Down the Rabbit Hole

The wonderful & erudite Fr. John Perricone, who I have had the pleasure of meeting, has written a most excellent article in Crisis Magazine which simply must be read. It offers great comfort for those of us who are incredulous at the counter Catholic nonsense which seems to be so keenly promoted by much of the hierarchy at this time.

In it, he states:

"After the pontificates of St. John Paul II and Benedict XVI, Catholics believed that the bitter years of Newspeak and Wonderland had abated, and sanity was on the horizon. No such respite. Theological Wonderland has returned with a vengeance from the lips of the hierarchal upper crust. The past seven years has reached shocking new depths, but all of them seem to have been surpassed by a new species called Synodality.

Before Church historians crouch to their attack mode, let us assure them that any Catholic is aware of the venerable institution of local Councils in the ancient Church (infrequently called synods). Each one of these enjoyed a noble purpose: to clarify Church discipline or teaching and to refute heresy.

The present Synodality fever bears no such pedigree. For proof, merely look at Synodality in the German Catholic Church. Even third graders recognize that the German Church is in full meltdown before our very eyes, unmoored from any of the Church’s millennial magisterial teaching. Yet this same pseudo-Catholic energy is on full display in the Holy See’s promulgation of a Preparatory Document and companion Enchiridion. Read them at your own risk. In the words of Matthew Cullinan Hoffman, both documents “serve up a mix of group-therapeutic catchphrases and ideological chic.” This is a Gnosticism that would make Marcion envious."

This direction was on full display in England & Wales this weekend with Pastoral Letters from the Bishop of Arundle & Brighton, Richard Moth (see here) and my own bishop, Alan Williams (see here).

I'm not sure which one is worse.

+Moth throws himself enthusiastically down the rabbit hole of synodality.
The “Synod Path” is not a ‘parliamentary process’ but a call to listening, rooted in prayer and reflection on the Word of God, that our discernment will assist him and the bishops who will gather for the Synod in their deliberations for the good of the Mission of the whole Church.
We all know what this means and what the results will be. The Catholic men's Association, the Catenians, recently commissioned a survey into the attitudes of Church going Catholic men. The results were posted in the monthly magazine:


The stat that jumped out at me and which resonated most deeply was that 60% of those surveyed said that the Catholic Church is out of touch with today's world.

Of course it is. That is the point. That is what the Church is for. The Church stands on divinely revealed, eternal truths about our existence and offers a constant critique of our misadventures.

The problem is that, today, very few people are talking about the particular thorny areas where the Catholic Church stands in direct opposition to "today's world" though we all know what they are.

The result of such surveys, which canvas those who are already at odds with much of the fundamental matter of Catholic living (I would hazard a guess that these include contraception, abortion, sex before marriage, etc) are seeking for the Church to change on one or all of these issues. 

This being the case, the purpose of "dialogue" can only be to change the timeless teachings of the Church on these issues, or to recognise the need to reaffirm them.

Judging by the rhetoric, it seems very unlikely that the latter is part of the plan.

In my own diocese of Brentwood, Bishop Alan Williams launched Brentwood Diocesan Laudato Si’ Invitations, Commitments and Actions with this Pastoral Letter.

Reading it I am dismayed that this is considered such a high profile priority for our diocese.

It begins with a catalogue of international natural disasters with the intimation that this is somehow the fault of the people in his diocese.

With little or no vocations in Brentwood, Catholic Schools failing in their mission of evangelisation and an epic decline in Mass attendance post-pandemic, Bishop Alan Williams pastoral priority is clear: 
"This is not just another environmental campaign; it is an integral part of our faith. In making your personal pledges – in working to heal the planet and in striving for justice for the poorest people in the world – you are a living witness to Jesus Christ: do not be afraid to tell people why you are doing whatever you choose to do."

This is because the natural world "is part of the biblical landscape". Bishop Alan tells us:

"I will be eating less meat; I will be walking more often; I will be praying much more regularly on the challenges to God’s Creation and the urgent issues around climate change."

While I recognise that care for our common home is important, I really do think that the virtue signalling and social shaming that goes on around these issues is really worrying. We all need to be aware of our responsibilities, but the real change can only come from changes in infrastructure, farming/ fishing and big business practice and that should be clear in any discussion of the issues. 

The reality is that if one examines virtually any large-scale environmental problem, from global climate change, to deforestation, to declining fisheries worldwide, to growing rates of environmental toxins invading our bodies—and even the bodies of unborn children—at some point we have to admit that they have one precipitating cause, namely, the consumptive lifestyles desired by the world’s economic elite. Putting pressure on families who are already struggling, especially post pandemic, is not a clever strategy. I do recognise how this will play well with a certain, more affluent sector of society who want to see this made a priority of course.

