Tuesday, 23 March 2010

The Real Crisis in The Church?

The pain and confusion caused by the clergy abuse scandals have led to some extraordinary outbursts both outside and inside the Church. This one, highlighted on some other blogs is unbalanced. The suggestion that the post Vatican II Church has made clergy child abuse easier is probably true, but it is only part of the picture. Besides, as a few people have already said, much of the abuse took place before Vatican II or by priests ordained some years before the Council. Yes, there were mistakes made in the years following the Second Vatican Council, but serious mistakes were being made before then. In some cases, the application of the moral theology of the Church had become oppressive. In convents and schools religious neurotics were being created by screwed-up religious, and many priests, fearful of the mortal sins that could be committed during the celebration of Mass raced through it to get it over with as soon as possible. Scrupulosity was a real problem for some priests. This can easily be shown by the instructions given in books on the celebration of The Mass and in commentaries on Canon Law. For example, the repetition of the words of Institution was a common problem. I heard one priest telling me that he used to serve the Mass of a scrupulous priest for whom the Mass was agony; he would begin the words, "Hoc est..." and then go back and do it again. I am not saying this to attack the 1962 rite; I celebrate it myself at least once a week, and I thank God for the great privilege of being able to do so. But we have to keep our balance.
Reforms were needed, in parishes, convents and schools. Reforms were needed in seminaries. I remember a parish priest of mine, who was once a seminary teacher, telling me of the cruelty and authoritarianism of his seminary days as a member of staff. The rector was one of those scrupulous priests who visited his neurosis on others. of course, I have heard, more recently of some seminary rectors and vice-rectors who are post-Vatican II, and have been even more neurotic. Still, reforms were needed, and the actual documents of Vatican II are still inspiring. Vatican II was a call to spiritual renewal, and it was misunderstood by many and abused and misused by many. The so-called "Spirit of Vatican II" has been the excuse for too many abuses, and certainly has a place on the backdrop to recent scandals.
But the real problem is - always - sin! To see this most clearly we need to focus on the Lord, and especially at this time, on the Cross. Ultimately it is the refusal to live according to the Gospel; the failure to pray; the acceptance of the mediocre in the spiritual life; the exaltation of the human over God (the abomination of desolation); the promotion of individual expression above the Commandments and the Laws of the Church; the choice of materialism over self-denial; the choice of greed over fasting; the choice of sexual license over chastity etc, etc.
The swing following Vatican II - seen in some people's lives - was only possible because of the moral and spiritual oppression suffered by some in the years before the Council. It was not the Latin Mass or Canon Law, or most of the bishops and priests that were at fault, and looking at some of the great Catholic writers before the Council, and the inspiring lives of many famous preachers, missionaries and teachers, we can see that it is a great mistake to say something like, "the pre-Vatican II Church was oppressive, authoritarian and triumphalistic". This again does not paint a true picture. Slogans do not help in the end, and whatever was wrong, or is wrong, with the Church, the basic flaw is not in the institution but in the people. The effects of original sin remain whatever reform we introduce. The real challenge - and this is the challenge of Vatican II - is the call to holiness. The errors of the post Vatican II years have followed on from the errors that went before. We need wisdom and humility, and Pope Benedict is certainly the one to lead us in this. It was Pope Paul VI in his remarkable encyclical on evangelisation who called for Christians who really live their faith. The answer to the present crisis is not to be found in more Latin Masses (with a respectful nod to you-know-who), but in the holiness of our lives. I am not arguing against the need for reform or necessary liturgical changes, but the basic need, for all of us, is that one-to-one encounter with Christ who leads us to a deeper awareness and love of each other. Mother Teresa spoke of meeting Christ in the disguise of the "bread" and then meeting Him again in "the distressing disguise of the poor". Not too long ago, Charles De Foucauld was beatified, and only recently, Fr. Damien was canonised. These heroes of the faith point the way - it is to Christ and His Cross.


  1. Thanks for this post Fr - one of the few balanced views amongst some of the strange spewings elsewhere.

  2. The answer to the present crisis is not to be found in more Latin Masses ..... but in the holiness of our lives.

    Your post has released me from a lot of quietly grumbling fears that have been forming in my mind lately about my own faith. You are not trying to pedal or sell your particular brand of Catholicism, just reaching out to souls in need.

    Thank God for you, and priests like you. I may post a link to this (well, attempt to, in my own fashion!)

  3. An excellent post Father. I consider myself traditional but there are a lot of 'traddies' who are seriously mad and make crazy accusations of the Post-Conciliar Church. Your post is balanced and welcomed greatly in the Catholic blogging world..... a real relief for me, as a young Catholic, to see this.

  4. Thank you for a wise and thought-provoking post.

  5. One thing is for sure. Sexual abuse was probably far better dealt with before the council. Discipline has all but gone to the winds after. I know the rot set in well before 1962 but one cannot deny the church is in far worse state for having "open up the doors" to the world.

  6. Antonio, I'm afraid I have to disagree with you. Part of the problem is that abuse was NOT dealt with - priests were moved and their sins weere kept secret. it is only now that we have really good safeguarding and disciplinary measures in place.
    However, your point about discipline is well taken. it is true that after Vatican 11 church discipline began a gradual nose-dive, so that by the '80's we were in a real mess, with priests behaving in inappropriate ways, not wearing clerical dress, openly disparaging the Pope, being cynical and sometimes uncaring. Obviously I am not speaking here about all priests! But the damage was there to be seen and the bishops did nothing to stop it until it became - in some caases - outrageous, but I believe the balance is being restored. Under Pope benedict I expect we will see a more complete restoration.

  7. Every time I visit, I come away happier and more hopeful for the future of our Church. Thank you, Father. I agree with you wholeheartedly. God bless you always!