Saturday 2 November 2019


History shows us many examples of how the prevailing culture has tried to mould the Church according to its own agenda. For instance, in the 1970s at Nowa Huta near Krakow,  the Communist authorities tried to build a new city without any religious provision. But the Church there, led by her archbishop, took part in a Mass every Sunday there in an open field.

It is different when the agenda comes from within the Church. I use to the term ‘ecclesiocracy’ in a different way today, not so much as an ecclesial presence guiding society, but as an ecclesial presence shaping the Church according to its own agenda. And where an ‘ecclesiocrat’ is someone who has his or her own agenda for the Church. 

We see ecclesiocrats at work in the nurturing of theological positions, understood as projects which stand alongside or even claim precedence over the Teaching of the Church. We feel the presence of ecclesiocrats when the Teaching of the Church is simply set aside to make way for whatever project is on the table.

Where did this tendency, in our era, come from? I would be glad of some input here so I can better make sense of the situation that we are in today. So, please comment on this in order to help me.

The Church has an agenda, its own. That agenda is not a formula, but a person, as both St John Paul II and Benedict XVI pointed out. The Church’s ‘agenda’, her plan, was given by the Lord in the Great Commission. Any agenda that is given subsequently to the Church, or even searched for, makes the Church look as though she doesn’t have an adequate agenda already.

Ecclesiocrats come in both clerical and lay form. I think that we are so used to them being around today that we hardly notice them, and we become accustomed to the distance that is created between us and the Lord by this human posturing. But we should notice them and take stock because the Church is the Lord’s. It is not ours to shape and mould as we see fit. And we need to be aware of being shaped and styled as ecclesiocrats ourselves. 

So, how has ‘ecclesiocracy’ arisen in our day? I am reminded of a letter which Archbishop Heenan wrote to Evelyn Waugh in August 1964 in which he said,
“I think that the leaders of the new thought (if that is not too strong a word) are not so much the young pops as the Catholic ‘intellectuals’ That is what they call themselves and believe themselves to be. Everyone with two A-levels is now an intellectual.” These words suggest the birth of lay ecclesiocrats at the time of the Second Vatican Council. This movement grew apace and became well represented by certain religious interest journals that persist today, and the lay groups which thrive on such religious interest.

Of course, the activity of clerical ecclesiocrats within the Council has been written about extensively, and I don’t intend to go into that here. The theological currents were themselves caused most probably by a deeper anthropological movement. And the theological movement is being given in depth treatment today by some excellent minds.

Clerical ecclesiocrats are, I imagine, more influential/dangerous than their lay compatriots. No doubt they have always been around. But what has produced them today? I ask this because ‘ecclesiocracy’ seems rife in much of the Church today, as though the nature and meaning of the Church and the Christian life is up for total reappraisal! 

A realisation can to me when, five years ago, I read Sherry Weddell’s book ‘Forming Intentional Disciples’. As I put the book down, I thought to myself, today priests have become administrators and people have become consumers. But priests need to become pastors again, and people need to become disciples. Our consumerist culture has had a much deeper impact than, I think, any of us is aware of.

Clerical careerism is most certainly a cause of deflecting a pastor into another mode. The National Pastoral Congress of 1980 in Liverpool was another. This Congress had an unspoken question at its root – what kind of a Church would we like today? This is the question of ‘consumer Catholicism’ and, although the 1980 Congress seemed to go nowhere, its underlying agenda became very active in the Church in this country.

Pope John Paul II set out the unchanging ‘agenda’ of the Church in his 2001 Letter, Tertio Millennio Ineunte, detailing in Part 3 the priorities of the Christian life. As proponents of the new evangelisation, Paul VI through to Francis, have straightforwardly re-presented evangelisation in its proper place in the life and mission of the Church, namely, at the forefront. In this way they have addressed a ‘losing sight’ of something that is essentially part of the Church. Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI were notable for embracing new movements which were giving to expression to the Church’s timeless ‘agenda’ and allowing them to flourish. But where do the other agendas belong, and where are they going?

