The Papacy at a Crossroads

In this candid interview, veteran Vatican observer Tracey Rowland shares her rare insights with Regina Magazine. An eminent theologian in her own right, Dr Rowland is Dean of the John Paul II Institute in Melbourne, Australia and author of Ratzinger’s Faith: The Theology of Pope Benedict XVI (Oxford University Press).

The resignation of Pope Benedict XVI brings to an end an era. What was your reaction to the secular media coverage? In Australia we were hearing reports that some 5,000 journalists were in Rome waiting for the news.  My impression was generally one of amusement – for an organisation that is supposed to be irrelevant, the Church gets an enormous amount of front page publicity.  The papal conclave dominated the news for two weeks.

Can you comment on the presumption that the secular media shows regarding the ‘necessity’ of modernizing the Church? I did four radio interviews in Montreal a few days after the resignation of Pope Benedict.  People were very excited that Cardinal Marc Ouellet from Quebec was being discussed as a front runner.  The Mayor of Montreal  joked on TV that if Cardinal Ouellet was elected, the Vatican would be moved to Montreal. In every one of my interviews I was asked whether a new pope might change the Church’s teaching on contraception, the ordination of women and abortion.  I had to calmly explain that the pope is not an absolute monarch, he is a constitutional monarch.  Constitutional monarchs can’t do whatever they like, they can exercise power only within certain limits.  In the constitutional monarchies of the world these limits are set out in a constitution, or in the case of the United Kingdom, in constitutional conventions.  In the case of the papacy these limits are prescribed by revelation or what we call the ‘deposit of the faith’.  I referred to Pope Benedict’s final homily in which he said that the Church belonged not to him or to the 1.2 billion Catholics around the world, but to Christ.  If Christ didn’t ordain women then the Pope can’t either.  The secular media find this very hard to understand but I think the constitutional monarchy idea helps.  Of course, when 1960s generation nuns get interviewed on television and say that they are in favour of the ordination of women, it causes an enormous amount of confusion.

Pope Francis receives Madagascar's transitional leader Andry Rajoelina at the end of a private audience in his private library at the Vatican on April 26, 2103.       Do you think that Pope Francis has a bigger challenge inside the Church than outside? Every Pope faces challenges from outside the Church.  The devil will cause trouble until the end of time.  But some Popes enjoy more internal unity. Pope Francis has inherited a situation where there is very little unity, so much so that Pope Benedict believed that only a younger, stronger man, could handle the problem.  While both John Paul II and Benedict XVI produced wonderful documents and homilies, their teaching was often blocked at various ‘middle management’ levels and never made it to grass roots or parish level.  There is still an enormous amount of confusion about Vatican II.  In some countries like Australia Catholic children spent 12 years at schools administered by the Church but unless they happen to be fortunate to be taught by someone who actually practices his or her faith and understands it, they are unlikely to be catechised.  They leave 12 years of “Catholic education” quite ignorant of what the faith is about.  This is often explained by the word ‘secularisation’.  Some people think that secularism is some kind of nasty force external to the Church which attacks it from without.  However secularism is a kind of heresy which arose within Christian countries when people within the Church thought that they could sever the ‘fruits of Christianity’ from actual belief in the Trinity and participation in the sacramental life of the Church.  As Cardinal Angelo Scola has written, only Christians can make the anti-Christ possible.  The anti-Christ is always parasitic about Christianity.  When Christianity becomes decadent, then all kinds of diabolical actions and people can flourish.  Pope Francis has inherited a Church weakened by decadence and disunity within and by several centuries of oppression from without.

