet suggested to the back of my very humble envelope that perhaps one in six of those beyond the age of 80 has dementia. That really is quite a lot.

So it looks as if we have been distinctly fortunate in the excellent mental health of those elected pope from 1922 right down to the present. Long may our good luck hold!

But can we afford to be complacent? Given statistics like these, and if Conclaves keep electing old men, sooner or later we are going to have a pope with dementia.

If a bishop starts to have worrying symptoms, the Nuncio ... his Metropolitan ... the Congregation for Bishops ... the Pope himself ... all have the opportunity to intervene. But what if the Pope himself ...

Is there canonical provision for such a situation? If not, I think there should be. And, as Fr Aidan Nichols has hinted, there might also be provisions for the situation where the man who was the previous pope promoted heresy; so why not for a pope who, prima facie, is spreading heresy?.

In fact, it seems to me that there should be a whole new section in the CIC called de Romano Pontifice semovendo. The Times recently quoted Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr as remarking that a constitution should be framed with "the bad man" in mind, because a state or an institution needs structures enabling it not merely to potter comfortably along in normal times, but also to survive a despot, or a sociopath, or a dunce ...

The Church Militant needs to take such advice on board. Her survival is indeed divinely guaranteed, but the whole economy of Faith rests on the assumption of a God who works with and through human synergy.

19 March 2018

The Five Kilo Chasuble

"We'll put out the five kilo chasuble" said Reverend Mother through the grille. "It dates from when our House was opened in Antwerp in 1619. But we'll also put out a lighter chasuble in case it's too much for you."

Of course, I wore the five kilo chasuble, its embroidery a heavy riot of baroque cornucopiae. How could one resist such a challenge? After Mass, as I left the Chapel, and looked at the gravestones surrounding the first millenium crucifix outside the door, this inscription caught my eye: Beneath is interred the Rev Louis Dourlen Chaplain of Lanherne formerly priest of the Diocese of St Omers and Canon of Arras Cathedral 1839. Aged 85.

It suddenly dawned upon me that M le Chanoine would very probably have worn that five kilo chasuble; that he must have been a gentleman clergyman who had left France during its Revolutionary troubles. I later discovered (George Oliver, Collections, page 287) that Dourlen joined, for a while, the considerable community (unmentioned by Jane Austen) of French emigres in Bath. There, "he was much respected and esteemed for his integrity and polished manners"; he was gout-ridden but never wore spectacles! I suppose he was in his thirties when Arras Cathedral was declared the Temple of Reason and, presumably, he lost the stipends of his canonry; he had lived through the days when the ambiguities of the Oath, the Civil Constitution of the Clergy and of the Concordat tried the consciences of the Clerus Gallicanus; the despoiling of the Church in the Hiberian and Italian peninsulars; the period in 1799 when "the last pope" died, a prisoner of the triumphant and invincible French revolutionary regime ... the pope at whose death the long history of the Catholic Church came, manifestly, unmistakably, definitively, to its end: and the gates of Hell prevailed.

Dourlen became chaplain to the Carmelites of Lanherne, an exiled English women's community which in the summer of 1794, nineteen days before the Blessed Carmelite Sisters of Compiegne were to be butchered on the guillotine, had set sail from the Continent to England to escape the murderous armies of the Enlightenment.

After a very short hiatus, the Carmelite charism, and its ancient Liturgy, again flourish at Lanherne. Come to think of it, next year, 2019, will be the 400th Anniversary of the Foundation at Antwerp and of the Five Kilo Chasuble.

As people say, the rumours of the Catholic Church's demise were much exaggerated. So Pius VI did, after all, have a successor, and Bonaparte was, happily, vincible. There are no historical inevitables except her indefectibility.

Ambiguities; ruptures; continuities. The Church Militant always has, in her institutions, even in the Papacy, a tension between continuita interiore and appearances of discontinuity.

Does her life really change much?

18 March 2018

Like getting blood out of a stone

Who would have thought that there would be yet another complete paragraph in that letter of Pope emeritus Benedict which Mgr Vigano tried to conceal. A paragraph revealing that Ratzinger, happily, has not become mentally soft and helpless in old age; that he doesn't quite see why he should be kicked around by sniggering enemies, even though he is no longer pope. [Settimo Cielo blog]

He is astonished that he was expected to provide a polite puff for (among others) a theologian who was a noisy and persistent anti-papal nuisance during the last two pontificates.

