January/February/March 2021

Brave new Church?

Anthony Towey

There are reasons to be hopeful as a new year dawns. Like London buses, a series of vaccines have suddenly appeared ready for deployment against the curse of a global pandemic that has paralysed our liturgical and pastoral practice alike. Desultory funerals and minimalistic wedding feasts may soon be a thing of the past as restrictions are lifted and the faithful are allowed to express their sorrows and joys. Sacramental celebrations of Baptism, Confirmation, First Communion and Ordination can now be planned by parishes and dioceses no longer fettered by the constraints of either legislation or legitimate fears. 2020 was awful – bring on 2021!
For most people, one feature of the return to normality will be that life will take on a more physical, a literally more sensible dimension. The possibility of meeting one another, enjoying a meal or visit and of communicating in ways other than Whatsapp, Facebook, Twitter etc. will surely be healthy. Even the workplace may become less dominated by the strange depersonalisation occasioned by Zoom meetings.

Yet there is no guarantee that there will be a return to normality. Both priests and people are right to be anxious about the brave new world emerging from this global lockdown, since this long sabbatical from sacramental life is unprecedented. Moreover, we have ostensibly been saved not by the white-robed heroes of prayer but by the white-robed priests of science, a perception that may well lead some of our citizens to become vaccinated in body but inoculated in soul.

So, will habits of practice have changed for ever and the combination of facilitation and convenience of online religion become more characteristic of Catholic allegiance than eucharistic gathering on Sunday? Alas too late perhaps, the Churches have realised the precedent set in these times when the Government has permitted sporting events to continue with all rules and regulations respected but have decoupled the communal essence of liturgy voiced by Dominus vobiscum. S/he who sings may ‘pray twice’ but not until Boris Johnson says so!

There must be a risk that religious worship mediated through the portal of television simply takes its place among the roster of entertainment possibilities on offer in an environment where the competition is fierce. Alongside reality shows (sic) and the round of soap operas, the social commentator Terry Eagleton has for some time noted the ways in which sport, and football in particular, is beginning to dominate notions of allegiance and identity, a psychological space once occupied by politics and religion:

[It] stands in for all those noble causes – religious faith, national sovereignty, personal honour, ethnic identity – for which, over the centuries, people have been prepared to go to their deaths. Sport involves tribal loyalties and rivalries, symbolic rituals, fabulous legends, iconic heroes, epic battles, aesthetic beauty, physical fulfilment, intellectual satisfaction, sublime spectaculars, and a profound sense of belonging.1

There is a task at hand here and not just in Britain. As well as fostering the inspired initiatives which have flourished in these strange times, the markers of Catholic identity, the signs of allegiance, the expressions of deep solidarity which have been interrupted by secular interdict must be infused with new energy. ‘Normality’ probably won’t be good enough now; we must accept that some fellow sojourners will have gone for ever and the Church must be as brave as Gideon in confronting its mission with fewer companions at arms. Like the pruning of a vine, our prayer must be this crisis will lend more vigour to growth, a new appreciation of the Eucharist, more power in the holy assembly and deeper consolation among the faithful. In short, a prayer that we might live out our deepest identity more fully, as beloved children of the Father, who together in the Spirit, become the Body of Christ.

1 Eagleton, T., The Meaning of Life, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008, p. 26.

Whither global governance?

The finer points of recent papal documents which feature Catholic Social Teaching on international governance are often lost in translation, writes Philip Booth, Professor of Finance, Public Policy and Ethics at St Mary’s University.

When a papal encyclical is issued, it is combed for political statements by the media and commentators. Wild headlines are then often produced. The publication of Fratelli tutti (2020) was no exception, nor that of Caritas in veritate (2009). In both cases, pronouncements on the seemingly mundane subject of international governance were the subject of press attention. As with some other papal documents, clumsy translation and editing, either of the document itself or of derivative publications, perhaps clouded rather than clarified issues.

In fact, Catholic teaching on global governance is rather guarded, and this article argues that nuance was especially apparent in Fratelli tutti. It could also be argued that the encyclical expressed views that were somewhat compatible with those often expressed by academic supporters of free markets and political liberalism who came in for some criticism elsewhere in the document. Within this school of economics, there is some welcome for the principle of international institutions combined with caution about some of their practical manifestations.

In the next section of this article, questions surrounding translation and presentation are explored. We then look at the justification and provenance of global governance in Catholic Social Teaching. Finally, some arguments from political economy are related to the analysis in Fratelli tutti before concluding.
The United Nations – more canines or more concrete?

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Fratelli tutti and popular politics

In Fratelli tutti, Pope Francis explores what contribution the Catholic tradition can make in politics, writes Amy Daughton, Lecturer in Practical Theology in the Department of Theology and Religion at the University of Birmingham.

When the Stranger says: “What is the meaning of this city?
Do you huddle close together because you love each other?”
What will you answer? “We all dwell together
To make money from each other”? or “This is a community”?1

Like T. S. Eliot’s Stranger, Fratelli tutti asks us many questions. They are questions that strike at the heart of our political life. It asks each of us to consider for ourselves ‘What mark did I leave on the life of society? What real bonds did I create?’ (197). It asks us whether law itself will not fail if it does not stand on the principle ‘that each human being is sacred and inviolable?’ (207). It asks us ‘What is tenderness?’ (194).

