The Pre-eminent issue

The Wall Street Journal, in its Review section on February 6, carried an article by Francis X. Rocca, on the social teaching of the Catholic Church. He reported on the statement issued by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops on the day of the inauguration of President Biden, deploring the fact that “Our new President has pledged to pursue certain policies that would advance moral evils and threaten human life and dignity, most seriously in the areas of abortion, contraception, marriage and gender.” Thus the bishops courageously proclaimed and upheld what is, and has ever been,  undoubtedly the consistent and timeless teaching of the Catholic Church.

There is, however, a minority of U.S. bishops who demur, including Bishop Robert McElroy who is quoted in the Wall Street Journal article as saying that “abortion is not the pre-eminent issue ….” – even though he regularly asserts in his recitation of the Nicene Creed that the Holy Spirit is the Lord and giver of life: the Spirit of God, the breath of God who hovered over the waters in the very beginning of the creation of life (Gen 1:2), the power of the Most High who overshadowed Mary (Luke 1:35) in the incarnation of the One who is the way, the truth and the life. “In him,” St. John tells us, “was life” (John 1:4).  It is a difficult, indeed, to imagine an issue that is more “pre-eminent” than abortion, since it is an assault on the very nature and being of God himself.

Moses, at the Burning Bush, asks God for his name, so that he might assure the enslaved Israelites that he was indeed commissioned to lead them to freedom. “God said to Moses, ‘I AM WHO I AM’ (Exod. 3:14).” So God revealed to us not only his name but also his very nature in a way that we can understand it.

 In her lovely book God: What Every Catholic Should Know Elizabeth Klein says that: “Remember that the word ‘nature’ refers to what God is, the essence of God and what he can do. The name ‘I AM WHO I AM’ …. tells us that God is not one living thing among many things, not one form of existence within the universe that can be counted with others, but that God is. God is life itself [my emphasis], God exists through himself and not by the power of another, and without God there is nothing else.” Elizabeth Klein adds that God’s revelation of his name demolishes any false notions of God as a distant watchmaker or impersonal force.

 On the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel you can see Michaelangelo’s famous depiction of the creation of Adam. The hand of God the Creator is outstretched toward the hand of the yet-unliving Adam, their fingers almost, but not quite, touching. Between them is the inconceivably vast energy of the entire creation. Their fingers touch; and God said “Let there be” – and there was.

So this is God who sets before us a choice – a stark choice susceptible to no “ifs”, “buts” or evasion. “I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. Therefore choose life, that you and your offspring” – born and unborn –”may live… (Deut 30:19).” I invite President Biden, Bishop McElroy et al. to make their choice and to express it unequivocally.  

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Sub specie aeternitatis

Sub specie æternitatis

Recently I contributed the following piece to a local parish bulletin:

Very many years ago, when I was a teenager, my father made his one and only venture into political activism, standing for election to our city council. In the course of some off-the-cuff remarks at a rally he characterized his opponent as one who would be so profligate and foolish as to use public funds to provide pink shoe-laces for cats. It was, of course, hyperbole. My father was soundly defeated at the polls. Politics in those days could certainly be fun: disparate and contradictory points of view could be debated and respected as legitimate differences of opinion.

In our own day things have changed. Many questions – economic issues, taxation, foreign policy, and so on – are matters for reasonable (and charitable) discussion. But there are other non-negotiable areas of profound moral, philosophical, ethical concern where there can be no possibility of debate, no room for compromise or maneuver. These are matters which, in the words of George Bernanos, concern “the mysterious solidarity of God and man which is the most august mystery of Christianity”. These words come from Liberty: The Last Essays. In the same book Bernanos reflects on a civilization that is “crumbling before our very eyes and is being replaced by nothing. …. In place of the great accumulated savings of civilization, of humanity, of spirituality, of sanctity, we are offered a worthless check …”

In the weeks that remain before we cast our votes in the forthcoming election we, as Catholics, as Christians, should reflect on what it means to be – above and beyond all else – subjects of Christ the King.  As Jesus himself taught us, we pray every day: “Thy Kingdom come; Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” For the sake of our souls we can do nothing that mitigates or compromises the absolute priority of that prayer. 

In the words of the prophet Jeremiah, we are to: “Seek the welfare of the city where I have set you in exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf …” Note the word “exile”. St. Peter describes us, in his First Letter, as “aliens and exiles”. As the writer to the Hebrews put it, “Here we have no lasting city”. As St. Paul wrote to the Philippians, “Our citizenship is in heaven.” And he reminded the Ephesians that they were “fellow citizens with the saints, members of the household of God”. 

None of this is hyperbole, exaggeration or rhetoric, but a precise and exact statement of saving Truth. And we must strive to understand our civic and electoral responsibilities solely in this light and perspective.

Now I would add the following:


How, then, in the light of this understanding are we to evaluate the positions taken by such soi-disant Catholics are Joe Biden and Nancy Pelosi?

Joe Biden has recently quoted Pope St. John Paul II who often said: “Be not afraid”. But perhaps Biden is forgetting the fact that the Holy Father was, in fact, himself quoting the words of the Archangel Gabriel, addressed to Mary as she became the Mother of God. These words were not addressed to those who reject motherhood, to those who destroy life that God Himself has given. Joe and Nancy claim to be faithful Catholics. As such they are surely present at Mass every Sunday; and there they proclaim the great Nicene words – “I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life”.

How can it be regarded as anything other than the most egregious hypocrisy to utter such a statement of faith while, at the same time, supporting Planned Parenthood, protecting Roe v. Wade, and defending abortion? Evil is exactly that; and no amount of platitudinous attempts to separate personal opinion from public policy and action can alter that fact.


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The sun of righteousness shall arise, with healing in its wings (Malachi 4:2)

Those who were brought up in the Anglican spiritual tradition may well still whisper the sublime words of the Prayer of Humble Access as they approach the reception of the Blessed Sacrament, our dear Lord’s Body and Blood, his Soul and Divinity. But the Holy Communion is not currently permitted. Strange, isn’t it? I had thought that, by eating the Body of Christ and drinking his Blood, “our sinful bodies may be made clean by his Body, and our souls washed through his most precious Blood”. Surely all cleansing and washing are at the center of our current concern.

The shrine of Our Lady at Lourdes, a place of healing for so many, is currently closed, for the first time in its history. Strange, isn’t it? I had thought that healing is precisely what is needed just now.

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I will go to the Altar of God, the God of my joy and gladness

A few days ago (March 22) Fr. Paul Scalia provided a beautiful reflection (in The Catholic Thing – on “Priests Without People”, our current experience in the coronovirus pandemic of Masses being celebrated privately. I would like to complement his admirable essay with the following two brief quotes.

