Attacking the Pope

What a strange thing it must be to be a Catholic in Great Britain at the moment. It seems like every opinion about the Catholic Church under the sun is coming home to roost in the expectation of the holy father’s imminent arrival. The Guardian of course is an infinite source of entertainment in this regard. Three articles came up on my Google reader today:

Pope should resign, says O’Connor
The Catholics who think the Pope is fallible
Keeping the faith: how bleak is the future to Catholicism?

Actually these articles are not uniformly awful; the last one especially contains some stuff of some interest. In the first article, Sinead O’Connor describes herself as “Catholic by birth and culture”, but notably not “by faith”. It seems incredible therefore that she is happy to stand up and say that “the Pope should stand down” because he and the rest of the church’s leaders are “anti-Christian”. It reminds one of two sayings, “the pot calls the kettle black” and “is the Pope Catholic?”. Apparently O’Connor is to feature in one of seven films that will be shown on Channel 4 coinciding with the papal visit in England. Some of these films will take a positive view of Pope Benedict, including a contributor who is a mother of eight and who believes the papal blessing saved her unborn child from death. The makers of the series explain their intentions as follows:

For us, the whole idea is diversity and seven anti-pope films don’t sound very diverse. Some people think he’s amazing, others don’t. Religion means different things to different people. This isn’t intellectuals coming down from on high or someone who has been put forward by a religious institution.

The second article follows the “is the Pope Catholic?” line more strictly. It focuses on a group of “Old Catholics”, and actually reveals quite a bit about this “tradition” which split off from the Catholic Church in 1870. Father Jerome Lloyd maintains “that we are the continuation of Roman Catholicism as it was prior to papal infallibility.” That seems to be stretching the imagination in another direction as the article reports:

Since the schism from Rome, Old Catholics have been splitting from each other and now worship in a loose communion of separate “jurisdictions”: “I would say in the UK there are about 50 [jurisdictions],” says [Bishop Richard] Palmer. He puts the total number of Old Catholics at around 5000. However, Lloyd disagrees with this – suggesting that some who claim to be Old Catholics don’t count, on the grounds that they accept homosexuality and women priests, and estimates the membership to be in the low hundreds.

Instructive if nothing else.

The final Guardian article is the most interesting, especially as it looks at the question of numbers of adherents to the Catholic Church throughout the world. In this regard it takes note of the obvious discrepancy between Europe and the rest of the world, especially noting the situation in Kenya and Nigeria. About three quarters of the way through, the article mentions a new book in Italian by Andrea Tornielli, Attacco a Ratzinger. In recent days both John Allen and Sandro Magister have reflected on this book. The Guardian article quotes Tornielli as saying:

the Pope “does not think of the re-Christianisation of Europe in terms of military-style re-conquest. It is not a question of numbers”. The key to his thinking, Tornielli believes, is his use of the phrase “creative minority”. In a speech Benedict made last year in the Czech Republic, he argued that “it is usually creative minorities that determine the future and, in this regard, the Catholic Church must understand that it is a creative minority which has a heritage of values that are not things of the past, but a very lively and relevant reality”.

Some of Benedict supporters believes he wants a smaller, but theologically more homogenous (and reactionary) group of true believers who can hunker down and wait for more propitious times. Tornielli thinks that is a misinterpretation. “The idea of a ‘hard core’ is essentially military and defensive. I think the Pope simply believes that the only way to get the people of our times to encounter God is by bearing Christian witness, leading Christian values. It is, after all, not so unlike what happened 2000 years ago.”

That certainly reminds me of conversations we have had on this blog with Brian Coyne. Brian does tend to think in images that are military, images where a numbers are of course important, and often misinterprets what we are talking about in terms of the formation of a ‘hard core’ of conservative Catholics. But Tornielli clearly has it right. While not losing sight of the fact that the gospel is for everyone, Pope Benedict knows that those who will have the greatest effect on the whole will be the few who seriously live out the Christian witness of holiness. At no stage in Christian history, especially in times when Catholicism has embraced the majority of the population in any one place, have all Catholics embraced the call to holiness with equal seriousess. It has always been the case that small extraordinarily dedicated groups (eg. the martyrs, the monastics, the Franciscans, the modern movements) have been instrumental in stirring up faith in those around them.

For those who wish to follow up the other two articles, Sandro Magister’s piece is here, and John Allen’s piece is here.

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9 Comments

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9 responses to “Attacking the Pope

  1. Matthias

    I found it interesting that the Catholic Church in Africa is ,like the other churches on that continent growing,whilst parts of Europe are losing their Christian heritage-Catholic,Reformed or Lutheran.

  2. Paul G

    When I read these articles, I felt a touch of the deja-vu’s.
    I was living in Belgium when Pope John Paul visited the low countries, and his visit to the Netherlands was characterised by empty streets for the Papal motorcades, but endless coverage on TV. As far as I could see, every event was covered on live TV and followed by a panel discussion on TV. It seems that the more people reject the Papacy, the more they talk about it.
    (Anyway, it is good to see Sinead O’Connor is still around, because her singing career seems to have plateau’ed)

    I think another view of the attitude to religion in GB can be seen by watching Midsummer Murders on ABC TV. The episode last Sunday was full of petty insults to religion, eg “I knew you must be high church, I could smell the incense”, “that’s religion for you”,”you don’t really mean confession, do you, you can’t be serious”, etc.

    In MM, if there is a character identified in any way with the church, he/she is always high church, very crazy and is either the murderer or an accessory before the fact. The preview of next week’s episode mentioned religion again I think, so expect another loony vicar character.

    Curiously, MM also attempts to paint a picture of charming English village life, and the Detective Barnaby’s wife (who, in an inverted universe, is called Joyce Barnaby) is always trotting off to the local church fete. MM seems to adore the visuals of church, like the buildings and fetes, but has complete contempt for its substance. I think that is an example of the cultural suicide that Peter Hitchens is always banging on about.

    • Peregrinus

      Um, Paul, you do realise that Midsomer Murders is a spoof, don’t you?

      • Paul G

        yes, but a very consistent spoof.

        • Peregrinus

          What it’s spoofing is a particular literary cliche about English village life, in which the church invariably plays a wholly unrealistic role.

          Seeing MM as anti-church makes about as much sense as considering it to be anti-antiques trade. Haven’t you ever noticed that, whenever there is an antique dealer in MM – about one episode in three, I’d guess – he is invariably (a) camp, (b) pretentious and (c) the murderer?

          The murderer is [i]always[/i] an establishment figure. The peasantry and yeomanry appear extensively in MM, and occasionally feature as murder victims, and frequently as suspects, but actual murderers are without exception prosperous, or respectable, or both. Hence the astonishingly high rates of violent crime amoung vicars, squires, justices of the peace, doctors and other pillars of the rural establishment in Midsomer and its numerous surrounding hamlets.

          Does this represent dangerous leftie subversion of the divinely-instituted social order? Only if you think Agatha Christie was a dangerous leftie, since it was she who decreed that it should ever be thus. MM’s only innovation is the introduction of a chirrupy urban character – Troy – to point up the ridiculousness of whole stereotype.

          • Ah, you deconstructionists…

          • Paul G

            I watched (I admit it!!) MM again tonight. The variation tonight was that the murderer and the victim were both religions, but I couldn’t see any other spoofed members of the rural establishment. When does spoofing turn into propaganda?
            Tonight, the religion yeowoman speared the silly vicar through the stomach, nailing him to the crucifix in the church.
            Another jolly spoof!!!

  3. adam

    1.The Catholic Church in UK is about 5 million out of population out of 60 million.
    2. That means it is not far above Islamic believers who are about 1-2 million I think.
    3. The Catholic Church gave Britain its faith in Jesus Christ for nearly 900 years until 1500s when Henry VIII destroyed the monasteries and basically banished the faith. It spluttered and then really became a small sect that suffered persecution and no public recognition till mid 19th century – nearly 300 years.
    4. Today the Anglican Church sect is small and totally irrelevant to those who call themselves members.
    5. The Anglican sect is torn asunder over issues such as:
    women priests; women bishops; gay priests and marriage (so many anglican ‘priests’ live with a partner and have no retribution by by their ‘bishop’; abortion etc etc. The list is endless.
    6. The Anglicans rule themselves by a synod that is constantly divided between laity, priests and bishops 7.Then there is the Arch of canterbury Rowan Williams who doesn’t know what to do, where to turn or how to lead. He is basically a theological poet more at home or away on sabbatical writing on Russian authors (as done recently). What Catholic bishop can take weeks off and write about a Russian author??
    8. There is no point in ecumenical dialogue for the Catholic church – we have no interest in female priests or women bishops.
    9. The people of the Uk are basically good but not Christian. This is a semi-pagan country. +Guilford Young used say that France was now pagan – the UK is that very much. The only real believers are the small Catholic rump and the growing islamic families.
    10. Benedcict XVI is coming to a secular, pagan state, like no other where atheists are vehemently writing against him and are going to protest when possible. SOme even want to arrest him, especially Geoffery Robertson the expat Aussie who lives in Uk and who believes the pope ought be put on trial.

    You really have to worry about the visit next week and what embarrassing things may happen – I hope not. There will be some idiots seeking to disrupt the pope’s visit and these will be watched closely by the media. But BXVI will have to be calm, prayerful and resilient. he is the successor of Peter, the Vicar of Christ on earth who was himself held up to ridicule, spat at, abused, betrayed by his own and finally crucified. The pope has much to live up to in his trip to pagan Britain.

    what would Gregory the Great and St Augustine think if they were alive today in London.

  4. Christine

    Sinead O’Connor describes herself as “Catholic by birth and culture”, but notably not “by faith”.

    Ah yes, a cultural Catholic. Not exactly new.

    The frenzy in Britain is rather predictable, but I am still sustained by the wisdom of Papa Benny.

    what would Gregory the Great and St Augustine think if they were alive today in London.

    What, indeed.