Last week there was news a group of theologians, clergy and others, including Fr. Aidan Nichols, OP and Fr. John Hunwicke, had signed a 20-page letter accusing Pope Francis of heresy and asking the bishops of the Catholic Church to act.
We have great affection for Fr. Aidan Nichols whom many of us met personally in 2011 when he addressed a conference aimed at Anglicans interested in a possible ordinariate. He’s shown above with then Bishop Peter Wilkinson of the Anglican Catholic Church of Canada. He is now Msgr. Peter Wilkinson and retired in Victoria, B.C.
Upon reading the news of the letter I felt like I was trying to navigate between the Scylla of heresy and the Charydis of schism. I do not like this tension between the Catholic faith as handed down from the Apostles and loyalty to the Pope who is a sign of unity and Communion. The Pope should be the guarantor of that Catholic and Apostolic faith, and that is the reason why he is a sign of unity. When I became Catholic I was not required to believe the Pope is an oracle of the Holy Spirit and everything he says on a plane or in a private letter is directly the voice of God. There are limits on the definition of papal infallibility. In some quarters, however, you would never know that. Seems those most dissident under Pope Benedict XVI are singing the oracle song today.
I, and probably most others in the Ordinariates for Catholics of Anglican tradition, have the utmost respect and affection for Fr. Nichols, who supported our project from the beginning, and for Fr. Hunwicke, whose blog is often a source of insight and good humor.
Dorothy Cummings Maclean over at LifeSiteNews.com has a report on the various reactions to the document, pro and con.
That article has links both to the original letter and to the reactions, so if you are interested in delving further, check it out.
I was reminded of Pope-emeritus Benedict XVI’s recent 6,000 letter regarding the sexual abuse crisis and his comments about the Catholic Church:
Indeed, the Church today is widely regarded as just some kind of political apparatus. One speaks of it almost exclusively in political categories, and this applies even to bishops, who formulate their conception of the church of tomorrow almost exclusively in political terms. The crisis, caused by the many cases of clerical abuse, urges us to regard the Church as something almost unacceptable, which we must now take into our own hands and redesign. But a self-made Church cannot constitute hope.
Jesus Himself compared the Church to a fishing net in which good and bad fish are ultimately separated by God Himself. There is also the parable of the Church as a field on which the good grain that God Himself has sown grows, but also the weeds that “an enemy” secretly sown onto it. Indeed, the weeds in God’s field, the Church, are excessively visible, and the evil fish in the net also show their strength. Nevertheless, the field is still God’s field and the net is God’s fishing net. And at all times, there are not only the weeds and the evil fish, but also the crops of God and the good fish. To proclaim both with emphasis is not a false form of apologetics, but a necessary service to the Truth.
I’m not saying the critics are calling for a new Church. God forbid. Some on Twitter are calling for them to be disciplined though. I hope that doesn’t happen.
What’s a good, faithful Catholic to do? The advice I was given was: “avoid extremes.”
On another note.
On Saturday, I attended the New Evangelization Summit in Ottawa, an annual event that draws top-notch speakers who are involved in bringing the Good News of Jesus Christ to lapsed Catholics and unbelievers. I spent the day yesterday writing up several stories about the event for Catholic papers.
About 700 people packed the conference hall in Ottawa and hundreds of others—an estimated 4,000 people total—watched the talks from 56 host sites around North America.
Cardinal Gerald Cyprien Lacroix, Archbishop of Quebec and Primate of Canada, kicked off the day May 4 with a talk about how to navigate the current troubles challenging the Church, specifically the clerical sexual abuse scandals. His talk was liberally sprinkled with quotes from Pope Francis and he made two basic points: return to your first love, Jesus Christ, seek ever deeper conversion to Him every day because this is the only way to face life’s challenges and evangelize; and stay unified, remembering that we are a People and that salvation is not only individual but corporate—that we are the Body of Christ, and when one member suffers, we all suffer. His talk was a big hit with the crowd.
I know a lot of the people who attended the Summit and am familiar with the apostolates they lead. None of them would promote heresy such as progressive attempts to have women in Holy Orders, or to change the language of the Catechism on issues of sexual morality. I would hazard an educated guess that most of them would agree with Humanae Vitae and practice NFP. They are not, however, liturgically conservative. They are mostly charismatic Catholics, who like contemporary praise and worship. And I got the impression they would think we in our parish, with our Divine Worship traditional liturgy, are tending a museum at risk of becoming a mausoleum and that maybe we should throw out our old fashioned stuff and get a good praise and worship band or something.
Much of the focus of these ministries is to bring people to that first encounter with Jesus Christ, to accept Him as savior and Lord. It’s about going out and meeting people where they are; making the Gospel relevant —though I didn’t get the impression any of them wanted to water it down. Pope Francis provides much encouragement for this kind of mission. And I have to admit our liturgical services are more for finders than for seekers, for those who already know Jesus and want spiritual depth and meat instead of milk.
Fr. James Mallon, of Divine Renovation, spoke of three levels of conversion that are necessary: conversion to Jesus Christ; conversion to the Catholic Church; and conversion to becoming a missionary disciple.
The first stage is similar to what evangelical Protestants do, and I was delighted to see some evangelical friends attending the Summit. I think what makes people nervous is whether the second stage—conversion to the Catholic Church and what that entails—is being glossed over. Many of a more traditional bent would not be convinced this is a good thing.
Let’s hope once a person comes to experience Jesus Christ, they are then open to proper formation so as to also accept that the Catholic Church is the Church of Jesus Christ and her teachings go back to the Apostles.
I think Pope Francis aims at the first level of conversion and perhaps that’s why those concerned about the second and third levels are concerned, because he could seem to be treating those levels as unimportant. I don’t know.
But I do find it instructive that many joyful, serious Catholics engaging in evangelism, in sharing the Good News, love their Pope and carry on as if all is right in the Vatican.
Back in the days before the printing press, people had no idea what the Pope was up to on a day to day basis. I learned a while back that being upset and appalled and scandalized was not evidence of the fruits of the Spirit, so I stopped allowing myself to react that way. Whether right or wrong, it’s my way of navigating in this difficult time in the Church.