There's a bit of a something in the air at the moment: some of the Bishops have chosen their Christmas pastoral letters to attack the Government on the subject of same sex "marriage" and, while some of their brother Bishops carry on sending "What I did on my holidays" or "Home is where you learn table manners" letters, it's interesting that some, at least, have stirred. Richard, at Linen on the Hedgerow, thinks that the Bishops' Conference should have spoken as one, but on balance I'm glad to see this lack of a single statement as evidence of a growing split between those leaders of the local churches who can read MENE MENE TELE UPHARSIN and react, and those who can't or won't. And anyway, you can imagine what the Eccleston Square staffers would have produced: a sort of Tablet-lite attempt to explain the Church's teaching in a way that won't offend their friends in Millbank and Palace Street, written by somebody with a post-graduate certificate in sociological waffle, and which certainly wouldn't rouse the lumpencatholics to anything like action.
By a happy coincidence, a new Archbishop of Canterbury is about to take office and we will finally have a chance for some real ecumenism: there is no earthly prospect of structural Christian unity any more, and this ABC, an evangelical, is unlikely to rate coming up with agreed statements as particularly important on his to-do list. This means that we should stop trying to find lowest common denominator ways of working with other Christians - in effect apologising for being Catholics - and working with them only where we can and it makes sense to do so, rather than trying to do so everywhere.
And this means that Catholic opposition to same sex "marriage" can be based on a Catholic sacramental understanding of marriage, instead of trying to argue backwards from a hypothetical "harm to the family unit" future; similarly, our discussion of proposals about Sundays can be based on a Catholic understanding of how the Sabbath can be kept holy, rather than on some sort of heretical Sabbatarian wish to keep it glum and enjoyment-free. Lowest common denominator ecumenism has led us to soft pedal our opposition: let's put our foot down!
It means that the effective monopoly of the Bishops' Conference Conference over Catholic life can be broken, and that Bishops can regain control of their dioceses. Can we expect five or six dioceses to announce that they are restoring the obligation to observe Holy Days on their proper date from Advent 2013 on, for example? Might dioceses run their own education policies? Might we try to push more and more Catholics into the medical profession to make anti-life policies unworkable?
The one thing we haven't got in place and ready is a coordinated communications policy: Catholic Voices seemed like a good idea at the time but seems to have disappeared. It is possibly too identified with Eccleston Square anyway. But we need something, both at diocesan and national level, which will form and put forward Catholics able to argue Catholicsm as an integral whole, as a challenge to the secular world, and as our opposition to the policies being pushed by the government. The model has to be the Catholic Evidence Guild of the 1920s, but where is our Frank Sheed?
Something is in the air, and I suspect the Nuncio has a lot to do with it, and I'm really glad. 2013 could be an exciting year.
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