Saturday 14 November 2009

Anglicans... Or Catholics...

Well Anglicanorum Coetibus is out... Those who say it adds nothing terribly new have got the point but also missed it. It adds nothing too new because it is about welcoming not just those in the Church of England but also those who internationally have their source in the Anglican Communion.

Where this is not new - and yet extraordinarily is novel in the experience of inter-denominational dialogue - is shown strangely enough elsewhere. This Response to the request of these groups to become part of the Catholic Church is in marked continuity and development with what the Second Vatican Council declared about Christians outside the visible confines of the Catholic Church - despite the uncomprehending negativity of The Tablet (a very Bitter Pill) this week. This is what the decree on Ecumenism of that Council says:

"Moreover, some and even very many of the significant elements and endowments which together go to build up and give life to the Church itself, can exist outside the visible boundaries of the Catholic Church: the written word of God; the life of grace; faith, hope and charity, with the other interior gifts of the Holy Spirit, and visible elements too. All of these, which come from Christ and lead back to Christ, belong by right to the one Church of Christ."

Therefore anything which is of the grace of Christ, developed perhaps in different ways from the manner in which the Catholic Church in its manifold rites and expressions (not just in terms of the Roman Rite) has grown and articulated the Faith, belongs to Catholic Unity and should be respected, accepted and nurtured. Hence the words of the same Council's Constitution on the Church: "This Church constituted and organized in the world as a society, subsists in the Catholic Church, which is governed by the successor of Peter and by the Bishops in communion with him, although many elements of sanctification and of truth are found outside of its visible structure. These elements, as gifts belonging to the Church of Christ, are forces impelling toward Catholic unity."

In this Constitutuion the Pope has said, "All right. We have ecumenism, which is in itself a grace of Christ. But there are large bodies of Anglicans - for example, TAC - who want to return to full Catholic Unity. Rather than "swallow them whole" and bid them never again to hark back to any Anglican heritage, why don't we respect the way that the Holy Spirit, through the baptism of our fellow Christians, has nourished and developed their faith and allow them to enrich US with their own traditions and experience?" Such an approach should inspire ecumenism, not negate it. For it says that the Catholic Church does not want to invade, swamp and negate these real grace-filled traditions, but accept them and work with them and allow them to flourish. Thus, for example, the fact that this is clearly not a " one-generation arrangement by definition", as one commentator has suggested, and that married men may even be proposed for priesthood, within certain limits, is in itself a novel and massively generous proposition, given the Church's right insistence on the norm of celibacy for centuries.

This then is not an obstacle to ecumenism but an exciting experiment which opens new vistas and takes seriously the Catholic Church's willingness to accept different forms of Christianity within her. It will have an impact. Perhaps this impact will not be very strong in England, where there is a studied and at times ferocious bias against Catholicism and the Papacy reflected and promoted in almost suffocating publication by the media there. It will be felt by TAC - and by us. For the rest of the Anglican Communion, in particular the Church of England, this is a slow fuse... It will take time. But the fuse will burn. I love the many forms of Anglicanism I have experienced in ecumenical work over the years. However, sadly, Anglicanism is beginning to experience even more deeply the practical reality of Truth: not all differences can be accomodated and some of these differences have the nature of contradiction and division. Christ wants us to be one, yes with difference, but not with all differences. There are differences of truth and falshood, right and wrong, which have the power to tear communities apart and to bring a deep unsettling sadness to the hearts of believers.

Lastly, for now, I am glad we can get rid of the old approach of reception of converts to the Church which said that they must leave behind everything of their previous Christian tradition as if it had no value. Do we really want to discard their wonderful liturgy, psalmody, theological insights, insights of pastoral practice, their familiarity with the scriptures, their deep sense of the way in which Christinity can be incarnated in a local area or culture? No, it all has value. It will benefit the whole Catholic Church. Christ has been at work there. And this, in a very subtle way, is exactly what Pope Benedict has recognised and enacted with this marvellous intitiative.

Friday 13 November 2009

Another visit to Anagni

I have become a kind of tour guide for Anagni for some of the American cousins. A couple of weeks ago I went there with Fr Tim Laboe and Fr Gerry Battersby. We were able to celebrate Mass in the Caetani Chapel of the Cathedral and then went to see the frescoes in the crypt. Once again I was struck by the similarity between the depiction of the death of local bishop-martyr St Magnus and the real events surrounding the martyrdom of St Thomas of Canterbury (Beckett). I have always believed that the artists who painted the frescoes in the early 1200s were using Beckett's grisly death as a template for telling the story of St Magnus.

