I was very impressed about a month or two ago when I came across the work of one very conscientious English bishop, Patrick O’Donoghue of Lancaster (not to be confused with our own very conscientious Bishop Patrick Dougherty of Bathurst). He has released two papers for his diocese, the first one called “Fit for Mission? Schools” and the second one “Fit for Mission? Church” (nb. I had downloaded the latter document from http://www.lancasterrcdiocese.org.uk/mission%20review/index.html but it looks like that website is undergoing some reconstruction at the moment).
These two “reports” are really more of a series of personally written catecheses by the bishop (following extensive consultation and review) addressing crucial issues in the life of the parishes and schools in his diocese. You can read about the whole project on this “blog/forum”.
Suffice it to say that he got himself into hot water with the UK education authorities for demanding that Catholic schools in his diocese have:
“Crucifixes in every classroom, “sex-education” based on the principles of chastity and the sanctity of marriage, no school fundraising for anti-life groups and religious education based firmly in the Catechism of the Catholic Church” (see source here)
but no way was he backing down:
Bishop O’Donoghue told the six committee members, “Every school has a philosophy. And a philosophy which puts God at the centre and morality as objective, is no less powerful than that which says God is irrelevant and morality is up to the individual choice.”
“To our view, the role of democracy is to embrace all views, and not to infringe on basic human rights.”
He said “the impression that is coming across” from politics and the media is that “some people seem to think that the only true democratic stance is the latter, namely that God is irrelevant and that morality is up to the individual.”
Now his “Fit for Mission? Church” has drawn praise from the Congregation of the Clergy in Rome.
This morning, Bishop O’Donoghue is in the news again with the Telegraph giving an extensive report of comments he made (source, as usual with the Telegraph, not given, although the impression – wrongly – is given that they came from “Fit for Mission? Church”) regarding the negative effect which more widespread higher education seems to have had on the Catholic faith in the UK:
“What we have witnessed in Western societies since the end of the Second World War is the development of mass education on a scale unprecedented in human history – resulting in economic growth, scientific and technological advances, and the cultural and social enrichment of billions of people’s lives.
“However, every human endeavor has a dark side, due to original sin and concupiscence. In the case of education, we can see its distortion through the widespread dissemination of radical scepticism, positivism, utilitarianism and relativism.
“Taken together, these intellectual trends have resulted in a fragmented society that marginalizes God, with many people mistakenly thinking they can live happy and productive lives without him.
“It shouldn’t surprise us that the shadows cast by the distortion of education, and corresponding societal changes, have also touched members of the Church. As Pope Benedict XVI puts it, even in the Church we find hedonism, selfishness and egocentric behavior…
“The Second Vatican Council tends to be misinterpreted most by Catholics who have had a university education — that is, by those most exposed to the intellectual and moral spirit of the age…
“These well-educated Catholics have gone on to occupy influential positions in education, the media, politics, and even the Church, where they have been able to spread their so-called loyal dissent, causing confusion and discord in the whole church…
“This failure of leadership has exacerbated the even-greater problem of the mass departure from the Church of the working-class and poor. For example, the relentless diatribe in the popular media against Christianity has undermined the confidence of the ordinary faithful in the Church.”
Is he wrong? We don’t think so. Neither does Telegraph journalist Damian Thompson, in a piece on his blog called “With friends like these, the Church doesn’t need enemies.” The “friend” to which Thompson refers is the Tablet with an article by Nicholas Lash called “Log in the Church’s Eye”. I don’t subscribe to “the Bitter Pill”, so I rely on Thompson for this summary and comment:
Meanwhile, on page 12 [of this week’s Tablet], “leading theologian” Nicholas Lash tears into Bishop Patrick O’Donoghue for his recent admirable statements about the sickness of contemporary society and the inability of his fellow bishops and Catholic university intellectuals to come to grips with it. If the Bishop had named individual universities or individuals “he might well have had a series of libel actions on his hands,” says Lash pompously.
He concludes: “Bishop O’Donoghue is, I understand, shortly to retire. Perhaps he might care, in retirement, to spend some months (incognito, if possible) in a university chaplaincy. He might then have the courage to withdraw and apologise for many of the grave accusations levelled in this interview.”
It’s true that “POD” is retiring from active ministry as a bishop; but he will, of course, continue to serve as a priest, as he has done faithfully for decades. Which is is more than can be said for Nicholas Lash, who, like so many Tabletistas, is an ex-priest.
It seems to me that Lash’s comments merely prove the Bishop’s point, no?
But sadly, one thing that the Bishop of Lancaster has in common with the Bishop of Bathurst is age. Both men, at the end of their careers as bishops, have shown courage right to the very end. And here is where we are winning, folks. The faithful priests and bishops among us have staying power. They will be working for the Kingdom until the day they die.
The others end up writing for the Tablet…
(BTW: There is a support page for Bishop O’Donoghue on Facebook. Is that, perhaps, a “POD”-cast?)