Friday, February 22, 2008

Dossier on Catholics for a Changing Church

Catholics for a Changing Church, formerly called the 'Catholic Renewal Movement', was led by the former Oratorian priest John Challenor until the Chair was taken by Frank Pycroft. The website tells us that it 'began as a protest movement against Humanae Vitae, Pope Paul VI’s encyclical in 1968, in which artificial means of contraception were banned'. Back on planet earth, the Church's teaching against artificial contraception was one of her most well-known features as the issue grew in prominence in the early 20th C, especially after the Anglican Communion changed its hitherto orthodox teaching to allow it in 1930, a move which stimulated the classic reaffirmation of the Church's timeless teaching by Pope Pius XI, Casti Connubii.

But that's the CCC for you. It can't make even the simplest claim of fact without slipping in some tendentious phrasing which takes a whole paragraph to unpick and refute. Reading its website, newsletter and publications combines crushing boredom, as the usual series of worn out liberal nostrums are set out with little or no argument, with mounting frustration, as one falsehood after another is implied as if they were the most obvious things in the world. Rather than engage with this hydra-headed monster of ignorance and stupidity, we will limit this dossier to the questions of what CCC stands for, and the ways it represents a threat to the Church.

The CCC is a grouping of people who for some reason wish to call themselves Catholics while apparently rejecting almost every aspect of Church teaching. Their particular angle is that their 'support' for the Second Vatican Council, which took place when most of its declining membership were already adults (the latest Newsletter hopefully asks 'When Vatican II was in session, did your parish keep you informed of the discussions at the Council?' Clearly, no one expects the newsletter to be read by anyone under 50.) Many liberals in the 1960s thought that Vatican II could change not just the outward forms and disciplines of the Church, but her very teaching and mission, and were bitterly disappointed when this failed to happen. The disastrous effects of treating Vatican II as a completely fresh start for the Church have been acutely described by Pope Benedict XVI in the books he wrote before his election. The Holy Father has made it a keynote of his pontificate to replace the 'hermeneutic of rupture' with a 'hermeneutic of continuity': to make people realise that even the decrees of Vatican II itself can only be understood in light of the Church's tradition. Naturally, CCC does not find it easy to quote unambiguous support for its positions from Vatican II; where there is unclarity, we must refer to the other sources of Church teaching, such as papal encyclicals, from before the Council and after.

Chesterton said that when faith is lost, reason is soon lost as well. Once liberal Catholicism gets a grip on a mind its critical faculties seem to be rapidly eroded. So although CCC seems to have an answer to everything, the answers don't actually cohere together.

To respond to the obvious point 'Why reject Humanae Vitae, when this has been given to us by a recognised organ of the Magisterium?' they apparently answer

1. Only General Councils have real teaching authority within the Church (article by Challenor).

Does this mean that CCC accepts the infallible pronouncements of the First Vatican Council on Papal Infallibility? Obviously not. At this point they change tack:

2. Better than a General Council are theological experts: Cardinal Newman voiced some initial doubts about Papal Infallibility (before it was declared a doctrine); Paul VI's experts thought that contraception was ok. (Renew, Dec 07 p1).

But teams of experts are not taken very seriously when they disagree with CCC: the team which put together the Catechism of the Catholic Church, for example, are excorciated (Renew, Dec 07 p14). So then we get the position

3. Even better than experts would be some quasi-democratic process by which the clergy and laity would be involved in formulating Church teaching (Manifesto, Aim number 2)

It seems very doubtful whether a truly democratic process would give the CCC what they want: first of all, faithful Catholics realise that matters of fact, as opposed to matters of preference, cannot be determined by votes or opinion polls, and the process would not get very far; and anyway CCC's positions occupy the lunatic fringe of Catholic debate. But since this 'democratisation' is never going to happen, it is less likely to spoil CCC's fantasies, and they can get on with telling what they actually want.

