Lent is approaching. My own parish will have a number of discussion groups and these will as usual be ecumenical. Cafod’s Walk Against Hunger is gathering pace, and parishes will also be taking part in the Lent fast day for Cafod. The Jesuits are running their annual online Lent retreat from the Ignatian Spirituality Centre in Glasgow. On Ash Wednesday next week, The Tablet begins a series of eight Lenten webinars with a guided time of prayer and reflection with Dame Laurentia Johns OSB, talking about The Way of Benedict. So what are we all praying about? Peace in Ukraine has to be top of the list at the moment. But a lot of us might also be praying that people stay safe during our present inclement weather. Patrick Hudson brings us news of the Catholic church that lost its spire in Storm Eunice. And there is still the pandemic. The member of our close family who was on a ventilator and in a coma for weeks is now conscious and back home but still very weak, while another young adult has just gone down with Covid. It all feels far from over where we are. So prayers that those in government might find wisdom and discernment are perhaps in order. Then there is the economic crisis, and the shocking rise in energy bills about to hit. With so much to pray about at the moment, it is helpful that these many structured opportunities for prayer are about to be upon us.
1. There are calls to make celibacy voluntary for priests, writes Christa Pongratz-Lippitt. The president of the German bishops’ conference and the Archbishop of Bamberg have said that a mixture of married and celibate clergy would prevent clericalism. This comes amidst a wider challenge to the Church’s institutional role in Germany: the vicars-general of eleven diocese have published a letter advocating changes to the German Church’s employment law, which they say is wrongly used to enforce sexual morality on its 1.3 million employees, while in Bavaria ever-growing numbers are officially leaving the Church – thereby ceasing to pay the “church tax” of 8 per cent of their net income. In Rome, Pope Francis urged priests to be more than mere “professionals of the sacred” as he opened a symposium on the fundamental theology of priesthood on 17 February. Vincent Doyle has written a blog questioning what role celibacy has in this – will the Church address “the way celibacy is truly, inauthentically and authentically, ‘lived’?”
2. Madoc Cairns and Brian Morton report on the record damages awarded to a victim of abuse by members of a religious order in Scotland. The man will be paid £1.4 million, largely representing a lifetime of earnings lost due to the psychological effects of physical, sexual, and emotional abuse he suffered at St Ninian’s boarding school in Fife. The Scottish Child Abuse Inquiry described the school as a “haven for paedophiles” and blamed the complete regulator failure of Church and state in allowing abuse to continue despite inspectors raising concerns.
3. In blogs, a silenced Catholic priest wonders what will result from recent reforms to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Tony Flannery was barred from exercising his ministry ten years ago when the congregation objected to views he expressed in his order’s magazine, and describes his own experience of dealing with a distant authority which did not treat him as a person, and only acted through his superiors. He expresses hope in the direction the reforms take, but questions how far it is possible to change the behaviour of a body which has existed for 500 years. The Pope approved the restructuring of the Congregation on 14 February, which sees its doctrinal and discipline offices formally instituted with their own secretary, answering to the prefect. Also in blogs, Professor Philip Booth, whose appointment as Director of Research and Policy for the Bishops of England and Wales sparked correspondence in our letters page, argues that F A Hayek’s attacks on the idea of social justice do not necessarily put him beyond the Pale of Catholic economic thought. He says that Hayek’s dismissal of social justice referred to a concept quite different to the one at the centre of Catholic social teaching. Meanwhile, Susanne Jennings, President of Cambridge’s Margaret Beaufort Association, looks for a distinctive concept of leadership in Catholic Social Thought. She sees the Church’s resources as offering a way out of the destructive association of leadership with power. Bishop Matthew Kukah, writing in this week’s magazine, is likely to agree with Susanne: he thinks one of the critical failures of the Church in Africa since decolonisation has been the lack of political formation amongst lay Catholic leaders.
4. Cafod’s Walk Against Hunger challenge for Lent is gathering pace. Walkers are encouraged to cover 200k through the 40 days of Lent, whether it is by walking 5k every day, in one go, with people choosing to walking on their own, as part of a team or in a group. Some of us at The Tablet are taking part and would be delighted if any readers wished to join Team Tablet.
5. Kathleen O’Gorman, who died in September 2021, was a leading force in Catholic education for many decades. Her work as a teacher, schools inspector, and director of education had a major impact on the legislation affecting religious schools, as well as pioneering the equal treatment of disabled children before this was enshrined in the 2010 Equality Act. St John Paul II awarded her the Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice Medal for her work, the highest lay award for distinguished service to the Church. Robert Hamilton CJ recalls her life.
6. To many, Jesus’s teaching to love our enemies is, to many, a counsel of madness – or an outright misuse of the word “love”. In his sermon for the seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time, Alban McCoy reflects on the counter-intuitive, counter-cultural, even oxymoronic nature of the injunction to “bless those who curse you, pray for those who treat you badly”. But that is how God loves us. In the words of Herbert McCabe OP: “If in this life you don’t love, you’re dead, and if you do, you’ll be crucified.”
7. Patrick Hudson reports on the Society of St Vincent De Paul’s criticism of the Government’s post-Brexit funding plans. The SVP, who have noted increasing hardship in already poor areas, think the gap between the end of EU funding and the beginning of UK Shared Prosperity is a “missed opportunity”. They practice what they preach, too: Ellen Teague writes on how the SVP is a growing number of Christian organisations accredited as Living Wage Employers. Patrick also reports on Storm Eunice, in which at least two churches, one Catholic, lost their spires.
8. A prominent lay Catholic from the Australian Church has criticised the hierarchy for refusing to consider radical changes, such as the adjustment of the confessional seal, in light of the abuse crisis. Francis Sullivan, who led the Australian Church’s response to the Royal Commission into child abuse, made the comments at a Root and Branch network webinar: Sarah Mac Donald has the full story. And in the magazine this week we look at another radical Catholic, modernist firebrand Maude Petre, and the rough treatment she received from the hierarchy of her day.
9. The Church in Northern Ireland has been challenged over support for denominational schooling; the Church in America has been challenged over Bishops’ support for migrants. And the Church everywhere has been challenged by one of our columnists this week: Sara Maitland argues that if we can’t bless gay relationships, we likely can’t bless anything at all.
10. But we end this week with something we can all agree on: A centuries-old Church in Devon has been saved from further dilapidation with the help of a £200,000 grant. The “neglected and forlorn” Church of the Immaculate Conception in Barnstaple has stood empty for nearly thirty years. But now, as Elena Curti relates, Historic England has stepped in to save the day. Like the Neapolitan catacombs Joanna Moorhead explores in this week’s magazine, it’s a tangible reminder that – for Christians – the past, however distant, is never entirely dead.
(This newsletter was compiled with the help of Patrick Hudson and Madoc Cairns.)