Friday, June 19, 2009

Pope Benedict XVI, the Reformer

Comment: Luke Coppen makes a good case for Benedict XVI being what commentators said before his election, a man who cracks down on abuses. The Holy Father is doing it in different places and on different subject with seriousness, but no fanfare - sometimes even with a degree of necessary secrecy. As Coppen points out, this means that his reforming zeal has gone largely unnoticed; it also fails to fit the stereotype of a liberal reformer which many commentators assume is the only kind.

We should qualify what we said about the foccacia episode in the diocese of Linz. It is not that the Pope is doing nothing about Linz - as noted below he's just had an emergency meeting with the Austrian bishops to talk about it, and other matters. Nevertheless he doesn't feel able to do what many frustrated faithful Catholics assume he should do, which is simply remove the bishop, because of the nebulous concept of 'collegiality' which descended like a miasma onto the Church after Vatican II. However, even that needs to be qualified, since he has removed an African archbishop who tolerated concibinage among his clergy. Since this is one of the problems in Linz, is sauce for the African goose going to be sauce for the Austrian gander?

Coppen's article is worth reading in full but here's the key passage:

The Maciel affair: In May 2006 Pope Benedict took the highly unusual step of ordering one of the world's best-known priests to retire to a life of prayer and penance. His decision followed a Vatican investigation into allegations that Fr Marcial Maciel, founder of the Legion of Christ and the Regnum Christi movement, was a sexual abuser who had fathered at least one child.

Investigating America's seminaries: Not long after his election Benedict XVI oversaw an apostolic visitation of seminaries in the United States. The investigation was inspired by the clerical sexual abuse crisis of 2002 and covered all schools of theology as well as college-level seminaries, houses of formation, and academic institutions that form future priests.

Scrutinising American female religious orders: The Pope has also ordered a wide-ranging investigation of American women religious. The apostolic visitation of institutes of women religious in the United States, which is currently underway, covers approximately 400 apostolic religious institutes of women and approximately 59,000 women religious. It is likely to lead to a shake-up of American female religious life.

Deposing the leader of an African Church: Earlier this month Pope Benedict accepted the resignation of Archbishop Paulin Pomodimo of Bangui, the most senior Catholic cleric in the Central African Republic (CAR). The resignation followed a visit to the CAR by a papal emissary, Archbishop Robert Sarah, secretary of the Congregation for the Evangelisation of Peoples, in March. It is widely thought that the Pope requested the archbishop's resignation because he tolerated priests keeping mistresses.

Calling for a thorough accounting of abuse in Ireland: Also this month Pope Benedict called for a profound examination of the state of the Irish Church following a damning report into "endemic" abuse in schools run by religious orders.

Crisis talks with the Austrian bishops: And this week Pope Benedict held an emergency meeting with the leaders of the Austrian Church. The gathering followed the appointment and subsequent resignation of Gerhard Wagner as auxiliary Bishop of Linz and reports that priests in senior positions in the diocese live with mistresses. The Pope reminded the bishops of "the urgency of going deeper in the faith and the integral fidelity to the Second Vatican Council and the post-conciliar magisterium of the Church" - a coded message that the Austrian Church is in serious need of reform.

These events together show the determination with which Pope Benedict is confronting the gravest scandals in the Church today. They have all had considerable publicity, but nevertheless have not created the perception that Benedict XVI is a bold reformist pope.


Tuesday, June 16, 2009


This has rendered Damian Thompson speechless and it has had the same effect on us. But focaccia was used as the host at a Mass in Linz, Austria, and under the appearance of focaccia the Blessed Sacrament was paraded around in this 'monstrance'. That's assuming focaccia is valid matter, which it probably is; it is certainly illicit.

Hat-tip to Cathcon.

As the little film indicates, this is a scandal with global implications. The Pope has done nothing. There is no reason to imagine, things being as they are, that the Pope will do anything. This fact is the backdrop to the problems of the clerical abuse of power faithful Catholics face all over the world.


Monday, June 15, 2009

Clerical abuse and clericalism

Read James Preece's brilliant analysis of the clerical abuse scandals and Catholic culture. Here's the money quote:

As far as I can see, the position of the Bishops Conference of England and Wales including our own Bishop Terrence Drainey is currently "let us have a culture that tolerates and even encourages clerical abuse, in which priests and bishops are free to abuse their power and authority and laypeople are expected to be co-conspirators or else face accusations of disrespect and disloyalty but let us make an exception for the sort of abuse that the civil authorities take seriously, that is, the sort of abuse that costs money and looks bad in the papers".

This is like saying "stealing is okay, as long as you don't steal anything somebody will notice" or "lying is okay, as long as nobody finds out". Essentially, the Bishops are saying "it's okay with us if priests abuse their power, as long as they don't do anything illegal".

What concerns me most of all is this: As long as the culture remains in place, the potential for harm continues. As long as the culture remains in place, the potential for "[hiding] behind a clericalism which is prepared to protect vicious behaviour at the expense of defenceless innocents" remains in place.

This is simply unacceptable.

This is partly why this blog has never been shy about reporting clerical abuse stories - something which the aggressive liberals in the comments boxes have never been able to understand, and which has got us in trouble with conservative Catholics as well.

