Who are we?

Just before Christmas last year, a number of conservative cardinals went public about their frustration at getting no response from the Pope to a request in April for clarification on 5 points arising from “Amoris Laetitia”. These points have caused them, they say, “confusion and disorientation”. There does not seem to me to be much to debate, but I wonder whether they have read John 8:7-

he that is without sin among you let him first cast a stone at her

The five points or doubts (dubia) are these:

  1. can the adulterous (those currently in an unrecognised marriage, more uxorio) receive holy communion?
  2. are there absolute moral norms that must be followed without exception?
  3. is adultery an “objective situation of grave habitual sin”?
  4. can “circumstances or intentions” make an “intrisically evil act” something that is “subjectively good”? (this seems, they say, to contradict the John Paul II encyclical “Veritatis Splendor”
  5. can one act on conscience against “absolute moral norms that prohibit intrinsically evil acts”?

The first of the 5 dubia is a pastoral question and specifically refers to a request for confession prior to receiving communion. In fact, Pope John Paul II already allowed for the remarried to return to the Church in “Familiaris Consortio” if they decided no longer to live together more uxorio (not a big issue after a few years, maybe), and they tried to avoid scandal. In fact this is no more than a clarification of Canon 915 that communion should only be witheld from those who “obstinately persist in manifest grave sin.” But it is not at all clear from what Pope John Paul writes whether abstinence or the avoidance of scandal is the more important issue.

What Pope Francis has done consistently, however, is to promote a Catholic version of Orthodox “economia” with his statement “who am I to judge?” That, in turn, has a fairly strong biblical backing in John 8:7. It is also rooted deeply in Catholic pastoral work and can be found throughout the Church. It is this principle, for example, that allows a Priest I know in Poland, for instance, to live as a parent (and a very good parent) during the week, while still saying Sunday Mass – esssentially, it is a matter of his discretion and Parish acceptance. Not only does he take communion- he officiates, but he avoids scandal. Whether he lives with the mother of his child more uxorio is a matter for them. Similarly, it was not the fact that he lived with his housekeeper that caused the downfall of the late prelate of St Etheldreda’s – that relationship was never spoken about and did not cause scandal – what went on or did not behind closed doors was a matter for the individuals concerned, and God.

People, and certainly people in the Church, make too many assumptions about what happens in the bedroom. John Paul II has already provided an answer. It needs clarification and Pope Francis has made a small move towards that clarification.

The 4 subsequent “dubia”, however, are loaded and so far, the Pope has failed to respond.

For what it counts, I think the second point is also an instance of “economia”- that there is a difference between the way we understand and implement the law and the way God might. If we take the Christian emphasis on love seriously, we cannot be so judgemental. I would also question whether the acts in question could ever be described as “intrinsically” evil. Adultery might be unwise, improper, unfair, selfish- but rarely “intrinsically evil”! Meanwhile, the Church has tried to weather the storm, insisting on the one hand that essential doctrine has not changed and on the other hand allowing civilly-divorced and remarried couples to communion in Argentina (at the specific request of Bishop Angel José Macin), Malta, Germany and Belgium. Bishops in Canada and Poland (however muvch they may turn a blind eye to what their own Priests are doing) continue to take a more stringent view leading the 4 Cardinals to conclude, “And so it is happening — how painful it is to see this! — that what is sin in Poland is good in Germany, that what is prohibited in the archdiocese of Philadelphia is permitted in Malta. And so on. One is reminded of the bitter observation of B. Pascal: ‘Justice on this side of the Pyrenees, injustice on the other; justice on the left bank of the river, injustice on the right bank.'”

What the 4 Cardinals want is not in fact clarification, but rather, in Cardinal Raymond Burke’s words, for the Pope to make “A formal act of correction of a serious error”.

4 cardinals by tim

I am sure this is not the only issue the Cardinals have with the current Pontiff. A few months ago, he condemned attempts by Catholics to convert the Orthodox as a “grave sin”. That did not stop a scurrilous Catholic press from digging around to unearth the details of canon 751 which states, “schism is the refusal of submission to the Supreme Pontiff or of communion with the members of the Church subject to him.”