Some note Francis’ simplicity and dedication to prayer with approval. Others fear that he will not support the Extraordinary Rite. What is your take on this? I don’t know what to predict because, unlike our previous two popes who were world class scholars with mountains of publications people could read their way through, this Pope rarely ever gives interviews and he has not published very much at all.  So one can’t trawl through public statements and scholarly articles to get an insight into the way he approaches theological issues.  There is also an old saying “as lost as a Jesuit in Holy Week”, meaning that Jesuits are not renowned for their deep liturgical sensibilities.  They are not Benedictines. My intuition is that he is not  someone who shares Pope Benedict’s liturgical sensibilities, but he might nonetheless take the view that so long as people attending the Extraordinary Rite are otherwise faithful Catholics, that he doesn’t really care about their ritual preferences.  Quite a few members of the hierarchy adopt Mao Tse-Tung’s maxim of “Let a Thousand Flowers Bloom”.  In other words, while they may have no personal preference for the Extraordinary Rite, they acknowledge the sociological fact that significant numbers of people do prefer this Rite, and their attitude is that so long as people are actually going to Mass, their ritual preferences are a matter of legitimate choice.  The more bureaucratic types however don’t like pluralism, don’t like choice, because choice increases the demands of education and administration.  For example, when there are two Rites, seminarians need to be trained to say both.  I think that people who prefer the Extraordinary Rite need to make it very obvious to their local Ordinaries that they are on board with the Church’s official teachings, that they are otherwise involved in the life of the Church and that they are not insisting on attending the Extraordinary Rite in order to make a political statement about their opposition to the Second Vatican Council.  In short, they need to send a message that it is all about beauty and transcendence, not political resistance.

trowland3OUT-POSITIONED AND OUT-CLASSED:  Secular media coverage of the 2013 conclave was outshone by upstart US network EWTN – founded by Mother Angelica, a ‘nun with nerve’– and anchored by Raymond Arroyo and Colleen Carroll Campbell.

I recently saw a meme on Facebook that said, “Why is it that the Catholic Church doesn’t go crazy when they change heads of the International Society of Atheists?” Why IS it, do you think, that the Church seems a source of endless fascination for the secular media? I think that pop culture is extremely banal and as such it lacks pathos.  Drama doesn’t work well as drama unless the events which take place are of eternal significance.  Catholics believe that the Pope is Christ’s vicar on earth.  They believe that he holds the keys of St. Peter – to forgive sin in Christ’s name, no less.  The secular journalists find it fascinating because whatever it is, it is not boring.  It also satisfies the human need for tradition.  Modernity has been described as a culture of forced forgetting.  The memory of the Church however stretches back not only to the Incarnation, but to Creation, and her imagination reaches forward to the consummation of the world.  The Christian approach to time is liturgical.  As Cardinal Scola says, Christianity is the moment when the now meets the forever. 

We are living through a period in time when our general culture is really awful, really low, and we have to use our imaginations to think of a different way of being, to make friends with people who are not trapped in the culture of death, and to look after one another.  As the world becomes more and more ugly, Christians will start to stand out precisely because of their personal dignity and the beauty of their family life and then the task of re-evangelisation will become much easier. 

I think that initiatives like Regina Magazine are precisely what are needed.

The first time I attended an Extraordinary Rite Mass, I was struck by the drama of the moment of consecration.  I was at the Church of St. Eugene in Paris in the late 1990s.  It was before Summorum Pontificum but the priests were in Communion with the Pope and their local bishop.  It was not a Lefebrvist service.  The choir chanted the Sanctus which went on for some minutes over the voice of the priest who continued silently saying the Eucharistic Prayer.  Towards the end of the Sanctus the music became more and more dramatic, more like a fugue and then the priest held up the host, every single altar server fell completely prostrate on the floor of the sanctuary and the bells of the Church were peeled.  The figure of the priest was in part blurred by a curtain of incense and one could simply see a blotch of colour created by his vestments.  The only way this moment of consecration could have been any more dramatic would have been if an honour guard of officers had presented arms – something which was a tradition at Corpus Christi Masses.  No journalist watching this could have found it boring. In Sacramentum Caritatis Pope Benedict wrote that at the moment of consecration there occurs a kind of nuclear fission when the bread and wine is changed into the body and blood of Christ.  Sometimes there are moments when the Church makes this nuclear fission palpable, and grace triumphs over despair.

In short, my answer is, the world craves an encounter with eternity, the world craves transcendence and this is what the Church has to offer when her officer class has not been overrun by philistines or people with psychological disorders in league with the devil.  Secular journalists are often people who yearn for transcendence and an experience of the infinite as much as anyone and they can see glimpses of it in the Church, notwithstanding all the blemishes.