The Church should reject its own teaching on the inheritance of the stain of original sin;

Women should be ordained (link to pro women's ordination group);

The Western Church should allow married clergy, and
Priests who abandoned their calling to get married should be allowed to exercise their ministry (link to Advent group)

Contraception should be allowed;

Homosexuals should be allowed to 'express their sexuality';
Unofficial lay-led quasi-eucharistic services should be recognised;
Catholics should be able to divorce and remarry;
The historicity of the Gospels and the inerrancy of Scripture in general should be rejected;

Christian unity should be fostered by the Church's abandonment of her confidence in her teaching and identity.

This list could be indefinitely extended. The site includes disclaimers that the views expressed are not necessarily those of CCC itself, but as an organisation they are clearly engaged in promulgating these views without any orthodox balance.

Does the CCC damage the Church?

The latest newsletter concedes that, as the CCC anticipates its 40th anniversary, it seems to be marginalised and ignored by the hierarchy, with its own ranks 'thinning out'
(Renew, Dec 07 p20). Like many Catholic lay groups, it seems to be in terminal decline; the photographs of the Executive Committee make them look like the inhabitants of a retirement home. Nevertheless, it continues to damage the Church in three ways.

1. It contributes to a liberal 'alternative Magisterium'.

The huge number of dissident groups the website links to, the personal links between the CCC and other dissenting groups (for example, at the 1980 Pastoral Council it was represented by Martin Pendergast, of RCCLGCM fame), and its publication of a wide range of dissenting 'Catholic' writers and theologians, contributes to the liberal myth that there is a groundswell of opinion which would like to see the Church move in a radically different direction. The leader of this amorphous group is Hans Kung, CCC's patron, who was forbidden to teach as a Catholic theologian in 1979. This myth is central to the liberal project of undermining the confidence of bishops and lay groups in Church teaching, by making them fear widespread attacks on any serious statement of that teaching or attempts to put it into practice. This fear is the cause of the paralysis which is often evident in the Church in the UK.

In actual fact, the dissidents who contribute to CCC's website, newsletter and series of pamphlets (liberation theologians, radical feminists, militant homosexuals, hyper-liberal liturgists etal.) have nothing in common with each other except their rejection of Church teaching, and often disagree with each other violently; furthermore their positions have almost no support from Catholics in the pews.

2. They draw more mainstream Catholics into their orbit

Writers and organisations who generally accept Church teaching, but have a bee in their bonnets about a particular issue, find a willing audience in the CCC. This lends the CCC their prestige, and draws them in to a more radical attack on the Church. For example:

Eamonn Duffy was in danger of becoming a conservative Catholic pin-up for his magnificent book on the English Reformation, 'The Stripping of the Altars'. He dispelled this image by writing a CCC pamphlet attacking the historical basis of the claims of the Papacy: 'The Papacy: Myth and Reality', focusing on the early Church. On that topic, of course, Duffy's scholarship carries little weight: he is a thousand years outside of his specialism.

Fr Henry Wansbrough OSB, editor in chief of the New Jerusalem Bible and until recently member of the Pontifical Biblical Commission, is the author of an article on the CCC website about the 'historical Jesus'. As a stimulant to discussion in a university seminar this might be useful; directed to a non-specialist audience it is likely to cause scandal. (Ironically, the CCC attack Fr Wansbrough's major work, the NJB: is it too orthodox for them?)

3. They infiltrate official organs of the Church

Movement between the CCC and the mainstream Church goes both ways. For example, long-standing CCC activist (and ex-nun) Mary Jo Radcliffe now gives talks, study days and retreats. One, advertised in Briefings, the official journal of the Bishops’ Conference (Feb 2003) took place in St Wilfrid's Convent, Chelsea, entitled: "How do I recognise the areas of my life that can be changed, so helping me to grow?" Others took place in Campion House, the Jesuit-run hotbed of dissent and disobedience in Osterley, Middlesex, before this closed down; in Feb 2008 she is still spreading her bizarre creed at the 'Benedictine Centre for Spirituality' an offshoot of the Benedictine Monastery of Christ the King, Cockfosters.

