Catholic Bishops of England & Wales Teach...

Tis the season of bishop's pastoral letters!

Our Bishop here in Brentwood Diocese Alan Williams sm, appears to really be working hard on the themes he considers Pope Francis to be prioritising, e.g.:
It can sometimes seem impossible to glimpse the things of heaven in today’s world. We are confronted with the needs of refugees, the appalling struggles faced by victims of trafficking, the enduring realities of war and injustice. Sometimes there has been an absence of compassion and kindness even within the community of the Church which have caused great scandal regardless of faith. Young people notice and name most acutely this mismatch between aspiration and reality. It is often our young who have been prophetic in talking about climate change and its potentially terrible consequences.
It's like he has squeezed all the Pope's "new religion" into one paragraph; climate change, immigration, our desperately uncatechised young people as prophetic leaders of the church where in reality, they only seem prophetic because they don't know what the Church teaches and so articulate secular ideas. The eagerness displayed by some to manipulate this ignorance into some sort of justification for abandoning the time honoured teaching of the Church is truly horrendous.

That is honestly about it. There's a couple more references to Pope Francis, read it yourself here (it will take about one minute).

Alan Williams was appointed 7th Bishop of Brentwood 14 April 2014 and we had great hopes. He is a nice bloke, but has been a bit like this pastoral letter really, devoid of any interesting or vital content.

John Wilson was an appointment to the post of Archbishop of Southwark back in June. There's been a lot of positive things said about +Wilson. He is one of only two bishops (the other being John Keenan of Paisley) who have attended the March4Life. A lot of speculation suggested that John Arnold of Salford would be made Archbishop of Southwark the word is he hates Salford and the people of Salford aren't exactly fans of him. He has purportedly been vocal in seeking another post. Wilson then, born in 1968, was a bit of a pleasant surprise. Some said the fact Arnold was not translated and Wilson was appointed was Cardinal Nichols putting in place his succession plan. I'm not expecting Wilson to be Fulton Sheen or anything (please feel free to contradict me here Bishop John) because you don't get to be a bishop in the modern Catholic Church without being able to relativise faith to some degree, but he seems to be one the best prospects we have at the moment. Of course the proof is in the pudding, as they say!

Southwark Archbishops have been desperately disappointing for decades, so it was interesting to see what +John would put in his first pastoral letter as Archbishop.

He certainly did the whole Francis worship stuff—which I suppose is understandable, "The college or body of bishops has no authority unless united with the Roman Pontiff, Peter's successor, as its head." (CCC 883, LG 22; cf. CIC, can 336.) but still I find desperately sad because I find this Pontificate so jarring and divisive. It almost hurts to see bishops pushing the Pope's line because it is giving credence to the his confusing teaching and much of it is being interpreted in such a way as to lack continuity with much of what has gone before: it is, if you like, giving kudos to any moves the pope makes to further attack doctrine. I really wouldn't expect vocal opposition, but do you really have to quote him? Still, I thought this was a particularly nice paragraph:
To change the face of the earth by loving one another. This is the vocation of every disciple and especially of the family. Whether rich or poor, our families, first and foremost, are places of love, modelled on the Holy Family. So often I have heard people describe their own upbringing by saying: ‘We didn’t have a lot of money, butthere was always lots of love.’ The love of the Christian family is rooted in faith in God’sword and trust in Christ’s promises. This love looks outwards to the good of others, seeking their holiness and their wellbeing. This love overpowers selfishness with generosity and patience. In the midst of all the ups and downs of family living – and we should never underestimate these – this remains a love that is best replenished by being given away. 
He does follow it with this paragraph, which, though I appreciate the sentiments it expresses, appears to be an homage to Pope Francis' "mercy without bounds" narrative which it seems to me robs the Cross of its power and contradicts Christ's first message of metanoia (change).
Sadly, we know that some families suffer breakdown, separation, and divorce. We know too that not everyone has the best experience of family life, nor will everyone have a family themselves. In whatever struggles we face, there is a space for everyone in the family of the Church. We belong to Christ and, through Him, to each other, united by a love that cannot be broken. Christ reveals the Father’s love. It has no limits and includes every person. In Him there are no orphans.
It seems to me that the new(ish) bishop of Lancaster Diocese, Paul Swarbrick (appointed Feb 2018) took this same theme but did much better with it in his Pastoral Letter.