Saturday 26 October 2019

A great vision shelved.

Back in the early-to-mid sixties, the vision for Catholic Education was developing magnificently. The campuses of Trinity and All Saints (pictured above) in Leeds, Newman College in Birmingham, and Strawberry Hill in Twickenham, and others, were being built or redeveloped.
The vision was that young people, aspiring to be formed in the heart of the Church, and possibly become teachers of the same Catholic vision, would enter into an integral formation of spirituality, faith and life, intellectual development, the formation of skills and abilities, living as Catholic men and women in separate formation houses, and finally being commissioned by a bishop of the Catholic Church to be agents of Christ in the various fields of employment, would enable the development of Catholic faith and life in this era.
That was the plan in 1966. When the doors opened to the first new students, the plan had already been set aside in favour of an accommodation with the secular vision that was developing in that decade.
What I describe is, no doubt, an over simplification of what actually took place. However, I state it in these simple terms because that vision, and that strategy, is needed today.

Thursday 24 October 2019

The relationship between the Church and the Catholic school.

I am occasionally asked about this relationship - a matter deserving of proper thought and conversation by many, although such a thing is rarely the case.
Well, the matter was thought about and discussed by the recent Council. Its decree Gravissimum Educationis paints a great vision, in which this relationship is implicit. Paragraph 8 has the heart of it.

"Since therefore, the Catholic school can be such an aid ... " The relationship of the School to the Church is one of supporting the Church in her life and mission.

"But let teachers ... be very carefully prepared ... " The relationship of the Church to the school is to feed the school with evangelised, catechised and formed personnel to carry out that mission.

It is a very close relationship, one that was envisaged in the early 60s, a vision that is ripe for today.

Saturday 5 October 2019

Another new beginning.

Today, Bishop Marcus celebrated Holy Mass to open and re-inaugurate the church of St Patrick in Bradford, the mission church of the Friars of the Renewal in the Leeds Diocese.
The Bishop was emphatic that this reopening was not a reclaiming of a past Catholic culture, but was a new venture for the mission of the Church today.
Many do not get, or do not want to get the new evangelisation, but Bishop Marcus does. The Friars of the Renewal now have an even greater base for being a centre of the mission today. Although they are not a parish, parishes far and wide can take their project as a model for themselves.
Take a look at the Friar's website:
I am so pleased for the Friars, who have worked selflessly for this enterprise, and which is now developing in a really encouraging way. Keep up the prayers for this arm of the Church - that it will go from strength to strength.

Thursday 3 October 2019


I love the title of Cardinal Ouellet's new book, "Friends of the Bridegroom", about the priesthood. That is how I have always wanted to think about myself, as a priest. I'll have to get a copy of this one!

Saturday 24 August 2019

An unexpected occurrence.

I have not been posting lately. Eight weeks ago I fell off my cycle during a beautiful summer's evening bike ride and broke a collar bone. I also badly damaged my right hand. This laid me up for a good six weeks and I am only just beginning to get back into action.
Although I have not been posting I have been doing a lot of other writing - with one finger of my left hand!

Friday 23 August 2019

The keen arrow of truth.

The keen arrow of truth is virtually disregarded and unwanted today in our culture. I thank God for George Weigel and his analysis of Cardinal Pell's situation vis a vis the Australian, or better said, Victorian, Legal establishment and his alleged offence. These three posts, by George Weigel, about this matter, in chronological order, are excellent. May they help to unravel this appalling affair and open up the way for the keen arrow of truth to enter into Victorian justice.

Wednesday 17 April 2019

"Educating in Christ" by Gerard O'Shea

I have just finished reading Gerard O'Shea's excellent practical handbook on Catholic Education. I met Dr O'Shea twice when I was in Australia. It was through my first meeting that I heard of the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd and, subsequently, became acquainted with it through an "Atrium" in Sydney.
Dr O'Shea's new book is not about the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd, but is rather a comprehensive presentation of what Catholic Education is. So much has been written about this subject during the past half century, not least by the Magisterium of the Church. The author bases his text upon the Church's actual teaching, and speaks about in in such a way that he reveals that he has been both formed and inspired by it. He also shows that he has integrated the various texts and understands the proper relationships that exists between the great themes that are involved: evangelisation, anthropology, scripture, morality, catechesis, formation of personnel etc.
By the time I had finished reading the whole book, I realised why the author had begun his text by speaking in detail about the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd. It enabled him to begin his book by proposing the human subject, understood in his or her capacity to grow and be formed, from the earliest age, in his or her full humanity - body, heart, mind, together with all those relationships by which we become persons.
This truly is a practical handbook for parents, priests, teachers, catechists and all those who have any involvement in Catholic education. Moreover, the book is a joy to read because of the beautiful and easy way in which the author writes.

Friday 1 February 2019

Definitive engagement.

On Wednesday of this week, 30th January, I made my definitive Engagement as a member of the Society of St John Vianney. This took place during a Mass in the chapel of the Bon Pasteur, in the John Paul II House at Ars, France, the house of the Society.
Definitive Engagement is the third and final stage of membership of the Society, and was for me the culmination of a process which I can trace back to the year 2000. In the summer of 2000 I returned to the UK from a two-year course at the JPII Institute in Valencia, Spain, and being appointed again as a Parish Priest became aware again of how important it is for priests to be able to share their life and mission with one another. So began a process of exploration and discovery of various priestly associations and societies. In 2006 I encountered the SJMV during the first International Priest's Retreat at Ars and, one year later entered into the first stage of its membership.
30th January 2019 was a day of special joy for me, to be able to commit myself to the Society for the rest of my life. A large part of my seeking full membership comes from a desire to contribute to the Diocesan priesthood, and feeling that I can do that more ably through a priestly movement, than on my own. And I am very happy to contribute to the nurturing of the priesthood within Europe, by belonging to a priestly movement at the heart of Europe.
The strength of welcome that I experienced on Wednesday of this week, from the other members of the SJMV, is the same as that which I have experienced all along since my first engagement with the Society in 2007. 
Thanks to Fr Gaspar for taking the photo above. 

Thursday 3 January 2019

Final comments on "Progress and Religion."

