Imperial Nudity

“The new ideology was that you could have excellence without selection. Try that one on Manchester United or the Berlin Philharmonic.” (From a Spectator book review, March 28, 2015).

We select, we make choices – and we teach our children to do so. We want them to know a fine vintage from vin ordinaire, poetry from doggerel, real diamonds from paste, eloquence from incoherence, the wise from the foolish, the intellectually and morally rewarding from the merely meretricious, to separate the sheep from the goats, the wheat from the chaff.  We want them to make good enriching, rewarding and life-enhancing choices.

In other words, we want them to practice discrimination and to be discriminating.

Alas, the transmission in my car has died, and it is long out of warranty. I am myself no mechanic, but I know that it is an immensely complicated piece of machinery – and doubtless it will be very expensive to get it fixed. Well, there is a man with a one-man business, who has a work bench under a tree, on the frontage road at the edge of town; and his home-made sign says “Transmissions fixed”. Probably he will not to be too costly. Or I could get my car back to the dealership where I know from experience that the service, while expensive, will be excellent, courteous and prompt. So I have a decision to make, a choice; I have to discriminate. And of course I decide – though nervous fear is gripping my check-book – to deal with the dealership.

Now, that act of discrimination, the making of that choice, does not necessarily imply anything negative about the competence and integrity of the roadside mechanic. But it is based upon prudence and experience.

And the same is exactly and precisely true of our discrimination between the various sexual so-called “life-styles”.  We cannot, we dare not entrust our culture, our society, our children’s future happiness and fulfillment to a project that is based on deception, self-deception, and lies. Who can we trust to be our leaders, guides and prophets? We have no choice but to discriminate.


If you want to study metaphysics, where you might begin? With Tom Cook, CEO of Apple Inc., and advocate for “gay” issues? Or with Aristotle, whose teachings continue to be the object of active academic study today, and whose many elegant treatises and dialogues were described by Cicero as “a river of gold”?


The founder of Angie’s List, Angie Hicks, has stated her firm opinions on LGBT issues; but what are her qualifications for doing so? Why would any sane person trust Ms. Hicks’ insights over those of the great philosopher Elizabeth Anscomb, who certainly would not have agreed with her?

If you have questions about the ultimate meaning of human sexuality, motherhood, family life, would you first consult Larry King – or Pope St John Paul II?


If you are seeking for a heart aflame with purity, love, child-like and chaste simplicity, where would you more likely find it? In Mother Theresa, or in Miley Cyrus?


We have no choice but to make choices as to those whose opinions we recognize as informed and valuable. So we do indeed discriminate – but that does not in itself mean that there is no significance or meaning in Tom Cook, Angie Hicks, Larry King, Miley Cyrus: each of them has expertise, experience and talent in their own fields – but not necessarily in matters that are remote from their individual qualifications.

And we have to be guarded and deeply suspicious when their attitudes are based on fraud. What’s in a word? The word ‘gay’ has been stolen to disguise the truth. Then the word ‘homophobia’ was invented to attack anyone who criticizes that corrupt lifestyle.

Inventing and revising language for propaganda purposes is an ancient deception. ‘Gay’ means merry and is an expression of happiness. Statistics are quite clear that self-identified homosexuals are anything but merry and gay. They have a much higher percentage of depression and suicide than the rest of the population, even in countries that fully accept homosexuality and ‘gay marriage.’ Today’s word for homosexuality is an obvious lie, and the lie was spread for obviously deceptive, promotional reasons.

And ‘homophobia’ is no better. Who fears homosexuals? No one that I have ever known. What orthodox Christians fear is that their own religious convictions and conscience will result in persecution in this sex-worshiping culture. What Christians fear is the destruction of religious freedom and the destruction of traditional family values and structure … because these undergird all that is good in our society. Destroying them will end up destroying us.

But these fears will never be sufficient to change the minds of true Christians on the truth of the scriptures. We do not act out of fear but out of faith. The Word of God is eternal and so we will take our stand upon it, victims of discrimination though we are and will be. The Religious Freedom Restoration legislation, in its original intent, is absolutely necessary and eminently just.