Now, I should have thought that bullying the reigning Pontiff to retract details in his own encyclical comes fairly close to a statement that the Pope is in error- more than a whiff of schism in its own right, then from this mitred quartet!

Now, in fact, the Pope answered the Dubia in an interview with “Avvenire”. He spoke fairly generally but he went on record with the following statement,

“The Church exists only as an instrument for the communication of God’s merciful plan to the people. During the Council, the Church felt it had the responsibility to be a living sign of the Father’s love in the world. In the ‘Lumen Gentium’, it went back to the origins of its nature, the Gospel. This shifts the axis of Christianity away from a certain kind of legalism which can be ideological, towards the Person of God, who became mercy through the incarnation of the Son. Some still fail to grasp the point. They see things as black or white, even though it is in the course of life that we are called to discern.”

Of course, if the 4 Cardinals so wished, I suppose they could persuade Benedict to emerge from his library and tell the world he was still Pope and had been coerced into resigning. That would make “Amoris Laetitia” null and void and poses a much more interesting question about what we should do with the AntiPope Francis… but somehow, (a) I do not think this is a realistic scenario and (b) I rather like the Franciscan emphasis on mercy above all else.

Let the doubters believe! Who are we to cast the first stone?

 

Exhibition day

RATCLIFFE EXHIBITION DAY: Summer 2016

I was asked to give out prizes this year, and this is the text of the speech I gave. I also had projections and the accompanying images give an idea of these though they were also animated.

I want to congratulate all those who won prizes today- and also, as Fr President observed this morning, those who did not- but who clearly have been working very hard. And Anna- I don’t want to sound like Simon Cowell but this afternoon, you have made that Sondheim song entirely your own. Congratulations one and all!

 

Now, I want to talk about change.

Heraclitus

We often find it hard to adjust to demands for change. But we are all as any mathematician, – or indeed as Heraclitus or Pocahontas might have said, in a state of flux. We cannot step in the same river twice. You know the song, “Once more round the river bend” – frankly, Disney says it just as well as the ancient greeks.

pocahontas

The demand OF constant change is uncertainty. Check out the Maths which is appearing on the screen to my right! Maths might help us understand what is happening but it is often experiences from the past that can help negotiate this uncertainty.

maths

So, I hope you will indulge me, if I talk about an event when I was a boy here at Ratcliffe. When I was doing the Oxbridge exams and in the same week a production of Merchant of Venice, and I was caught shouting at the cricket pavilion. This was not an architectural statement.  Rather, a pointless and a slightly loud display of fury and the then headmaster, Fr Anthony Baxter, took me into his office and suggested I should accept as providential things that I could not control. (Incidentally, I cannot quite control the projection of the maths – those of you who have just finished the Maths A level will agree that maths happens at its own pace. We must be patient.)

rosmini

 

Fr Baxter urged me to follow the example of Rosmini, the man who imagined setting up this school in the first place. Antonio Rosmini was really a tremendous writer who incidentally had irritated Vatican bigwigs and had made powerful enemies. but it was the march of history that was his chief adversary. A few years before his death, he was due to be created Cardinal secretary of state by Pius IX but even as he received a set of buttons specially embossed with his family coat of arms, The pope went into exile and Rosmini’s preferment went up in smoke. Now this is the point: and I checked it yesterday with Fr Ted but neither he nor I could remember the exact words of the account, so here is the gist, in Fr Ted’s words, Rosmini took a little time time getting his head round it and then he moved on – and it is that time for pause that is important. So is the fact that he accepted the reality of the new situation.  Over the next few years, it simply got worse, by the way, and his his life’s work, his writings were condemned, yet at the end of his life he says,  “Be still, adore and rejoice”.

 

a cloud of suspicion hovered over Rosmini’s work until Vatican II.  Today, He is accorded the respect he is due, and even quoted in Papal encyclicals.  But it took a century, at least, for his ideas to be accepted.  It takes time. Change takes time. A phrase we will get very familiar with in “post referendum”.