On the following day, March 23, Fr. John Hunwicke, in his famed daily blog, reminded us of the teaching of the great teaching of  Eric Mascall (who, incidentally, was cited by Karol Wojtyla, later Pope St. John Paul II, when teaching students in Poland). Mascall, a leading Thomist theologian and priest in the Anglo-Catholic tradition in the the Church of England, said that  no Mass is really private, because a Mass said by a priest alone is “as corporate as High Mass sung in St Peter’s in Rome by the Pope in the presence of five hundred bishops and twenty thousand of the laity. For it is the act of Christ in the Corpus Mysticum, his Body, which is the Church”. As he says, “the unity and the corporateness of the Mass are made not by men but by God.

Earlier (October 30, 2019)  Fr. Hunwicke referred to Dr William J. Walsh, Archbishop of Dublin (1885-1921), who wrote: “If all the prayers of loving hearts from the beginning of the world, and all the seraphic worship of the thrones and principalities of heaven, and the burning devotion and love of the Virgin Mother of God, and the million voices of the universe of all creatures of heaven and earth and sea were offered up in one universal and harmonious act of praise and adoration, they would not equal or even approach in value and efficacy the infinite worth of a SINGLE MASS.” As Fr Hunwicke added: “Spot on, yes? A humbling thought for us presbyters, as, morning by morning, we stumble up the steps murmuring Aufer a nobis quaesumus Domine iniquitates nostras ut ad Sancta Sanctorum …

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A Substantial Footnote

A few days after I wrote on “The Lord, and Giver of Life” there came to hand some important words from Cardinal Burke:

” …. a person of faith cannot consider the present calamity in which we find ourselves without considering also how distant our popular culture is from God. It is not only indifferent to His presence in, our midst but openly rebellious toward Him and the good order with which He has  created us and sustains us in being. We need only think of the commonplace violent attacks on human life, male and female which God has made in His own image (Gn 1:27), attacks on the innocent and defenseless unborn, and on those who have first title to our care, those who are heavily burdened with serious illness, advanced years, or special needs. We daily witness to the spread of violence in a culture which fails to respect human life.

“Likewise, we need only to think of the pervasive attack upon the integrity of human sexuality, of our identity as man or woman, with the pretense of defining for ourselves, often employing violent means, a sexuality other than that given to us by God. With ever-greater concern, we witness the devastating effect on individuals and families of the so    -called ‘gender theory’.”

I am grateful indeed to His Eminence for his clarity (and I apologize for the tautological headline above!).

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The Lord and Giver of Life


There was a Democrat primary election in Illinois earlier this week. The eight-term incumbent Dan Lipinski was one of the very few remaining Democrats in the House who oppose abortion – so Marie Newman, who beat him, described herself as the only “real Democrat” between them. Note that word “real”. As the Wall Street Journal pointed out, “the left today tolerates no dissent on abortion.” Two years ago Dan Lipinski’s fellow Illinois Congressman described him as “a dinosaur” and said that he should be “a relic in some museum”.

That being so, no Catholic can vote for a Democrat. Period. NO CATHOLIC CAN VOTE FOR A DEMOCRAT. How could any Catholic possibly vote for anyone who denies that God the Holy Spirit is the Lord and Giver of Life? To endorse any form of barrenness – whether through contraception or abortion – is, quite simply, blasphemous. Every Catholic is a subject of the Kingdom of God, and the laws of that Kingdom are supreme, above all and every temporal political consideration.

And there is a topical footnote: there is an hypothesis, noted a few days ago in Crux, to the effect that there may well be a correlation between declining fertility rates and rapidly rising elderly populations in many societies around the world, and the extent to which those societies have been impacted by the coronovirus.


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Year’s Mind

Charles Avery Mason

” …. God tried them and found them worthy of himself” (Wisdom 3:5)

Charles Avery Mason: does his name mean anything to you? His name appears this week in the anniversary list of the faithful departed published in the Sunday bulletin of a parish located somewhat less than a light-year’s drive from where I write. (Incidentally, that anniversary list was always known as the “Year’s Mind” in the tradition and cultural roots from which that parish claims to spring – and, should you doubt that, you could consult the redoubtable conservator and exponent of that tradition, Father John Hunwicke.)

Recently a kind friend brought back for me two liturgical booklets: The Order for the Canonization of John Henry Cardinal Newman in St Peter’s Square in Rome on October 13, and the Order for Solemn Vespers, a few days later in Westminster Cathedral in London.

The former devotes an introductory page to a brief account of Newman’s life, referring to him specifically as having been ordained as “an Anglican priest” [my emphasis]. In the latter, there is an introductory page written by the Cardinal Archbishop of Westminster, Vincent Nichols, in which he speaks of Newman’s early days as “a young priest of the church of England” [again, my emphasis].

Was he then really a priest in the Church of God? And what of the many names of other Clerks in Holy Orders – my own father among them, together with others who served in, or sprang from, or who befriended that parish – whose names appear annually there for prayerful and thankful remembrance? Certainly, in the understanding of the Anglican Ordinal, and in their own hearts, minds and souls: Yes. In the understanding and hearts of the countless souls whom they absolved, for whom they offered the Holy Sacrifice, whom they accompanied to the gates of death: Yes. As a courtesy, at the very least, they are entitled to be addressed as a priests.

The validity of Anglican orders is a complex matter. There is more than one opinion as to Apostolicae Curae (1896) – and to the significance and efficacy of the infusion of the Old Catholic succession following the Bonn Agreement (1931). But any consideration of the question became sadly irrelevant with the Anglican purported ordination of women, thus totally destroying the Catholic intention without which all subsequent orders are, to quote Leo XIII, “absolutely null and utterly void”.

So what of Charles Avery Mason? Well, he was the Episcopal Bishop of Dallas from 1945 to 1970. Thus he was the Bishop under whose authority and oversight that parish (which surely still has an organic, genetic relationship with what, in God’s grace and mercy, it became) was originally founded some sixty years ago.

So may there be wisdom, courtesy, charity and grace to accord them the honor that is his and their due.

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Love in the time of Coronavirus —

— to misquote Gabriel Garcia Marquez. It may be opportune to provide the following link to a piece that I wrote in this blog just over two years ago:

” … Our souls washed in his Most precious Blood … “

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The following essay was first published on my blog five years ago; it is now slightly updated and revised. I am bringing it back now for several reasons. First, the recently-expressed views of Pope Francis, Cardinal Sarah and Pope-Emeritus Benedict XVI have focused renewed debate on the matter of priestly celibacy. Second, I am not aware of any contribution to that debate which sees the matter through the perspective of the lived experience of married priesthood. But, thirdly, I believe that the overwhelming contemporary significance of the matter concerns the Church’s response to the deadly assault on marriage and family, the enabling of barren life-styles, the consequent destruction of faith, the huge demographic threat – all of which mark the life of our Western society. I cannot over-emphasize the value and importance of the teaching of Mary Eberstadt (see below) in this regard.

There were thirty-five children, aged seven and eight, ready to make their first Confessions: well-prepared, devout, serious and articulate. This recent First Penance service had been arranged in their large local parish; but the parish priest was away; and so three priests – of whom I was one – were invited to assist by administering the sacrament. The penance service itself was conducted by one of the parish’s three deacons – a retired army officer, a fine and theologically-grounded preacher and teacher of the Faith. I have heard several of his excellent Mass homilies, at Masses that he could not himself celebrate. He is not “Father”. Yet he is himself a father, and a grandfather; and, in his homily, he spoke to the children with all the ease and gentle calm reassurance for which he had been prepared by years of paternal ministry in his own family. But he was not a priest; he could not give absolution, and others, from outside that parish community, had to be in brought in to do so.

