Crisis on Does History Repeat with Amoris Laetitia Confusion?

A comment by  EPMS yesterday reminded me of this article I had seen on Crisis Magazine’s site  Does History Repeat with Amoris Laetitia Confusion? by Deacon Jim Russell.

EPMS wrote:

As we have discussed before, Humanae Vitae has been effectively rejected by over 90 percent of Catholics of reproductive age. It doesn’t generate conferences, because the non-compliance is private. Although the current generous approach to annulments has somewhat masked the problem of marriage breakdown among Catholics, divorce is not something a pastor can gloss over with the same “don’t ask, don’t tell” approach, owing to its public nature. And the divorce rate is 28% among US Catholics. That’s a lot of people.

When we came into the Catholic Church, we were expected to assent to the Catholic Church’s teachings on artificial contraception.  EPMS, do you think because 90 per cent of Catholics of reproductive age ignore a teaching of the Catholic Church, then the sensus fidei of “the people” has spoken and the doctrine is a dead letter?

That is certainly not what was required of us in order to enter the Catholic Church.  It made me a little angry at the time because cradle Catholics get away with so much—can believe whatever they want, do whatever they want, but they are part of the family.  But to get into the Catholic Church and fulfill the honest requirements (I say honest requirements, because it is always possible to parish shop and find a priest and an RCIA program that would slip you in with your heresies intact, but we as a community were not like that.  If we said we believed, we studied what we were believing and we assented.

One cradle Catholic who said she was never told contraception was wrong until years into her marriage said we are blessed to have had this rigorous catechesis, but I digress.

Deacon Russell writes:

Now, it was only about thirty years earlier (December 1930) that Pope Pius XI’s marriage encyclical Casti Connubii had taught quite clearly that contraception was always and everywhere morally wrong, but because the Pill’s mechanism was indirect, relative to marital relations, Catholics of all kinds began questioning whether the Pill might be morally okay, followed by theologians and bishops beginning to ask whether, given the “aggiornamento” underway, all contraceptives might be permissible, given the global overpopulation panic.

This questioning of Church teaching continued parallel to the official convening of the Second Vatican Council in 1962, and it was pretty self-evident that the Council Fathers (especially those desiring change) were quite ready and willing to engage the divisive contraception question at the conciliar level.

Council, Commission, Conflict, Intrigue
So, in early 1963, Pope St. John XXIII opted to redirect the simmering birth control question to a smallish separate papal commission. Yet, his death on June 3, 1963, put both the council and the commission on hold, until both were taken up again—and the commission expanded—by his successor Blessed Pope Paul VI later that year.

Meanwhile, the controversy over birth control in the Church was gaining even greater momentum and attracting more attention from the already-divided body of Council Fathers. Some theologians and bishops were already proclaiming that contraception was not in fact contrary to natural law and were battling over the Church’s teaching that procreation and education of children was the “primary end” of marriage (resulting in the ambiguous compromise language on marriage’s ends found in the documents). Retreating from these “outdated” principles would make room for a change in teaching, contraception advocates thought.

The whole thing is very much worth the read.

In my 13 years as a reporter writing for Catholic papers and thus covering various Catholic movements, bishops, documents and so on, I have observed the following:  the couples that do not practice artificial contraception seem to have the happiest marriages.

Before I took on this job, it was rare for me to encounter a family with more than three children, though a couple who introduced me to the Baptist Church and lived next door to me for a while had four lovely children.

I remember early on attending an Opus Dei family picnic near Montreal, and seeing many many families with four or more children.  And it impressed me how loving the siblings were with each other and how generally well-behaved but happy the children were.

Now I have many friends with families of five to 10 children.

It is interesting to read Deacon Russell’s article to see how many controversies were at play at the time of Humanae Vitae.  There were even cardinals who publicly dissented from the document, among them Cardinal Leo Suenens, who, as an aside, is very popular among charismatic Catholics since he reputedly prayed in tongues.  In Canada, the bishops signed the Winnipeg Statement that basically told Canadian Catholics to let their consciences be their guide when it came to birth control.