“Pop culture is extremely banal and as such it lacks pathos.  Drama doesn’t work well unless the events which take place are of eternal significance.  Catholics believe that the Pope is Christ’s vicar on earth.  They believe that he holds the keys of St. Peter – to forgive sin in Christ’s name, no less.  Secular journalists find it fascinating because whatever it is, it is not boring.”

What do you see as the greatest source of hope? The many sources of hope include the numbers of younger women entering religious life, often in new religious Orders that are seeking to re-evangelise the countries of the Christian West.  If one thinks, for example, of the Sisters of Life in New York or the Dominican Sisters of St Cecilia in Nashville or the Sisters of the Immaculata in Sydney, in every case the order is teeming with vocations and the young women are all highly educated, gracious in manner and otherwise highly marriageable.  They are not entering religious life to escape poverty and acquire an education.  They are not people with limited social options.  They are entering religious life because they really do want to be in a spousal relationship with Christ and spend their lives leading others to Christ.  Then there are the young Catholic families where both parents are fully across the teachings of Blessed John Paul II on marriage and family life and are doing their best to turn their families into domestic churches, notwithstanding the fact that most government economic and educational policies are stacked against them.  When I go to Mass and see a young family with several children, and see that the little girls look pretty with ribbons in their hair, and the little boys are made to stand back and allow their sisters into the pew ahead of them, then I think that the culture of death will not be victorious.  We are just living through a period in time when our general culture is really awful, really low, and we have to use our imaginations to think of a different way of being, to make friends with people who are not trapped in the culture of death, and to look after one another.  As the world becomes more and more ugly, Christians will start to stand out precisely because of their personal dignity and the beauty of their family life and then the task of re-evangelisation will become much easier.  I think that initiatives like Regina are precisely what is needed.

trowland4A GREAT SOURCE OF HOPE ARE THE NEW TRADITIONAL RELIGIOUS ORDERS, teeming with vocations — and the young women are all highly educated, gracious in manner and otherwise marriageable.  They are not entering religious life to escape poverty and acquire an education.  They are not people with limited social options. They have a spousal love for Jesus.

 
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Australian Catholic children spend 12 years at schools administered by the Church, but unless they happen to be fortunate to be taught by someone who actually practices his or her faith and understands it, they are unlikely to be catechized.  They leave 12 years of “Catholic education” quite ignorant of what the Faith is about…”  Dr. Tracey Rowland

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Featured Pope Benedict picture Osservatore Romano with permission

Photo of Pope Francis by Stefano Spaziani with permission

 

When You Are in Crisis

You are in crisis.

Your marriage is over. Or you are losing your house. Or someone close has died.

Whatever the cause, the anxiety is killing you.

Suddenly, you understand why people commit suicide. Your life has devolved down to the gnawing fear in the pit of your stomach. You are unable to concentrate. 

At best, your life has become an unending series of painful tasks.

Joy has deserted you.

This is when you need God – and the Church.

What you need now is a plan.

coping1

“Twelve years ago, I learned that my ex-husband had been systematically raiding our bank account,” says Betty, now remarried and in her fifties. “He spent nearly $100,000 on courses to become ‘enlightened’ in a cult. I didn’t notice because I was too busy working night and day to support the family. He was a free-lancer who consistently lost clients – and as I came to understand, a sociopath.”

Betty was left to raise their two children on her own, as her ex paid no child support. She turned to an 80 year old Monsignor, who gave her hard-headed advice. “He told me three things: ‘Get your finances in order. Keep a close eye on your kids. And stay close to the Church.’”

Betty did all these things. Within months, her finances were under control, and her  children recovered.  Four years later, she met and married a good Catholic man – at the ripe old age of 47! Today, her almost-grown children are happy, healthy and successful.

Betty’s story is exceptional. Not everyone has a wise Monsignor to turn to. This was Elena’s situation. “I knew for many years that my husband would probably die before me,” she says. “But when he did, it was still a shock. I spent two years watching TV, not wanting to leave my house.”

