Saturday, 26 April 2014

CD 354 Are Canonisations infallible?

[Question] I heard that canonisations are supposed to be infallible. Is this so for the forthcoming canonisations of Pope John Paul and Pope John XXIII now that the process of canonisation has been weakened?

It is the defined doctrine of the Church that when the Pope makes a solemn definition concerning faith or morals, ex cathedra, that is, as shepherd and teacher of all the faithful, he enjoys that infallibility which Christ gave to the Church. Matters of faith and morals as revealed by Christ to the Church are thus the primary object of papal infallibility. Theologians have traditionally regarded a solemn decree of canonisation as one of the secondary or indirect objects of infallibility because all the actions of the Church are ordered to the sanctification of the faithful, and a decree of canonisation does not merely tolerate or permit veneration of a particular saint, but solemnly prescribes such a cultus for all the people of God, for all time. Were such veneration to be prescribed for someone who is not in heaven, the Church would fail in her divine mission to lead all the faithful in the path of salvation. Hence, for example, in 1933 Pope Pius XI explicitly referred to a decree of canonisation as infallible.

We do not have to agree with all the details of the process of canonisation: the formal process of canonisation was introduced gradually in the Church and has often changed over time. We are only committed to believe that a canonised saint is in heaven, should be venerated as a saint, is worthy of our imitation, and prays for us. We do not have to agree with everything a saint said or did. The canonisations of St Bernadette, St Maria Goretti, and St Gemma Galgani were opposed strongly by some, but once their decrees were pronounced, Catholics united in venerating them. The forthcoming canonisations can spur us to look anew at the encyclicals of Blessed John Paul, and Blessed John XXIII’s Journal of the Soul to learn from them, honour them, and seek their intercession for ourselves, for the Pope, and for the whole Church today.

Catholic Dilemmas column published in the Catholic Herald
Suggestions for Catholic Dilemmas are always welcome by email or via Twitter @FatherTF

Friday, 25 April 2014

Making a mess of the mess quote

An Argentinian reader has kindly corrected my reference to the "make a mess" quotation. I put "Vaya lío!" Apparently that means "What a mess!", is an expression that belongs to Spanish Spanish, and is not an expression that Argentinians would use. What the Holy Father said was "Hagan lío!" which could be translated as "Go, make a mess", though my correspondent thinks that "lío" would have a slightly more positive connotation than "mess." So "Go, stir things up" might be better.

Here is a link to a Youtube video of the speech of Pope Francis to young people on 25 July 2013 (embedding is disabled.)

I have corrected the post now.

Thursday, 24 April 2014

Don't leave me hanging on the telephone

"Hagan lío!" Pope Francis has said, “Go make a mess” or “Go, stir things up.”

It has been reported that in a telephone conversation, the Holy Father has told an Argentinian woman who is divorced and remarried, that she may receive Holy Communion. (See: La Stampa “Il Papa al telefono mi ha detto che un divorziato può fare la comunione” and Damian Thompson’s follow-up Pope Francis 'phones divorced woman' to say she can receive Communion. This is potentially a huge story)

The Director of the Vatican Press Office, Fr Lombardi, said,
“Several telephone calls have taken place in the context of Pope Francis’ personal pastoral relationships.

Since they do not in any way form part of the Pope's public activities, no information or comments are to be expected from the Holy See Press Office.

That which has been communicated in relation to this matter, outside the scope of personal relationships, and the consequent media amplification, cannot be confirmed as reliable, and is a source of misunderstanding and confusion.

Therefore, consequences relating to the teaching of the Church are not to be inferred from these occurrences.”
CNN has been in touch with Fr Rosica who said that the phone call is “between the Pope and the woman.”

In my pastoral ministry, I sometimes chat to young men who are experienced at being interviewed under caution by the Police. They all know about the “no comment interview” and how important it is not to make any comment at all, either by remaining completely silent, or by saying “no comment” in answer to every question – and nothing more. Any other words run the risk of giving extra information or incriminating you.

The statements by Holy See personnel have in fact confirmed that the telephone call was made (some commentators have questioned this.) Fr Rosica has also added "The magisterium of the church is not defined by personal phone calls" – so there was presumably some doctrinal matter discussed. Fr Lombardi has also spoken of consequences relating to the teaching of the Church – telling people that such consequences must not be inferred rather indicates that the conversation was not simply a chat about the weather.

Beyond that, of course, the matter is all one of speculation. Was the woman’s first marriage a civil marriage? If so, the Pope could grant an instant nullity from defect of form – he is, after all, the supreme legislator. Are the couple living “as brother and sister” (i.e. in a non sexually active relationship)? If so, the Pope could admit the woman to Holy Communion under the “internal forum solution” – though this is subject to the proviso that there should be no public scandal, something rather difficult to affirm given that the recipient of a telephone call from the Pope is not bound by the seal of confession, and might talk to her husband who might then post about it on Facebook, and thereby start a firestorm in the international press. Perhaps I am being too harsh?