After the service, the deacon and I were talking; and he, knowing that I am a (former Anglican, Anglo-Catholic, now Roman Catholic) married priest, asked me what I felt about the report that Pope Francis had called the Catholic Church’s requirement that its clergy remain celibate a “problem” for which “there are solutions,” during a controversial interview with an Italian newspaper. The Pope recalled that celibacy was adopted 900 years after the death of Jesus and pointed out that the Eastern Church allows its priests to marry. And, as my late friend Monsignor Edwin Barnes pointed out, St Alcuin was the son and grandson of priests. At the invitation of Charlemagne, he became a leading scholar and teacher at the Carolingian court, where he remained a figure in the 780s and ’90s. He was made Abbot of Tours in 796, where he remained until his death. “There definitely is a problem, but it is not a major one,” Pope Francis was reported as saying. “This needs time, but there are solutions and I will find them.”

More than twenty-five years ago my wife and were in Rome and we were invited to meet the Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith – then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger – at the Holy Office. We have a cherished photograph of that meeting, but I did not keep any precise record of our exact conversation. Nevertheless I do, of course, remember it vividly; but the passage of time means that I cannot now provide a verbatim account. His Eminence said that we represented a different element within the life of the Church. “Well, yes” my wife responded, “we are married ….” But the Cardinal waved that aside, saying that what truly mattered was that we were the bearers of a distinct and particular liturgical, spiritual and cultural tradition. And I remember that Joseph Ratzinger was a signatory with Karl Rahner of a petition to the Doctrinal Commission of the German Bishops’ Conference with regard to keeping open the question of mandatory celibacy.

I responded to the deacon’s question – with which I began above — as I have always done over the years: I, as a married priest, have generally avoided this debate and, hitherto, I have had no desire to take part in any campaign with regard to it – while expressing gratitude, certainly, for what has been granted to me.

Nevertheless, this does not mean that I have no opinions on the matter. Nor can it possibly mean that those of us who have lived the experience of a married priesthood can have no insights to contribute to the discussion. And it is increasingly difficult to remain on the sidelines – partly because of the questionable nature of some of the arguments which are regularly advanced against married priests, and partly because there are some positive elements about such a ministry – however these may ultimately be evaluated – which ought to be set out on record.

Therefore what follows is not in any sense a comprehensive argument, but merely an assessment of some specific points that are regularly advanced in this context, and certain reflections which arise in doing so.

First, let me set out my credentials for claiming to have an opinion which merits consideration. Apart from the years spent in military service, at university and in seminary, my entire life has been spent in clerical households – first that of my father, then in my own. My father was ordained to the Anglican priesthood in the Church of England in 1927. He died in 1981, thus giving 54 years of his life to that ministry. I was ordained to the Anglican priesthood, also in the Church of England, in 1960. Thus, between us, my father and I (each of us was married several years after ordination) can claim an aggregate of well over one hundred years of experience of living the married priesthood in a variety of ministerial settings and assignments.

Some may want to question whether the Anglican portion of this experience this was of a “real” priesthood. Let me respond simply by saying that, in our estimation, intention and experience, it was so. Certainly it was a life focused in the daily liturgy of the Church – the Divine Office, the daily Mass, the administration of the sacraments, the hearing of confessions and the giving of spiritual direction, the pastoral care of people, teaching, visiting the sick and dying, and so on – with the all the spiritual, intellectual, emotional and physical demands which that entails, not to mention an extremely modest material standard of living. My father always made it clear to us, as I have done in my own family, that the needs of the parish and the service of the Kingdom of Christ have absolute first priority in our lives. In practice, this has never actually meant the making of acute and agonizing choices – but, to the contrary, it has brought immense, varied, and often the most unexpected blessings to us. Throughout my childhood I overheard my father’s recitation of the Divine Office, I served him as an altar boy, I watched from my bedroom window as he buried the dead in the churchyard. I sang when my mother played the organ at Vespers (attended only, perhaps, by my family and a handful of others) for the Vigils of the feasts. We went as a family to joyful parish family weddings. We mourned deeply when members of our parish family died. I would answer the rectory doorbell when someone came for comfort or help. It was a blessed state, a graceful – and grace-giving – way of life. Perhaps clergy wives and children do not have an easy time, in some respects. Easy? No. But blessed, graced, fulfilled, happy? Yes, absolutely.

Jaroslav Pelikan, in his commentary on Acts, in the Brazos Theological Commentary series, wrote:

… for centuries compulsory celibacy was not a rule for the clergy, or even for bishops: Saint Peter was married (Luke 4:38-39; 1 Cor. 9:5); Saint Gregory of Nyssa was married; and Gregory of Nazianzus the Elder, father of Saint Gregory the Theologian, was a bishop. Nevertheless, the imperative of έγκρατεια also in this respect acquired institutional form with the rise of Christian monasticism.

Yet ascetic practice and vows could also have a darker side in Acts (23:11-13): “Behold fasting, the mother of murder!” Chrysostom exclaims (Homilies on Acts 49). This darker side becomes evident from the principal etymological derivative of the word έγκρατεια, which is “Encratite”, as a party label to mark the heresy of contempt for divine creations such as food and sexuality. The Encratites were described by Saint Irenaeus: “Those who are called Encratites … preached against marriage, thus setting aside the original creation of God, and indirectly blaming Him who made the male and female for the propagation of the human race (Against Heresies 1.28.1).”

If Pope Francis’ remarks were accurately reported, he indicated that priestly celibacy is a matter of discipline rather than doctrine; and in fact the Latin Church does actually have a number of married priests. Their assignments have not, in fact, been universally “low key”. There are married priests currently serving in this diocese, (apart from the parishes and mission of the Ordinariate). I am one of them, now Pastor Emeritus of an Anglican Use parish established under the terms of the Pastoral Provision of Pope St. John Paul II. One of the married diocesan priests – having served for some years as pastor of by far the largest parish in the Diocese, now serves as Chancellor of the Diocese and Moderator of the Curia. It is difficult to imagine a less “low key”role; and, of course, Rome was consulted before that appointment was made.

The Ordinariates established under the Apostolic Constitution Anglicanorum Coetibus are part of the New Evangelization described in Ad Gentes (Vatican II) and represent the Catholic Church’s desire, learned from half a century of direct dialogue and ecumenism, to learn and receive for itself what the providential Anglican tradition and its patrimony – “a treasure to be shared” (Ap. Cons. III) — has to offer.