Clericalism and ultramontanism is not the answer to the problems of today. Yes, we have problems of disobedience of legitimate authority justly exercised, and in those cases the authority should be supported. But this is not the opposite problem as the sex abuse being covered up by bishops: it is another example of the same problem.

How so? The sex abusers were disobedient. Their bishops didn't approve of the abuse; they asked them to stop. The abusers were breaking canon law as well as the natural law. The abuse persisted because of a failure of legitimate authority. But it also persisted because of the false deference towards that failing authority.

Because no-one wanted to confront and denounce the bishops and religious superiors who were failing to exercise their authority, out of deference to that authority, they were enabled to go on not exercising their authority.

The clerical club which protected the abusers, without necessarily approving of them, is also tolerating priests who commit liturgical abuses, refuse to give the faithful communion kneeling, refuse to teach the whole gospel, and turn their parishes into centres for left-wing activism.


Thursday, June 11, 2009

Home Schooling in the spotlight

Comment: notice how the NSPCC is gunning for homeschoolers. There is in fact less chance of a child being abused if he is being taught at home, than at school, but the NSPCC and its allies in the government don't want to be confused with facts. They like to see all the boys and girls in neat row so they can indoctrinate them as they like.

The actual proposals here don't threaten serious damage to homeschooling, but the threat is always there.

From CFNews: A review of home education in England is expected to recommend a national registration scheme for home educators. It is also expected to say local authorities should have the right to visit any child taught at home.

The government commissioned a review to find out whether local councils were monitoring home educated children, or offering parents enough support.

But the government has also been concerned that home education could be a cover for abuse. The review, conducted by former director of education for Kent, Graham Badman, will say that parents who home educate should have to register annually on a scheme administered by local councils. But a parent's right to home educate will not be challenged, ministers have said.

Local authorities currently have no statutory duty to monitor children educated at home. But they must ensure that all children are receiving a suitable education, either in school or otherwise.

Children's Secretary Ed Balls said: 'We will ask local authorities to provide easier access to extra support for those home-educated children who need it - particularly the relatively high proportion of home-educated children who have special educational needs and others who need or want to access services that would otherwise be provided through their school.' He said asking home educators to register would bring England into line with other European countries.

Scotland differs slightly from the rest of the UK in that local authorities are encouraged to inspect home educating families at least once a year.

But home educators say authorities should stop treating them with suspicion and concentrate on giving them support.

Ann Newstead, spokeswoman for home education group Education Otherwise, said: 'If one thing could come out of this review which would mean it was not a complete waste of public money, it would be that the decision to home educate is treated with respect and as a positive choice.'

The review is not expected to propose any minimum standards or set subjects. It is understood the review has not found any evidence that home education was being used specifically to conceal trafficked children, or forced marriages.

Children's charities have urged the government to tighten up rules regarding home education. NSPCC head of policy and public affairs, Diana Sutton, said current legislation was 'outdated' and a system was needed to deal with cases where local authorities had concerns.

Estimates of how many children are home educated vary from between 20,000 and 80,000 children. [BBC]


Wednesday, June 10, 2009

CAFOD to use a pagan guru on pilgrimage

This really beggars belief, so let's hear it direct from the website of the Diocese of Hexham and Newcastle. If you didn't have sufficient reason to stop supporting CAFOD before, you do now: they have arranged for a Catholic pilgrimage to be led, in part, by a pagan leader with a view to him imparting his spiritual wisdom to pilgrims. For the other reasons, see our dossier on CAFOD.

From the Diocese of Hexham and Newcastle: A Brazilian of the Yanomami tribe will be the special guest at CAFOD's annual pilgrimage to Holy Island this year.

Davi Kopenawa Yanomami is a member of the Yanomami índios in Brazil, and a spokesman on tribal issues and Amazon Rainforest conservation. CAFOD supports Hutukara, an indigenous grassroots organisation of which Davi is president. He will be joining pilgrims for the day on June 13 to walk across the Pilgrims' Way from the main land to the island. Davi will also lead the reflection at key points along the way with reflections from his own tradition, focussing on how we live in harmony with God's creation.

CAFOD Hexham & Newcastle Diocesan Manager Anne-Marie Hanlon said: "This is a real honour for us, and we are thrilled to have Davi coming to Holy Island this year. He is an inspirational speaker and comes from a tradition where people are still fundamentally linked to their environment. It will be very interesting to hear what he has to say about climate change, and also to hear how his customs value the stories of his ancestors just as he will hear how we revere our Northern saints.”


Tuesday, June 09, 2009

The Recife Affair

From CFNews gives a long commentary on the affair from Mgr Schoonans., here. He discusses the multiple inaccuracies of the article by Archbishop Rino Fisichella in the Osservatore Romano of the 15th of March, which it shares with other attacks on the local ordinary who reminded the abortionists that, under canon law, they were excommunicated latae sententiae (ie without him having to do anything). Mgr Schoonans also reports that Mgr Lombardi, the Vatican press officer, appeared to try to re-interpret remarks of the Holy Father to make them compatible with support for the Recife abortion (which he falsely suggested was an example of 'indirect' abortion: medical treatment such as chemotherapy not aiming at the death of the unborn child, which brings it about).