Some may question the status of those who uphold traditional Catholic and Christian standards. Michael Gove was, until recently, the Minister of Education in the British government. In the Spectator magazine (April 4, 2015) he wrote in response:

“Well, the kind of people who built our civilization, founded our democracies, developed our modern ideas of rights and justice, ended slavery, established universal education and who are, even as I write, in the forefront of the fight against poverty, prejudice and ignorance…” And Gove adds that: “It was Pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer and the Christian-inspired White Rose movement that led the internal opposition to Hitler’s rule. It was the moral witness of the Catholic Church in Poland that helped erode Communism’s authority in the 1980s.” He concludes thus: “(It was the) deep, radical Christian faith which inspired many of our greatest political heroes –Wilberforce, Shaftesbury, Lincoln, Gladstone, Pope John Paul II and Martin Luther King. There should be nothing to be ashamed of in finding their example inspirational, the words and beliefs that moved them beautiful and true.”

Wait! What is this we hear? There is a procession coming down the road: huge crowds, cheering and music, clowns, tumblers and jesters – all leading the Emperor as he displays his rainbow magnificence. And now we can see the imperial problem. In an article in the Daily Caller, a gay writer named David Benkof presents the solid case for the argument that even LGBT scholarship shows zero evidence of any culture with gay-oriented individuals at any point in history. The mountain of scholarly research also continues to show no “gay gene” accounting for sexual orientation form birth. Sexual orientation is not a core identifier like race or gender. It is a fully social construct. As such, it is a matter of choice. Therefore, it is not (in the current, but wrong, use of the word) “discriminatory” to point this out with clarity and in many decibels, and to note the devastating consequences for our culture, our society, for our children, for family life as the focus of God’s inestimable gift of life and fruitfulness.


So, here at last, at the end of the procession comes the Emperor himself. But look! Were we not to note that his raiment is magnificent and rainbow? Well, now we can see the facts for ourselves: the rainbow is transparent and the Emperor is naked.

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How are the mighty fallen

Broadcasting House in London

Broadcasting House in London

In the entrance hall of Broadcasting House in London — the home of the BBC — there is the following dedication:


This Temple of the Arts and Muses is dedicated to Almighty God by the first Governors of Broadcasting House in the year 1931, Sir John Reith being Director-General. It is their prayer that good seed sown may bring forth a good harvest, that all things hostile to peace or purity may be banished from this house, and that the people, inclining their ear to whatsoever things are beautiful and honest and of good report, may tread the path of wisdom and uprightness.

Any comment would be superfluous.

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Merry Organs

St Philip’s Catholic Church, Lewisville – where I am often privileged to say Mass – has recently acquired a small but beautiful pipe organ. Previously, the only accompanying instrument used for the liturgy there was a grand piano; but the organ wonderfully transforms the liturgy and the spiritual atmosphere.  It was built by Haase around 1970, and was recently renovated and installed at St Philip’s by Redman Organs of Fort Worth. You may have heard the joke: “Why is an 11-foot concert grand better than a studio upright? It makes a louder noise, when you drop it off a cliff.” Of course that is absurd and unfair – but it is a fact that the organ is the Catholic liturgical instrument par excellence (and the guitar is not even a starter in that contest). And while on the subject of the absurd and unfair: “What is the definition of a gentleman organist?” “One who can play all of the works of Tournemire from memory, but doesn’t.”

Organs are wonderful things. Wind chests, valves, pipes, electrics, all melded together for such a wonderful end! And it occurs to me that that description applies pari passu to the organ that ticks away in our chests. I thought of this several weeks ago when a surgeon implanted in my chest a “cardioverter defibrillator” so that the electrics could better control the pipes and valves in my wind chest. Now I will not need to be tuned for years to come; and a bourbon – I’m sorry, I should have said “the bourdon” — sounds just fine.

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Memento Mori


In the south transept of St Peter’s Basilica in Rome there is the startling funerary monument of Pope Alexander VII – the last work, when he was 80 years of age, by Bernini. The huge red jasper carving, in the form of a theater curtain, is so dramatic that it almost hides a bronze skeleton. Above, a figure holds up an hour-glass that represents Death. But below there is a door (leading now to the Basilica’s sacristies), reminding us that death and the grave are nothing other than the gate that leads to eternal life. With that in mind …….



