Last updated 20 July 2012
In addition to the letters published in
this week’s issue of the The Tablet you can find more correspondence here, available free.
The Church will lose gay marriage battle whatever happens
In opposing gay marriage, that Catholic Church is wasting its energy, and, more worryingly, damaging public perception of the church, the institution of marriage, and the lives of gay women and men. In the long run, the church will lose the battle, and gay marriage legislation will be approved, albeit with an opt-out clause for religious institutions. In the meantime, the church is judged to be unjust, reactionary and harmful. The problem is the bundling together of civil and church understandings of marriage and treating them as one, indivisible entity. The fact that in Britain church solemnisation and civil registration of marriage usually take place within the same church ceremony doesn't help.
The Catholic Church in Scotland, where I was a parish priest for ten years, has a very poor record indeed in its pastoral care for gay people. Bishops repeatedly make anti-gay statements, backed up by "the Church's teaching", but make little or no pastoral provision for gay people. Consequently gay Catholics are often angry and hurt; I know many who have left the Church over this issue.
There are ways forward: let the state legislate regarding civil marriage, and keep Christian marriage distinct. Let a couple register their marriage in a civil ceremony, and then if they wish, have it solemnised in a subsequent church service. The church retains control over who qualifies or does not qualify for this Christian celebration: Caesar has what belong to Caesar, and what pertains to Church is celebrated in church. Secondly, it is in everyone's interest to promote stable, long-lasting relationships, of whatever kind. Proper dialogue between gay people and the Church is essential, at national, diocesan, parish and personal levels. This conversation cannot merely be about law, but also about conscience, pastoral practise and the flourishing of the whole community. Finally, proportionality is required. In the face of huge social justice issues at home and abroad, and global financial meltdown, the issue of who loves whom and how they are committed to each other hardly signify in comparison.Fr Ed Hone, Durham
I am baffled as to why Cardinal Burke's experiences of the reaction of people in the pews to the Extraordinary Rite of Holy Communion is so different to mine (News from Britain and Ireland, 14 July). I worked, until my retirement in a variety of parishes in the English Midlands. Although Mass was available on most weekdays, usually in the morning, Eucharistic Services conducted by Extraordinary ministers, male and female, took place most evenings and some mornings. When the priest was away on holiday, or unavoidably detained on other pastoral business, these weekday services could occur twice a day. Never once, since their inception, did I encounter anyone who thought that the Eucharistic service (readings, prayers and distribution from the tabernacle) were the same as, or as important as the Mass. For me it seriously raises the question as to whether these reforms which, thank God, emanated from the Liturgical Renewal initiated by Vatican II, were ever properly implemented and evangelised in Cardinal Burke's former US diocese, and, if not, I wonder why.
Edward Butler, Derrydruel Upper, County Donegal
Humanae Vitae never designed as infallible teaching
You report that Mgr Philip Egan, Bishop-Elect of Portsmouth, has publicly argued that the encyclical Humanae Vitae is infallible teaching but as Pope Paul VI did not make it ex cathedra how can it be infallible? Does Mgr Egan know something that we don't? Is this more confusion for the laity?
Nicholas Fitzherbert, Much Hadham
It is reported that the bishop-elect of Portsmouth upholds the infallibility of the birth control encyclical 'Humanae Vitae' ("Pope names new Bishop of Portsmouth", 14 July). I would like to remind him that on the fateful day in July 1968, Mgr Lambruschini, acting as the Pope's spokesman, stated clearly that the encyclical was not covered by papal infallibility. The fact was noted in the press at the time, and can be read in all standard books which have covered the matter.
The events of that day are etched indelibly in my memory. I was 38 at the time, the outcome affected by life vitally, and I recall it as clearly as if it were yesterday. If my arithmetic is correct, I calculate that the bishop-elect was then 12 years old. Possibly he has remembered the announcement differently. The issue was unlikely to have had such vital implications for him at that age.
(Dr) Michael M. Winter, London N19
The fact that a pope considers a teaching to be "infallible" does not in fact make it so, writes Fr Gerald Hanlon (Letters, 30 June). Indeed. So unless Pope Benedict considers that his own judgment about a declaration of Pope John Paul II (that the Church has no right to ordain women) is itself ‘infallible', on what grounds does he require us to agree with him? (The Pope's own Biblical Commission concluded some years ago that there were no grounds in scripture for such a claim.)
And on what grounds did Benedict sack Bishop William Morris of Toowoomba in May last year? Was it because in a pastoral letter (in which he mentioned the shortage of priests in his huge diocese and suggested that we need to consider ordaining women as well as married men) the bishop dared not to pretend, by his silence, that we already know what God thinks of women priests?
(Fr) Paul Browne OSB, Leyland, Preston
As much as I love Blessed Pope John XXIII, I wonder if his words about a 'Friendly Latin' (cf Letters) are apocryphal. I was a member of the last ordination class to be ordained in Latin. I welcomed the change to English and later to Spanish which I learned on mission in Peru.
Gustavo Gutierrez, father of Liberation Theology, once remarked that Latin was a universal language. He added: universally unknown. Latin is a dead language kept on life support. It is no one's first language and is the conveyor of a dead culture. That is where our octogenarian leadership subsists. They grew up in a church which hankered after the restitution of the Papal States, which flirted with fascism, which shunned women and which excoriates modernity. All that is left to them is their frayed power and ashy nostalgia. As an institution we are in a blind alley, a very sorry state.