The most worrying thing here is the impression of divisionsn and open dissent at the highest reaches of the Vatican.

Here is an extract.

3. Divisions in the Church

1. According to RF, the attitude of Archbishop Cardoso undermines the credibility of the Church. But the Church and its pastors do not deserve to be credible unless they proclaim the truth. The Gospel does not recommend that we please men, it calls us to be faithful to the message which it is our mission to announce. As regards abortion, the Church's doctrine is expounded with clarity in major documents such as Gaudium et spes (1965), para. 51 § 3 ; cf. para. 27 § 3 ; Code of Canon Law (1983), para. 1398 ; 1314; 1323 s. ; Donum vitae (1987), para. 3 ; Evangelium vitae (1995), para. 62 ; Catechism of the Catholic Church (1997), para. 2271, 2322.

RF's article was published in the French edition of the Osservatore Romano on 17 March. It is astonishing that it fails to echo the statements of His Eminence, Cardinal Re, Prefect of the Sacred Congregation for Bishops, published in La Stampa on 7 March. Could RF have been unaware of this statement when he signed his article? In this statement, Cardinal Re declares, with regard to the double abortion performed at Recife: " it is a crime in the eyes of God. The excommunication of the person performing the abortion is just". On 14 March, Dom Cardoso, Archbishop of Olinda and Recife, received a letter of praise from that same Cardinal. The Church's position is also reaffirmed by Father Gianfranco Grieco, Head of the Pontifical Council for the Family, in La Stampa of 7 March.

2. The Osservatore Romano is the unofficial mouthpiece of the Vatican. It publishes pontifical texts. It also publishes articles at the request of certain dicasteries. It also publishes texts proposed by authors considered to be knowledgeable about and respecting of the Church's doctrine. This prestigious publication is particularly necessary at a time when the media pronounce with assurance on any issue. As Molière wrote, " People of quality know everything without ever having learned anything. " (Les précieuses ridicules, scene 10). With some notable exceptions, adherence to an elementary code of ethics, for example, checking the sources on which relies, does not appear to be a priority. In the case under examination, those in charge of the Osservatore Romano let through a text containing serious inaccuracies and omissions and biased in every sense of the word. To cap it all, instead of putting a stop to the circulation of this article in foreign languages, the publication's Director arranged for the text to be circulated in different languages. The Vatican's mouthpiece is therefore seriously adding to a muddying of the waters in as far as it is failing to comply with its mandate as a faithful mouthpiece, palming off on its readers products which are doctrinally dubious.

3. On 20 March, a few days after the appearance of RF's article, while meeting the authorities in Luanda, Benedict XVI made reference to the abortion. The Pope regrets that the abortion is being presented as a matter of maternal health. Let us quote the strong words pronounced by the Pope:

"How bitter the irony of those who promote abortion as a form of maternal healthcare! How disconcerting the claim that the termination of life is a matter of reproductive health!" (Osservatore Romano, French edition, 31 March 2009, pages 4 and 15).

Whence immediate protests from certain journalists, whose reasoning can be summarised as follows: " Abortion is a matter of reproductive health. Yet the Pope is against abortion. Therefore he is opposed to reproductive health, which must include therapeutic abortion." According to this sophistic argument, the premature twins constitute a serious danger to the young Carmen and are themselves in danger, and so it is necessary to go ahead with the abortion.

The next day, in Luanda, Father Federico Lombardi S.J., Head of the Vatican's Press Office, felt obliged, even authorised, to blunt the authority of the Pope's statement, quoted above. The statement did not relate to therapeutic abortion, as understood by the ideologists of reproductive health and safe motherhood. In a context in which he is commenting on the Pope's words, Fr Lombardi goes so far as to affirm, incautiously, that the Catholic Church has " always allowed indirect abortion ", when treatment given to a pregnant woman in order to save her life "results in the death of the foetus " (Cathobel, 23 March). The double abortion performed on Carmen would be therapeutic and would thus, in the twisted logic of the Reverend Father, escape the sanction of Canon Law. It would not be condemned by the Pope who moreover - it is added- said nothing, in Africa, on the events in Recife. It is therefore difficult for Father Lombardi to have avoided compromising the Holy Father by creating the impression that the Pope did not condemn the double abortion in Recife, on the grounds that this double abortion was therapeutic! It follows that the Pope would have implicitly disagreed with Archbishop Cardoso!

Admittedly, Father Lombardi asserted, in Luanda, that he did not have all the necessary information regarding the Recife case. However, his statement poses a fundamental problem. Is it normal for a journalist, even a highflyer, to set himself up as an authorised interpreter of what the Pope has just said, especially if his interpretation has the effect of blunting the edge of the Holy Father's statements? It would doubtless be necessary to clarify the levels of expertise and authority. Should the Pope's words be so obscure as to need deciphering by an unofficial media magisteriium?