What, then, are the main characteristics of the Anglican patrimony? The Liturgy in its classical Prayer Book style and language is doubtless the most visible element in this. But there is much more: a great heritage of music, hymnody, poetry – and, a distinctive spirituality (English, perhaps, rather than narrowly Anglican) and pastoral style. Martin Thornton, in his Essays in Pastoral Reconstruction (1960) says this:

First, and predominantly, a superbly balanced synthesis between the Affective and Speculative strains of Catholic spirituality; this is our real pastoral level-headedness, our living via media, whereby emotion is never allowed to run away from reason. Thus Julian of Norwich can combine a vividly disturbing meditation on the Passion with the coldly logical doctrine of the Atonement traceable to St Anselm. … From this particular balance derives that plain acceptance of fact, with special regard to Christology, the Passion, and thence Redemption, which gives English spirituality its unique brand of simple optimism: the “homely loving” of Julian, the warm domesticity of St Gilbert. And this is where the pastoral and priestly traditions really come in, because this is the kind of spiritual environment in which they function. Of course our own land and Church share with all others their periods of laxity, abuse, heresy and, indeed, anti-clericalism; but throughout all these vicissitudes, this unique pastoral sense, or colour, or flavour, is never quite eradicated. There is always a certain honest worldliness. The English priest has never taken too kindly to celibacy; he has always inclined to do his duty and enjoy his beer, both without a lot of fuss. He has been trained not in the seminary but in the schools and universities of the land, side by side with his secular brothers—and even sisters. Compared with other traditions the English clergy might look a little weak, a little amateur, a little colourless. It is vital to see that this is not true, that it is rather part and parcel with a deep, strong spiritual tradition with roots in New Testament theology. Perhaps Professor [G.M.] Trevelyan (English Social History) gives us an analogy when he writes: “If the French noblesse had been capable of playing cricket with their peasants, perhaps their châteaux would never have been burnt.”

It is said that married priests would want to live “outside the rectory”. Having lived in rectories/presbyteries all my life, I cannot imagine why this would be supposed. But, as it happens, this could certainly be said of almost all the celibate Catholic priests, both diocesan and religious, of the city in which I ministered for almost 33 years. With one exception, the clergy of the other six Catholic parishes in that city all live anonymously (in the sense that their homes are not in any obvious outward sense “rectories”) at some distance from their churches – and, since they very rarely wear clericals (unlike me!) they readily disappear into the local background.

In the English Anglican pastoral tradition, priests do not have “offices” but “studies”. Parishioners who come to them for spiritual direction, or for any other need, are thus welcomed into a home rather than into a place of business. His personal home is not regarded as being off-limits to parishioners in the way that, say, a doctor’s home would be to his patients. His telephone number – because it is the home number of a family — is not unlisted; and his people can, and do, call him at all times of day and night. Obviously, it is to be hoped that that would not be abused; and, generally, it is not. On the other hand, it is impossible to find anything other than a highly-protective answering service if one calls, outside office hours, any of the other parishes in the area where I now live.

Anyway, and for what it is worth, I can provide a stack of anecdotal evidence which testifies to the 24/7 availability of the married priests as opposed to the extraordinary difficulty of finding other priests to deal with pastoral emergencies at night and on public holidays. Let me provide two (out of countless) true examples of what this has meant in practice.

First, on one Christmas Day some years ago I had finally finished a long series of Masses (of the Vigil, at Midnight, at Dawn, of the Day) at about noon. I was no longer young, and I was contentedly but truly exhausted. Knowing this, my son had assisted me as server/Eucharistic minister at this final Mass of the day, and had smoothed my way as far as possible. As we got home afterwards – looking forward, of course, to family lunch, the opening of gifts and so on – the telephone rang. It appeared that a young man had committed suicide that morning, and that a priest was sought. They had called every other parish in the area and could find no one. Eventually they called me because my family telephone number was listed, and I could therefore be found. Because of my exhaustion, my son drove me to the house where the tragedy had occurred. This was not a family from my parish – but, as it turned out, the young man had been at high school with my son, who knew him and his family fairly well. Here, therefore, there was an immediate human, personal, pastoral opportunity which came about because of the “family” context in which my priestly ministry is exercised.

The second story concerns something which happened on the eve of Thanksgiving Day. There was a young parish family who lived almost directly across the street from my home (itself, of course, adjacent to the church). This family had a toddler, and they were fairly early on in a pregnancy with twins. Suddenly on that Thanksgiving morning, and without any warning, the woman gave birth at home to one of the two babies. Sadly, the little one lived only for a few minutes (but, happily, was baptized in that short time). The mother, with her husband caring for her, was rushed to the hospital where the second child was born. My wife took the toddler and cared for him for twenty-four hours until relatives arrived. When, late in the evening, the husband returned home from the hospital, my family shared our late dinner with him. Then, when he could not bring himself to clear up the after-birth and blood-spattered bed room, my son went over and did so. Forgive me: I find it hard to imagine a celibate priest being able – even if willing – to offer the kind of care that this priest’s family and household provided on this occasion.

Much of the argument against married priests seems to be based on an evident fallacy: that the ability to love, emotionally, pastorally, involves a quantitatively finite commodity. Thus it is often alleged that the total availability and self-emptying that both marriage and priesthood demands preclude the undertaking of both simultaneously. But let’s think about it: does a mother of ten children have only a tenth as much love to give to each of them as a mother of only one? Some would argue that the ability to love increases and expands with the birth of each of them. Am I able to provide seventeen times as much pastoral care and love to my parishioners as compared with my priest-friend who has seventeen times as many people to care for as I do?

Fr. Tony Kadavil tells this story: “One of the ‘ministers’ of a local church was delivering meals as part of his work with a Meals-on-Wheels mission. He took the meal to a home of a woman whose only child was visiting that day. He congratulated the woman for having such a nice son, and said, ‘I have eight children of my own.’ ‘Eight kids,’ exclaimed the woman. ‘I love my son so much that I can’t imagine dividing love by eight.’ ‘Ma’am,’ the man said gently, ‘you don’t divide love–you multiply it.’ Jesus’ love is not zero-based: The more you give, the less you have. Jesus’ love is eternity-based: The more you give, the more there is to go around. Jesus’ love is other-based: we are to reach out in love to ‘all people’ and ‘especially to those of the family of faith’ (Galatians 6:10).”

“There would be the possibility of divorce”, it is said. Sadly, because even priests share in the Fall of mankind, that is true. However, the effects of the Fall on priests have been rather more widely noted in other and much more lurid situations in recent times. And I am optimistic enough to think that clergy divorce is not, within the structures of a vigilant pastoral care and authority, inevitable. It was virtually unknown in the Church of England, certainly, through my growing up and the years of my own ministry there (though it would seem that things have, sadly, changed since then).

I would want to point out here, with the maximum clarity I can employ, the significance of the very important book by Mary Eberstadt, How the West Really Lost God (Templeton Press, 2013). In this book she demonstrates the profoundly symbiotic relationship between Faith and Family, between Family and the Church. She shows emphatically that the huge and violent assault on family life that is to be seen everywhere in contemporary society is a deadly threat. Someone has referred to the Catholic priesthood as “an eschatological sign”, and of course I wholeheartedly concur. But what sort of sign is most needed in our day? We live in a world that has absolutized sex. It is an age which rejoices in barrenness (homosexuality, abortion, contraception, “DINKS” – the “Double Income No Kids” lifestyle). Might one not suppose that consecrated fruitfulness and the example of happy and united family life lived in the service of the Kingdom of Christ is by far the most important sign that now needs to be provided? Mary Eberstadt’s later book, Primal Scream (Templeton Press, 2019) details these sources of our current social and demographic crisis.