I asked the lady in charge of admissions if we could at least see the mitre of St Thomas in the Cathedral museum and the reliquary there as well. It musn't have been her best day as she was not so keen to accomodate us - admittedly because the museum had just been renovated and was not yet open to the general public. However, defeat was far from my mind and I spied a young Italian priest in the Cathedral: so I went and introduced myself and the two others to him, laid it on thick about being English and mentioned the mitre in the museum. I find that there are times when if you just hit that right note of positive supplication Italians become incredibly generous. The honey worked and he said he would admit us to the museum.
Then I spied another Italian priest, a little older, who was passing through. I decided that I would apply the same tactics (The Honeypot Ruse) and it turned out that he was a local historian and professor. He led us into the museum with the other priest and we talked a long time. I was of course most chuffed that he confirmed what I had always thought about the frescoes in the crypt (pride and vanity!). However, my next plan was that we should gain admittance into the Beckett Oratory, closed to the general public and situated just off the main frescoed crypt. The Honeypot Ruse was once more successful and we were able to get in. What is remarkable is that the depiction of Becktt in there, though much damaged, dates from ten to twenty years after his death - a near contemporary depiction.
So it was a good day, including lunch at a cheap but good trattoria, and a visit to the Papal Palace there - which involved a re-enactment of the famous slap of Anagni against Boniface VIII in the room where the event took place.

Of course I was forced to play the role of Boniface VIII - not, I am sure, because everyone wants to hit me. It's worth noting that as Cardinal Boniface VIII held a benefice in the area which is currently in my diocese - at Towcester (for non-English types, it is pronounced Toaster). He was also the Pope who declared the first Holy Year in 1300 and below you can see the frescoe of his proclamation of the Jubilee Year which can be still seen in St John Lateran's Basilica in Rome and is attributed to Giotto:

After being struck and probably tortured in Anagni in 1303, Boniface was taken back to Rome, a broken man and he died on 11th October, just over a month after the outrages he endured in his home city of Anagni. A beautiful tomb was built for him at St Peter's Basilica, designed by the great artist Arnolfo di Cambio, whose design inspired the baldachino over the high altar at St John Lateran's. Much of the tomb had to be dismantled at the reconstruction of St Peter's in the 16th to 17th centuries. What remains is still elegant and can be seen in the crypt of St Peter's:

If you want to see Fr Tim's video of our day trip to Anagni, then go to his blog, the link to which you will find over there ------>

Wednesday 21 October 2009


I found I had written some posts for the station churches this a bit late but they are up....

That's the problem with time travel.

BBC bias

Oh well, all that time travelling meant very little was done here...

Yesterday saw the announcement of the Catholic Church's response the requests of Anglicans from different parts of the world to eneter into full communion with the Church. It is a very generous response, sensitive to their needs and difficulties. There has been a fair amount in the British press about this.

This evening I wrote a complaint to the BBC concerning an on-line article written by Robert Piggott which can be found at

This is what I wrote:

'The article suggests that what the Catholic Church has proposed is "fishing". It makes no reference at all to what the statements explicitly stated - that the whole proposal is a response to the requests of large numbers of disaffected Anglicans and their Bishops - for example, the worldwide group known as the Traditional Anglican Communion (TAC), whose numbers are in the hundreds of thousands, and also some Church of England bishops as well. Thus the article's emphasis rests on an assertion that this is just fishing, or we might say a kind of poaching. The very fact that it mentions the question of archbishop's representative in Rome, Bishop David Richardson who asks why such a proposal should be put forward at this time, suggests that this proposal is opportunistic in the midst of Anglican difficulties. The answer to this question really rests in the already publicised advances and requests of TAC and other Anglican bishops. The fact that this is not mentioned renders this article defective.
'The article suggests also that the language used would strike most people as "complete gobbledygook". But by saying this it suggests that the language is indeed gobbeldygook - but it isn't: anyone trained in Catholic canon law and many Anglican parish priests and those working in the military would see parallels in the Military Ordinariates that the Catholic Church already has for military chaplaincy. Furthermore, the Catholic Church already has groups of former Anglicans using Anglican-style rites in the United States (why wasn't this mentioned in a supposedly balanced and factual article?).
'Lastly the article ends with a most surprising, emotive and unsupported assertion: "It gave the misleading impression of institutions that were out of touch and irrelevant to the lives of the many unattached but spiritually hungry people whom the churches need to attract." Though it uses the word "misleading" this is a clearly biased statement. It could be argued that in fact the proposed provisions are indeed an answer to spiritually hungry people who are looking for a true home, a Catholic home, outside of the disturbing and upsetting divisions of Anglicans. Why wasn't this mentioned to show that indeed such an impression would be misleading?
'I would propose that this article by Robert Piggott should at the very least be substantially corrected and rewritten or, better, removed.'