Frank Regan, Newton Abbot, Devon
Philosophy and science
We agree with John Wright (Letters Extra, 7 July) on the need to find common ground with rational people in uncovering the nature of human consciousness, and we also agree that such common ground is not religious faith. We disagree, however, with his assumption that the common ground is science. The common ground is in fact philosophy. Everyone, at least implicitly, has a philosophy, and the philosophy that scientists work to is fine insofar as it stipulates perceptible and mathematically calculable evidence as a necessity for science, but fails if it treats such evidence as sufficient knowledge in itself, either of science or of anything else. Evidence is capable of being false as well as true, and calculation and measurement are capable of enhancing it either way. Logic is likewise incapable of proving anything but logic. Knowledge, by contrast, is never false but always true, and unlike physical perception, is not the apparent evidence of some things, but is awareness of the self-evident existence, actual or possible, of all things. Nothing at all, therefore, is unknowable. Accordingly, those scientists whose philosophy of knowledge stops short at experiment and logic simply mistake what are vehicles of learning for the truth being learnt. And just as their scepticism and logic-chopping are no substitute for discovery of truth, nor is the representation of reality as bio-chemical processes in brains any substitute for the direct, intuitive awareness of things as being true, by beings who are non-physical enough to also be self-aware.
Daniel Wade, London NW9
James Roche, London SW18
Radically rethinking the priesthood
The fourth reform of the CDF proposed by Gerald O'Collins ("Art of the possible" 14th July), namely that consultors at the CDF be changed every 5 or 10 years echoed some more radical proposals I made in the Appendix to a letter to the Pope which I sent in May 2010, and which was briefly acknowledged. The letter itself suggested that the paedophile scandals in the Church arose from an abuse of power by the perpetrators. The Church's hierarchical structure of governance, which in its evolution was greatly influenced by the model of the imperial court elevated priests to offices of power, with accompanying titles, and removed them from their fundamental pastoral role as priests. Recent events have shown that the honest, open and courageous exercise of the power they held was beyond many senior clerics. Those who abused children were not the only abusers of power. Hence the climate of fear which many detect in the Church.
My proposals may be briefly summarised as follows: the formation of priests to be reformed; an acceptance that every priest will spend the greatest part of his life in the direct pastoral care of the people; that a "flat" hierarchy comprising priest, bishop and pope be adopted; that all other titles be abandoned; that all "offices" be time-limited eg 10 years for bishops, seven years in academia or in Rome (with the exception of the pope who will be elected as now for life), with the incumbents returning to pastoral work at parish level upon completion of their period of service. As far as possible, all priests will be formed for, and will live in, communities.
Peter Simmons, North Berwick
Role of clergy
Paul Donovan's "Parish Practice" article (The Tablet, 14 July) challenges us to be a little clearer about the developing role of a priest as "priest-companion" in a parish. Wherever society has developed universal education, we should expect a deeper sharing in the varied ministries, official and unofficial, within parish community life.
As a more-than-ten years retired priest, I sometimes wonder, when asked to preside for a weekend parish Mass, why my competence to do so overrides that of many parishioners. What is it about ordination to lifetime commitment that it should override the availability of lay people, duly qualified, when there is an obvious need in circumstances of shortage for wider authorisation?
I have a fear that underneath our slowness to prepare the baptised for a deeper share in Christ's priesthood is a reluctance to question the barriers of clericalism.
Fr Owen Hardwicke, Cardiff
Thanks to Paul Donovan for his thoughtful article on shared priesthood. The Church is Christ existing as community in "the modern world". One of the ministries of the laity is to support and encourage the ordained priest and his ministry. As Donovan says, in addition to the sacraments, the priest has a vitally important ministry in the weekly homily for which he has been trained. The priest in turn encourages the unique and special gifts of the priestly laity, including ministries of social and ecological justice and peace making. The Church is a "hand in hand" community.
Dr Edward P Echlin, Bexhill, East Sussex
Suffering from ‘illiturgy’
There is a certain irony in the executive director of the secretariat of ICEL (News from Britain and Ireland, 7 July) complaining about poor liturgy. Surely the biggest obstacle to meaningful worship in English is the new "illiturgy" that has been foisted upon us: its schoolboy mistranslations, grammatical errors, nonsensical or obsolete constructions, and systematic eradication of fundamental words of Anglo-Saxon origin such as "worship" and "love". Physician, heal thyself.
Daniel Power, Swansea
To write in to The Tablet, email firstname.lastname@example.org, fax your comments to 020 8748 1550 or post your comments to The Editor, 1 King Street Cloisters, Clifton Walk, London W6 0GY. Include your full postal address and contact telephone number. The Editor reserves the right to shorten letters.
For other recent letters, select from the list here:
Muslims are living in fear after the Woolwich murder
The awful attack in Woolwich on Wednesday afternoon has done more than just lead to one ... Gay marriage and disestablishment: better the muddle you know?
If, as looks very likely, gay marriage becomes law, the established Church will be opposed ... Medics don't want assisted dying legalised
Dr Gillian Paterson, guest contributor
Both my parents died of cancer. Both had painkilling medication in the final stages: shortening ...