I really liked this one — meaning it resonated most fully with my Catholic sensibilities. He starts with a real proclamation of the faith "The Word truly became flesh and has dwelt among us. The image of the infant Christ, Son of God, son of Mary, is placed before us that we might know with confidence the Mystery of God’s love." Bishop Paul goes on to stress the difference between "commercial Christmas" and our Catholic "Season of Christmastide" which he describes quite beautifully as "a time for staying with the Holy Family."

It's great to read Bishop Paul teaching about the plight of the unborn in his letter:
He literally ‘took flesh’ from her. This is how all unborn children grow. His life was completely dependent on her health and well-being. And Mary entrusted herself to St. Joseph, a worthy spouse, step-father and guardian of the Holy Family. Pray for young parents. Pray for unborn children. Undoubtedly, they were members of an extended family.
He also mentions grandparents, the importance of family the sacramental foundation, dignity and importance of marriage as well as couples who are struggling in their marriages. It's simple, direct and clear, like the papal encyclicals of old. Some of it appears to have a resonance for his priests as well, he tells a story of a priest giving a well prepared homily which came in for criticism from a member of the congregation, but the bishop says:
Christian love is not an ideal but a reality. We are not ashamed to appear ‘old-fashioned’ in our religious practice and teachings. We will not abandon Christ’s teachings to follow secular novelties and fashions. Pray for those who have been hurt in marriage. Pray for those who work for healing in our marriage tribunals.
Although he quotes Pope St. John Paul II on marriage, Bishop Paul omits any mention of Pope Francis. I like this as well!

What strikes me about the first two and the direction Pope Francis appears to take, is that some bishops seem unclear on what to teach so when they issue a teaching document like these pastoral letters, they tend to be as nebulous as possible. Bishops appear to try and include everyone and all the current jargon and say nothing that will look too Catholic for fear it might offend. What I mean is, this strategy (if it can be defined as such, it's not a very good strategy if it is one) seems to be to see what lay people want (which is usually informed by secular culture, not the deposit of faith) and follow them, offering trite, quasi-moral soundbites that hint at vaguely Catholic themes but are never explicit about the powerful truths contained therein. +Swarbrick clearly does not do that in his letter.

There are real practical dangers of this approach in my opinion, to make no mention of the supernatural danger, which should be obvious. The first problem is that Catholics who know and practice their faith are repelled by it. This means it drives a wedge between faithful lay people and their shepherds. The other danger might be best illustrated like this:
BPAS Tweeted this in response to Bishop Philip Egan's clear denouncement of abortion as a slaughter of the innocents on the major platform of Radio 4's Thought for Today. You can listen to it here starting at 47'07". The fact that they can cite such startling statistics for abortion are a shocking inditement of the utter failure of our bishops to teach the Catholic faith, wouldn't you say? What clearer report on the bishops faithfulness and effectiveness could there be? If they wanted a project, they could do much worse than focus on that in unity, and turn up to the March4Life next year!!

The essential consideration in this is well articulated by Dietrich von Hildebrand's in his 1967 classic defense of the Catholic Faith against modern errors, Trojan Horse in the City of God:
“With a religion the only question that can matter is whether or not it is true. The question of whether or not it fits into the mentality of an epoch cannot play any role in the acceptance or the rejection of a religion without betraying the very essence of religion.”


  1. Our clergy are on the whole so far from the Catholic faith that we (the laity) need to be primarily the teachers and witnesses of the Catholic faith to our fellow parishioners and the non-Catholics around us. Every crisis offers an opportunity to make Christ known, let us not be a bunch of pansies over this, it is not as if we have to shed our blood for the faith as some brothers and sisters do in Muslim majority countries. This is immensely doable, we have all the graces we need through the Sacraments.


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