Saturday, July 17, 2010

Church-going heretics

William Oddie has written an interesting article in the Catholic Herald about the 'Soho Masses': Masses which take place regularly in a church in London which are specifically intended for 'homosexual Catholics', and are run by 'The Soho Masses Pastoral Council'. Dr Oddie contends, as have many people over the years which these Masses have been going, that the ethos of these Masses (for want of a better word) is at variance with the teaching of the Church.

Many people posting comments on his article have said that the interior state of the Mass-goers is no-one's business to judge. It reminds me, nevertheless, of the following passage in the 1984 Indult permitting the Traditional Mass. This is the first of the five conditions of these permissions:

That it be made publicly clear beyond all ambiguity that such priests and their respective faithful in no way share the positions of those who call in question the legitimacy and doctrinal exactitude of the Roman Missal promulgated by Pope Paul VI in 1970.

This is remarkable in three ways: the ludicrous impractability of the demand (individual members of the faithful are to be grilled on their views?); the reversal of the normal burden of proof (Trads are to be assumed to be guilty until proven innocent); and the suggestion - admittedly this is not totally clear - that the views which would exclude the faithful from participation at the Traditional Mass include private opinions on matters not directly related to dogmas of the Faith. One could argue, I suppose, that to deny the legitimacy of the 1970 Missal, taken in a legal sense, would be to deny the dogma of Papal authority; but what dogma is at stake in questioning the doctrinal exactitude of the Missal? (It would be most charitable, I suppose, to understand the 'and' in the clause strictly: only those who question both matters are in trouble.)

This clause is, perhaps, the apogee of the unfortunate attitude of the 1970s and 1980s which said that the only thing really unacceptable in the Catholic Church is a reasoned preference for the Traditional Mass. Cardinal Ratzinger, as he then was, articulated and criticised this attitude in his famous speech to the Bishops of Chile in 1988. He said

That which previously was considered most holy -- the form in which the liturgy was handed down -- suddenly appears as the most forbidden of all things, the one thing that can safely be prohibited. It is intolerable to criticize decisions which have been taken since the council; on the other hand, if men make question of ancient rules, or even of the great truths of the faith -- for instance, the corporal virginity of Mary, the bodily Resurrection of Jesus, the immortality of the soul, etc. -- nobody complains or only does so with the greatest moderation.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church, and then the motu proprio Summorum Pontificum, have done a lot to put this topsey-turvy world the right way up. The Catechism reminds us that even after the Council there are dogmas which must be held by every Catholic. The motu proprio reminds us that official policies adopted with regard to the Traditional Mass after the Council are just that - policies, not dogmas - and while they were sincerely intended for the good of the Church, some were wrong-headed, and needed to be reversed. The Holy Father laments mistakes made in good faith over the centuries:

Looking back over the past, to the divisions which in the course of the centuries have rent the Body of Christ, one continually has the impression that, at critical moments when divisions were coming about, not enough was done by the Church’s leaders to maintain or regain reconciliation and unity. One has the impression that omissions on the part of the Church have had their share of blame for the fact that these divisions were able to harden. This glance at the past imposes an obligation on us today: to make every effort to enable for all those who truly desire unity to remain in that unity or to attain it anew.

So in what category do the 'Soho Masses' come? Those objecting to attempts to make judgements about the interior states of the faithful are right. It is public acts which we need to consider, and these in relation to dogma, and the good of the faithful. On this matter, one may ask whether the public support of the Soho Masses Pastoral Council for Civil Partnerships is a good qualification for them to be in charge of the pastoral care of a cat, let alone of Catholics. And one may observe that the effect of the apparent concession to positions at odds with the Church's teaching is to create a community in which this kind of attitude is fostered (from the comments on the Herald article):

It is not the teaching of the "Church" that we should refrain from sexual activity outside of marriage, but the doctrine of the Vatican.

If this is the rationale of these Mass-goers, then someone needs to go to Soho and give them some sound teaching. And fast.

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