Archbishop Attacks "wishy-washy" Faith



The Archbishop of Glasgow, Philip Tartaglia fears "too many believers" have adapted to the secular world around them by stressing not their faith itself but its ethical values.

Challenged by a robust secularism, he said Scottish Catholics avoid saying they "really believe in anything supernatural; in anything they can’t see or touch or experience; or in anything beyond modelling and encouraging decent behaviour.

He added: "Too many believers no longer talk about Jesus winning salvation for the sinful but instead point to him as a moral ideal of what humans should strive for.

"We accommodate. We compromise. We avoid conflict - even when conflict is the only proper course. We are too wishy-washy, as we would say in Scotland."


The Archbishop made the comments at a recent meeting of priests in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. Archbishop Tartaglia, spoke about what lessons could be learned in the United States from the Church in Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom. He also said the Church in America has reason to hope, because the people in the pews haven't wavered in their faith.

The Archbishop's comments fit well with the opinion expressed in the interview with James Bogle I posted a while ago. Bogle makes the point that the dominant secular culture is attacking the Church from many angles and the Church seems powerless under the present leadership to do anything but seek compromise with the secular position. 

Archbishop Tartaglia says [emphasis mine]:
Human beings are instinctively religious creatures. When we discard one religion, we put another in its place - even if we call it something other than a religion.

The new “religious” consensus in the UK is a combination of scepticism, consumer appetite, and political intolerance. It masks itself with progressive vocabulary, but its targets tend to be practising Christians.

Old-fashioned Protestant “No Popery here” slogans may have faded, but today’s discrimination is much more sophisticated. Atheists and secularists in the 1960s and 1970s were content to ignore or mock the Catholic Church, but today many see her as the single most formidable threat to their notions of justice and equality, particularly when it comes to matters of human sexuality.

This hostility shows itself in different ways in the UK and in the States. Campus protests are worse in America, but the U.S. Constitution guarantees freedom of religion and freedom of expression much more concretely than ours.

Nonetheless, some version of the problems we face today in Scotland will be heading your way tomorrow - the UK can be seen as the canary in a coal mine.

The chief errors of our time are anthropological, and when a culture becomes global, so do its problems. If the Church dissents from today’s new rulebook for the human person - and she must - then she should expect rough treatment.

So, what are the strengths of the Church in our current environment and what are her weaknesses? Where do we need to rebuild the Lord’s house?

The Scottish philosopher John Haldane sees three common features in today’s Catholic life that need to be remedied for the Church to grow stronger.

First, too many believers no longer act like they really believe in anything supernatural; in anything they can’t see or touch or experience; or in anything beyond modelling and encouraging decent behaviour. Too many believers no longer talk about Jesus winning salvation for the sinful but instead point to him as a moral ideal of what humans should strive for.

This is good as far as it goes. The trouble is that it doesn’t go nearly far enough. The Catholic faith teaches that we’re saved by the grace of God. Any merit in our works is itself the fruit of a free, unmerited gift of grace. But how many believers today can even define that word “grace”?

Second, Haldane sees a chronic sentimentalism in how we deal with moral matters that demand clear, exacting thought. There were problems with scholasticism and the old moral manuals, but we used to preach on morals from training in rigorous moral argument.
[This is so true, if you think about the way we think & argue about homosexuality today, it is all about how individuals feel and how can you justify contradicting any individual's feelings?]

Finally, for Haldane, too many of us have become “preoccupied with means of forestalling secular criticism, rather than engaging confidently with it, in part by means of ingratiating ourselves with dominant groups and classes.” We accommodate. We compromise. We avoid conflict - even when conflict is the only proper course. We are too wishy-washy, as we would say in Scotland. [This is pretty much what Dr Thomas Pink said in this interview. There is a theology of compromise in the Church which sees accommodation as the only option. Despite the fact that this compromise never works, they persist with an attitude that is fundamentally relativist].

