Saturday, 11 September 2010

The slow death of the Roman Catholic church?

British Roman Catholics (as opposed to English Catholics, or CofE) are not much enamoured of this pope. He looks odd; his face is not that of a kindly and wise father but that of a feared judge, he doesn't exude warmth and love, as JPII did, but rather seems surrounded by a cold baleful shield. There's not much there to like, not much to get out of bed early for or waste an expensive rail fare on. Non-RCs are also unwilling to concede to him the informal status of holiest cleric, as they did for JPII. It may be poor Joseph Ratzinger's lot to be remembered as the least personable pope in modern history, untouched by the 'magic' of the papacy.

In its hunger for celibate priests, as John Cornwell puts it in the Guardian this morning, the church has recruited "men with unresolved sexual, social and psychological problems", with the consequent problems that dominate the news pages these days. Yet British Catholics retain a remarkable loyalty to the Church, one that doesn't extend to weekly mass-going, for sure, but is nonetheless an identity they won't give up. It's as though this vast quiet diaspora is waiting patiently for the Church to catch up with it, and it's looking increasingly like the Church is in error, and not its people.

For a young man to express an interest in the priestly vocation today is almost akin to declaring a mental aberration. Yet the priesthood is closed to men of mature years who may have achieved an elevated spirituality, who may have passed through marriage, family and children to arrive at a comfortable celibacy. I know three retired professional men, all under 60 and all well-endowed with priestly qualities. With maybe twenty years of service left in them, doesn't it make sense to allow them to give their gift to the Church, particularly when the average stay in the priesthood for those ordained in youth is just six years?

But I fear the Catholic Church is blind and deaf to change, and that over four million British Catholics will have to continue to wait, loyally and patiently, for the crook of a shepherd they trust to gather them into the fold.

9 comments:

Anonymous said...

I was brought up in a strict Catholic household, on one side my father English through and through and fiercely proud of his Catholic family's roots which can be traced back over 500years and probably beyond and then my mother, an Irish Catholic and totally different, my Father did not have much truck with popery, mum the opposite.
I was brought up, when Vatican II was all the rage and anything 'went' at Church, it was like attending a folk festival sometimes and at others an evangelical baptist church, speaking in tongues and much other bollocks Kumbaya My Lord....Oh LORD!
It was known at the time at school and in the parish about abuse and paedo priests, my Father had a crisis of confidence, my mother still devout, I am still waiting.
I am no real fan of the pope, I still regard myself as English first and Catholic too, I will return to mass but only for the Latin Rite, it is written.
The only thing to blame is man and the men in the Church, the message has stayed sound and is good, the evil, is in all men. I despair for the Church in Britain, of all demoninations, I have great respect for my fellow Christians in the Anglican traditiona and have much time for them and their tenets, I wish for the Church to return to it's simplicity, humility, devotion and to recognise that we are on this earth not to be God but to fear him.

English Pensioner said...

I've never understood why the Roman Catholics insist on unmarried priests, it doesn't seem to have always been so but just happened around the 10th/11th centuries, before that, many were married.
In Ireland, there is now an acute shortage of priests; families are being told that it their duty to ensure one of their sons goes into the priesthood!

I agree with you on the subject of older clergy; our C of E Parish Church is used for training recently ordained clergy and we have a succession of curates for a couple of years or so before they move on. The best all seem to be those who were older and had held down a job elsewhere for much of their lives. All seem particularly good when dealing with the bereaved or those with problems. Real practical help not just "You should pray for help".
However, whatever I think about the present Pope, I prefer him to the Archdruid of Canterbury.

Michael said...

This is the first time since I started reading this blog that I've come away thinking that you've missed your target - both in your diagnosis of the health of the Church, and especially in your diagnosis of what the faithful think of BXVI (and indeed, whether metro-liberal opinion formers really portray with any accuracy the character of HH - thinking in particular of Mark Dowd's recent piece in the CH). Of course, nobody can claim the voice of universality on this one, but my experience does not at all attest to the gloomy picture you present, and the Pope is really quite popular for both who he is and, more particularly, what he is trying to do - the focus of genuine ire, and the perpetual drivers of apathy, are usually rather more parochial figures than the Pope.

As such, and to stretch your analogy still further, those four million Catholics waiting for a shepherd have already found him, and his name is Benedict - and his dedication to service is such that he's not likely to lay aside his crook because modern society finds it chafes a little round the neck. Indeed, if people decide that that is what they want then there is another church that will happily cater for that - though, to confound things a little, that church is not exactly in the best of health itself.

Anonymous said...

The Roman Faith has faced far greater opponents than the current crop of mutterers and twitterers.
The secular media with the help of
small time bleeding hearts like
Peter Tatchel are doing their best to outlaw Popery as they did
1580-1840.
As for disgruntled Catholics,
you know where the door is.
Oh must'nt forget the secular
warriors, try Islam for size,
on the streets , not shying away behind worn out keyboards.

Unbowed

Anonymous said...

The Roman Faith has faced far greater opponents than the current crop of mutterers and twitterers.
The secular media with the help of
small time bleeding hearts like
Peter Tatchel are doing their best to outlaw Popery as they did
1580-1840.
As for disgruntled Catholics,
you know where the door is.
Oh must'nt forget the secular
warriors, try Islam for size,
on the streets , not shying away behind worn out keyboards.

Unbowed

Budgie said...

Statements like the one you report from John Cornwell, in the Guardian, that "the church has recruited "men with unresolved sexual, social and psychological problems"", is almost enough to drive this atheist to religion. What a creepy confection of twee-ness, pomposity, neo-secularism and post-modernism all enrobed in a sauce of patronising certitude. Yuk.

Anonymous said...

Between the genuine atheist camp
and that of the believers we have
the swamp of the non committed
secular fidget who occasionally slithers out from beneath their
mainstream stone and blithers
about something that does not conform to the BBC or Guardian format.Lets all be the same,
no religion,no unions,no opinions.
no fraternities,non smoking ,non drinking,fit. hard working non
committed levelled freaks.
Planned pregnancies and assisted suicides,of the shelf humans,
programmed to watch X Factor and
Corrie with the odd break in ASDA.

Thomas Adidymus

Nick Drew said...

retired professional men, all under 60 and all well-endowed with priestly qualities

indeed, R - I have known two such, who both performed invaluable ordained service after retirement

C of E, naturally

Manganese said...

"...to express an interest in the priestly vocation today is almost akin to declaring a mental aberration."

True and not at all surprising in a society where merely to declare a belief in God is apparently an admission of mental impairment.

From the perspective of this old but lapsed Catholic, you have judged it just right.