Here’s what Wikipedia has to say about Cardinal Suenens dissent.  

Cardinal Leo Joseph Suenens, a moderator of the ecumenical council, questioned, “whether moral theology took sufficient account of scientific progress, which can help determine, what is according to nature. I beg you my brothers let us avoid another Galileo affair. One is enough for the Church.”[34] In an interview in Informations Catholiques Internationales on 15 May 1969, he criticized the Pope’s decision again as frustrating the collegiality defined by the Council,[35] calling it a non-collegial or even an anti-collegial act.[36] He was supported by Vatican II theologians such as Karl Rahner, Hans Küng, and several bishops, including Christopher Butler, who called it one of the most important contributions to contemporary discussion in the Church.[37]

All very interesting, and it all goes to show none of the controversies going on now represent anything new.

Lay scholars respond to Amoris Laetitia

I have been most interested in a conference that took place at the Hotel Columbus in Rome, almost in the shadow of the Dome of St. Peter’s.  At this conference six lay scholars from as many different countries responded to the crisis they say has been engendered by multiple and contradictory responses to Pope Francis’ post-synodal Apostolic Exhortation Amoris Laetitia.

I was especially interested because a Canadian Catholic theologian and, I believe, former Anglican Douglas Farrow, who teaches Christian Thought at McGill university was one of the speakers.  Farrow I consider a modern-day Canadian prophet.  He does not mince words and he courageously calls things as he sees them. That doesn’t make him popular.

Veteran Vaticanista Sandro Magister published all the talks here at his Settimo Cielo blog.  You can read Farrow’s talk in full there.   I also found Australian Patristic scholar Anna M. Silvas’ talk most interesting.

One of my favorite Vatican journalists, Edward Pentin, has this story on the conference at The National Catholic Register:

The Canadian professor, who quoted among others St. Iranaeus and Cardinal Robert Sarah, then spoke about the doctrinal roots of the crisis, and that “perhaps the greatest challenge” facing the Church today is “to lift its eyes from earth to heaven; from ‘discernment of situations’ to discernment of God.”  He addressed how scripture has been divided from scripture, scripture from tradition, and how tradition is regarded with suspicion:

“The outright rejection of Pascendi Dominici Gregis [Pope St. Pius X’s encyclical against modernism] marks a turning point of sorts in Catholicism, after which it became at least conceivable that Humanae Vitae and Veritatis Splendor [Pope St. John Paul II’s encyclical on the fundamentals of the Church’s moral teaching] should also be rejected, and that we should eventually be presented with a puzzle like Amoris Laetitia, which both is and (in a few spots) isn’t obviously part of the Great Tradition.”

Consequently, he said, the function of the magisterium has been thrown into doubt and the “new voice of authority is that of the conscience, to which revelation, as vouchsafed in scripture and tradition, is merely a guide and not a governor.”

We underwent so much catechesis about tradition and about papal infallibility and the magisterium in the run-up to becoming Catholic.  We had to sign on the dotted line.

It seems odd to me—and for a while was disconcerting–that so many of the things I had to commit to believing in order to become Catholic are now being called into question by the current debates swirling around this document.

I am so grateful that Bishop Steven Lopes of the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter has interpreted Amoris Laetitia in the light of tradition and the constant magisterium of the Church on marriage and the Eucharist.

On Rod Dreher’s The Benedict Option

The New Yorker has a deliciously long piece about Rod Dreher’s latest book The Benedict Option by Joshua Rothman. Well worth the most-enjoyable read.  An example:

He and his wife converted to Eastern Orthodoxy, and, with a few other families, opened their own Orthodox mission church, near St. Francisville, sending away for a priest. It was Dreher’s Orthodox priest, Father Matthew, who laid down the law. “He said, ‘You have no choice as a Christian: you’ve got to love your dad even if he doesn’t love you back in the way that you want him to,’ ” Dreher recalled. “ ‘You cannot stand on justice: love matters more than justice, because the higher justice is love.’ ” When Dreher struggled to master his feelings, Father Matthew told him to perform a demanding Orthodox ritual called the Optina Rule. He recited the Jesus Prayer—“Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner”—hundreds of times a day.

