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Monday, 1 February 2010

Pope Benedict: "Recognise dissent for what it is"


The Holy Father spoke of several key issues during his Address to the Bishops of England and Wales today. The MSM (e.g. TimesTelegraphIndependentDaily MailMirror, BBC) have zoomed in on his remarks about equality legislation:
Your country is well known for its firm commitment to equality of opportunity for all members of society. Yet as you have rightly pointed out, the effect of some of the legislation designed to achieve this goal has been to impose unjust limitations on the freedom of religious communities to act in accordance with their beliefs. In some respects it actually violates the natural law upon which the equality of all human beings is grounded and by which it is guaranteed. I urge you as Pastors to ensure that the Church’s moral teaching be always presented in its entirety and convincingly defended. Fidelity to the Gospel in no way restricts the freedom of others – on the contrary, it serves their freedom by offering them the truth.
Damian Thompson has a good analysis piece on this part of the Pope's Address: Has the Pope declared war on Labour? Predictably, the National Secular Society and Peter Tatchell's militant gay group Outrage have signalled their intention to protest at the visit.

The bit that had people cheering at the Lyceum pub this evening was:
In a social milieu that encourages the expression of a variety of opinions on every question that arises, it is important to recognize dissent for what it is, and not to mistake it for a mature contribution to a balanced and wide-ranging debate. It is the truth revealed through Scripture and Tradition and articulated by the Church’s Magisterium that sets us free.
Andrew Brown is suitably enraged by this. His article is headed "Papal aggression", making it sound like something from Punch of around 1850. His article makes the rather bold claim that "English atheism descends very clearly from protestantism" although here, he is in fact confirming the prophecy of Newman some time ago in his Apologia Pro Vita Sua. Eventually, Brown admits that the Pope was speaking in this Address to bishops, and lay Catholics after them, and observes:
In that context "dissent" has a technical meaning which makes his remarks a little less outrageous. What he is in fact trying to say is that the bishops should crack down on liberalism within their own church. "The Catholic community in your country needs to speak with a united voice."

This is important because the Catholic church in Britain has never been as divided, as it is now. Not only is it shrinking in numbers, with an ageing priesthood, but there is now a vociferous right-wing party which blames all its troubles on liberalism, wet bishops, and the lack of Latin masses. The division lies roughly between the Catholic Herald, on the right, and the Tablet on the left.
(Apropos, a correspondent directed me to a recently-started website set up to respond to one group of dissenting Catholics: Reclaiming Vatican II - Our Council, Our Church. They are not on the Tablet side of the division, you understand.)

At the website of the Bishops' Conference, you can also read the Address to the Holy Father given by Archbishop Vincent Nichols In the course of this address, Archbishop Nichols says:
At this time we appreciate your concern for the dignity and reverence with which the Mass is celebrated. This is a central part of the life of every priest and bishop and we are committed to constant effort in this regard. In particular the new translations of the Roman Missal offer us an opportune moment to deepen our appreciation of the Mass. Through catechesis we can renew our reception of the richness of the Church’s faith through the ages which, in faithfulness, is now handed on to us in these texts.
He also speaks of the human person and says that the important truths should shape economic and social policy, adding:
First among these are, of course, the respect for life from its beginnings and the crucial role of marriage and family for the well-being not only of children but also for the good of society.
Concerning the person of the Holy Father, the Archbishop says:
We are proud of the strong tradition of profound loyalty to the Holy Father which is part of our heritage in England and Wales. It is very much a feature of our Catholic life.
I am not going to go into the question of how much these statements are actually reflected in the life of the local Church; let me simply observe that Archbishop Nichols was addressing the Holy Father formally on behalf of the bishops of England and Wales, representing the Catholic Church in our countries. Therefore, to express profound loyalty to the Holy Father, to give the pro-life and pro-family cause first priority, to want the Sacred Liturgy celebrated with dignity and reverence, and to welcome the new translations: these are not the marks of right wingers, conservatives, or fundamentalists; they are not a rejection of Vatican II, a retreat to the past, or an obstruction to progress. They are not confined to the readers of the Catholic Herald or to the writers of Catholic blogs. They are the policy of the Bishops' Conference and, as such, should be considered as mainstream for Catholics in England and Wales. It's official.
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