 

So, I was told to accept things that did not go to order. “Be still, adore and rejoice!” Well, I was far from rejoicing, and, by the evening, I was seething. I explained this to another one of the Rosminian priests, a man called Fr Basil, who made me a cup of tea, listened very politely and then gave me a book with a bookmark on which he had hastily inscribed the words “Ephesians 4.26”. I looked it up the following morning: “Never let the sun go down on your wrath.” So, that was a bit late! Here were two principles- to accept providence and curb anger. Let’s put that another way- to work with reality and to do it with kindness.

 

Nurture your own talents because that is what you will be good at. Think of Rosmini- his writings: two of his books were placed on the INDEX, the list of books no good Catholic should read, (these books- his life’s work) were forbidden and yet he never stopped writing. We are not meant to bury our talents but to develop and use them – as we heard in Church this morning St Paul says we must fight the good fight, or as I recall the wonderful Doc Orton used to point out- and some of you received prizes today in his name – Winston Churchill simply told the country during the dark days of world war 2 to “keep soldiering on” (or words to that effect).

hamletThere is a danger to determination, of course. Some years ago, I was directing Hamlet and had this insane idea that fish should play a major part. I would like to think I was inspired by the old baldicchino in the church here which was covered in fish- But we did a deal with a salmon farm and every night, the stage manager’s last job was to defrost a fish, put it in a bucket of cold water, for the following day. It all came from the line, “you are a fishmonger” (act II, sc 2) which had a slightly different meaning for Shakespeare. Anyway, the fish made its first appearance when Hamlet was feigning madness, and he produced the fish and slapped it around Polonius’ head; he dissected the fish in the big “To be or not to be” speech and then later the fish was brought on stage on a dog-lead by the mad Ophelia. We won’t do anything new unless we are prepared to take a risk. But being prepared is a key part of the process!

hamlet captain cod

Sadly, one day the stage manager forgot to defrost the fish so it was hastily done with a kettle of boiling water about 10 minutes before it was due onstage. and that meant that the fish was not so much defrosted as cooked, and it fell to pieces, bits of fish here and bits of fish there. The place stank of fish and I had to spend much of our profits paying for the theatre to be professionally cleaned. Sometimes, we take unnecessary risks – just as fish seemed a great idea before it was cooked and scattered around on stage, so it’s always good to pause before a risky decision.

 

 

In other words, our understanding of providence needs to be active rather than passive. We must do our best at everything- Providence is no excuse for indolence- we must work at our future; we must be prepared, we should throw our hearts into it (some of you are looking a bit sleepy: I nevertheless want you to throw your hearts into life) whatever you do and however many hearts you may have! I think there are no “Time Lords” here, but do you know that a worm has more than one heart? (It has five) and can anyone tell me how many hearts a cockroach has (This is one of those useless bits of information that I promise you will remain with you for the rest of your life!) It has 13 hearts! That is why it is such a survivor I suppose. You should be as cunning, as determined and as resilient as a cockroach!

 

Exams are one way we can test the value of what we have learnt, but we also test our ideas every day simply by discussing them with our friends. Believe me, I would rather hear a friend tell me that I have a really loopy idea before I act on it. That is real kindness. And, frankly, it was fairly kind back then to tell me to stop screaming at the cricket pavilion.

 

Let’s go back to Rosmini for a moment, because even at the end of his life, Rosmini is talking about action- rejoice is something that we have to do fairly actively. We could bring Rosmini’s words into everyday usage- “stop, be kind and be creative.” Indeed, Providence without kindness is simply fatalism.

 

Kindness is something I remember about Ratcliffe. and I know that Mr Lloyd today sees kindness as a great feature of this school and a great tool for communication. “Be still, adore and rejoice”

 

To be still is very important. I worked for a director of an animated film who thought we should all work in silence. He went around the studio unplugging people’s radios. I thought he was wrong then. I think he is right now.

 

Stillness is something that can be encouraged in school, but the place where it is also needed is back at home.  You cannot listen unless you are silent, and – you know I have been setting up an educational faculty in a University in Moscow, and I do occasional lectures, in English. My Russian is execrable, so they started to provide me with a translator and then gave up. These days I just vigorously wave my arms around – but I noticed that when students of any age put up their hands, they tend to stop listening. They are only thinking of what they plan to say. The same is true in politics. I was at a referendum debate a few weeks’ ago and three fairly robust councillors in a row, all asked exactly the same question. They also happened to be in three different parties. Nice to know they were thinking the same thing, but interesting that they were not listening to one another.

We need to change that. We need to listen to each other much more.

 

Rejoicing or happiness is again difficult, particularly in times of crisis, and we need to practice it a lot for it to be natural. This is about positive thinking and creativity but it is also about discipline and about confidence. We need to keep alive a spirit of optimism and hope, in small things and in big. We do not need to rejoice just about the past- we should enter the future in that self-same spirit of optimism.

 

The role of parents at home is vital to the well-being of a school like Ratcliffe. we expect there to be Inspiration and discipline at school, but we also need it at home – there may even be a place for distraction, but in my experience, children are perfectly good at doing that themselves, beginning with Minecraft, then warcraft and even game of thrones or call of duty.  We need to be ever encouraging, always rejoicing in what children are learning. The more they learn, quite frankly the more we learn too, and that is no bad thing.

 

For the last few years I have been an academic guardian, looking after children, often from other countries while they plough ahead with their education in the UK. Sometimes they make mistakes, and I think it is my job to try to keep them focused on the goal despite these mistakes. Frankly, if English is not your native language, it is very easy to get confused. I want to tell you about –let’s call him George- who is doing an exam this evening so even as I am speaking, I am slightly on tenterhooks. He badly wanted to study Astronomy for GCSE. The school said this was impossible, that his timetable would not work, that the subject was only available to a very small select number. George really wanted to do it, his parents said, and so I spoke to the housemaster and the director of studies on his behalf. After negotiations which might well put Mr Junker to shame, George got his way. However, it soon became clear that there had been a misunderstanding.

 

Jean-Claude Juncker

Fuelled by Harry Potter, George’s interest, it turned out, was rather more in Astrology than in Astronomy, and quite frankly, he would have been better off with a subscription to the Daily Mail. Still, to his credit, and with a lot of encouragement, he has persevered.  That means, we have spent a lot of time discussing astronomy: and this morning, just after I got out of Church, he rang me for a last minute revision test- so as I speak to you, I am also still thinking of the dwarf planet Pluto, its twin Eris, and its moon Dysnomia – this was never a subject I expected to enjoy. But you remember the line from “The King and I”, “When you become a teacher, by your pupils you’ll be taught.”

 

And more broadly, if we are teaching children the skills of analysis and evaluation, then maybe we should not forget that all forms of entertainment can and should be open to examination, and who knows, it may only be a matter of time before we see Assassins creed on an A level syllabus, but I trust and hope that this will not be at the expense of Shakespeare, Milton and Chaucer. As parents, teachers and children, we need to practice celebrating the unexpected and we should perhaps reflect that an idea not worth examining is not really worth having.

gareth

I want to finish with a few words of praise in the same spirit – the past 6 years at Ratcliffe have seen great change and stupendous leadership.  I have got to know Ratcliffe again under the robust headship of Mr Lloyd and we can all be very proud in what Mr Lloyd has achieved. I have mentioned the kindness which I knew in my day and I know that same kindness is treasured today. I have also mentioned providence and the idea of rejoicing both in what has past and rejoicing in what is to come.

This year, Gareth, as you enter your final year at Ratcliffe, you can be assured you will go forward in the sure knowledge that the ideals of the school are secure, that your future is sound and you will look back, I assure you, with great pride on your days as a Ratcliffian.

tim

Tim Wilson 2016

Monsignor Krzysztof

charamsa

This is a rather sad story. Monsignor Krzysztof Olaf Charamsa came out yesterday on the news as a gay priest and within hours the catholic church was confirming that he had been sacked both in the Vatican (working at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith) and in his universities (the Gregorian and the Pontifical Athenaeum  Regina Apostolorum) for precisely this. His role as a priest is also now under review. This is very speedy from a Church that historically takes its time, and it seems to fly in the face of Francis’s own most famous comment in 2013 “Who are we to judge” when he was in fact talking precisely about the prevalence of gay priests in the Vatican. Well, judgement has been pretty swift and brutal. How about that for Papal irony.

This is what the Monsignor said yesterday:

“My decision of ‘coming out’ is a very personal decision in the homophobic world of the Catholic Church. It has been very difficult and very hard. I ask that you keep in mind this reality that is difficult to understand for anyone who has not lived through an identical passage in their own life,” Charamsa told reporters.

“The timing is not intended to pressurize anyone, but maybe a good pressure, in fact a Christian participation, a Christian voice that wants to bring to the synod the response of the homosexual believers to the questioning of Pope Francis.”

Pope_Francis

Just for the record, I rather like Pope Francis. Among other things, he is great friends with one of the more progressive Rabbis, Rabbi Skorka, and he projects a very positive image.

francis

When the Pope made his comments on the Plane, he was actually responding to a question about Monsignor Ricca who Francis had appointed to be Institute for the Works of Religion and who had a fairly squalid relationship with a man called Patrick Haari in Uraguay before being summoned back to Rome.

Ricca

Here is what the New York Times wrote back then:

ROME — For generations, homosexuality has largely been a taboo topic for the Vatican, ignored altogether or treated as “an intrinsic moral evil,” in the words of the previous pope.

In that context, brief remarks by Pope Francis suggesting that he would not judge priests for their sexual orientation, made aboard the papal airplane on the way back from his first foreign trip, to Brazil, resonated through the church. Never veering from church doctrine opposing homosexuality, Francis did strike a more compassionate tone than that of his predecessors, some of whom had largely avoided even saying the more colloquial “gay.”

“If someone is gay and he searches for the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge?” Francis told reporters, speaking in Italian but using the English word “gay.”

….

Francis did not dodge a single question, even thanking the person who prompted his comments on homosexuality, asking about Italian news reports of a “gay lobby” inside the Vatican, with clerics blackmailing one another with information about sexual missteps.

“So much is written about the gay lobby. I have yet to find on a Vatican identity card the word ‘gay,’ ” Francis said, chuckling. “They say there are some gay people here. I think that when we encounter a gay person, we must make the distinction between the fact of a person being gay and the fact of a lobby, because lobbies are not good.”An article in the Italian weekly L’Espresso this month alleged that one of the advisers that Francis had appointed to look into the Vatican Bank, Msgr. Battista Ricca, had been accused of having gay trysts when he was a Vatican diplomat in Uruguay. The pope told reporters that nothing in the documentation he had seen substantiated the reports.

He added that such a lobby would be an issue, but that he did not have anything against gay people and that their sins should be forgiven like those of all Catholics. Francis said that homosexuals should be treated with dignity, and that no one should be subjected to blackmail or pressure because of sexual orientation.

“The problem isn’t having this orientation. The problem is making a lobby,” he said.

and the BBC on the same issue:

Pope Benedict XVI signed a document in 2005 that said men with deep-rooted homosexual tendencies should not be priests.

But Pope Francis said gay clergymen should be forgiven and their sins forgotten.

“The Catechism of the Catholic Church explains this very well,” Pope Francis said in a wide-ranging 80-minute long interview with Vatican journalists.

“It says they should not be marginalised because of this but that they must be integrated into society.”

But he condemned what he described as lobbying by gay people.

“The problem is not having this orientation,” he said. “We must be brothers. The problem is lobbying by this orientation, or lobbies of greedy people, political lobbies, Masonic lobbies, so many lobbies. This is the worse problem.”

Par7410782

In the light of the refusal by the Vatican to recognise the appointment by France of Laurent Stefanini, it suggests that there is a wide chasm between what the Pope says and what he does, or what is done in his name. Vatican Spokesman Federico Lomardi said,

“The decision to make such a pointed statement on the eve of the opening of the Synod appears very serious and irresponsible, since it aims to subject the Synod assembly to undue media pressure. Monsignor Charamsa will certainly be unable to continue to carry out his previous work in the Congregation for the Doctrine of the faith and the Pontifical universities, while the other aspects of his situation shall remain the [responsibility] of his diocesean Ordinary.”