It is the question of the Stranger that stands behind each of these – what is the meaning of our lives together? What is our collective life for? This encyclical is a summons to seek better answers than mere convenience.

Catholic social teaching has been a tradition of thinking that opposes itself to the cynicism that can characterise contemporary political commentary. Its modern emergence in the late nineteenth century focused on concrete injustices, expecting that they might be changed by moral exhortation. Its ancient origins conceive of community as gathering about a plentiful table, if our relations were really founded in love of neighbour and the goodness of creation were shared and not hoarded. Fratelli tutti continues in that trajectory by taking seriously that ancient possibility of love, casting it here as a specifically political task: ‘Politics too must make room for a tender love of others’ (194). For that purpose, love is here cast as social friendship, founded in a recognition of universal kinship between people. The outworking of that social friendship is a ‘better kind of politics’ (V).

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Fratelli tutti on war: What next for Catholic social teaching?

Pope Francis’ new encyclical very nearly rejects Just War reasoning, writes Theodora Hawksley, who leads the social and environmental justice programme at the London Jesuit Centre.

When Pope Francis changed the Catechism’s teaching on the death penalty in 2018, some voices in Catholic media were deeply unhappy. The death penalty had always been permitted by Catholic teaching; how, therefore, could Pope Francis change the constant teaching of the Church and make impermissible something that had always been permissible? The simple answer was that, in more recent teaching, the Church has treated the death penalty as permissible only when there is no other way of protecting society from the offender. John Paul II argued that such circumstances today were ‘very rare…if not practically non-existent’ (Evangelium vitae 56). Pope Francis just pulled the loophole shut: there are no such circumstances anymore, and the death penalty should be abolished. At the time, I wondered whether future years would see the same logic applied to Catholic teaching on Just War, which has been moving in the same direction since John XXIII’s Pacem in terris in 1963. The answer, looking at Pope Francis’ Fratelli tutti, is ‘Yes’.

War and the death penalty
Fratelli tutti groups the death penalty and war together in one section (FT 255–270), and the same logic runs through both. The death penalty is a means of ‘protecting the lives of other people from the unjust aggressor’; today, there are ways of doing that other than capital punishment, and therefore the death penalty is now inadmissible. Notice here that killing is regarded as prima facie wrong, or at least incompatible with recognising the ‘inalienable dignity of every human being’ (FT 269), and therefore requiring justification. Notice also the parallel reasoning about war: war is understood as a means of ‘repairing the violation of justice’ (FT 260); it is, echoing Carl von Clausewitz’s classic definition, ‘a continuation of political intercourse, carried on with other means’.1 There are now other ways of negotiating such conflicts (the United Nations system, FT 257), and therefore war is no longer a ‘fit instrument’. The document also points out that even when war is purportedly being used as an instrument in this way, vested interests and manipulation are often behind the justifications offered (FT 258). Added to this basic reasoning are two further arguments against war.

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Pilgrim Companions: Assimilating the IICSA Reports

In autumn 2020, the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse published its investigation reports into the Roman Catholic and Anglican Churches. Brendan Callaghan SJ is Chaplain for Manchester Universities’ Catholic Chaplaincy.

In October 2016, at the Commissioning of the ARCIC-III bishops, Pope Francis and Archbishop Welby spoke of their Churches as being Pilgrim Companions. October and November 2020 saw the publication by the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) of its reports on the Church of England and the Church in Wales, and on the Roman Catholic Church in England and Wales. The reports themselves do not make comparisons across the Churches, but in the spirit of being Pilgrim Companions, and at a little distance from the more immediate reactions to the publication of the two reports, it is instructive to explore what lessons might be learnt from what the Inquiry found to be common across the Churches.

In line with the overall remit of IICSA, the focus of the hearings was to ‘examine the extent of any institutional failures to protect children from sexual abuse’. Given the scale of abuse and the inappropriate institutional responses, the two reports are inevitably weighted towards the critical. Each report includes detailed descriptions of the Church-as-organised-institution, the complexities of which provide contexts for understanding some of what might otherwise be incomprehensible. But even allowing for these complexities, IICSA is severely critical of how each Church responded to allegations of abuse, and of the limited extent to which each cooperated with the work of IICSA, highlighting in particular the response of the Holy See: ‘Their lack of cooperation passes understanding.’ While the Recommendations in particular point to what needs to be done, the descriptive material does touch on and acknowledge what has already been done and what is currently being done.
Both Reports begin with selected and harrowing accounts of the experience of some of those abused. This approach helps to ensure that the voices of victims and survivors do not get lost once again as they have been so often in the past. One of the recurring themes in both reports is the inability of those in positions of responsibility and leadership really to hear what has been and is still being said by people who have been affected by abuse. The Pen Portraits opening each report help the reader to hear these voices, and so to keep aware of the real people involved.

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