I hope that Mark Shea, that finest of Catholic writers who's always in my prayers, understands that my adoption and adaptation of his tagline 'The Ever Falling Religious IQ Of The Media' is not a go at him, but it is the best available shorthand I can think of for describing the communications mess that our Church has found itself in over the past 96 hours; in my opinion a completely avoidable one, and one unwittingly engineered by its Pope.
What has staggered me, really floored me, about this is that it has exposed the depth of some Catholics' capacities for what seems to me to be groupthink. They all might be very much more well informed than me, in which case good luck to them, but at times it's been like watching the bit in the first 'Jurassic Park' movie where Sam Neill and the two children are walking across a meadow. Neill sees a group of dinosaurs all moving in one direction, and murmurs 'They're flocking'. The dinosaurs wheel towards them as one, and one of the children shouts 'They're flocking this way!'
Much has been made of how the Pope's comments were mispronunciated from German to Italian to English. Although I will fully admit to bearing a typically tedious, typically British node of gratitude that I don't speak German as my first language in the cultural background radiation of my psyche, I have nothing for or against the German language personally. I am told that it's a language of particularly deep richness, culture and subtlety, which perhaps explains why so many clerics like speaking it. On the other hand, it's also the language of men such as Liebniz, Schopenhauer and Nietzsche, which maybe goes to show that you can talk crap in even the most beautiful of languages; and anyway, the best way for anyone, whether he be a pope or a pauper, to avoid causing confusion in any language is to stay silent.
What has got under my skin about this is that at bottom, I want to believe like a child. I want Heaven for my family and myself, but I have no desire to be the greatest theologian in the graveyard. I want my Church to tell me what is right and what is wrong, so that I can go out and use a God given skill with words to defend that position against the atheists and secularists to whom this change in such a previously firm position presents such an inviting open goal. Over the past few days, a teaching that was simple to understand but difficult to practice has become both difficult to understand and difficult to practice. I find this state of affairs, this introduction of unpredictability into the previously very predictable, to be very uncomfortable.
And in times of upset and unpredictability like this, I want to be pointed in the right direction by a Churchman - of which more in a moment.
My upset at this might stem from having received a defective catechesis. As a result of the religious formation I received in both state and private Catholic schools in the West of Scotland, I left that system knowing little of the Incarnation, the Trinity, the Nicene Creed, Transubstantiation, the Mystery of the Eucharist, the Resurrection, or the beatific vision. I did, however, know that I shouldn't ever use condoms; and I suspect I might not be the only product of that system in the same intellectual position. As a former pupil of St. Aloysius College, Glasgow's Jesuit school, it is entirely without irony that one can quote the president of the Aloysian Association, writing in 'The Flourish', the Archdiocese of Glasgow's monthly newspaper, on the 150th anniversary of the school's founding in October 2009, that '(t)he Jesuits saw their mission (to be) to produce an educated middle class from amongst the thousands of Catholics in the Glasgow area'.
If this was indeed their mission, history has shown it to have been one accomplished with an astonishing degree of success. One measure of it might be that in 1859, there were plenty of Jesuits in Glasgow but no Catholic middle class; in contrast, by 2009 Glasgow had a large and flourishing Catholic middle class, and very few Jesuits. Going somewhere in order to create a 'middle class' inevitably involves exposing your charges to materialism. It should come as no surprise if some of them later become materialistic. Some of the most assimilated Calvinists I've ever met have been Catholics.
But enough of what the Jesuits didn't do for their fees in days gone by. Thank God for God, that's all I can say. As I wrote a little while back, in times of crisis for the Church, such as this one, which is a bloody great crisis with the word 'Crisis' written over every visible surface of it, it would be nice to see a churchman leading from the front, firmly providing direction on simple matters such as what is the right way and the wrong way to behave. Thus far, I am unaware of any Scottish Catholic bishop having done that. It's not been 'The Silence Of The Lambs'; it's been The Silence Of The Shepherds.
He might already have done so, in which case I apologise, but I would have thought it appropriate for Keith Patrick Cardinal O' Brien, Scotland's most senior Catholic clergyman, to have stepped into the fray to clarify not only the nature of the Pope's original statement, but also of his clarification (see the post directly below for what I think of that particular morass). I intend no personal disrespect, but in the recent past Cardinal O' Brien hasn't been backward about coming forward when adding his name to a petition in support of the Lockerbie bomber
, a convict whose abandonment of his appeal constitutes admission of his guilt. While the Lockerbie case was a horrible episode in Scottish history, it doesn't really have the same relevance, is really very less relevant, to the Scottish public's understanding of the Catholic Church's teaching on sexual morality as the Pope being translated as saying that it's OK for rent boys to use condoms. In Scotland, that's an area that is directly within Cardinal O'Brien's sphere of authority. It would be comforting to see him out front and centre, explaining the Pope's meaning to souls whose consciences have been disturbed by this, such as mine.
One of the most unattractive aspects of indulging in groupthink is that you're all so busy mentally flocking in the one direction in pursuit of abstruse dogmae that nobody's keeping an eye out for the simple answers that might be at the end of your noses. There's been a lot of complaint from the groupthink elements within the Catholic Church that the Pope's comments have been misrepresented. That might be true; however, one has to ask just what the Catholic Church is doing to dispel the misunderstandings to which such misrepresentations give rise. It is unreasonable to complain that you're being misrepresented when you aren't doing anything to correct it. Where are the bishops? Why aren't they on TV, aggressively defending our Church from misrepresentations? Have they gone into hibernation for the winter? Have they all retreated into their palaces like Galapagos tortoises into their shells, hoping and believing that it'll all soon blow over and that the question of condom morality can be safely revisited in the 27th Century? If that's what they think, that's not going to happen. This is too huge a change in direction to be addressed with the patronising, metronomic response that 'The Church thinks in terms of centuries'. Sadly, while the Church might think in terms of centuries, marriages don't last that long. More of them might have broken up over Catholic teaching on condom use than the bishops might like to imagine.
However, even when the Catholic Church cannot bring itself to comment upon a development which challenges what every Catholic in Scotland has been taught to believe, there is one area of Scottish public life of such gravity, such importance, that time and energy can always be devoted to commenting upon it. That activity is football.
Being a football referee is an odd hobby. The tendency of referees to dress in black and impose discipline on athletic young men suggests to me that the Christian Brothers of a harsher, less enlightened era might have lost more than a few vocations to the beautiful game. The psychological stranglehold, the deathgrip, that football exercises over Scotland will hopefully be broken by the imminent referees' strike. In a mad, Kafkaesque kind of way, wildcat industrial action by the last recognised authority figures in a nation in love with authority for its own sake will hopefully produce a collective public nervous breakdown as a result of which both Scotland and the Scots can be made anew.
However, on the day the Pope turned decades, if not centuries, of teaching on its head, a doctrinal bicycle kick if ever there was one, it is utterly dispiriting to see that the only mention of the Catholic Church on the BBC in Scotland yesterday related to the alleged emailing habits of a retired football referee
. This is so piddling that 'de minimis' doesn't begin to cover it.
The Catholics of Scotland deserve better than this. The Catholics of everywhere deserve better than this.
Labels: The Catholic Hierarchy's Unerring Skill At Public Relations