Any of these explanations could be issued via the Holy See Press Office or l’Osservatore Romano. Some might say that the Pope does not talk about these private conversations and correct people in their mistaken impressions. But he does...

Liberation theologian, Frei Betto, met with Pope Francis recently, at a General Audience, and afterwards claimed that the Pope had looked favourably on his suggestion that Giordano Bruno should be rehabilitated. l’Osservatore Romano mistakenly thought that the Holy Father would like this to be published, and duly carried a glowing account of the meeting, supposedly at the Casa Santa Marta. Pope Francis demanded an immediate correction, which was published the following day, and the Director of the Holy See Press Office, Fr Lombardi, followed up:
"The Pope did not receive Frei Betto in Santa Marta. It wasn't a real conversation, but merely a greeting in passing as part of the so-called hand kiss at the end of the general audience. The Pope paused for a moment, listened and at the end he concluded, as he does frequently, with an invitation to prayer. It certainly was not his intention to go into the matter of Giordano Bruno."
(See: Pope Francis, Frei Betto and the "Accident" at Osservatore Romano)

So if there is a harmless explanation for the divorce-and-remarriage-holy-communion phone call which doesn't affect the Church's teaching at all, No Sirreee, not a bit of it, why not order Fr Lombardi and l’Osservatore Romano to put things straight? As it is, the phone call has been officially confirmed, together with a denial that it has anything to do with Church teaching. Better to learn from the experience of the lads and their “no comment” interviews: if you are not going to say anything, don’t say anything.

I can’t go along with the assertion that the Pope couldn’t possibly have given the advice he is alleged to have given. He is infallible when he defines things ex cathedra. When he issues non-infallible magisterial teaching, we must give the religious assent of mind and will; but when he speaks privately (and it has been confirmed that whatever was said is indeed private utterance and not magisterial) then we are entitled to disagree with him. Pope Benedict affirmed this explicitly in the preface to his book Jesus of Nazareth.

However I don’t in any way want to criticise those loyal Catholics, priests and laity, who have valiantly defended the Pope and said that there is nothing to see here, we don’t know the full story, and there might be details which put an entirely innocent slant on the matter. They show a commendable loyalty to the Church and to the Holy Father in difficult times.

Nevertheless, I am more convinced by the suggestion that the uncertainty and confusion plays very well into the hands of those who are hinting and suggesting, asking open questions with doe-eyed sentimentality, never committing themselves but flying kites all over the Vatican gardens, leading people to hope that the divorced and remarried might be admitted to Holy Communion.

Is this intentional on the part of Pope Francis? Who am I to judge? (But he did say Hagan lío!)

Wednesday, 23 April 2014

Forthcoming "Evenings of Faith"

The Faith Movement has announced the next three Evenings of Faith in London, at the crypt of the Church of the Assumption, Warwick Street, by kind permission of the Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham.

Talks on Wednesdays at 7.30 p.m.
All ages welcome

Entrance via basement steps outside 24 Golden Square W1F 9JR
Nearest Tube: Piccadilly Circus
  • 30 April The Sacraments: The sunshine of the soul
    Fr Michael John Galbraith
  • 14 May The Church as a field hospital
    Canon Luiz Ruscillo
  • 28 May The Eucharist: Fulfilling Human Nature
    Fr David Standen

Tuesday, 22 April 2014

CD 280: on the priest ministering the chalice himself

In my diocese the Bishop has indicated that there should be communion under both kinds at every Mass. As an assistant priest, celebrating the early Mass with just a few people, I give holy communion under the form of bread and then minister the chalice myself. Am I correct in my thinking about the Church’s wishes in this matter?

The General Instruction of the Roman Missal gives the Bishop the faculty to permit communion under both kinds whenever a priest with pastoral care of the faithful judges it appropriate (n.283) It is not within the competence of a Diocesan Bishop to go beyond the law of the universal Church. He may recommend or encourage Communion under both kinds but he has no authority to make it compulsory.

Indeed, Redemptionis Sacramentum (2004) indicates various circumstances in which the practice should not be allowed. If there is even a small danger of profanation of the sacred species, if there is such a large number of communicants that the amount of wine to be consecrated cannot be accurately gauged, or if a notable part of the faithful does not approach the chalice, the practice is to be excluded. (nn.101-102)

The universal law of the Church also sets out certain conditions for the use of extraordinary ministers. The 1997 Instruction on the Collaboration of the Lay Faithful reminds us that the use of extraordinary ministers is for cases of true necessity if the distribution of Holy Communion would be unduly prolonged, and that the habitual use of extraordinary ministers should be “avoided and eliminated.” (n.82) It could be argued that the use of extraordinary ministers solely for the purpose of making Communion under both kinds possible, is not a case of necessity.