Sir Winston Churchill, Knight of the Garter, Order of Merit and Companion of Honour, Fellow of the Royal Society, Academician of the Royal College of Art, died a little over fifty years ago. His health had been slowly failing over the preceding years; and – such considerations serving to concentrate the mind — some thought had been given during that period to the arrangements for his funeral. A file, containing notes to and from Churchill’s personal secretary, Lady Churchill, the Earl Marshall (the Duke of Norfolk) and Buckingham Palace, was gradually assembled and kept to await the day of its need. The file was entitled — with characteristic humor rather than vapid optimism, surely! – “Operation Hope Not”!

The day came; and for three unforgettable days, in the last week of January 1965, Churchill’s body lay in state in Westminster Hall. At that time, I was priest-in-charge of St George’s, Stevenage. On one of these evenings, José and I were taking part a study group meeting in the home of a parishioner which happened to be in Knebworth – a little south of Stevenage and so, to that extent, nearer to London. On the spur of the moment (we were young then!) we decided not to go home after the meeting but to drive to London in order to join the huge crowds that were slowly passing through Westminster Hall.

We arrived in Westminster at around midnight and joined to huge line of people that extended along the Thames Embankment and around the Palace of Westminster. It was bitterly cold. The solemn procession progressed slowly, and we eventually got inside Westminster Hall at around 4 a.m. The scene was deeply moving. In all, 321,360 people took part in that three-day tribute to the man, who in the opinion of most, was the greatest Briton whoever lived.


It is poignant, at this moment fifty years on, and with the world still beset by so much terror, to remember a speech he gave in 1950 in Edinburgh:

At least I feel that Christian men should not close the door upon
any hope of finding a new foundation for the life of the self-tormented human race.What prizes lie before us; peace, food, happiness, leisure,
wealth for the masses never known or dreamed of; the glorious advance into a period of rest and safety for all the hundreds of millions of homes
where little children play by the fire and girls grow up in all their beauty
and young men march to fruitful labour in all their strength and valour.
Let us not shut out the hope that the burden of fear and want
may be lifted for a glorious era from the bruised and weary shoulders of mankind.

We emerged from Westminster Hall just before dawn, to find a full rehearsal for the great State Funeral taking place outside. Under ghostly television lights in the misty and cold January pre-dawn, we saw the military processions forming – the horses shod in felt, so that their footfalls might be relatively silent in the night; columns of soldiers, sailors, airmen and veterans; the oblong areas to be occupied by military bands marked out by soldiers holding cords. And we walked right past Walter Cronkite as he was making his preparations for covering the State Funeral itself.

Winstoin funeral order

Churchill was a patriot; and he chose as one of the hymns at his funeral, the glorious words of Sir Cecil Spring-Rice who had served as British Ambassador to the United States throughout World War One:

I vow to thee, my country, all earthly things above,
entire and whole and perfect, the service of my love:
the love that asks no questions, the love that stands the test,
that lays upon the altar the dearest and the best;
the love than never falters, the love that pays the price,
the love that makes undaunted the final sacrifice.

Ah, but here is where that word “not” fades, and leaves only “Operation Hope”:

And there’s another country I’ve heard of long ago,
most dear to them who love her, most great to them that know;
we may not count her armies, we may not see her King;
her fortress is a faithful heart, her pride is suffering;
and soul by soul and silently her shining bounds increase.
and her ways are ways of gentleness and all her paths are peace.


As I suggested above, certain considerations do tend to concentrate the mind. One such consideration is the fact that, on the eve of my 81st birthday, I am to have some surgery next week. Of course, I ask for the prayers of those who may read this; but I am not concerned about the procedure; and I am confident that the outcome will be helpful and health-giving. Nevertheless, the circumstances serve as a focus for prayer.

In his old age Pope St. John XXIII, of happy memory, prayed thus:

O Jesus, here I am before you.
You are suffering and dying for me, old as I am now,
and drawing near the end of my service and my life.
Hold me closely, and near to your heart,
letting my heart beat with yours.

Such words are deeply moving, as my cardiologist prepares for his work next week.


