The future of the Church

I speak a great deal at Catholic and pro-life venues in Canada, the United States, and Britain. It’s perhaps the aspect of my professional life that gives me most pleasure—travel, meeting people, seeing the Church and the various moral struggles through the eyes and experience of others. Most of the men and women I meet are extraordinarily impressive, even inspiring. But there is—as they say—always one. Always one person who attends only to be offended and annoyed.

And in a Toronto church last month this took the form of an elderly, aggressive woman with a walking cane, who may have been a nun: she was wearing one of those sweaters and skirts habitually adopted by ageing women who have rejected Church teaching long ago but don’t have the courage to leave their orders and start anew. It’s ironic, of course, that in an attempt to abandon a uniform most of these ladies dress the same and are instantly identifiable.

While everybody else was friendly and affectionate, and some even shared deeply personal and moving stories, this warrior was clearly not a fan. She stood in front of my book table and stared a lot, explained rather pompously (but actually hilariously) that she was studying theology, and then said—oh joy—that she was the future of the Church. She must have been in her late seventies or early eighties.

She’s probably a lovely person when you get to know her, and it would be uncharitable, un-Catholic, and simply dumb to make her the subject of a column. But she did seem to represent a position, an approach, a view of the Church and of Christianity, that while metaphorically and even literally moribund, has caused enormous damage and still leads to numerous problems and to people losing their faith and leaving the Church.

It’s a pride thing, really. Not the Papacy, not the Magisterium, not Scripture, but I, me, we, will dictate what is to be believed and rejected. A quintessential example of this is female ordination. It’s un-Biblical, it perverts the meaning of a Sacrament and the place of the priest during Mass, and it fundamentally misunderstands God’s creation.

It’s also imploding and self-contradictory, in that those who campaign for it call themselves egalitarians, but simultaneously assume that priests matter more than the laity, and that to deny women ordination is to somehow keep them as second-class Catholics. Utter nonsense! There is no hierarchy of believers, and a priest is not better but different, just like a mother is not better but different, or a married is man not better but different.

But the cult of the self has seldom worried about consistency or moral elegance. Vatican II, for example, merely suggested that where there was sufficient local demand, the Mass should be made available in the vernacular. Within two years, however, it was almost impossible to hear it in Latin. This was not congregations rising up to demand English or German or French, but a generation of liberal clergy who in the name of democracy was determined to tell ordinary Catholics what to do.

The Church came through this miasma of suffering some time ago, but much of the damage will never be repaired and many of the lost souls never regained. Once we look to our own authority rather than that of the Church, heresy is inevitable. It’s one of the major reasons why there are more than 25,000 different Protestant denominations.

I wrote earlier that charity is vital, and of course it is. But there are times when it’s a challenge to avoid anger. Not anger at how we are treated, because personal abuse is easy to deal with, but frustration at how much pain has been caused to so many good and often innocent people by those who, for half a century now, have claimed that they are the future of the Church. Catholics wanted Catholicism, and instead they were given a social activist priest here, a new theological idea there. It’s difficult to forgive such damaging hubris.

The future of the Church is, in fact, very similar to the past of the Church. A new form of evangelizing, new faces, new approaches, but the grand continuity of the defence of permanent values and absolute virtues. And no walking cane; it’s just not necessary!