Sarah’s ex did everything to demoralize her before he finally left her for another woman. “He told me I was fat. He said that I disgusted him. That he deserved a super-model.” To her utter shock, he took every dime in their bank account, too.

coping2Michelle’s ex-husband grew increasingly aloof from her, and their lovemaking became less and less frequent. Finally, it stopped altogether. Then, her 14 year old daughter stumbled upon his child pornography websites. The damage to both mother and daughter’s psyches has been incalculable.

“I’ve come to believe that internet porn is really something diabolical,” says this slender woman with tired eyes. “It utterly destroyed our marriage, and today he is a shell of the man I fell in love with.”

coping3There is social decay, and families seem incredibly vulnerable. And women bear the brunt of much if not all of this.

These all-too-common tragedies are the stuff of our daily lives, it seems.  And for many women, trauma like this start a downward spiral which compounds the damage as they attempt to cope using food, alcohol, drugs, or sex. Worse, the damage overwhelms their children, who become easy prey for the dark forces in our society.

“Some of these things are a normal part of life – birth, sickness and death. But the plain fact of the matter is that Catholics – like everyone today – are fearful,” says one American priest. “There is social decay, and families seem incredibly vulnerable. And women bear the brunt of much of this.”

How to cope when you are in crisis? The key is to recognize that you are Catholic, and to understand the Church’s wisdom in teaching that we are complex creatures of body, emotions and spirit.

When you are in crisis, each of these aspects of YOU have been attacked — and traumatized. Trauma requires treatment. Therefore, you must put a recovery plan into effect for yourself. Unfortunately, nobody else can do this for you. It’s your life, your health and your children who are at stake. Ready? Let’s roll.

STEP ONE: REALIZE AND RECOGNIZE

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First, you must realize that it is your solemn responsibility to get your life in order.

Then, recognize that you are only human. Your recovery will take time.

How long? Only God knows. This leads us to Step Two:

STEP TWO: SPIRITUAL SUSTENANCE

coping5Your soul has been traumatized. So you need to turn to the Church. Everything you need is there for you: Confession, Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament, Holy Communion. These are all nourishment that your damaged spirit needs now to start healing.

Spiritual care is crucial to your recovery. You must do one good thing for your SPIRIT every single day. In the beginning, this may be something as simple as sitting in church and silently praying over and over: “Help me. Help me.”

This is fine. In fact, it’s a big step. The best way to do this is to be in front of the Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament. In fact, it’s worth traveling for, if it is not done in your parish. For sure you can find it at a traditional parish here:  

http://web2.iadfw.net/carlsch/MaterDei/churches.html

Later, you may be able to progress to reading the Bible, praying the rosary or reading about the saints.  But remember: ONE GOOD THING FOR YOUR SPIRIT every single day.

STEP THREE: PHYSICAL NURTURING

coping6Your body has been traumatized. Maybe you can’t sleep or eat properly. Or you have mysterious aches and pains – or worse, real stress-induced illness. It’s time to heal by doing one good thing for your BODY every single day. Remember that exercise needn’t be violent. Experts recommend that you get 30 minutes of moderate exercise, three times a week. As your recovery progresses, don’t slack off:  ALWAYS DO ONE GOOD THING FOR YOUR BODY every single day.

Attend an exercise class

Work out at home

Garden or other outdoor tasks

Swim or hike

Walk or run

Ride a bike

Do breathing and stretching exercises

Take a hot bath

Give yourself a home manicure/pedicure

Get your hair done

Get your nails done

Get a massage or a facial – or both!

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You can’t heal on junk food. Cook – and cook often. Invite friends and neighbors to your table on a regular basis for fresh, healthy food. (Need ideas? See ‘Sunday Dinner with the Romans’ in this issue.)

STEP FOUR: EMOTIONAL SUPPORT

Your emotions have been traumatized. Perhaps you feel numb. Maybe you can’t stop worrying. It’s possible that you have sudden crying spells. Or you have thoughts that you cannot control. Maybe you are even thinking about suicide.

Do not be afraid. Bad feelings are normal when you have been traumatized. It is imperative that you recognize this and do one good thing for your emotional state every single day.

Get yourself a good, Catholic therapist. How? Ask a good, Catholic priest or nun – or friend or relative. You need someone who is skilled at working with trauma – and who is not trained to be ‘value neutral.’ A practicing Catholic therapist will understand and support your moral values and your need for prayer.