Two life-changing events occurred after Dreher began the regimen of prayer. He was alone at home one evening, lying in bed, when he sensed a presence in the room. “I felt a hand reach inside my heart and put a stone there,” he said. “And I could see, in some interior way, that the stone said, ‘God loves me.’ I’d doubted all my life that God really loved me.” A few months later, Dreher stopped by his dad’s house to organize his medications. Ray was sitting on the porch, reading the newspaper and drinking coffee. When Dreher leaned down to kiss him on the cheek, his father grabbed him by the arm. Tears were in his eyes. “He was stammering,” Dreher recalled. “He said, ‘I—I—I spent a long time talking to the Lord last night about you, and the transgressions I did against you. And I told him I was sorry. And I think he heard me.’ ” Recounting the story in the back seat of the car en route to D.C., Dreher still seemed astonished that this had happened. “I kissed him, and said, ‘I love you.’ ”

I have not read the book yet, though I regularly read Dreher’s blog over at The American Conservative and have read many reviews of and reactions to The Benedict Option.

Shane Shaetzel recently wrote about it over at his blog Catholic in the Ozarks and the book’s relevance to to Catholics.

The Catholic parish must be revived, or rebuilt, to become a truly communal place, as it was originally meant to be. Catholics can no longer look at Catholicism as just one aspect of their lives. Rather, they must now look at it as their entire lives. Catholicism can no longer influence us. It must define us, and yes, the local Catholic parish is the key to making this whole thing work. Without it, any attempt at a Benedict Option will fail miserably. So with that said, what are some things Catholic families can do to bring the Benedict Option to your local Catholic parish…

Ordinariate parishes and communities may have the disadvantage of having members who live far away from the church where Sunday Mass is held.  But some of the ways Ordinariate members can deepen their sense of community is through the practice Morning and Evening Prayer every day—and, when possible in families, or with some neighbors.  There is a button up  on the right-hand side of the blog that says in green:  Morning and Evening Prayer. Click on that button and it’ll take you to John Covert’s excellent site that lays out for you all the Psalms, readings and collects of the day.  John is a member of the Boston area group that has combined the former Anglican Use parish of St. Athanasius with St. Gregory the Great, an ordinariate parish under Fr. Jurgen Liias who retired.

Anyone want to chime in on the Benedict Option and what role if any Ordinariate communities can play in becoming arks to ride the flood of modernity?

UPDATE:    Rod Dreher responds to the New Yorker article on his blog here.


Ordinariate Outreach to Seekers

IMG_20170423_140343I have often thought of my parish Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin Mary as an end point for seekers—a “Finder’s religion.”  It has everything I searched long and hard for over many years: beautiful worship; wonderful priests and a bishop who believe what they pray and preach: great preaching and teaching; clergy open to the supernatural gifts of the Holy Spirit, and a real community of believers—truly the Cheers of Churches where everybody knows your name.   And!  it is fully Catholic so I am at home in any Catholic Church anywhere in the world.

Why aren’t people lining up around the corner to get in?

As someone who had to try many other religions and places of worship while I was seeking what I have contentedly found, I have often wondered how Annunciation would have affected me at earlier stages in my search.   Would I have run away in horror at the all male priesthood?  How would the reciting together of set prayers have affected me?   As a bunch of rote praying similar to spinning a Tibetan Prayer Wheel and as efficacious?  How would I have reacted to being told, “No, sorry, you can’t receive Holy Communion because . . .”   How would the unpolitical-correctness of it all have struck me say 30 years ago?  I might have been repelled because I was not ready yet.

In a conversation with a board member the other day, we discussed outreach to non-Ordinariate members and he said the best thing to do is look at what type of people predominate in your area and gear your outreach to meet their needs.  If it is in the South, maybe you are surrounded by Baptists—so what would appeal to them?  If you are in the Boston area, maybe you are surrounded by lapsed Catholics—how do you reach out to them?