4. Serious grounds for concern have emerged in circles close to the Pontifical Academy for Life and the Pontifical Council for the Family:

a. Incomprehension and sadness on the part of a considerable number of Christians, engaged for several years in multiple pro-life programmes encouraged by the Church. A feeling, often well-founded, of having been " abandoned " by their pastor.

b. Perplexity and shame on the part of many members of the Pontifical Academy for Life, who are wondering how such a faux pas could have occurred, and what action will be taken.

c. Discredit affecting the President of the Pontifical Academy for Life, who has undermined his own moral, theological and scientific authority. Loss of confidence in the President and disillusionment. Many members of the Pontifical Academy for Life fear that RF's statements will compromise them at rank and file level. There will be a down-sizing in aid of all kinds earmarked for the activities of the Pontifical Academy for Life.

d. Fears of a weakening of the Pontifical Academy for Life: its members will be less motivated and will become divided among themselves. There is already talk of only convening members of the Academy every two years. But where is this decision coming from, if confirmed? Is it, as rumoured in certain circles, the prelude to the burial of the Pontifical Academy for Life, at a time when the attacks on life are incessantly multiplying ?

5. In his Letter to the Archbishops of the World, dated 10 March 2009, the Holy Father, quoting the letter to the Galatians (5, 13-15), wrote: "If you bite and devour one another, be warned: you will destroy one another " Referring to the question of Archbishops following the lead of Archbishop Lefebvre, this quotation also deserves to be repeated in relation to the scandal of Notre Dame University and the harrowing story of Carmen and her twins.


Monday, June 08, 2009

Say no to clapping at Mass

A note on a form of liturgical abuse from Fr Z.

"Wherever applause breaks out in the liturgy because of some human achievement, it is a sure sign that the essence of liturgy has totally disappeared and been replaced by a kind of religious entertainment. " (Spirit of the Liturgy p. 198)

This message has been brought to you by Sober Inebriation Weblog.

If you should encounter applause during Mass in your parish do not panic. Immediately after Mass go out and get a copy of Pope Benedict’s book "The Spirit of the Liturgy" by Ignatius Press and give it to your pastor as a gift. Be sure to highlight the above passage on page 198. Yellow highlighter works really, really well.


Friday, June 05, 2009

Archbishop MacDonald imposes 'All that I Am'

From CFNews: Although the explicit visual material in the 'All That I Am' sex-education programme triggers off alarms on pornography-filtering computer programmes, Archbishop McDonald is permitting the resource for primary and secondary schools to be used in mixed classes the Diocese of Southwark. 'All That I Am' is sponsored, and partly financed, by the government's Teenage Pregnancy Unit. Parents are objecting to the scheme which they call 'institutionalised sex abuse'. The Catholic Church teaches that parents' rights on sex education are 'inalienable'.

See also Catholic Mom of 10


Cardinal Murph-O'Connor not to join Blair Foundation

Comment: this is a relief. Tony Blair is at least suffering some fallout from his outrageous outburst attacking the Pope over condoms. The story was reported in the Tablet last weekend.

From CFNews: According to an item in the Guardian, a spokesman for Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor says that the former Archbishop of Westminster "does not envisage joining the board the Tony Blair Faith Foundation at this stage". Yet on Friday afternoon the Faith Foundation website was still announcing: "HE Cardinal Cormac Murphy O'Connor, Archbishop of Westminster, will join the Advisory Council once he has retired as Archbishop."

This item was shortly followed by a statement issued by a TBF spokesman. "We can totally understand Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor wanting to review his commitments now he has retired as Archbishop of Westminster. The Foundation has always valued the private advice he has offered and welcome him continuing to do so in his retirement.

"While they support the broad aims of the Foundation, we do not expect the Advisory Council members to agree with Tony Blair on every aspect of policy past or present. Their role is to provide advice and guidance, alongside many other senior religious'.


Final defeat of Catholic adoption agencies


From CFNews: Catholic adoption societies which refuse to offer children to homosexual couples face closure following a tribunal ruling.
Judges ruled in a test case that the charities, which find homes for hundreds of children each year, will be breaking the law if they refuse to accept same-sex couples as adoptive parents.

The ruling means some Catholic agencies face a choice between abandoning their adoption services or their religious principles.

The ruling means some Catholic agencies face a choice between abandoning their adoption services or their religious principles.

One diocese has already said it is likely to close its adoption charities.
Some of the long-standing charities have not opposed adoption by same-sex couples since Labour's 2007 Sexual Orientation Regulations stated that no organisation or company may discriminate against gays.