Once upon a time, Catholics longed for and worked for the conversion of others, including a nation’s cultural elites. Now many of our Catholic leaders, intellectuals and academic institutions bend over backwards to assure the gatekeepers of culture and prestige that they’re just as right-thinking as they are. [This is so important. All the post-concilliar popes have spoken about the crisis of mission in the Church and surely this articulates the harvest of that problem? How many of us think in terms of converting the world to Christ? Surely this should be part of our mission as constantly articulated by the Church through the centuries?]

For Haldane this results in “the displacement of Catholic faith and sacramental practice understood in terms of a rigorous theology of grace and salvation, and their substitution by good works, identified and sustained typically through emotive rhetoric, with an eye to seeking approbation or at least minimising exposure to criticism from secular critics of religion.”
It’s a kind of virtue-signalling. [Yes! And a kind of virtue signalling which leaves people cold. It does not convert, but makes people think that Catholics think they are superior].

So, is there any good news? Or should we just take “the Benedict Option” and head for a religious bomb-shelter in the mountains? I have two answers.

First, there’s quite a lot of good news. And second, Augustine is a much better model for our times and our work as pastors than Benedict.

Augustine stayed with his people. He loved them and fed them and led them like the great pastor he was, even while the Roman world fell apart and even with an army of barbarians at the gates. The Church in the United States is in vastly better shape than anything Augustine could have imagined, but his life is still a lesson. A good shepherd never leaves his sheep. He loves and defends his people, even when some of them don’t love him back.

As for the good news: The Church in the United States is doing exceptionally well.

In Europe, in the so-called Catholic countries like Italy, Spain, France, Belgium, Ireland, and parts of Germany - the Church often dominated society. She also too often tied herself to the state.

Over time that did three things. It invited an abuse of Church privilege. It created resentment and indifference among many of our people. And it allowed the state to use and misuse the Church for its own purposes. (This may have been the case in Scotland and England before the Reformation but probably not since.)

In America, Christianity is still a living force. It can be attacked, but it can’t be ignored. Christians still practice their faith at high levels of participation.

Christians still matter - sometimes decisively - in the political, economic and social life of the nation. Catholics were always a minority, but they were always renewed by immigrants, always building, always growing, never dominant, and never captured by the state.

The result is that you have the resources, organisation, freedom under the law, and breadth of imagination that exist almost nowhere else in the Christian world.


For 15 years in this country, your mass media have hammered away at the Church on the abuse issue, often fairly, but often not. But most of your people haven’t wavered. They support Catholic schools. They support your Catholic charitable ministries. They love their parishes, and they trust and respect their pastors with a high degree of confidence. That doesn’t stop them from complaining, but people complain when they want to belong and believe that it’s worth staying. It’s part of a normal family life.

The Church in the United States, like the Church in Europe, faces some very serious challenges in the coming 20 years. But for all of its challenges, the American Church’s strengths and energies give it a unique ability to influence the life of the Catholic Church in a deeply positive way and on a much wider level.

I think this speech by the Archbishop of Glasgow shows some really important ideas. Does the fact that they resonate with many of the ideas expressed in the recent Roman Forum interviews with Dr Joseph Shaw, Dr Thomas Pink & James Bogle speak to some sort of awakening in the Church? The recurring theme could be said to be in respect to ideas of accommodation, which Catholics are waking up to as having been attempted and failed, as the secular state pushes forward with an aggressive agenda of sexual immorality which it appears intent on bringing into legislation in order to enforce. This is an idea given a particularly interesting treatment by Dr Thomas Pink here.

As a friend involved with the work of full-time catechesis commented to me yesterday, this approach, so prevalent & popular, especially in Youth Ministry in the UK, is set up for failure. It never helps to shape the worldview of young people, it consistently fails to give them an authentic Catholic epistemological framework, instead it tries to 'fit in' to the viewpoint of the age, which is fundamentally anti-Christian. This inevitably sets up young people with an impossible choice: I.E. 'Everything the world is telling me is that the Church is bigoted'. One touchy-feely homily that capitulates to the zeitgeist cannot change that, even a hundred homilies cannot, because young people and indeed most people intuit that the world views are incompatible with Church teaching. This is what we mean by "counter-culture". We surely need to get busy being honest, and teaching the full truth and beauty of the faith, or we should just fully capitulate.

Read the full commentary on Crux here.

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