It is pointed out that “Christ himself was celibate” – as though that were somehow to clinch the argument. Of course it does no such thing. If I may so put it, there was no option in the matter. Had Jesus married, but had no children, it would have been a perplexing and dubious sign as to the meaning and purpose of marriage. If he had indeed had children, then he would have established a dynasty – and the religion of his (and its) followers would have been something quite other than Christianity.

The subject of compensation for married priests is one that needs some competent research; and my comment on it is inevitably anecdotal rather than anything more factual. I can only say that my own compensation was modest but adequate – and, more importantly, very caringly provided. Furthermore, my total package was close (indeed may have been less) to that which is provided for the diocesan celibate clergy – although it had to provide for two adults and, in the past, for the needs of our children. In one important respect it is indeed actually less: the amount which my parish set aside for some kind of pension provision for me and for my wife was significantly less than the monthly payment which is made for each celibate priest into the Diocesan Priests’ Pension fund. It should also be noted that my total compensation package was provided by a parish community which was less than one quarter the size of the next biggest parish in the area. In other words, if my parish could do it, almost all other parishes can do so.

Interestingly, in the English terminology, a priest is given what is called “a living”; that is to say, he is provided with an income (which is not in any sense a recompense, or compensation, for specific work done or the number of hours put in) on which to live, precisely so that he does not have to undertake “professional” work in order to exist. The understanding of priesthood is that it concerns “being” before it involves any particular “doing”. It is indeed a state of life: comparable to, and I would maintain compatible with, Holy Matrimony.

It has been suggested that there would be a tendency for married priests to migrate to family-friendly places, and to avoid ministry among the poor and in areas of high crime. In response to that, let me say something of where the combined hundred-plus years of married priesthood of my father and me have been exercised. My father, coming from a moderately privileged background and an idyllic youth spent on Prince Edward Island in Canada, went, after the horrors of the front line on the Somme in World War One, to university and seminary and then deliberately chose to serve in a grim industrial diocese in the north of England. (He was never able, on the impoverished stipend of an Anglican priest, to afford to return home, even on the deaths of his parents.) Thus, when I and my sister were born in the 1930s he was pastor of an inner city slum parish in the worst of the inter-war years of depression and widespread unemployment.

Then, with the coming of the Second World War, my father cared for his people through the blitz. Night after consecutive night, as the warning sirens wailed and the bombs fell, he would leave his family – and many of the children of the parish who would otherwise have been without reinforced shelters — in the cellar of the rectory while he roamed the streets of the parish all night, caring for those without shelter, helping the injured and those made homeless by the bombing, giving the sacraments to the dying. Finally, on Christmas Eve 1940, the church, the rectory (in which my mother, my sister and I, were sheltering in the cellar) and the adjacent hospital were all severely damaged by bombs. Thereafter, leaving the parish in the care of an assistant priest, he joined the Royal Air Force as a chaplain – in which, incidentally, he gave distinguished and honored service. After the war he returned to that inner city parish – an area which by then was in rapid social decline, with all the pastoral problems attendant thereon. In addition to caring for that large parish, he also served as chaplain to a huge adjacent hospital; and there was rarely a night in which he was not called there. Nevertheless, he was in church and at the altar at 6:30 AM every day of the week.

And there was always the ready assumption that if, the civic community needed leadership in some secular matter, then the parish priest (the Clerk in Holy Orders — i.e. the educated one in the community) was the one who would of course provide it. Thus my father was not only president of the local cricket club (a game with which, as a Canadian, he was not particularly familiar) but also the one who chaired the process that led to the creation of a war memorial park, the building of a public library in the community, and the provision of covered waiting areas at the local bus stop. I, for my part, had many similar experiences, not least of which was the leading of a local referendum campaign in connection with the entry of Britain into the European Community (an activity about which I have now come to have some mixed feelings, as things have developed)! I served for eleven years in a parish set in one of the London “New Towns” ministering to a very young and transplanted community, with all the pastoral demands associated with that. I also served on the government’s Social Security Appeals Tribunal, which provided independent adjudication in disputed cases. We carried out this varied and extraordinarily demanding ministry while we had families and small children — indeed, it was probably that very fact that enabled us to undertake so much, so often and so long, sharing as they did much of the burden and providing a place of respite and healing for the bruising which was sometimes involved. In addition, I served for a number of years as Local Vicar of the Society of the Holy Cross (SSC), a spiritual society for Anglican priests.

My own ministry in the Church of England was all spent in inner urban parishes, with overwhelming social problems, moral decay and high crime. This is precisely the setting into which my children were born; and, in the absence of a church school, their experience of elementary education included attendance at a public school which eventually had to be closed because of repeated outbreaks of typhoid there. The fact is that I did not have to work in that parish; but that was the parish to which God called me and the bishop appointed me. And these very challenges of clerical family life – in the Church of England, at any rate – seem to have provided an upbringing to countless people who have given distinguished service to the community in the professions and in public life. It has been historically noted in the United Kingdom that a disproportionate number of those who have given distinguished service to the nation in the professions, in art and letters, in academic pursuits, in the military, in politics and public service, have been the children of the clergy.

Clifford J. Levy, in an article in the New York Times (March 23, 2010) wrote that:

“ …. in (Rudno) western Ukraine, many Catholic priests are married, fruitful and multiplying – with the Vatican’s blessing. The many feet scampering around the Volovetskiy home are testament to that. The family’s six children range from Pavlina, 21, to Taras, 9. In the middle is Roman, 16, who wants to be a Catholic priest when he grows up. Just like his father. Dad is the Rev. Yuriy Volovetskiy, who leads a small parish here and whose wife, Vera, teaches religious school. The Volovetskiys serve in the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, which believes that celibate priests are not necessarily better priests. …. Father Volovetskiy said having children changed how he approached his calling. ‘It helps me to view the world through the eyes of others,’ he said. ‘And it helps people trust me more. They see that there is a priest who has a family, and they see how we live. We are part of society.’

An old friend of mine, a priest and a fine teacher of the Faith who is now long dead, used to say that nothing makes a man of you – not even service in the U.S. Marine Corps – more than marriage. And, I would add, nothing better prepares a man for “Father-hood” than the experience of being a father. I certainly would not claim that either marriage or fatherhood are essential for the priesthood, for I value far too highly the distinctive vocation of celibacy, and I have been greatly blessed by the teaching and care of celibate priests both religious and secular. Nevertheless, in an age where many have become “feminized”, not to say effeminate, I believe that the essential masculinity of the husband and father can make a very significant contribution to the renewal of the priesthood.