As well he might be.

I know little about other countries and their political and cultural standards and how they operate. I do know that my own country is far from perfect and that its public life is frequently degraded by people who will get away with whatever they can until they are found out. Sexually, financially ... you name it. But ...

But in my country, an episode like this would, beyond any possibility of doubt, have ended up with a resignation or sacking in a context of public disgrace. Will any of my fellow-countrymen contradict me in my assertion?

Perhaps that will indeed be how this episode will end up. We shall see.

If this man Vigano were to be kept in office, it would be the final detail in the unfolding public demonstration of the moral corruption right at the heart of this failed pontificate. In politics, it is often not the big issues that bring a crisis to its head, but something that starts off by being insignificant to the point of pettiness. During this Bergoglian era, the two major disasters have been the shiftiness, accompanied by unbecoming bluster, in the area of paedophilia and coverups and cronyism; and attempts to get away with perverting the Church's moral teaching by stealth. Those things matter infinitely more than the current silly and minor episode.

But 'Lettergate' provides such a vivid snapshot of dirty little men involved in dirty little plots for thoroughly dirty purposes. Even anti-Ratzinger veterans among the Commentariat like Robert Mickens are saying that Vigano should resign or be sacked.

If PF cannot be made to understand the need to clean out his own Augean Stables, surely he should be made to go. Not next week, but this week.

17 March 2018

Heureka! Heureka!

The other day I saw (I think it might have been on the Blog of my friend Fr Ray) a picture of someone called Vigano, who now runs all the Vatican 'Meejah'. He has recently been involved in the diverting business of the Fuzzified and Obscured letter signed by the Pope Emeritus.

He is shown wearing a pale blue or light grey clerical shirt.

All is explained!

That was the uniform, a generation or so ago, of liberal Anglican Evangelicals, or Methodist ministers, but ... especially ... of members of the "Modern Churchman's Union". This aging and slightly foxed Anglican organisation still exists under the newer title of "Modern Church". (Presumably they thought that the cretic sounded more crisp and virile and thrusting than a soporific succession of trochees.)

Think Dean Inge, 'the gloomy Dean'! Think Bishop Barnes of Birmingham! Think the entire great grim pantheon of 'modern' theologians of the first decades of the last century ... so beautifully satirised by the wicked Anglo-Catholic pen of Ronald Arbuthnott Knox ... "what matter, whether two and two be four,/ So long as none account them to be more/ What difference, whether black be black or white,/ If no officious Hand turn on the light ... ". And by Waugh in his ill-fated clergyman Mr Prendergast, who "has been reading a series of articles by a popular bishop and has discovered that there is a species of person* called a 'Modern Churchman' who draws the full salary of a beneficed clergyman and need not commit himself to any religious belief".

You see what must clearly have happened! 'Modern Church' has opened up a Vatican branch and infiltrated the Monsignoriat! You want proof? Look them up in Wikipaedia. The first and fontal dogma there attributed to 'Modern Church' is ... lo and behold ... the prime distinctive dogma of Bergoglianism: 

                                   "DIVINE REVELATION HAS NOT COME TO AN END"!!! 

*I wonder if one should emend this to 'parson'? Etymologically, of course, the two words  ...

16 March 2018

What happens to S Patrick tomorrow, Saturday?

How ... if at all ... should those who follow the Old Rite liturgically celebrate S Patrick?

The LMS ORDO, the obvious guide for those who use the 1962 Missal or Breviary, envisages S Patrick having only a Commemoration at Lauds and Low Masses today (I am talking about England, Wales, and Scotland).

I think it is clear that this is wrong ... at least, for those who in celebrating the Old Rite accept the evolutions in local calendars which occurred under Roman direction up to the imposition of the Pauline Rite and the de facto disappearance of the old calendars.

In the 1940s, the English, Welsh, and Scottish dioceses had differed greatly, some hardly noticing S Patrick, while a dozen or so classed him as a Greater Double just like S Gregory on the 12th. In the changes which came in with the 1960s, one would expect the 'Grd' to convert into a '2 Class'. And I have a 1969 ORDO, from the very eve of the disappearance of the old Calendars, in which S Patrick is a '2 cl' in the whole of Great Britain (1cl in Ireland, Commemoration "outside the British Isles").