Some topics defined:
Religion is the root of all culture and civilization.
The religious impulse is situated within human nature, is the root of religion, and therefore of all culture and civilization.
The root of human life then is not science, economy or culture, but because man is the centre of the natural world, his root is relationship between human nature and God. In Christianity this impulse is revealed in a radical way; that neither power, nor science nor the natural rhythm, governs human life, but rather, that vital centre is the mystical union of man’s human faculties with the Son of God.
Dawson includes some discussion about Religious ideas, for instance Gnosticism, but ideas necessarily develop in the wake of those movements which the religious impulse create, and so would form the content of a separate study.
Science is an intellectual technique; a way by which we know natural reality. Ritual religion was the source of the first form of science. It developed through a seeking to know what governs all life; the divine principle, the Absolute, the Eternal Cycle, the supreme law of Being. Developing science was linked to astronomy.
This ancient outlook is again present in modern scientific determinism.
The ancient forms of science, held no clues to the notion of progress – the idea the people and things could develop. This was because the ancient mind looked at the Cosmos as a whole, whereas today, we look at the particular case. So, for the ancients change was an illusion, whilst for us it leads us into the notion of progress.
The way that science is related to the understanding of human progress is to do with either man’s dominance/control over the laws of nature, or his greater engagement with God.
Science cannot explain reality. On its own it is merely the measurement of the physical world. It needs to be directed by a purpose, eg humanitarianism, and it needs to be supported by morality. Then it can become a good science which genuinely benefits humanity.
Man has always observed that that created nature passes through a process. The ancients thought of this as an eternal cycle. Modern man calls this process evolution. The Gospel reveals that man is the centre of this process and that it can be either progressive or degenerative, depending on whether he acts in accordance with his nature or against it. In Christianity man has a renewed potential for progress.
Christianity is the source of modern science (the way in which a person, who is enlightened by the Gospel, knows reality) and Law.
Contemporary (secular outlook) science is the way in which a person, who is not enlightened by the Gospel, seeks to know reality, seeking a purely rational and empirical knowledge. This form of science developed as a consequence of the Reformation, which focussed men’s minds on what they do, rather than on who they were called to be. In contemporary science observation and experiment supplanted morality, and has led to the desire for success in whatever you seek.
The Church is a social and spiritual force for uniting people, based up the free adhesion of the individual.
The State is a political force for uniting people, based on material power.
Christianity is a radically new outlook which sees great value in humanity and in the natural world. Christianity is the source of modern science (the way in which a person, who is enlightened by the Gospel, knows reality) and Law.
Metaphysics, which has always been a part of man’s reflection, but which became a particular focus with the ancient Greek philosophers, concerns that which transcends change and limitation – what lies behind the things that we see. The ancients called this ‘Being’. Christian metaphysics ultimately calls ‘Being’ God, and involves the History of Salvation – the way that God has acted in history for man’s good. This involves a positive and Realistic outlook on the material order.
For the modern mind, which had set the Gospel aside, metaphysics metamorphosed reality into a mathematical structure. In this system, man is merely a by-product and metaphysics has evaporated, since everything, including man, is part of a vast mechanical order. This state of affairs shows that science has much more difficulty with philosophy and metaphysics than it does with religion.
Progress is either the effect that Christ’s work has on human beings and the created order, or it refers to the belief that human effort will lead to the development of human beings.
Civilisation is the result of social and moral unification.
Christian civilization the unification of peoples through the life and mission of the Church.
The Enlightenment was a period (17th to 19th Centuries) in which there was a fluid mix of two great movements; science and reason, and faith and theology. In England, ever seeking a practical approach, the new Post-Reformation religious impulse of morality and asceticism, produced the Industrial Revolution.
Liberalism, following the Reformation, flowed out of secularization and economic individualism. It is an un-substantiated shadow projected from Christianity and had three, distinct movements; English, American, and French. Liberalism had, at its root, the desire to protect one’s self and one’s material acquisitions. In Liberalism, human beings are defined by property rights, rather than having been created in the image of God. It is economy, not Charity, that shapes our lives. Liberalism, in seeking to secularise people, in fact undermined its own spiritual foundation, the foundation upon which the West had been built. This spiritual collapse, alongside material progress, led to social crises. Liberalism produced Socialism.
Marxism is, at root, a disaffection with the social order and a demand for another one.
Europe arose, in the Dark Ages, as a civilization, based upon ecclesiastical unity, and not upon political unity. Europe did not arise from a place of natural unity The heart of Europe was a spiritual and moral citizenship, knit together with the scientific movement.

Wednesday 2 January 2019

A few comments on "Progress and Religion" by Dawson.

The second Part of “Progress and Religion” by Dawson is an overview of the history of civilization and culture, written from the central hinge of human life, which is the religious impulse that is situated within all human beings, and the concrete expression of religion, both of which form civilization and culture.
What we read here is history looked at from the central axis of human life – not dates or famous people, not food, or reproduction, or the faculty of reason, or economics, but the relationship between human beings and the divine – which reveals the depth of human identity, much of which we have forgotten, and been distracted from, in the fast-changing age in which we live.
Dawson’s scholarship keenly brings together the major facets of humanity, placing them in their right order, an order that arises from the relationship around which all human life and activity revolve – the relationship that human nature has with the divine. This relationship becomes visible in ritual, in society, in culture and in civilization, and so we see human beings set in relief.
Anthropology is implicit in much of Dawson’s narrative. An anthropology, assuming that it is an adequate one, is the foundation for speaking about human beings in any sense. While the author does speak about anthropology directly in Part One of his book, that understanding lies behind what he says in Part Two, and that anthropological basis can be deduced from the text.
Writing long before the New Evangelsation was envisaged, Dawson was not able to comment on what would be the depth of the Church’s response to the human situation today. That is for us to do, so that we can more fully participate in the New Evangelisation.