Certainly, we live in an age in which the world has lost its collective mind about sex. But I have two comments to make about it. The first is that if we lived in a society which had lost its collective mind about nutrition (as, I suppose, we do, given the ubiquity of obesity) the witness which the few sane people should give is not to starve themselves to death but to eat moderately and sensibly to the restoration of health and vitality, thus giving clear witness to what the purpose of the appetite for food actually is. And surely what the world (out of its mind, as agreed) needs most is the witness of true and holy marriages. My second point is to cry out in despair, once again, about the incredible notion that marriage is about sex tout court. Marriage is about creativity, procreation, about nurturing, about living selflessly, about companionship and community, about bearing and forbearing, about modeling in family life the Kingdom of God in miniature. Genital sex is a good, beautiful and God-given thing, which plays an important and significant – but, in terms of time, at least, a tiny — part in marriage. It is critics of clerical marriage who have sex constantly on their minds, not married priests. We eat to live; and, in a properly regulated household, mealtimes do not overwhelm the real purposes of life – though, perhaps just very occasionally they do adorn an occasion for celebration. It is like saying that Mozart was deplorable in that he consumed viennoiserie and drank chocolate rather than living only for his music. Mozart did live for his music; and his consumption of croissants, and probably other things as well, was entirely incidental to that.

The alleged connection between celibacy and the shortage of priests is debatable. However, I would want to add a couple of points. First, the Church in which the celebration of the Eucharist is rare and infrequent, and in which the lives of the faithful are not centered on the sacrifice of the altar, will be vastly different from the Catholic Church as we – at least – have known her. Second, I am convinced that to focus the problem of the priest shortage in the issue of the provision of the Eucharist, as is generally the case, is to obscure another vastly important aspect of the matter. With the shortage of priests, we are looking to the care of a Catholic community which (because of unnaturally huge parishes, with individual priests celebrating four or even five Masses each weekend) can participate regularly in the Eucharist, but has little realistic opportunity to go to confession frequently, is unable to get spiritual direction and will be deprived of the Last Rites. That is what the priest shortage threatens.

It is hard to contemplate such a situation with equanimity; and it is even harder for me to understand how such equanimity could be justified when a possible part of the solution might lie in the (relatively) minor matter of the acceptance of the fact that celibacy and priesthood are separate – though certainly neither incompatible nor indissoluble – vocations.

And, in the end, I think that the most telling argument for me is that a priesthood which contains both celibate and married men is that which is truly the most incarnational – so that the priest shares entirely with the families in his care in the matter of putting a roof over the heads of children and food in their mouths, and – as a family man inevitably and especially is – concerned with the quality of local schools and libraries, crime prevention, the quality of local press and television, and all the rest of the issues which are proper to community life. Such concerns would certainly also include concern about the cost of food, fuel and the basic commodities, housing and insurance (among other things) from which the celibate priest is largely, if not entirely, insulated.

A friend – a Catholic priest of Seton Hall — wrote to me some years ago: “It seems to me that married clergy bring the ‘familial’ into Church life in a way that is really needed. It needs to be said that this country is not ‘Latin territory’. ….. We should be out converting these people to the True Faith that is incarnated to them in an idiom (meaning a whole panoply of things) that will integrate their lives into a rhythm that is Theophanic. The way that casual barbarism is accepted is daunting. Nomads go where they can pasture their herds or find game, the modern nomads go where their jobs take them — away from family, church, school and roots. This whole pattern of life seems to be as accepted as (the inevitability of) death and taxes. An optional married clergy should draw people back to familial values.”

The whole question is set, pre-eminently, within the context of the priest’s mission and ministry. We live today in what Max Weber, the great German sociologist called a “disenchanted world.” What this colorful phrase means is that we live today with no socialized expectation of the evidence of God’s presence in the world. It is not a part of our collective representation. The Jesuit poet Gerard Manley Hopkins assured us that the world is “charged with the grandeur of God”. But society does not tell us that the whole creation is alive with proof of transcendent glory. C.S. Lewis, in his last book The Discarded Image (1964) wrote that the medieval person who found himself “looking up at a world lighted, warmed, and resonant with music” has become modern man who perceives only emptiness and silence.

It seems to me that we must come to grips with this situation and to recover the vocation of the priest as being one who enables persons to perceive the revealing presence of God in their ordinary lives — that is to say, the priest is to be an enchanter. The late Episcopal theologian Urban T. Holmes once wrote:

“I have never met an enchanter who did not possess a certain wholesome earthiness. The Judaeo-Christian tradition has been its own worst enemy to the degree that it has incorporated into its own life that peculiar brand of Middle Eastern asceticism, characterized by an obsessive fear of the material world, which has been reinforced by centuries of recurring Puritanism. Its Christ is docetic, its sacraments are banal, and its sense of the holy is sanitized. The effective priest is not a dilettante or a ‘shrinking violet.’ The idea that ‘cleanliness is next to godliness’ originated with the rabbis of the Talmud, reflecting their anxiety over pollution. It strikes me as quite inconsistent with the Incarnation.”

Finally, if the Catholic Church is serious in its commitment to ecumenism – that is, to obedience to the will of the Lord that His Church should be one, so that the world may believe – it cannot avoid some eventual resolution to the celibacy issue. The married priesthood of the Churches of the Orthodox East, and of the Catholic Eastern Rites, not to qua non. mention the centuries of witness in the ecclesial communities of the Reformation, will not just dissolve away. The matter will have to be addressed in a way that gives due weight to both the celibate and married traditions within the priesthood – and, in fact, the Anglo-Catholic experience and witness in this regard may well prove to be sine qua non.

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The night is dark, and I am far from home

The characteristic posture of the prophet – having one ear to God and one ear to the ground – has always been found uncomfortable by those who have adopted it. And the prophetic role itself has ever been as much misunderstood as it has been burdensome. That role is not, primarily, to foretell but to forth-tell: to relate the purpose of the eternal to the limitations of the temporal. It is a task that must ever be carried out, even as the prophet is accused of interpreting what is merely a falling acorn as the collapse of the sky itself.

It is thus a continuous responsibility; and perhaps never more so than today when the Divine voice of reason, peace and grace is all but drowned out by the shrieks and clamor of evil on every side. To say that will doubtless evoke references to Chicken Little, but only on the part of those who have embraced palpable ignorance, confusion and obscurity, and who turn their backs on truth.

The editor of First Things, R. R. Reno, has recently described the social decomposition of the United States. “The warning signs are everywhere. Anyone visiting Seattle or San Francisco is struck by the packs of feral youths living on the streets. People shoot up in public. The smell of marijuana is now commonplace in most major cities …. A fish rots from the head down. The social dissolution of our nation is a direct consequence of the mentalities, policies and actions of our ruling class.”

Among the signs of that decomposition there is the terrible slaughter by abortion. The Didache, as long ago as the First Century A.D. taught that: “You shall not kill the embryo by abortion and shall not cause the newborn to perish.” It is murder, prohibited by Divine decree. Yet twenty centuries after the Didache our political leaders are still permitting, if not advocating, such evil.