Friday 27 February 2009

Reading Station to Station Churches

The Station Church yesterday -San Giorgio in Velabro - and that of today - Santi Giovanni e Paolo - have an interesting link, and it is John Henry Cardinal Newman. San Giorgio was the Englsih Cardinal's titular church from 1879 when he was made a Cardinal through to 1890 when he died. There is a plaque there which celebrates this great theologian and founder of Birmingham Oratory, but it noted that he was "before all else a Christian." Given that it is the church of St George, the Patron Saint of England, it is a good place to pray for the conversion of England, unless you are one of those who think that such an intention is no longer valid... Heaven forbid that an ecclesiastic should think such a thing!

The church of Ss John and Paul belongs to the Passionists and it is here that the founder of the Passionist Congregation is buried, St Paul of the Cross. Here too there is a shrine to St Gemma Galgani who died on Holy Saturday April 11th, 1903, aged 25, after having led a life of great holiness and prayer. The narthex of the building was built by the one and only English Pope, Adrian IV, (we didn't get one at the last Papal election!). However, the link with the church of San Giorgio lies in the fact that at the house belonging to the Passionists beside the church Blessed Dominic Barberi lived. He had heard and felt a call to go to England, to work for the conversion of England (oops!), and he desired to go there all his life. Eventually he was permitted to go and the England he converted was none other than Newman himself at Littlemore near Oxford. Newman knelt before the rain-soaked priest in October 1845, asked to be a Catholic and made his first confession to him.

He arrived in England in 1841 and was at first greeted with suspicion and ridicule. This was an England where Catholics had been emancipated only 12 years before and where the hierarchy had yet to be restored (this would happen in 1850, when Blessed Pius IX was Pope). Yet as Fr James Broderick says, the "Second Spring" of Catholicism really took form in this strange arrival of an Italian priest who spoke very little English: J. Brodrick S.J. in his work on the 'Second Spring' of Catholicism in England, says of Father Dominic's arrival;
"The second spring did not begin when Newman was converted nor when the hierarchy was restored. It began on a bleak October day of 1841, when a little Italian priest in comical attire shuffled down a ship's gangway at Folkstone."

Yet it was a hard path. His English was so poor even his congregation at Aston would laugh at him. In his journey children would throw stones at him. Ridicule seemed to surround him. However, slowly his holiness, goodness and abundant sense of humour drew love from many who met him and got to know him and he began to have a large number of conversions. One of them was an ancestor of Francis Thomas: the family lived at Stone, in Staffordshire: Francis Thomas would eventually become the ninth Bishop of Northampton.

He is said to have told some nuns who were instructing groups of people in the Faith and who were worried about the appropriateness of teaching men: "Have no fear, Sisters. You are all too old and too ugly." Luckily they understood his sense of humour!

Blessed Dominic died on 27th August 1849 at the Railway Tavern near Reading.

Hitchcock in Rome

Fr Tim Laboe has been at work as producer, director, editor, editor-in-chief and presenter of a series of videos detailing each day's Station Church here in Rome. They are worth a look. It may not be "24" or "The Shining" or even "It's a Wonderful Life", and certainly it is one step more than "The 39 Steps", yet it is good stuff and with the odd familiar face and place starring each day...

See the link to his blog below --->

Station Churches once again

This year's celebration (is that the right word??) of Lent has begun and each morning is marked by a trek to the Station Church of the day. Mass is at 7.00am and we have already been to Santa Sabina on the Aventine, San Giorgio in Velabro near the church of Santa Maria in Cosmedin, and this morning's effort was at the beautiful church of Santi Giovanni e Paolo (Ss John and Paul).

This year I am helping to organise the Masses and have got together a team of Masters of Ceremonies to assist and to ensure that things run smoothly.

Unlike last year, Lent has commenced later and so although the mornings are still generally dark when we begin the rosary trek to the church of the day, yet slowly there is a sense of shadows being drawn up from allt he great buildings and ancient ruins of the city. It's a beautiful site and by the time the Mass is over there is rust-orange glow hitting the churches, slowly paling to yellow and gold.

The first day was at Santa Sabina: the photograph below gives a sense of the colours of the church in the morning.

This is part of the choir area, the schola cantorum, which stands before the sanctuary area: the stoned carved crosses porbably date from the 5th century, when the church was constructed, though much reconstruction had to be done in the 9th century: