Friday, February 17, 2012
Varsi and the Church
The visit of Baroness Warsi to the Holy See was greeted as a success by both Church and State, the Baroness said broadly the right things that seemed to please the Secretarite of State, things like the European Constitution ought to have had a reference to God or even Christianity in it. It comes in the wake of David Cameron's statement about Britain being a Christian country and at the same time as the Queen spoke about the necissity of the CofE in safeguarding religious interests in the UK.
Here in Brighton as the financial cuts bite on the homeless and the poor it is apparent that the State expects "faith based communities" to plug holes. It seems that the logic of atheism, as far as governments or economists are concerned has lost its attraction; atheism tends not to feed the hungry or even educate the young or do much for the elderly. Even sociologists might start realising that atheism does not have a binding effect -re-ligere, to bind together- in a "broken" society.
Government needs religion but does religion need government? I always feel uneasy at the sight of bishops in the train of those who hold power; religion always seems to come off worst.
In any society bishops and those in power should be at peace, the ancient understanding of the bishop ruling the "inner mysteries" the spiritual and moral life of people and the Emperor or the State ruling the "outer mysteries" enforcing justice and morality created a positive tension. Now, the State wants to re-shape the very building blocks of society, in the US it is government wanting to impose its women's "health" agenda on the Church, at home it is the redefinition of marriage and family. Already through Connexions it is suggested contraception and abortion have been introduced to some if not all of schools, with the Pastors turning a blind eye or refusing to investigate.
For an immigrant Church, unfortunately I think we are still that, I think there is a danger in a yearning for respectability and pretending that access to power is the same as power or even influence. When supping with the devil there is always the danger that you yourself become supper.
We are called to "render unto Caesar .." to "pray for the Emperor" to be obedient to the laws of the state but we also have the example of John the Baptist speaking to truth unto power and paying the consequences with his head and Jesus himself suffering under Pilate. Always, in the presence of power the Church is asked to concede or to be silent. The example of Chrysostom, Ambrose, Becket, Fisher etc., etc. is that Bishops have always to be seen as first of all teachers of the faith and as witnesses to it.
Am I the only one who wonders quite what the pay off for the Warsi visit was? I am sure that friendship between the Church and our government is important, it is important that co-operation exists, that we accept the good intentions of those in government but it is also important that we draw a clear distinction between the ends of government and the ends of the Church, they are quite different. It is also important we do not allow quite negotiations in the halls of power to obscure a bishops real job of teaching in clear and distinct terms the message of Christ and his Church, the former is not a replacement for the latter.
It strikes me that it is easy to simply leave the faithful confused by too "nuanced" a message from our leaders. I'm confused by the apparent volte-face over civil partnerships; are we really supposed to believe the subtle arguments of Catholic Voices, if so is it really the role of a bishop to be so obscurantist so unclear in his teaching? I am confused by the Soho Masses, I am concerned by the screaming silence over the redefinition of marriage, by the failure of any teaching document on the subject; by sex education in our schools, by the role of Connexions in them. I am confused by Cafod's involvement with government, other aid agencies and condoms. I am confused about the involvement of former Catholic adoption agencies and their present involvement with the Church, are we now supporting those things which we actually don't? What about euthanasia and the Liverpool Pathway.
In all these things where the our bishops and the government have been speaking there is confusion and a lack of clarity, in many ways a sense that we condone policies inimical to the Faith.
As my grandmother used to say, "You can tell a man by those he company with". Ultimate the questions are about clarity, credibility, truth and transparency.
Posted by Fr Ray Blake