Finally: Norman Eldridge – may he rest in peace – a very fine musician and liturgist, a devout Anglo-Catholic and an ally in the cause, was the organist and choir director at St George’s, Stevenage. He played for our Nuptial Mass there almost 51 years ago. He died suddenly a couple of years or so thereafter. Among the clear directions he left for his Requiem he requested a hymn, written originally in Latin by the somewhat strange 18th century French priest Charles Coffin (yes, that was his name), translated in the 19th century by John Chandler, and sung to the lovely Irish tune, St. Columba. Its words have  echoed in my heart ever since Norman died.

As now the sun’s declining rays
at eventide descend,
so life’s brief day is sinking down
to its appointed end.

Lord, on the cross thine arms were stretched
to draw thy people nigh:
O grant us then that cross to love,
and in those arms to die.

All glory to the Father be,
all glory to the Son,
all glory, Holy Ghost, to thee,
while endless ages run.

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Cricket — again!

As I was saying here (just about two years ago), — and to misquote Thomas Edward Brown one more time – “Cricket is a lovesome thing, God wot.” I return to the subject because it appears on the front page of the Wall Street Journal today, as the opening of the Cricket World Cup tournament approaches (and for which 750,000 tickets have already been sold).

The poet Edmund Blunden wrote:
“Cricket to us was more than play,
It was a worship in the summer sun.”

The Daily Telegraph obituary for the batsman Colin Cowdrey said of him that his cover drive was “like some promise of endless summer”.

And the great cricket writer R. C. Robertson-Glasgow said, on the death of Don Bradman, surely the greatest batsman of all time, that “two contrary feelings dispute within us: relief, that our bowlers will no longer be oppressed by this phenomenon; regret, that a miracle has been removed from among us. So must ancient Italy have felt when she heard of the death of Hannibal.”

His Royal Highness, Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh once said that “There is a widely held, and quite erroneously held, belief that cricket is just another game.”

C.L.R. James, the Trinidadian historian, journalist, socialist theorist and essayist, said that “cricket is first and foremost a dramatic spectacle. It belongs with theatre, ballet, opera and the dance”.
World Cup
The International Cricket Council lists 125 countries in membership (one of which is Afghanistan, where enthusiasm for cricket is growing exponentially) – and an estimated global audience of more than a billion people. So what is all this about a “World” series for baseball?

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As Alice said: “It’s curiouser and curiouser”

The New Curiosity Shop. To misquote Thomas Edward Brown: "A Chancery is a lovesome thing, God wot!"

The New Curiosity Shop. To misquote Thomas Edward Brown: “A Chancery is a lovesome thing, God wot!”

In the late Fall of 1979, when I had just been appointed Pastor of what was then St Bartholomew’s Episcopal Church (now Saint Mary the Virgin Catholic Church), Arlington, Texas, the then-interim pastor asked me what I would want him to do, over the next several months, to prepare for my arrival. I told him that it would be most helpful to me if he could move the parish’s liturgical life away from the 16th century English rites of the (American) 1979 Book of Common Prayer to the modern-English rites which that book also provided. After years of the liturgical turmoil and the associated pastoral stresses – un-renewed 1662, the legal ambiguity surrounding any use of the attempted revision of 1928/9, the so-called “Interim Rite”, the trial rites known as Series One, Two and Three – none of which were easily and obviously patent of a Catholic interpretation, and which had been part of my experience in the Church of England, the prospect of a settled contemporary but fairly conservative liturgy was welcome indeed.

Nothing, over the last 35 years, has given me any reason to regret that decision; and the Ordinariate Mass Rite comes to me therefore as a substantial disappointment.

The name and genius of Archbishop Thomas Cranmer is indelibly linked with the Anglican liturgical tradition. The Rite Two liturgies of the 1979 Book of Common Prayer unmistakably reflected their Cranmerian roots, but with a sensitive and gentle transition into contemporary language – of which the Collects (both Cranmer’s translations of ancient Latin prayers as well as those few which are his own compositions) are the preeminent example.

But for Anglo-Catholics the name of Cranmer has also a sinister connotation. In Cranmer’s name, with varying degrees of intensity, the bishops threatened and bludgeoned successive generations of Tractarians, Anglo-Catholics, Ritualists, with Cranmer’s Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion, even as recently as the 1960s when, in a very minor way, I experienced it myself. It is therefore difficult to embrace with much enthusiasm the merely literary work of this heretic and schismatic occupant of the Chair of St Augustine.

The sidelining and denial of preferment, and less subtle forms of persecution of Anglo-Catholics, were to be found in the Church of England as recently as – to take one widely publicized example – the action in 1959 of the late Bishop of Southwark, Mervyn Stockwood , who, in a bitter slanging match, forced the resignation of Fr. Rice Harris (the “Martyr of Carshalton” for many, an “inflexible bigot” according to Stockwood, who had been fired from his first curacy for his devotion to Our Lady) and the closing of St Andrew’s, Carshalton. These events led Fr. S. J. Forrest to write this verse:

So call the bobbies*, bar the door,
Raise high the churchyard wall,
For those who won’t be C of E
Shan’t worship God at all.

* “bobby” is an English nickname for a policeman.

I must apologize for this apparent digression, occasioned by my perplexity on reading in Monsignor Jeffrey Steenson’s Christmas Letter 2014 the assertion that the Oxford Movement “was perhaps to have its greatest impact on these [American] shores”.

More than on the shores of the “scepter’d isle”? Really?

I think of Edward King, the saintly Bishop of Lincoln, continually harassed, and then condemned in the Lincoln Judgment for his infringement of the 1874 Public Worship Regulation Act .

The sufferings of Fr. Alexander Heriot Mackonichie, the prosecution and imprisonment of Fr. Arthur Tooth and other priests (“of whom the world is not worthy”) who were “guilty” of such crimes as using incense, wearing Eucharistic vestments, and placing lighted candles on their altars.

To promote and protect all that the Oxford Movement had achieved, the (English) Church Union was founded in 1859 to challenge the authority of the English civil courts to determine questions of doctrine. It was active in defending Anglo-Catholic priests against legal action brought under the Public Worship Regulation Act, with London offices for its publishing, theological and legal departments.

The priestly Society of the Holy Cross (SSC) was founded in London in 1855 by a small group of Anglo-Catholic priests led by Father Charles Lowder, for support, mutual prayer and encouragement. And the Catholic Movement prompted great enthusiasm for overseas missions, to which very many priests gave their lives.

The Society of Mary was formed in England in 1931 by the union of its parent societies, the Confraternity of Our Lady (founded in England 1880) and the League of Our Lady (founded in England in 1902). The Confraternity of the Blessed Sacrament is the oldest Anglican devotional society and was founded in England in 1862 by Fr T. T. Carter. The Guild of All Souls was founded in England in March 1873 with Father Arthur Tooth (see above) as the first president.

In England, the Oxford Movement in its successive phases – Tractarian, Ritualist, Anglo-Catholic –recovered the religious life among Anglicans, founding many communities for men and women, including the Order of St Benedict.

The foundation of the Anglican Shrine at Walsingham was yet another of the ultimate fruits of the Assize Sermon – and, given the dedication of the North American Ordinariate, at least, it could certainly be held that it did have some “impact on these shores”.

The incarnational theology and spirituality of Anglo-Catholicism brought about a huge effort of church-building and pastoral zeal in the huge new industrial cities of the age.

You can still find on-line newsreel footage the great Anglo-Catholic Congresses of the 1920s, events that brought tens of thousands together in London to hear such magnificent things as the sermon by Bishop Frank Weston, the Bishop of Zanzibar, on “Our Present Duty”.

The effects of all this, and the extension of them, were transmitted far beyond “the precious stone set in the silver sea” – and not least, of course, to the American expression of Anglicanism.

Nevertheless, on the western side of the Atlantic the effect and outcome of the Assize Sermon seems to have been more conservative than Catholic. Indeed, what was the raison d’etre of Anglicanism on these shores: a chaplaincy to Anglophiles? Or was it possessed of some unique grasp of eternal Truth that justified its resistance to that unity that is the Dominical imperative? The late Bishop Clarence Pope used to say that Anglicanism was the most “gracious” expression of the Faith: but, amidst its disintegration and corruption in recent years, one must question whether it was the most “grace-giving”.