One group that is growing in size are those who say, “I’m spiritual but not religious.”  They do not feel the need to go to church or to belong  but they pray from time to time, they believe in God, they believe in the supernatural, but their beliefs are all over the map, inconsistent and even contradictory. They certainly do not want to abide by any moral strictures handed down from some authority they do not accept.

Hey!   That was me 35 years ago.


I would love to hear what your parish or community is doing to appeal to the “spiritual but not religious” crowd out there probably right within walking distance in your neighborhood.

Here are a few things we do in Ottawa.

Continue reading

Going against the flow to preserve our Anglican tradition


Yesterday, an interesting discussion arose on a social media thread about whether or not the observance of Ascension Day was being transferred for the Anglican Ordinariate in North America to the following Sunday, per the general practice of the USCCB.

As the Ordinariate of the Chair of St Peter’s 2016-2017 Ordo confirms, “Upon the recommendation of the Governing Council on 9 June 2016, Bishop Lopes has decreed that the following Solemnities will be observed as Holy Days of Obligation in the Ordinariate of the Chair of Saint Peter: …Thursday of the Sixth Week of Easter, Solemnity of the Ascension (kept on its traditional date forty days after Easter, nine days before Whitsunday)…” On Thursday, May 25th, it lists “ASCENSION OF THE LORD. Solemnity. HDO”, leaving Sunday the 28th as the Seventh Sunday as Easter.

Many Catholics of a more traditional formation deeply resent the common practice of episcopal conferences in routinely transferring certain fixed feast days to the nearest Sunday, seeing it as one of the Church’s more lamentable concessions to the secular world’s low prioritization of religious observance. It is becoming more widely recognized, however, that this is not only a function of our loss of faith but encourages it.

As a result, there are some dioceses and regions where these feast days are not transferred but are kept on their traditional, logical, Biblical dates. The Feast of the Ascension, for example, was not arbitrarily set for the Thursday in the sixth week of Easter by a committee of episcopal conference functionaries, but was determined two thousand years ago by the Ascension of our Lord forty days after His Resurrection.

As this debate plays out on social media forums amongst Catholics of various rite and jurisdiction, it is of the Anglican custom that we in the ordinariates are to be mindful. Anglicans have traditionally marked Ascension Day on its proper Thursday, and have not been accustomed to its bizarre and anachronistic celebration on a Sunday. One Anglican custom is the singing of motets to the rising sun at dawn on the rooftops of cathedrals and collegiate edifices (as seen in the photo above taken atop Wells Cathedral a few years ago on Ascension Day morning – photo credit to Iain MacLeod-Jones). The unmistakeable symbolism is undermined and downgraded by its being moved to a few days later. Continue reading

Mark C. responds to Shane on English Catholicism

Mark C’s comment in response to Shane Shaetzel’s post on The Rise of English Catholicism is too good to leave in the comments section in case some readers miss it.  So, I am copying and pasting it in full here:


First, Shane is right about Sacred English being an important element of English Catholicism. But it is far from the only one. Yes, the liturgy (if it is not to be said in Latin) should be said in a sacral, hieratic form of language – either a separate liturgical language, or a distinct, higher liturgical dialect of the usual vernacular. For reasons why, see this document from the Benedict XVI-era Vatican. Indeed, almost all liturgical traditions, within Christianity and beyond, accept this principle. Orthodox worship does not use (or did not until very recently) modern Greek or Russian, but Koine / Attic Greek and Old Slavonic. Orthodox Jewish worship doesn’t use modern Israeli Hebrew (and kept using classical Hebrew even when the vernacular language of the Jewish community was Aramaic or Yiddish or Ladino). Hindu worship uses Sanskrit, not Hindi. In English, the language of the BCP and the KJV is our sacred vernacular, and this is recognized well beyond the bounds of the Anglican communion (as evidenced by the common translation of the Our Father Shane discusses), even if it was better preserved in the Anglican Prayer Book tradition than in most other corners of the English-speaking Church. Therefore, one of the gifts the Ordinariate brings to the Catholic Church in the English speaking world is the opportunity to experience worship in the sacred vernacular, just as Summorum Pontificum and the Ecclesia Dei communities give Catholics the opportunity to experience worship in the Catholic Church’s universal sacred language of Latin.