But yesterday's appeal ruling by the Charity Tribunal confirmed that those which have stuck to Catholic teaching must now do the same or give up trying to get children adopted.
In its appeal, the Catholic Care charity, run by the diocese of Leeds, said that the right to discriminate against homosexual couples was 'a principle of a Catholic organisation'.
But following the ruling a spokesman for the diocese said: 'As the charities cannot provide unrestricted services without being in breach of their obligations to act in accordance with the tenets of the Roman Catholic Church, it seems likely that the charities will need to close their adoption services and a flagship service of the charities will be lost.
'We are concerned about the possible impact this will have on potential adoptive parents and children.'
Tribunal president Alison McKenna ruled that the Catholic Care charity was 'a well-respected voluntary adoption agency which has made a significant contribution to the provision of adoption services in this country and facilitated many successful adoption placements'.
But she and two colleagues said the charity's activities would be unlawful if it went on refusing to accept gay adoptive parents.
Other Catholic adoption agencies declined to comment. [MailOnline]
The news that the Catholic Adoption Agencies had lost their case before the Charity Tribunal 'is sad but was certainly not unexpected, at least as far as I was concerned, writes barrister Neil Addison in his 'Religion Law Blog'.
'What the agencies were trying to do was to change their objects so as to add the following
"The Charity shall only provide adoption services to heterosexuals and such services to heterosexuals shall only be provided in accordance with the tenets of the Church. For the avoidance of doubt the Roman Catholic Bishop of Leeds from time to time shall be the arbiter of whether such services and the manner of their provision fall within the tenets of the Church"
They argued that this would enable them to operate because of the exemption for Charities under Reg 18 of the Sexual Orientation Regulations 2007which say
"18.-(1) Nothing in these Regulations shall make it unlawful for a person to provide benefits only to persons of a particular sexual orientation, if-(a) he acts in pursuance of a charitable instrument, and (b) the restriction of benefits to persons of that sexual orientation is imposed by reason of or on the grounds of the provisions of the charitable instrument"
From a legal point of view the Tribunals decision seems to me to be very questionable, the Tribunal said (para 21)
"regulation 18 could not be relied upon by the Appellant to permit activity which was no longer permitted, or which was made unlawful, by another regulation. As the Preliminary Ruling made clear, this was because the Tribunal understood regulation 18 to permit discrimination by charities only when their activities did not stray into the areas covered by the other regulations"
Frankly that is a legally fatuous remark and completely circular reasoning since if reg 18 only applies to activities which are not covered by the SOR's anyway then why would any Charity need to rely on reg 18 at all ? Before the comments section of this Blog gets overload I should add at this point that reg 18 is not some sinister " legal loophole" in the SOR's designed by cunning homophobes, it is the standard type of exemption given to Charities in every other area of Discrimination legislation so as to permit Charities(and we are only talking about Charities) to offer specific services to Women/Specific Races/Specific Nationalities/People with specific disabilities etc. If the Charity Tribunal decision stands unchallenged then every other Charity is now subject to every other type of Anti-Discrimination legislation and, incidentally, the commission decision makes it more difficult for there to be specific Charities providing services for Gay and Lesbian people.
However the irony is that even had the Catholic Charities won their case before the Tribunal it would have been a pyrrhic victory. As the Tribunal pointed out local authorities would refuse to deal with an Adoption Agency which was clearly and directly discriminatory in its objects and the Agency in that situation would have had no way to challenge such a refusal by a local authority.
Leaving aside the fact that the potential views of local authorities should have been irrelevant to the decision the Tribunal was supposed to be making which was whether the proposed change in objects was legal or not; the Tribunal was undoubtedly correct in their analysis. That is why I, as Director of the Thomas More Legal Centre have been advising Adoption Agencies for a year that they should amend their objects to read as follows
"The Charity shall not have power to engage in any activity which it knows, or reasonably believes, is contrary to the teaching of the Catholic Church; the formal opinion of the Bishop of [ ] shall be final in any question as to what is the teaching of the Catholic Church"
Such a provision in the objects of the Charity would, of course, have prevented them choosing either same sex, or unmarried heterosexual couples, as adoptive parents and they would have had to concentrate on married couples who according to the teachings of the Church (and millenia of human experience) are the appropriate unit to raise and nurture children. Had a local authority then refused to deal with one of the Catholic Agencies then the local authority would itself have been acting illegally by engaging in Religious Discrimination. Why none of the Catholic Agencies even tried this route I do not know. It certainly could not have been any more unsuccessful than the route they did choose. [ ]


Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Catholic Charismatic Renewal: Dossier

Catholic Charismatic Renewal, which originated in a charismatic event in the USA in 1967, has branches all over the world, including England, Wales and Scotland. Recently the English branch announced that, due to financial difficulties, they would be closing their office at the All Saints Pastoral Centre at London Colney (a facility owned by the Archdiocese of Westminster), and probably ceasing to publish their magazine 'GoodNews' and teaching resources. The Tablet reported (16th May 09)

In the 1980s and early 1990s the popularity of the Charismatic Renewal – the spirituality of which is centred on an encounter with the Holy Spirit – was at its peak, with conferences attracting up to 5,000 people. In recent years numbers have decreased...
A recent conference attracted 1,500.

A picture is worth a thousand words. The picture above tells us a lot about their spirituality and liturgical preferences, and the kind of people who front the organisation: in a phrase, aging trendies. This is clearly an organisation undergoing accelerating decline, but its power to harm the Church has not left it yet.

What it is

CCR is a somewhat nebulous phenomenon. It promotes prayer groups and liturgies of a particular style, and in general a theological attitude of a particular type, through a magazine, education packs, and national and local events. It promotes many good things, but mixes them in with bad or at least dubious or unproven ones. The English website includes Medjugorje among its links to officially approved Marian shrines (Medjugorje is not officially approved); it links to many pro-life groups but also to Amnesty International, which campaigns openly for the legalisation of abortion; it includes official agencies of the Catholic Bishops and non-Catholic 'healing ministries', Christian Zionists, and all sorts of weird and wonderful groups, as well as the usual aging trendy stuff, such as CAFOD and livesimply.

The fundamental problem with CCR is one of style or attitude rather than one of substance. That is not because the substance is good - it is because, like the liberal charismatic Protestantism on which it models itself, there is no substance. While not explicitly denying any doctrines, it inculcates an attitude and a spirituality which is at odds with Catholic tradition and, ultimately, at odds with Catholic doctrine.

