Facing down the Catholic Church’s crocodile
Western People 25th August 2020
Last week in this column, in commenting on the on-going war being waged in the Church today for the heart and soul of Catholicism, I suggested that ‘the recognition and attention heretofore lavished on those who oppose reform have reaped a bitter whirlwind and given undue deference to ultra-traditional Catholics who campaign for the status quo’.
Worse still, I continued, ‘their analysis, presented in the form of loyalty and support, has been widely adopted as holy writ by a harassed church leadership’.
Some of that whirlwind was evident on the following weekend, when the decision to suspend the Knock ceremonies on August 15 in the interests of health and safety of pilgrims in these COVID-19 times, brought a cohort of extreme ‘Christians’, as they described themselves, to Knock protesting against the suspension of the ceremonies and later to Ballyhaunis, protesting against friendly relations with the Muslim community.
The tactic was to lambast bishops and priests, accusing them of heresy, shouting scurrilous comments at them, filming their speeches and using social media to publicise their protests.
And all the while proclaiming their devotion to ‘our mother Mary’, whom I suspect was none too happy with their shenanigans.
The religio-political cocktail that emerged from the bizarre speeches suggest that an anti-immigration platform is a key part of their philosophy coupled with the most extreme ultra-right Catholic grouping so far. So far, in this jurisdiction the anti-immigration lobby has made very little political progress and has been widely rejected by the electorate in their few outings. Now, it would seem, an effort is being made to wed the anti-immigration platform to whatever groups in Irish society have become progressively frustrated in recent years, including Catholic extremist, in order to build some kind of populist movement.
Social media – an often bizarre compendium of extreme opinions, many of them almost off the radar entirely – provide a handy platform for publicising protest and giving the impression that particular pressure groups in generating publicity for themselves are more representative of public opinion than they are.
The most recent tactic, if the shenanigans of the August 15 weekend are any indication, seems to be to bring on board the support of extremely extreme Catholics who are unhappy that bishops and priests are not supporting their extreme requirements.
There’s a very clear message here for church leaders. The tactic of indulging traditional Catholics in the belief that they were ultra-loyal to Catholicism and to the Catholic Church has badly misfired. Church leaders sandwiched between Catholics demanding reform and Catholics insisting on ‘no change’ tended to opt for supporting the latter group.
This meant that the most bizarre and freakish Catholic groups seemed to have a hot-line to local bishops and even to papal nuncios in a way that wasn’t available to people and priests who were seeking to implement the vision of the Second Vatican Council.
The effort to appease traditional groups was, unfortunately, a case of Churchill’s famous ‘feeding the crocodile’ syndrome in World War II. Churchill accused neutral countries of remaining neutral in the hope that Hitler and Germany would let them be – for the present. But, as Churchill argued, trying to appease a crocodile, is just postponing the inevitable.
Catholic Church leaders thought that responding to traditional Catholic groups, like those demanding the Latin Mass, would appease them but recent developments seem to suggest that the crocodile will never be appeased. As can be seen in the recent activities at Knock and Ballyhaunis when bishops were roundly condemned for ensuring that, in the face of a dangerous pandemic, they took appropriate though difficult decisions to protect the healthy and safety of pilgrims.
This example of the crocodile syndrome was, of course, foreseen by bishops are far back as 1980 when a Vatican poll of the world’s bishops concluded, in relation to the Latin Mass, that ‘an eventual concession to use the Tridentine Rite (the Latin Mass) would mark the beginning of an attitude of defiance towards all that was established by the Second Vatican Council’.
That’s exactly what happened, as Bishop Robert Barron discovered to his cost. A constant presence on Twitter, Bishop Barron is a great Catholic explainer and encourager, with great respect for traditional Catholics. That was until he commented in one tweet that Catholics had to accept the documents of Vatican Two because they had been agreed by a pope and the Catholic bishops of the world in a general council.
That’s when Aughrim was lost! It didn’t go down well with some American Catholics that Pope Francis is right in reforming the Church along the lines of Vatican Two as this doesn’t fit with a particular version of American Catholicism.
The war being waged in the Church today for the heart and soul of Catholicism goes on at local level too where priests (and bishops) receive the brunt of criticism of very traditional Catholics. They demand, bully and harass priests whom they expect to dance to their particular tunes. A recent example is a refusal of some Catholics to receive Communion except on the tongue. Priests have been instructed by church and civil authorities and medical experts in deference to the health and safety safeguards during the pandemic. And yet priests are being criticised, pressurised and, in some cases, bullied by Catholics demanding their rights, even if it means putting their fellow-communicants in danger of contracting a deadly virus.
It’s time that this particular crocodile was faced down.