“One of the awful facts of our age,” wrote the monk Thomas Merton, “is the evidence that [the world] is stricken indeed, stricken to the very core of its being by the presence of the Unspeakable.”

We need to take that dread warning with the utmost seriousness; and it should be a matter of great alarm that most of our leaders – spiritual as well as secular – are not, apparently, doing so.

Consider this vignette. There is a small and beautiful community of contemplative nuns in France – The Little Sisters of the Lamb – most of whom are handicapped by Downs Syndrome. Compare that with the fact that all of the current slate of contenders for the Democrat presidential nomination are unequivocally pro-abortion. Of course, these two facts are not directly related. But where could you find a more striking assertion of the chasm of contrast between life and death, light and darkness, love and selfishness, good and evil.

“Times have changed”, says presidential candidate Joseph Biden, as he backs off his previous stance on the Hyde Amendment. Well, not for the better, as Merton asserts. But God has not changed. He remains – in the Nicene words that Biden, as a soi-disant Catholic proclaims at Mass every Sunday —  the Lord and Giver of Life. Yet, in the great words of Henry Francis Lyte, “Change and decay in all around I see … O thou that changest not, abide with me.” And Joseph Biden should care to remember that he is named for the Husband of Mary and the protector of the Holy Family. Nor should he forget the words of Alice von Hildebrand: “One day, all human accomplishments will be reduced to a pile of ashes. But every single child to whom a woman has given birth will live forever, for he has been given an immortal soul made to God’s image and likeness.” Those words come from her book The Privilege of Being a Woman. [cf. #MeToo]

Barbara Tuchman, the acclaimed historian and Pulitzer Prize winner died in 1988. Just before her death, one of her essays appeared in the New York Times Sunday Magazine. Here is portion:

“Decline of a nation or a society” (she wrote), “is a provocative historical problem. In Rome, it is associated with external pressure coupled with internal weakness. In the ancient Greek cities of Asia Minor (like Ephesus), it can be traced to the silting of harbors through environmental neglect, closing them to access by sea. In the Aztec Empire of Mexico, it was the invasion of ruthless Europeans. … In the United States, who knows? Will it be moral collapse from within? One certainly experiences a deteriorating ethic at every level of society, and with it incompetence from the people who no longer function at their utmost, who grow lax and accept the mediocre. Violence is also symptomatic of a nation’s decline, and today’s deepening climate of bloody violence is not reassuring. More disturbing, however, is what is missing in American attitudes and public opinion: Where is the outrage? Why aren’t people angry about violence, injustice and immorality? Why aren’t we angry over misconduct and incompetence in Government by public officials of the highest rank? Where is the outrage over racism, over fraud in business, over deceit and betrayal of trust, over the trivialization of morality, where it is ‘moral’ if it works or makes us feel good? Anger when anger is due is necessary for self-respect and for the respect of this nation by other nations.… What has become of national self-respect, not to mention common decency? Why do we keep turning back to Sodom and Gomorrah?”

Half a century earlier, in 1940, Dorothy Sayers (whom I, as a child, was privileged to meet briefly), wrote this:

“Something is happening to us to-day which has not hap­pened for a very long time. We are waging a war of religion. Not a civil war between adherents of the same religion, but a life-and-death struggle between Christian and pagan. The Christians are, it must be confessed, not very good Christians, and the pagans do not officially proclaim them­selves worshippers of Mahound or even of Odin, but the stark fact remains that Christendom and heathendom now stand face to face as they have not done in Europe since the days of Charlemagne. In spite of the various vague references in sermons and public speeches to the (the Second World) War as a ‘crusade’, I think we have scarcely begun to realize the full implications of this. It is a phenomenon of quite extraordinary impor­tance. The people who say that this is a war of economics or of power-politics, are only dabbling about on the surface of things. Even those who say it is a war to preserve freedom and justice and faith have gone only half-way to the truth. The real question is what economics and politics are to be used for; whether freedom and justice and faith have any right to be considered at all; at bottom it is a violent and irreconcilable quarrel about the nature of God and the nature of man and the ultimate nature of the universe; it is a war of dogma.”

At the heart of this quarrel (but, in truth, not so much a “quarrel” as a radical  life-and-death battle with Satanic evil) lies the family. Divorce, contraception, abortion, pornography, same-sex “marriage” (a relationship intrinsically closed to procreation cannot be a marriage anymore than a triangle can have a fourth corner or an elephant can be a penguin) are all deadly enemies of  family life and the happiness of children.

Mary Eberstadt’s hugely important book,  How the West Really Lost God, was published in 2013. In it she demonstrates convincingly what she characterizes as the “double helix” of Faith and natural Family – the complex relationship that links inextricably the welfare, the blessings, the woes of the Church and of the Family. When one suffers, so does the other. But when both flourish, they do so for the welfare and happiness of society.

It is impossible to consider these things without reference to the fathers of families.  Fatherhood and – yes, patriarchy – are threatened species today. Yet Almighty God has revealed Himself to us precisely as Father, presiding over, providing and legislating for his family; and, in so doing, he provides us with the template and (literally) the pattern for human society. We do not elect our human father who, within his family is prophet, priest and – yes—king; and, as such, he is entitled to our love and fealty.

The Fourth Precept, of the ten given to Moses, reads: “Honor you father and mother” – words which, inter alia, provide us with a perception of the moral significance of hierarchy. And it should be noted that this is the only one of the Ten Commandments to which a promise is attached: “that your days may be long in the land which the Lord your God gives you.” There is no absolutely no justification here for what has been described in the words of the founder of the Paneuropa Movement, “We are experiencing the most dangerous revolution in world history: the revolution of the State against man. We are experiencing the worst idolatry of all time: the deification of the state.” — Richard N. Coudenhove-Kalergi, Totaler Staat – Totaler Mensch (The Totalitarian State Against Man).

As long ago as 1969 (in a Christmas radio address) then-Father Joseph Rattzinger warned that the “totally planned world sought by progressives would devalue individual agency – along with human connections like family and local community.

But, in the memorable words of the first president of the Federal Republic of Germany, “Europe was built on three hills: the Acropolis, which gave her the values of freedom, philosophy and democracy; the Capitol, which represented Roman legal concepts and social order; and Golgotha …” quoted by Metropolitan Hilarion, at a symposium held in London on Sept 22, 2017, on the Christian Future of Europe.

Notwithstanding the upheaval of the United Kingdom’s apparent determination to leave it  (because, perhaps, of the abandonment of the vision afforded by the summit of those three hills?), the European Union is surely to be counted as one of the great Christian Democrat achievements. And it was precisely that ideal, sought by the founders of the PanEuropa Movement, and Robert Schumann, Konrad Adenauer, Alcide de Gasperri, Henri Spaak – themselves inspired by the vision of the Second Vatican Council’s Gaudiem et Spes.

However, several months ago, in the Catholic Herald, Andrew Cusack suggested that Christian democracy is a spent force. We see the trajectory of “democracy” into plutocratic oligarchy. How can the members of Congress, the majority of whom are incredibly wealthy and who enjoy Congressional pensions and medical benefits that would exceed the dreams of most, be – in any meaningful way – “representatives” of the very many who live from paycheck to paycheck.