How can we pin down the problems?

Identification with Protestantism

It is obvious that CCR is inspired by a certain kind of Protestantism. The inspiration is not simply a matter of learning from non-Catholics in matters of technique - the CCR actually sees itself as part of a 'Pentecostal/Charismatic' phenomenon.

One author in the latest magazine puts it this way:

The outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Azusa Street, Los Angeles, in 1906, saw the beginning of Pentecostalism. This was followed in the 1960s by the Charismatic Renewal in the mainline Christian denominations, alongside the birth of the Independent Charismatic House Churches. This Pentecostal/Charismatic Movement has grown from a handful of individuals in 1906 to a global force of more than 600 million people today. Such a remarkable number means that Christians who have been baptised in the Holy Spirit today represent about one third of global Christianity, and are the fastest growing part of the world-wide church. Whilst there are signs of a slow-down in Western Europe and North America, the rate of growth continues unabated in Africa, Asia, and Latin America. History tells us that renewal movements usually rise and fall, but are we experiencing something different? The time seems to be right for a new look at this amazing Pentecostal/Charismatic Movement.

It would seem useless to say to the author, Charles Whitehead (Chairman of CCR), that Pentecostalism is a group of truly appalling sects, which use the most unscrupulous means to proselytise the least educated Catholic populations they can find, to give them a religion evacuated of even the limited understanding of the Sacraments you would find in Anglicanism. In this article Whitehead identifies more with the second 'C' in CCR than with the first.

The Key Doctrinal Problem:
'Baptism in the Spirit' vs. Sacramental Baptism and Confirmation

Whitehead also suggests, in the above passage - as his Pentecostal friends would insist - that sacramntal Baptism and Confirmation do not constitute true 'baptism in the Spirit'. This is a foundational belief for charismatics, and it betrays the seriousness of the problem. Our Lord explained that 'Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit' (John 3.5-6) and he instituted the sacraments to bring this rebith about. Baptism and Confirmation - note Our Lord's reference to water - objectively give the Holy Spirit to the baptised. It is not a matter of emotion, but metaphysical fact. To say that this is not baptism of the Spirit Our Lord intended is an attack on the Church's whole sacramental system, and a replacement of the sacraments' objective signs with nothing but feelings.

The Charismatic-Pentecostal claim is that what they do in 'baptising in the spirit' is renewing what happened to the Apostles at Pentecost, and to certain others in the Acts of the Apostles - hence the importance of 'speaking in tongues', which is supposed to show that they possess the gifts the early Christians had, but which are not given by the Sacraments.

This position is flawed both in its Scriptural basis and in terms of the Church's teaching. In Acts, the Apostles did indeed receive the gift of tongues at Pentecost, but this is clearly not what is given by 'baptism in the spirit' as practiced by CCR. The Apostles spoke in such a way as to be understood by everyone; charismatics speak in such a way as to be understood by no-one, or possibly just one or two people. Furthermore, the Apostles immediately baptised a vast number of converts, and there is no indication that these converts were immediately given the gift of tongues. Nor is the gift of tongues, or any other special charism, by any means an invariable accompaniment of baptism and or confirmation elsewhere in Acts or in the Early Church.

The teaching of the Church is clearly expressed in the decree of the Council of Florence on Confirmation (Session 8):
The effect of this sacrament is that a Christian should boldly confess the name of Christ, since the holy Spirit is given in this sacrament for strengthening just as he was given to the apostles on the day of Pentecost.
Confirmation is our Pentecost.

The charisms or gifts of the spirit which are mentioned in Acts and in the Letters of St Paul - speaking in tongues, prophecy, healing - are real enough, and have been found from time to time in the history of the Church. But it is a fundamental principle of these gifts, by contrast with the Sacraments, that they cannot be organised: they cannot be called up or passed on at will. You can't advertise a study day and give all attendees gifts of the spirit - 'the Spirit breaths where He wills' (John 3.8). The saints who had these gifts would have been astonished by such a procedure. What is being passed on on these accasions is either a fraud or a natural technique - or a bit of both.

The general emphasis on the experience of the Spirit creates the problem that if Church authorities - parish priests or bishops - impose any limits on what charismatic groups get up to (especially in the liturgy), Catholic charismatics have a tendency simply to leave the Church and join up with charismatics of other denominations. Protestant charismatic and Pentecostal churches in the United States have huge numbers of Catholic converts in them, and this phenomenon has, in a more limited way, been seen in the UK as well.

Liturgical abuses

It hardly needs to be said that typical 'charismatic' Masses and devotions depart from the norms laid down by the Church. The invasion of the sanctuary by lay people, musicians, people being slain in the spirit, people giving personal testimonies etc. is one obvious example; another would be the constant interuption or replacement of the liturgical texts by spontaneous or scripted additions. Charismatics would find it hard to see what the problem is here, but what they are doing contravenes the law of the Church, and their attitude is completely at odds with the Church's attitude towards the liturgy. If it were meant to be a free-for-all we wouldn't have the liturgical laws we have.

For a lengthy treatment of Catholic charismatic liturgies at a conference in the USA, see John Vennari here.