Remember, you are carrying a poison around inside of you. Get it out of your system. Be persistent. Talk it out.

Next, you need some talking buddies. That is, more than one person who will listen to you. Why? Because you need to talk this out. So, be sensible and spread the wealth. Don’t overburden any one friend with your pain – respect their need to live their lives, too. Finally, get yourself a fat notebook or two. You are going to use this to journal everything. Here’s some ideas to help you get started:

  • How Could This Happen?
  • Why I Hate My Life Now
  • My Prayer for Today
  • Help Me, Lord
  • What I Want for My Kids
  • What I Must Fix This Week
  • What I Accomplished Today
  • What I Need To Do Tomorrow
  • How I Want to be Living In a Year

Then, begin.

EVERY SINGLE DAY: Talk about your pain. Write down what you are thinking. Your agony. Your prayers. Your hopes. Your plans. Remember, you are carrying a poison around inside of you. Get it out of your system. Over time, your need to talk and to write about this will wane, as you begin to heal.

Grief experts say it takes about a year, at minimum, to recover from a devastating loss. But everyone is different. Your recovery is a completely individual process.

You, however, are not helpless in all of this. Once you understand that you must work to take care of your whole self – body and soul – you will have taken the first, crucial steps out of the dark place where you are now.

Why The Media Always Get It Wrong

“Habemus Papam!” The smoke billowing from the Sistine Chapel was white. On March 13, Pope Francis greeted 100,000 joyful Catholics who thronged St. Peter’s Square.

It was a perfect time for the talking heads in the “24-hour news cycle” to begin their incessant – and wrong — speculations. Columnists, politicians, and anyone who can get close to a microphone were telling the faithful what the church has to do to become more relevant.

In the days since the accession of Pope Francis to the Throne of St. Peter, the din has only gotten louder. I have a request to all of above: Put a sock in it. There is nothing as unattractive as a person with great knowledge or experience on more mundane matters discussing things about which he or she knows absolutely nothing. In the days leading up to the election and since, the punditry class has continued to ferret out dissenting opinions seeming to determine the best way for the Church to “get with it” is to harangue it.

CBS had to find two gals in the square of the estimated 250,000 that demanded ‘wymynpriests.’ Other networks did the same, and more. From divorced couples in their second marriages to homosexual activity to a plethora of other gripes, the news media was out in force not trying to understand the orthodox position, but rail against it. So let’s go through the list: women priests? Ain’t gonna happen. Same-sex marriage? Ditto. Birth control? See one and two. Pope Francis is a staunch defender of traditional Catholic doctrine (a key word, remember it).

Unlike many of the people spouting off in the media, this writer has spent much of his life reading, learning and understanding the doctrines of the church. Not only do I know the doctrines of the church, I understand their bases, and where they originate. I also know the difference between doctrine (women priests and same-sex marriage) versus discipline (clerical celibacy). Many in the punditry class not only get the two mixed up, they never attempt to understand them in the first place. That’s where I get angry, and I’m not the only one. Many Catholics are tired of having a caricature of our beliefs paraded around by people who don’t want to know any better.

When it comes to women in the clergy, this question was decided by John Paul II more than 17 years ago, and is considered part of the magisterium of the church (that means teaching authority, pundits), but it is also considered part of the infallible deposit of faith. To simplify, JPII’s statement simply said women can’t be priests because it is outside the realm of the church to change something that has been handed down to it. This isn’t politics, it is doctrine.

As far as same-sex marriage goes, we believe that man and women have different natures. We don’t buy into the current fashion that men and women are interchangeable except for the (to quote Monty Python) “naughty bits,” and that any differences are sociological or bred into the person. We believe the nature of a man and a woman is essentially different. They are complementary and that allows for the procreation of children as a real and necessary part of marriage. In fact, in our religion it is a sacrament, one of seven.

You, Mr. or Ms. Pundit, see marriage as a strictly social construct.  We see it as a physical and metaphysical union. Your limited outlook sees marriage as a matter of politics; we go far beyond that. Would it hurt to find out why Mother Church teaches on the matter? Google it if you don’t want to sift through the Catechism of the Catholic Church, or use Wikipedia. You can have your questions answered in seconds.