Judge Andrew Napolitano celebrated this year’s Independence Day by observing that  the Jeffersonian ideals of personal natural rights have become myths. “In Jefferson’s day, the voters knew all that the government did, and (the government) knew nothing about them. Today, the government operates largely in secrecy, and it captures our every communication. In Jefferson’s day, the government needed the people’s expressed permission to tax and regulate them. Today, the people need the government’s permission to do nearly everything.”

Although Judge Napolitano does not say this, it would seem that Congressional term limits and a determined dedication to subsidiarity must be sought.

Years previously (June 2010) Dr James Patrick wrote (in Tradition, a publication of the College of St Thomas More, Fort Worth) that “our country has never before been governed by a temper that can only be described as godless. And this fact, the fact that the government has moved from neutrality plus nods to God to aggressive godlessness brings home to those who will see the whole tenor of history since 1300. For if we look at the grand sweep of the last five centuries, we can see that a movement  that began in the Garden by proclaiming the freedom and omnicompetence of the human race, reigning unchecked since the Renaissance, has ended in slavery.”

That indeed is the trajectory of “democracy” – an idea which is founded upon a fatal fallacy, as the magisterial work of Erik von Kuehnelt-Leddihn in his truly great book  Liberty or Equality has demonstrated with scholarly eloquence.   [It was first published in 1952, and there is a second edition in 1993.] He insists that liberty and equality are in essence contradictory. Potentiality and actuality should not, he says, be confused. “Judas Iscariot expiring in the noose and St. John the Evangelist closing his eyes on Patmos are spiritually not equals. If we focus our attention upon the biological, characteriological, intellectual  and physical status of the individual, the inequalities are even more apparent.”

Hans-Hermann Hoppe (Professor Emeritus of Economics  at UNLV and Distinguished Fellow with the Mises Institute) has written this:

While it is impossible to predict the exact outcome of the permanent democratic strug­gle of all against all, except to say that it will lead to ever higher taxes, to a never ending flood of legislation and thus increased legal uncertainty, and consequently to an increase in the rate of social time-preference, i.e., increased short-term orientation (an “infantization” of society), one outcome of this struggle, one result of democracy can be safely predicted, however. Democracy pro­duces and brings about a new power elite or ruling class. Presidents, prime ministers, and the leaders of parliament and political parties are part of this power elite, and I have already talked about them as essentially amoral dem­agogues. But it would be naive to assume that they are the most powerful and influential people of all. They are more frequently only the agents and delegates — those doing the bidding — of other people standing on the sidelines and out of public view. The true power elite, which determines and controls who will make it as president, prime minis­ter, party leader, etc., are the plutocrats. The plutocrats, as defined by the great but largely forgotten American sociologist William Gra­ham Sumner, are not simply the super-rich — the big bankers and the captains of big business and industry. Rather, the plutocrats are only a subclass of the super rich. They are those super rich big bankers and business­men, who have realized the enormous poten­tial of the State as an institution that can tax and legislate for their own even greater future enrichment and who, based on this insight, have decided to throw themselves into poli­tics. They realize that the State can make you far richer than you already are: whether in subsidizing you, in awarding you with state contracts, or in passing laws that protect you from unwelcome competition or com­petitors, and they decide to use their riches to capture the State and use politics as a means to the end of their own further enrichment (rather than becoming richer solely by eco­nomic means, i.e., in better serving volun­tarily paying customers of one’s products). They do not have to get involved in politics themselves. They have more important and lucrative things to do than wasting their time with everyday politics. But they have the cash and the position to “buy” the typically far less affluent professional politicians, either directly in paying them bribes or indirectly, by agreeing to employ them later on, after their stint in professional politics, as highly paid managers, consultants, or lobbyists, and so manage to decisively influence and deter­mine the course of politics in their own favor. They, the plutocrats, will become the ultimate winners in the constant income and wealth redistribution struggle that is democracy. And in between them (the real power elite staying outside the limelight), and all those whose income (and wealth) depends solely or largely on the State and its taxing power (the employ­ees of the always growing state apparatus and all recipients of transfer payments, its “welfare clients”), the productive middle class gets increasingly squeezed dry.

There is nothing to reassure us in all this. Even so, there are those who – like  Larry Diamond ( a professor of Sociology and Political Science  at Stanford University and a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution) – lamented in Time (June 24, 2019) the decline in democracy across the globe, which he described as an “emerging crisis”. You may suppose that he was speaking of Venezuela or, perhaps, Hong Kong. But no:  he spoke – with particular reference to Hungary and Poland – of what he calls “the dark period that has descended upon Europe”. His words are characteristic of the liberal hysteria that erupts at any mention of Hungary’s Fundamental Law:

“We are proud that our king Saint Stephen built the Hungarian State on solid ground and made our country a part of Christian Europe one thousand years ago.

We are proud of our forebears who fought for the survival, freedom and independence of our country.

We are proud of the outstanding intellectual achievements of the Hungarian people.

We are proud that our people has over the centuries defended Europe in a series of struggles and enriched Europe’s common values with its talent and diligence.

We recognise the role of Christianity in preserving nationhood. We value the various religious traditions of our country.

We promise to preserve the intellectual and spiritual unity of our nation torn apart in the storms of the last century.

We proclaim that the nationalities living with us form part of the Hungarian political community and are constituent parts of the State.”

If then, democracy is a spent force, if God Himself has indicated the foundational structure of human life and society as hierarchical, familial, paternal – and, as the Catholic Faith insists, sacramental — then we must return to a serious and (though this may difficult for Americans to appreciate) non-hysterical consideration of monarchy with its concomitant values of chivalry, personal loyalty and honor, offered to a person and not to an abstract symbol. The Emperor Franz Joseph, once asked in a moment of candor by Theodore Roosevelt what he considered to be the role of a monarch in the present age, replied: “To protect my peoples from their governments”. As Aristotle said: Monarchy is the one system of government where power is exercised for the good of all.

One of the great Christian thinkers of our own time was C.S.Lewis. This is what he said:

“Monarchy can easily be debunked, but watch the faces, mark well the debunkers. These are the men whose taproot in Eden has been cut: whom no rumour of the polyphony, the dance, can reach – men to whom pebbles laid in a row are more beautiful than an arch. Yet even if they desire mere equality they cannot reach it. Where men are forbidden to honour a king they honour millionaires, athletes or film stars instead: even famous prostitutes or gangsters. For spiritual nature, like bodily nature, will be served; deny it food and it will gobble poison.”

There is much to concern and disturb us in the contemporary scene. “The night is dark, and I am far from home”, wrote John Henry Newman. But the glittering words of the fundamental Hungarian law are full of hope. And we must remember the words of Robert, Cardinal Sarah: “I would like to point out that everything is prepared for a renewal. I see families, monasteries, and parishes that are like oases in the middle of a desert. It is from these oases of faith, liturgy, beauty, and silence that the West will be reborn.”


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