But English Catholicism is about much, much more than the use of Sacred English. It is about the prayer book form of the daily office, both for private devotion and public celebration of Mattins and Evensong. It is about sacred music, including both the English choral and chant traditions of Byrd, Tallis, and Merbecke, and the later flourishing of English hymnody under the likes of J.M. Neale, Dearmer, and Vaughan Williams. It is about a patristic approach to theology and scholarship flowing out of Oxford and Cambridge. It is about the English medieval mystical tradition of Julian of Norwich, the Cloud of Unknowing, etc., later appropriated by Anglicans and Catholics alike.

It is also wrong to say, as Shane does, that English Catholicism “hasn’t existed since the 16th century.” If English Catholicism was simply about reviving something that had died out 500 years ago, there would be little point to it. It would be like trying to revive the North African Catholicism of St. Augustine’s day. The point is English Catholicism continued to exist, but in a broken, fragmented, often hidden state, within both High Church Anglicanism and recusant English Roman Catholicism, and that Anglicans and Catholics have continued to find much good in the English Catholic tradition that has nurtured their faith. The Ordinariate should be an effort to revive English Catholicism in its fullness, bringing together all of its strands and applying them to the mission of the Church today. That may begin with the Divine Worship form of liturgy and the use of Sacred English, but it would be a real shame if it stops there.

Catholic in the Ozarks on English Catholicism

Shane Shaetzel has another great post over at Catholic in the Ozarks on the The Rise of English Catholicism

As is pointed out here, what we have embodied in the Ordinariates and Divine Worship is the authentic Anglican Patrimony as restored English Catholicism, as it has developed from the time of St. Augustine of Canterbury until now. It is, in a very real sense, the heritage of every English-speaking Catholic in the world. This may sound strange to some, but its not so foreign when we consider how much the Anglican Patrimony already plays into Catholicism in the English-speaking world, even outside the Ordinariates. For example; when we pray the Lord’s Prayer during the vernacular English Novus Ordo mass, this is how it’s commonly said or chanted…

Our Father, who art in heaven,
hallowed be thy name;
thy kingdom come,
thy will be done
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread,
and forgive us our trespasses,
as we forgive those who trespass against us;
and lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil.

Take note of the Sacred English words “art” and “thy.” It’s exactly the same in Divine Worship. How very interesting that Rome saw fit to translate the Lord’s Prayer into Sacred English, even in the 1970s vernacular translation that uses Common English (or “modern” English). I mean, think about it. The words “art” and “thy” appear nowhere else in the English vernacular Novus Ordo mass. They only appear in this prayer, and that’s because it’s an appeal to our linguistic history and heritage — our Anglican Patrimony. English-speaking Catholics have been using Sacred English for this prayer, straight out of the Anglican prayerbooks, officially in the mass, ever since the vernacular English translation was commissioned in the 1970s.

However, it’s been going on a lot longer than that — unofficially. Pick up just about any copy of the Daily Roman Missal 1962 and what you’ll find is the old Tridentine mass officially in Latin on one side of the page, translated unofficially into Sacred English (not Common English) on the other side of the page. For decades prior to the Novus Ordo mass, English-speaking (Anglophone) Catholics learnt the “Our Father,” “Hail Mary,” and “Glory Be,” and scores of other prayers in Sacred English. The same is true of the first English translations of the Catholic Bible. I’m speaking specifically of the Douay-Rheims Bible, which is entirely in Sacred English, just like the Anglican King James Version. In fact all English Bibles, produced in previous centuries, used some variation of Sacred English, commonly found in Anglican prayer books, because that was THE standard for all English religious text. Every English-speaker knows this deep down inside. Sacred English is the language of poetry, music and theatre. It always has been. It is our most treasured vernacular, because it represents the highest and most precise diction the language has to offer. We offer God only our best, and that is why it’s called Sacred English, or as the Anglicans sometimes say “Prayerbook English.”

Go on over and read the whole thing!