A preference for style over substance

Pentecostalism can be seen as the taking of certain Protestant themes to a logical extreme: a rejection of ritual and formalism (including vestments, the sacraments, even the baptismal formula), and a rejection of intellectualism (including any properly articulated theology). Instead Pentecostal groups rely entirely on a personal connection with the Holy Spirit. Followers think they can tell that the Spirit is with a particular leader because he says so, and tries to demonstrate it in various ways. Preaching is one; others include making odd noises when praying ('speaking in tongues'), claiming miraculous healing powers, and having the ability to mesmerise an audience. Confidence tricksters and stage hypnotists can, of course, do similar things.

The resulting sect is made up of an inner core of people who may feel important because of their role or may be benefitting financially from the sect, and an outer group which often has a high turn-over as people become discouraged, when the extravagant claims of the preacher fail to solve their personal problems, or see through the sham, or hear an even more mesmerising preacher working down the road. These kinds of groups often attract many young people, especially the intellectually unsophisticated, but these young people tend not to become older devotees - as they age they drift away.

CCR is not, of course, guilty of the worst excesses of the Pentecostal movement, and working within the Church the Church's sacramental and intellectual resources remain, at least theoretically, available. But insofar as they claim to be inspired by the Pentecostal/Charismatic tendency in Protestantism, they are travelling down that same road. This places a personal feeling of being 'touched by the Spirit' above any objective sacramental event, and shunts difficult theological questions aside. While claiming that God will solve your problems, and that God can be found where His Spirit can be seen visibly working, they set people up for an exaggerated enthusiasm to be followed by disappointment. This is a road out of the Church for many people.

Style can get you noticed, but substance gives staying power. When Catholics formed by CCR are confronted with real personal difficulties, or real theological objections to Catholicism or belief in God, they are extremely vulnerable.


The fundamental claim of the charismatic movement is that they 'have' the Spirit, and people should take notice of them for that reason. It follows that they can't afford to be shy about claiming to be inspired, either personally - having messages from God and so forth - or as a group - experiencing group phenomena such as being 'slain in the spirit', 'speaking in tongues' and so on. After all, if they didn't, no one would have any reason to pay attention to them.

So we find a way of talking which completely lacks the caution and discretion which characterises the Catholic tradition, and in particular Catholic spiritual masters. We read, for example,

The Burning Bush Initiative, grew out of a prophetic inspiration given to Kim Kollins, a leader in the Catholic Charismatic Renewal, when she was attending a gathering over a decade ago in Rome. Her experience brought an unplanned extended stay during the next months where she was led by God to remain in Rome and intercede for the Renewal and for the world. Over this time, she felt God tell her to encourage those in the Charismatic Renewal to return to intercessory prayer for a new outpouring of the Holy Spirit.

There is nothing wrong in having an idea, after prayer and reflection, and feeling that perhaps this is providential. This is clearly what happened to Kim Kollins. But by expressing it as it is in this passage, it leaves no room for the thing to be a mistake. Not only are they setting people up for a huge disappointment, when (as is overwhelmingly likely) nothing much comes of it, but in the meantime anyone who has a different idea is implicitly condemned as opposing God's revealed will.

But it gets worse. Fr Pat Collins writes in an earlier edition of GoodNews of a particular prophecy made by a one charismatic leader as though it were a fifth gospel. He explains his approach in deciding which of the spontaneous and mutually contradictory babblings to believe:
Over the years I have heard many prophecies. It is notoriously hard to know whether they come from God or not. However, there are some which have considerable authority because of the circumstances in which they were spoken, the acknowledged giftedness of the people who spoke them, and the way in which they evoked an answering amen of approval in the Christian community. On Pentecost Monday 1975 such a prophecy was given by Ralph Martin in St Peter’s Basilica, Rome, in the presence of Pope Paul VI.

The Church has a very long experience in dealing with alleged prophecies. Are these the criteria used by the Church? No. Has this been assessed and approved by the proper authorities? No. But never mind - Fr Collins believes it because he thinks Ralph Martin has the Spirit, and they supply a theme for the entire issue of Goodnews.

The tradition calls this 'presumption'. The Church has always exercised great caution with regard to private revelations; even the most carefully investigated are said merely to be 'worthy of belief'; Catholics are never required to accept them. We like to think the founders of religious orders were prompted by God act as they did, but it would be absurd to try to argue that an order should be fostered because it is God's will - rather, we see evidence of God's will in the fruits the order brings forth. CCR, by contrast, constantly tells its followers that this initiative or that has been willed by God, and should be supported for that reason. Unfortunatly, we only have their word for it.

A dismissal of tradition

Rather by silence than by objections, CCR dismisses the Church's traditions: liturgical, spiritual, intellectual, cultural. They have no importance for CCR - what is important is what the Holy Spirit has told them since breakfast.

CCR has become adept at selecting quotations from Popes and the tradition which appear to support their case. This is not difficult because all the fathers and doctors of the Church were deeply concerned with spirituality and the Spirit. What is evident, however, is that all of them would be absolutely horrified if they saw and heard what goes on in charismatic services. It is totally alien to their entire conception of the role of the Spirit in the Christian life.

The Catholic Church was not invented yesterday. When we say she was founded by Our Lord we mean really founded, as a historical fact, by the man Jesus, and not simply 'inspired' by Him. That is why the Church's tradition is so important: it is a continuous and living link to Our Lord. The Church's traditions convey to the present day the will of God and the understanding of that will by the Apostles and subsequent generations. It is through her traditions and enormous historical resources that the Church can be truly renewed: this is the course set for the Church by all her great leaders, and particularly by Pope Benedict XVI.

This means nothing the the CCR. As Our Lord said, 'Who does not gather with me, scatters.' (Mat 12.30)

The verdict of recent Popes

Charismatics love to claim that Paul VI and John-Paul II gave them a complete endorsement. The Wikipedia article on the (international) Catholic Charismatic Renewal is one-sided and very favourable to them, and makes this point at length. The truth is rather different. Here is the summary of Papal teaching given in a superb analysis of the movement published in Christian Order in 2000:

Pope Paul VI on Sept. 3rd 1969 at Castelgandolfo referred to phenomena which "not only offend canon law but also the very heart of Catholic worship, since we find them, dispensing with the institutional structures of the authentic, real and human Church, in the false hope of setting up a free and purely Charismatic Christianity, but which is -really amorphous, evanescent and blown about by any passing wind of passion or fashion. " On Sept. 24th 1969: "Many who talk about the Church today say they are inspired by a prophetic spirit. They make risky and sometimes inadmissible assertions, and appeal to the Holy Spirit as if the Divine Paraclete were at their service at all times; they sometimes do this, unfortunately, with an unspoken intention of freeing themselves from the Church's Magisterium, which enjoys the assistance of the Holy Spirit. May God grant that this Presumption of elevating a personal judgement or personal experience into a rule or criterion of religious doctrine may notcause havoc. May God never allow that treating these private opinions as charismatic gifts and prophetic inspirations should lead astray so many good and well-meaning people." On Oct. 25th 1972: "a pretentious charismatic sufficiency will not preserve an authentic vivifying presence of the Holy Spirit in these spiritualistic trends, in which, sadly enough, it is often easy to see dissent or profane mentalities infiltrated. The needs of theChurch are very different."

Pope John Paul I had a lot to say, and said it before his election. His very short life as Vicar of Christ on earth, only thirty-three days, providentially brought to the notice of the world what he had written. Addressing St. Theresa of Avila in his book Illustrissimi he says:

Charismatic experiences are not anyone's private reserve. They may be given to anyone: priests and laymen, men and women. It is one thing though, to beable to have visions, and quite another to actually have them. In your Libro de las fundaciones I find written: "a woman penitent told her confessor that the Madonna often came to see her and stayed talking for over an hour, revealing the future and many other things to her. And as something true occasionally emerged from all the nonsense, it all seemed to be true. I realised at once what it was all about ... but merely told the confessor to wait for the result of the prophesies, to find our for himself about the penitent's way of life and to look for further signs of sanctity in her. In the end ... it was seen that her visions were all fantasies." Dear St. Theresa, if only you could come back today! The word "charisma" is squandered. All kinds of people are known as prophets, even the students who confront the-police in the streets, or the guerrillas of Latin America. People try to set up the Charismatics in opposition to the pastors. What would you say? You who obeyed your confessors, even when their advice turned out to be the opposite of that given to you by God in prayer?"

Our present Holy Father, Pope John Paul II, when he addresses Charismatic groups follows the usual format. There is a kindly greeting. There is a word of pleasure and approval that they have gathered in Rome because their choice of Rome shows that they understand the importance of being rooted in that Catholic unity of Faith and charity which finds its visible centre in the See of Peter. Then he teaches, and the teaching, if analysed, is a series of warnings. In general these are:-

  • Fidelity to the authentic teaching of the Faith. Whatever contradicts this doctrine does not come from the spirit.
  • Value the gifts which are given in service of the common good.
  • Pursue that charity alone which brings the Christian to perfection.

Time and again the Holy Father stresses the need for good leaders and good priests with the requisite theology. But in practice, if these leaders and priests become part of the Charismatic Renewal and do not remain outside it, they become moulded by it, gradually moulded by emotional experiences which overthrow in them that which constituted them a possible safeguard for others. If they remain outside, they carry no weight because these Charismatics are not charismatics in the sense that St. Theresa of Avila was.


A priest writer in GoodNews notes sadly
In many places, and not only in the more developed nations, the charismatic renewal is limping badly, diminishing in numbers and in the power of the Holy Spirit, and even dying.

There is hope, he adds. Yes, there is indeed hope that CCR is dying. The great experiment, which it was 'prophesied' would revitalise the Church, has clearly failed - and not for want of enthusiasm or resources. The Popes have warned us against it and the theological problems it raises are manifest. But it is still active in parishes and dioceses up and down the country, and should be exposed for what it is and opposed. Do not let them lead another generation of impressionable, and increasingly badly-formed, young Catholics down the path of Pentecostalism.

For more on the Charismatic movement within the Church, see John Vennari's description a Catholic Charismatic conference, and some theological implications of the movement, here. There is an excellent Christian Order article here, written by someone who was heavily involved in movement in the UK in the 1990s. This article exposes the techniques and realities of charismatic phenomena and how attractive it can be; it deserves a wider audience.


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