The end of this lengthy digression brings us to a question: how is that, given this history of often-costly Anglo-Catholic initiative in the land of its birth, we have arrived (via the Book of Divine Worship) at a rite and a liturgy in pseudo-Cranmerian clothing? Monsignor Edwin Barnes, in his blog entry of November 29, 2014, refers to what he calls the American “God-wottery” of the Ordinariate Use. (Helpfully, he adds an explanation: “God-wottery” is defined in the Oxford Dictionary as ‘an affected quality of archaism, excessive fussiness and sentimentality’.” And Father Barnes adds that these are the very things that many English members of the Ordinariate, who have grown up with contemporary rites over a couple of generations now, find so unhelpful.

He refers to what he calls the excessive fussiness of the three-fold repetition of “Lord, I am not worthy …”. And why, Fr. Barnes asks, has the Ordinariate rite (re)-introduced the celebrant’s multiple kissings of the altar? The 1964 (final) edition of Ritual Notes raised the question fifty years ago, and, in so doing, it referred back to Fr. Adrian Fortescue’s remarks in his magisterial The Ceremonies of the Roman Rite Described, first published in 1917. Referring to two points “which one would hope that the authorities would simplify. One is the constant kissing … and, in the same way, have we not rather too much genuflection?”

“The ‘wots’ and ‘peradventures’ of King James can become wearisome”, says Francesca Aran Murphy in her The Comedy of Revelation: Paradise Lost and Regained in Biblical Narrative. And she points to the Anglican verbosity of the 17th century “where petition is apt to turn into a theological lecture: ‘O God, who … etc. etc.’”

Martin Thornton, in the preface to the 1986 edition of his English Spirituality, speaks of spiritual health “expressed by evolution, not stagnation, by development through cross-fertilization, not by conservative insularity”. He describes how that principle was vividly brought home to him by his experiences in Transkei. “My first such experience was in the cathedral at Umtata: Book of Common Prayer in English, Victorian hymns, Merbecke, and so on. It was supremely dreadful.”

My principle concern, however, in all this is not a mere matter of taste or æsthetics. Rather, it is to do with the primary reason for which the Ordinariates and their liturgy exist. There will surely be only few more Anglicans still looking for a congenial home in communion with Peter. Thus there is, I am convinced, a real danger that it could swiftly become nothing more than a liturgical museum – of interest only to a dwindling esoteric band. If that indeed were to happen than we would have lost the providential opportunity provided by Anglicanorum Coetibus to bring back into the fullness of Catholic life and practice a spirituality (neither merely or mainly liturgical) which is not so much Anglican as English and which for historic reasons has been pushed to the periphery of the Church’s awareness.

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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 reportedly 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. “There definitely is a problem, but it is not a major one,” he was reported as saying. “This needs time, but there are solutions and I will find them.”

I responded to the deacon’s question 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 things about such a ministry – however these may ultimately be evaluated – which ought to be set out on record.

What follows is not in any sense a comprehensive argument, but merely a brief 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 almost one hundred years of experience of living the married priesthood in a variety of ministerial settings and assignments.

Some may want to question whether this was 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’ recent remarks were accurately reported, he indicated that priestly celibacy is a matter of discipline rather than doctrine; and that the Latin Church does actually have a number of married priests. Their assignments have not been universally “low key”. There are four 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. More significantly, two of the married diocesan priests are pastors of normal diocesan parishes – one of them being by far the largest parish in the Diocese, having formerly served 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, we hope 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 any of the other parishes in this area outside office hours.

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 is 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 is more recent, concerning something which happened on the eve of a recent Thanksgiving Day. There was a young parish family who live 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 a fallacy: that the ability to love, emotionally, pastorally, involves a quantatively 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?

“There would be the possibility of divorce”, it is said. Sadly, because even priests share in the fallenness 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 things have, sadly, changed since then).

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?

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 not vastly greater than that which is provided for the diocesan celibate clergy – although it has to provide for two adults and, in the past, for the needs of our children. In one important respect it is 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 next say something of where the combined hundred 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 in Prince Edward Island, went, after the horrors of the front line 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 which I have now come to regret, 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 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.

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 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 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, 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 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.

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 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 be sine qua non.

Footnote: An extensive and thorough study of this matter has recently (2014) been published (by DDB Paris) in France. Celibat Des Pretres: La Discipline de l’Eglise, Doit-Elle Changer? is by Jean Mercier, an editorial writer for the Catholic weekly La Vie. As yet no English translation has been published.

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