Although the contrary custom of using extraordinary ministers habitually is now widespread, (and the Holy See may judge whether this custom is to be tolerated or not) a priest certainly has the right to obey the law as it is stated. Your decision to minister the chalice yourself at Mass with just a few people is therefore entirely in accord with the mind of the Church.

Catholic Dilemmas column published in the Catholic Herald
Suggestions for Catholic Dilemmas are always welcome by email or via Twitter @FatherTF

BCCC hosting a talk by Bishop Athanasius Schneider

The Confraternity of Catholic Clergy (British Province of St Gregory the Great) is hosting a talk by Bishop Athanasius Schneider, author of 'Dominus est!' on Wednesday 21 May. The title of the talk is "The Priest: Imago et Instrumentum Christi. Dogmatical and spiritual aspects."

The venue will be St Patrick's, Soho Square, and this will be an evening meeting, commencing at 6pm and concluding with a light supper. The cost will be £20, payable on the day.

The meeting is open to priests, deacons and seminarians. If you would like to go, please email Fr Richard Whinder.

I am very much looking forward to this, as it is some years since I last met Bishop Schneider, and it is always good to get together with friends among the clergy.

CMA Conference: "Conscience and the NHS"

The Catholic Medical Association will hold its Annual Conference on the them "Conscience and the NHS" on Saturday 17 May 2014 at Ealing Abbey, Ealing Abbey , Charlbury Grove, London W5 2DY, followed by the AGM of the Catholic Medical Association on Sunday 18 May. Here is some information from the website:
Conscience and the NHS
Rights, duties and opportunities for NHS staff

What is conscience? What does the Church say? What does the law state? How can we work in workplaces which are hostile to individuals’ consciences? What can a Catholic conscience bring to the places and services in which we work? Learn more about the Glasgow midwives who refused to engage with abortions in their unit.

Key speakers include:
Dr Robert Hardie, President of the CMA
Fr Dominic Allain, Chaplain of the Southwark Branch of the CMA
Neil Addison, St Thomas More Legal Centre
Paul Tully General Secretary of the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children
Charlie O’Donnell, A&E Consultant Whipps Cross Hospital, London
Charlie Conner. Rachel’s vineyard
Doctors, nurses, hospital chaplains and all other health care workers are welcome. For further details see the website of the Catholic Medical Association. To book, email

Monday, 21 April 2014

Easter pyrotechnics

2014-04-19 20.35.14-1

Every year, Keith and Steve take a break from mending the roof, plastering and painting walls that need it, collecting clothes to be sold by the ton for the benefit of the parish, and generally helping me to win the fight to prevent all the plant from falling into decay. On Holy Saturday, they prepare the Easter fire in an oil drum that has been sawn in half. Last year it proved quite difficult to get near enough to the fire to take a light using a four foot stick, so this year's was more modest, though still far from being one of those "thimble symbols" decried by the best liturgists. (Thanks to Mulier Fortis who has been experimenting with the camera on her new telephone. See her new photos on Flickr.)

The servers were suitably impressed and I like the way that it adds an elemental note to the ceremonies (am I being too promethean here?) However, we are quite tame compared with the residents of Chios who have a rocket-firing competition between two rival parishes during the Easter Vigil.

If we were to do this in Blackfen, it would be unfair to target the smaller parish of Bexley to the East, and a breach of diplomatic protocol to launch fiery projectiles westward at Eltham, since that is in another Deanery. So I would have to choose between St Stephen's, Welling to the North, and St Lawrence's, Sidcup to the South. Perhaps I should put it on the Agenda for December's Deanery Meeting.

Sunday, 20 April 2014

Settling down to the Easter Octave

A very happy Easter to you all.

Holy Week went well in the parish: we have both forms of the Roman rite on Palm Sunday, the vetus ordo on Maundy Thursday and the modern rite on Good Friday and Holy Saturday. I find the older form much easier than the modern rite, mainly because there are so few specific rubrics and directions in the Novus Ordo. Generally, we have a policy of mutual enrichment, so where there is no direction given, we follow the traditional customs, but this is not always possible, and one is left with having to invent directions for the servers. With the old rite, you can just consult Fortescue and get on with it. If, like me, you are lucky enough to have a dependable MC, you can simply do what he says.