I floated this question three years ago, and the erudite Rubricarius ... how could he fail to ... provided the answer. You will find it in his comment attached to this post. I remain grateful to him for this elucidation; and for a very great deal of liturgical information over the years.

The conclusion, which is I think beyond doubt, is that S Patrick should be observed as a Class II feast in England, Wales, and Scotland. Vespers, according to the 1962 conventions, will this year 2018 be of the Sunday following without any commemoration.
(In the older 1940s Calendars, there seems no rhyme or reason about which British dioceses noticed S Patrick: Liverpool, for example, despite its Irish diaspora, failed to do so! Incidentally, "All dioceses in Scotland" used a rather attractive Mass Egredere [cf Genesis 12:1-2]. And, before the 1950s, the Gospel of the Lenten Feria did duty as the Last Gospel. What a very edifying custom that was.)

15 March 2018


During the period when Fr Hope Paten was restoring the Shrine, Pilgrimage, and Devotion to our Lady of Walsingham, the necessary Pontifical services, from the Consecration of Churches to the Baptism of Bells, were carried out by Bishop O'Rorke, Bishop of Accra from 1913 to 1923 and subsequently Incumbent of the nearby parish of Blakeney in the Norfolk marshes. He died in 1953.

15 March is his Year's Mind.

Deus, qui inter apostolicos Sacerdotes famulum tuum Moubreium Stephanum pontificali fecisti dignitate vigere: praesta quaesumus; ut eorum quoque perpetuo aggregetur consortio. Per Dominum nostrum Iesum Christum Filium tuum, qui tecum vivit et regnat in unitate Spiritus Sancti Deus, per omnia saecula saeculorum. Amen.

Don't miss ...

... the story all over the internet about how PF's spin-doctors gave the waiting world a deliberately mutilated and falsified letter of Benedict XVI. Just don't miss it!

This episode provides a hilarious, immensely funny insight into the minds of the dodgy operators who surround PF, and how far they are prepared to go to manufacture their Fake News. You couldn't .... as we say .... make it up! It epitomises the superbly corrupt and deliciously sleazy atmosphere of the Renaissance Court which sprawls at the luxurious top of the Santa Marta.

Happily, the full text did emerge. GOTCHA! And it provides agreeable evidence that Ratzinger's old, deft, feline wit has not deserted the dear old man. Briefly summarised by me, his Letter says (and I've put into square brackets the section the spin-doctors didn't want you to see):

"Thank you for inviting me to write a page about the little books you sent me. I think they are splendid little books about my splendid successor. [Sadly, however, I haven't read them and I don't intend to do so. And I never comment on books I haven't read, so I won't be sending you a page.]"

This pontificate simply gets better and better! Keep engaged and make sure you never miss a laugh!

14 March 2018

Ringwood and the Enlightenment

Yesterday, it being my Birthday, we went for a spring stroll in the most fantastic eighteenth century garden in England ... promisingly distinguished at its entrance by a blessed Notice forbidding Dogs (and push-chairs and children).

I have occasionally infuriated dog-lovers by referring to the species canis lupus familiaris as
     Man's oldest and filthiest friend.
Canine coprolites have been found, have indeed been lovingly and scientifically excavated, at Bronze Age sites such as Amesbury.

Perhaps Dr Linnaeus should have named these animals canis lupus cacatorius.

Warden Sparrow, late of All Souls' College in this University, famously and O-so-accurately spoke of the Dog as
     That indefatigable and unsavoury engine of pollution.

When out walking in unfamiliar countryside, one always knows when one has got within an easy radius of a carpark because of the care one is obliged to exercise. Dogs, obedient ubiquitously to the Bergoglian injunction hagan lio, have been active. However, is it fair to condemn dogs? Certainly not. Dog-owners, yes. I know a slipway in Cornwall where fish is brought in; the National Trust, who own it, were driven a few years ago to ban dogs from the slipway and to provide for the dogs and their walkers a simple pleasant alternative footpath away from the fishy area. And I know beaches galore with clear notices banning dogs between March and September. Quite possibly, dogs can't read. Can the Dogwalking Tendency read? What would be your guess? Exactly. But they and their animals are, of course, individually, each and every one, lofty and aetherial exceptions to any terrestrial regulations which bind merely common humanity and its all-too-terrestrial common caninity.