There has been a broad spectrum of criticism of Pope Francis' encyclical Laudato Si and this, combined with its unusual subject matter makes it a peculiar document to base a diocesan policy/ initiative on. Of course it is a topic du jour and means you don't have to actually teach any "problematic" Catholic doctrine...So you can see its attraction for bishops! 

So what are the problems with Laudato Sii? Firstly, it is inaccessible. In the document Pope Francis intends “to address every person living on this planet” (#3), then he goes on to produce a document containing 246 sections, and by the count of my hard copy, 106 pages—something akin to a seminary course, replete with technical theological language and concepts, which is not exactly a winning recipe for a broad and attentive readership! Furthermore, the pope deliberately escalates the rhetoric and attempts to embrace a somewhat prophetic role in Laudato Si, claiming that our behaviour is reducing earth to “an immense pile of filth” (#21) and that we are consistently disappointing God by our callousness (#60), but he simultaneously wants to engage in deliberate and reasoned policy analysis that considers the best institutional vehicles for implementing environmental change. In other words, the document lacks unity and coherence. But worst of all, it contains a pathological determination to avoid addressing what is considered by the vast majority of environmentalists to be the biggest challenge facing the environment: population. Any discussion about this subject would need to include a serious strategy for dealing with the projected 3-5 billion people to be added to planet earth this century and explain how and why this will not cause enormous stress on systems that provide basic needs for people.

The Pope disavows this apparently based purely on his extreme scepticism of it as a biased elitist narrative, highly popular and influential in international governmental and policy circles, which blames the poor for the explosion of population growth in certain regions. In the Pope’s mind, it seems this strategy is a way for the economic elite to deflect attention away from their rapacious consumptive habits and to avoid the uncomfortable reality that a just redistribution of resources would allow the addition of 3-5 billion people this century without undue burden. He states: “demographic growth is fully compatible with an integral and shared development. To blame population growth instead of an extreme and selective consumerism on the part of some, is one way of refusing to face the issues. It is an attempt to legitimize the present model of distribution” (#50) this practically rules out any potential discussion of the growing world population until the resource distribution issue is addressed and rectified. I can't help but feel this will not convince those he appears to be trying to address, and indeed, his determination to avoid addressing this key issue has widely been reported as at best naïve, and at worst dangerous. If Pope Francis is going to have any appeal beyond the a very tiny echo chamber of sympathetic/ unthinking or ambitious bishops, he simply cannot continue to avoid this issue, as it does nothing but undermine his credibility among the constituencies to which he wants to appeal. Unfortunately, Francis seems so entrenched ideologically in his strategy of avoidance that he doesn’t even mention promising possibilities for curbing population growth that are entirely consistent with Catholic moral doctrine, which would seem a huge missed opportunity to demonstrate Catholic teaching has practical alternatives which are worth considering as part of the discussion.

Most importantly this is not what the Catholic Church is for. It is not focused on the salvation of souls. It is good to have due concern for creation but that is secondary to our primary concern for the Creator and our relationship with Him. 

Similarly it is misleading to pretend that we are in control of creation or that we can "fix it" somehow. It is a naturalistic approach which detracts from God as the ultimate end of all things. 

Another issue is whether the Catholic Church competent to teach on this issue (as critiques of the encyclical have revealed)? With the Church failing on every measure to teach on the issues it does have competence to teach on, how does this mission creep help us spread the Good News about Jesus Christ? 

Fr. Perricone finishes his article like this:

"After wading through the Orwellian Newspeak muck of those few passages, you come squarely face to face with Gnosticism in its fullest bloom: anarchic, antinomian, transgressive, and destructive of rationality and human coherence. The document proposes a Weltanschauung that is as far removed from classical Christianity as astronomy is from astrology. The eminent philosopher Aurel Kolnai seemed to be commenting on this document when he wrote in 1944: “The worshipers of Baal professed a more genuine religion than many present adherents of a vague and modern religion soaked in humanitarianism.” Roman Catholicism is supernatural and redemptive, not protean and therapeutic.

Ordinary Catholics must be prepared to walk away from this Gnostic Wonderland. This will not be easy. For the avatars of this New Land will use all the punitive mechanisms of the Old Church to propagate and enforce their dreams.

Alice in Wonderland is a fairy tale that ends happily. Synodality is indeed a fairy tale, but it ends in a nightmare. To be forewarned is to be forearmed."

With both these pastoral letters we see our bishops diving head-long down the rabbit hole. I think the real problem is the endorsement without question of certain contingent theories. It is utterly imprudent.

It is obvious to anyone paying attention that there are huge problems with this Pontificate whether you agree with Pope Francis now unarguably revealed progressive agenda of modernist change for the Church or not. If you are faced with a bad boss, your best strategy is to keep your head down and keep doing what you know is right. What you don't do is fully commit yourself to strategies with obvious flaws and inconsistencies - which is what both these dioceses are doing.

It seems that, having completely given up on Christianity in any historically recognisable form, these people are left only with the religion of the moment.

"But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord." - Joshua 24

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