My Easter sermons are online at my parish website if you are interested: The meaning of our Easter Vigil for last night, and The Risen Christ and our Christian life for today. I have started regularly posting my sermons to my parish website ( - usually on the Saturday evening, so if you like reading sermons online, do help yourself.

Now we have the Easter Octave which is a beautiful time. This year, I find it a little sad that in my part of England at least, the school holidays were scheduled during Passiontide so that teachers and children are at work during the Octave. It seems to me that this is part of the rationalistic push to a six term year, circumventing the inconvenient movable feast of the Lord's Resurrection. I expect that the homeschoolers will take a different view!

Saturday, 12 April 2014

Remembering Mary Whitehouse

Mediawatch reminds us that this year marks the 50th anniversary of Mary Whitehouse's campaign to Clean Up TV which was launched at Birmingham Town Hall in 1964. A year later, she founded the Viewers and Listeners Association which became Mediawatch in 2001.

The Spring 2014 Mediawatch Newsletter tells us of an anniversary tribute using social media:
Every other day this year we are tweeting a quote from Mary Whitehouse’s writing. It is ironic that much of what we know about her views has come to us filtered by the media itself. This is an opportunity to hear Mary Whitehouse in her own words taken from the books she wrote during her lifetime. I think many people will find it quite surprising.
Here are three ways to follow the initiative:
Here is a good quote from Mary:
No movement, except communism and fascism, has practised censorship more rigidly than those who bellow for the abolition of all controls.
She was herself banned from appearing on the BBC for four years. She claimed that for eleven years "hardly a week went by without a sniping reference to me." The Daily Telegraph obituary has a telling story of Sir Hugh Greene, who was the Director General of the BBC from 1960-1969.
There was, indeed, something pathological in Sir Hugh's attitude towards Mrs Whitehouse. He purchased a naked portrait of her, adorned with six breasts, by Lawrence Isherwood and (it was said) would amuse himself by throwing darts at this picture, squealing with pleasure as he made a hit.
I grew up seeing the constant vilification of Mary Whitehouse for daring to challenge the permissive standards of the 1960s and 1970s. The devotees of Flower Power and the Age of Aquarius could get quite nasty when someone looked like spoiling the party, even when the party was pretty squalid.

It is significant to recall now, that Mary Whitehouse particularly focussed on the protection of children. The BBC that she was calling to account was certainly worthy of such attention as we now know all too well. Mary was influential in the passage of the Protection of Children Act in 1978 which made child porn illegal, and she was also a key figure in preventing the Paedophile Information Exchange from becoming socially respectable. As we have recently been reminded, that was not such an unlikely prospect, given the support it received from libertarian advocates.

Do read the Mediawatch article, Mary Whitehouse: A Household Name

Wednesday, 2 April 2014

Important rebuttal of Cardinal Kasper's claim of patristic support

The Catholic Herald has an important article by Dr John Rist, a patristics scholar who currently teaches at the Augustinianum, the Patristic Institute in Rome: Cardinal Kasper’s new approach to the remarried has shaky historical foundations. (As Fr Z points out, this article has also been run in the US National Catholic Register and on Zenit.)

Rist considers the claim that evidence from antiquity is sufficiently uncertain that it offers support for the possible consideration of giving Holy Communion to those who are divorced and remarried. He concludes that "the cardinal’s case depends on misinterpreting a tiny number of texts while neglecting numerous others which contradict them."

Fr Dylan James has recently been speaking on the question of divorce, remarriage and Holy Communion (see for example: Questioning the Orthodox solution on divorce and remarriage.) He put me on to a helpful article by Father (later Cardinal) Anthony Bevilacqua, published in 1967 "The History of the Indissolubility of Marriage" given for the Catholic Theological Society of America. The article surveys texts from the Fathers, Popes, Councils, and collections of canons. (All your favourite quotations are there!) Bevilacqua concludes:
It is the firm conviction of this writer that the weight of evidence from the Fathers, Roman Pontiffs and Councils of the first millennium of Christianity strongly supports the indissolubility of marriage. If there were as much evidence in favor of divorce and remarriage as there is in favor of indissolubility, then those suggesting the possibility of divorce and remarriage would have more than a legitimate claim from history.

Ian Wilson's Stations performed by Matthew Schellhorn

Diatribe Records has announced the release Stations, a 70 minute solo for piano by Ian Wilson, performed by Matthew Schellhorn. The CD will be launched during a concert on Tuesday 8 April at 7.30pm at St George’s Cathedral, Southwark, at which the Archbishop of Birmingham will give a series of meditations.

The above short documentary film gives more information about the work, which seeks to distil the emotional content of the Stations of the Cross. See also Matthew Schellhorn on Ian Wilson’s Stations.
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