But stay: all my speciesist prejudices were in abeyance yesterday. You see, we must not forget Ringwood, the last echoes of whose deep full voice can still by the very sensitive ear be heard, baying Et in Arcadia ego in the Kentissimi horti at Rousham in Oxfordshire. His "Master and Friend", Sir Clement Cottrell-Dormer, had this "otterhound of extraordinary sagacity" buried in the Vale of Venus (a possibly dubious expression) right in front of the very statue of the Goddess herself reflected in the waters of her pool, nuda sed pudica* even if dangerously overlooked by Faunus and Pan, only feet from the river Cherwell where Ringwood worked such righteous havoc upon the otter population. There, since those last enchanted years of the reign of His Most Eminent Majesty King Henry IX, this doggy wraith has surely mingled at dusk in the dances of the  dryads and naiads. Is Ringwood Canine Nature's Solitary Boast?

Today, as we walked along his banks, we inferred that the great God Cherwell (sometimes mispronounced by common folk so that his first syllable rhymes with the chur of church) must be enraged, since intumuit ... pariterque animis immanis et undis** ... etc..

Ever an Enlightenment Rationalist, I blamed Monday's rain.

*naked but modest ** he is swollen mightily both in rage and in waters ...

13 March 2018


The rites of Canonisation have tended  ... this will not surprise you ... to vary in the last seventy years. The most recent changes before this (PF) pontificate, which took place under Benedict XVI, seemed designed to impose on the rites a theological meaning which they previously had not so explicitly expressed. As Pope Benedict left the rite, before the singing of Veni Creator Spiritus the Pontiff asked for prayer that Christ the Lord would not permit His Church to err in so great a matter. And, in the Third Petition the Cardinal Prefect for the Causes of Saints informed the Pontiff that the Holy Spirit "in every time renders the supreme Magisterium immune from error (omni tempore supremum Magisterium erroris expertem reddit)".

These phrases, added by Pope Benedict, were in formulae cut out by PF when he canonised a number of beati in 2014; and subsequently.

It looks to me as though Pope Benedict's additions were intended to confirm the view that acts of canonisation are infallible and require acceptance de fide. I wish now to point out that, if the formulae introduced by Benedict XVI did affect this debated theological question, then, surely, so does the action of this Pontificate in removing them. In the gradual accumulation of evidences and precedents which gradually build up an established judgement of the Magisterium, surely phrases which were introduced into rites by one Pontiff and, very soon afterwards, removed by the next, have less auctoritas than established and immemorial formulae which have been used by successive pontiffs for centuries.

Canonisation raises questions which, for centuries, interested specialist students of Canon Law. They interested Pope Benedict XIV, Prospero Lambertini. However, they have in the past not been things which concerned non-specialists. Ordinary Cardinals, Bishops, Priests, and laity naturally and very properly just accepted the judgements made by the Sovereign Pontiff in this as in so many other matters. But the situation is not the same now. There has been, in some quarters, an uneasy suspicion for some time that canonisations have turned into a way of setting a seal upon the 'policies' of some popes. If these 'policies' are themselves a matter of divisive discussion and debate, then the promotion of the idea that canonisations are infallible becomes itself an additional element in the conflict. Canonisation, you will remind me, does not, theologically, imply approval of everything a Saint has done or said. Not formally, indeed. But the suspicion among some is that, de facto and humanly, such can seem to be its aim. This is confirmed by a prevailing assumption on all sides that the canonisations of the 'Conciliar Popes' does bear some sort of meaning or message.

Personally, I feel more confident in my earlier conclusion, that to dispute the judgement made in and by an act of canonisation would not actually be a sin against fides. In other words, I feel happier with the theological implications of PF's' actions than I did with the implications of what Pope Benedict did. In practical terms, I feel that PF's excisions from the rite ought to make the canonisation of B Paul VI just that little bit less of a problem for particularly tender consciences, because the act of canonisation does not now come before us weighed down with quite that same degree of Authority with which Pope Benedict had wished it to be endowed. And I would regard the observations I made in the previous part of this series, about schismatic canonisations subsequently adopted within the Catholic Church, as also pointing in the direction of canonisations (at least pro eo) not necessarily being de fide.