And while we’re on the subject of doctrine, I realize that many denominations have synods or conventions or confabulations of some sort wherein they determine what their doctrine is or isn’t. That means some ecclesial communities have women clergy or now bless same-sex unions. Let them, and more power to them. If people want to go that route, they can join those communions. We don’t and can’t put doctrines to a vote. Then they’d cease to be “doctrines” –by definition.

It’s the same with contraception. Does it interest you to know that this issue was discussed in some of the earliest documents the church has? It was proscribed then, and is proscribed now for the reasons that, among other things, frustrating the sexual act objectifies the people involved. Isn’t that something you are against? Would it interest you to know that up until 1930, every Protestant denomination taught the same as the Catholics? Yup, it wasn’t until the Lambeth Conference in that year that the Anglican Church broke with almost 2,000 years and other denominations quickly followed suit.

And bringing on such old dissident war horses like Matthew Fox or Sr. Mary Pantsuit of the Sisters of Charity, who ceased living the rule a long time ago, makes no difference. These people bring to life a famous quote by the Anglican convert Ronald Knox. He said the basic difference between Catholics and Protestants is that with Protestants they lose their faith and then their morals, with Catholics it’s the other way round. These people lost their moral bearings, but still want to call themselves Catholics, when in fact they ceased to be Catholic a long time ago.

Many of our modern-day politicians are in the same boat. My own congresswoman from the Connecticut Third Congressional District likes to trot out her First Communion photo,  but when it comes to abortion, birth control and same-sex marriage, she talks more like a Democrat than a Catholic. But, she still likes to call herself a Catholic. I can call myself an elephant, but that doesn’t make me one. The point is we’re not going to change our stance on moral teachings or any other doctrine just to “get with” the times. These are considered immutable truths. I know thinking of things as true and false is not something you’re used to in your world of ‘relativity,’ but some of us do think that way.

Ronald Knox said the basic difference between Catholics and Protestants is that Protestants lose their faith and then their morals, whereas with Catholics it’s the other way around. These old dissident war horses lost their moral bearings, but still want to call themselves Catholics.

And just so we’re clear: We don’t meddle in politics except when politics meddles with our beliefs. Abortion and same-sex marriage are two issues that encroach on our beliefs. We have a right and a responsibility to speak out against something that we believe is morally wrong.  Does that mean we’re perfect and without sin? Nope. That’s why our churches have confessionals – and guess what, confession is coming back in style. It’s a lot cheaper than hiring a shrink and the priest can say three little words that a shrink can’t, “Ego te absolvo.”

And we know we’ve had problems with scandals, but if you look at it, we’re not better or worse than other segments of society – just more visible. We’re working on those difficulties and the hurt our people caused. It means we’ve got work to do, but we’ve faced issues just as painful. But if you want a real good side-bar to the abuse story, find out why so many above-mentioned psychiatrists and psychologists put offenders back into circulation. Many of our bishops were only doing what the professionals were telling them, you know, the experts. That’s the part of the story yet to be told.

The point is, if you’re going to opine about us, at least have the intellectual honesty and journalistic integrity to find out what we believe and why. If you’re not going to do that, please gasbag about something else, and leave those of us who take these things seriously alone.  What you have is not an opinion, but a prejudice because, in the final analysis, you want it that way.

 

dumb2Bill Riccio, Jr. is editor and publisher of the West Haven (CT) Voice, a weekly periodical. He is an assistant organist at St. Mary’s Church, Norwalk (CT) and an instituted acolyte in the Diocese of Bridgeport. He may be contacted by email.  Bill Riccio photo be Stuart Chessman.

Featured photo attributed to Vdp (edição), This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported, 2.5 Generic, 2.0 Generic and 1.0 Generic license.

 

The Catholic Wedding of the Year 2012

By Lucy Mc Vicker Archduchess Kathleen of Austria is everything a princess should be – poised, graceful, elegant, articulate, God-fearing, humble, and virtuous. She is also an American with a passion to defend the poor, the lonely, the pre-born and their mothers.  I know about this passion, because I was blessed with this inspiring friend … Read more