Even more serious is the matter of the priests who become involved in CCC. Like all dissident groups it is full of ex-priests and religious; when priests still involved in Catholic ministry are involved, this is an opportunity for CCC to spread its message to parishes, religious communities and official Church publications. Mgr Paul Hypher and Fr Owen Hardwicke have written booklets for the CCC. The English Province of the Dominicans seems particularly involved, advertising CCC's pamphlets on its website, four of which were written by a Dominican, Giles Hibbert.

Fr Derek Reeve (a member of the Executive Committee) had an article published on the CCC website, now no longer available, titled "Belatedly Appreciated" in which he seems to attack the very notion of a sacramental priesthood. "I have enjoyed being a priest and I continue to enjoy it but I look forward to a time when the priesthood as we have known it will be no more and when we will be able to select from among our numbers those whom we want to serve us, women and men, and ask the bishop to lay hands on them to be our presiders at the eucharist, our preachers, our carers or whatever."

Fr Rafael Esteban, another pamphlet author, gave a speech in 2000 mocking orthodox groups for their concern over dissent and confusion in the Church and stated: "I'm concerned thatthere is not enough dissent and confusion." (see here). Now we hear that he has been invited to give talks in the Archdiocese of Westminster's programme of adult formation, 'At Your Word, Lord'. His "How the Church must change" suggests changes to the Church's teaching on contraception, and argues for the dismantling of the Hierarchial Church, instituted by Christ, in favour of a democratic church of his own devising.

4. It gives scandal

To Catholics and non-Catholics alike, the fact that the CCC calls itself 'Catholic' and yet espouses extreme anti-Catholic positions is a source of confusion and scandal. The CCC clearly have no concern about this, but in this matter Our Lord disagrees:

But he that shall scandalize one of these little ones that believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone should be hanged about his neck, and that he should be drowned in the depth of the sea. (Matthew 18.6)

Action against CCC

Faithful Catholics must be on their guard against the CCC and similar groups, which are constantly seeking to impose their agenda on the Church. There is a continual effort to get dissident people and events recognised as mainstream, to be allowed, for example, to use Church premises, advertise or get published in Church journals, and address Catholic audiences. Because of the scandal involved, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith has ruled decisively against such cooperation: 'All support should be withdrawn from any organisations which seek to undermine the teaching of the Church, which are ambiguous about it, or which neglect it entirely.'" See here for the full text.

The CCC is not listed as a Catholic group in the Catholic Directory. Nevertheless, in the early years of the century, the CCC managed to use Vaughan House, belonging to the Archdiocese of Westminster, for their Annual General Meeting. After complaints, described in a Patricia Phillips article on the CCC, this was stopped; they now use an Anglican church. The CCC is recognised by the hierarchy as being beyond the pale; no doubt this explains the bitterness of their writing about the bishops. Nevertheless, CCC tentacles are still to be found in the Church, as noted above, and constant vigilance is needed to oppose it.


Anonymous said...

Hilfield Friary is a (shrinking) house of the Anglican SSF, and so a proper spiritual home for dissident catholics. (I always thought a dissident catholic was more properly described as a protestant.)

Webmaster said...

Thanks very much, we'll clarify that.

You're right about the spiritual home: CCC's AGM in October will be in St Anne's, Soho, the Anglican church where the 'gay' Masses used to be held before they moved to Warwick Street.

Pope Leo XIII's Prayer to St Michael

Holy Michael, Archangel, defend us in the day of battle. Be our safeguard against the wickedness and snares of the devil. May God rebuke him, we humbly pray, and do thou, Prince of the Heavenly Host, by the power of God, thrust down to Hell Satan, and all wicked spirits who wander through the world for the ruin of souls. Amen