"Fit for Mission? Church" – English Bishop Tells It As It Is

I was very impressed about a month or two ago when I came across the work of one very conscientious English bishop, Patrick O’Donoghue of Lancaster (not to be confused with our own very conscientious Bishop Patrick Dougherty of Bathurst). He has released two papers for his diocese, the first one called “Fit for Mission? Schools” and the second one “Fit for Mission? Church” (nb. I had downloaded the latter document from http://www.lancasterrcdiocese.org.uk/mission%20review/index.html but it looks like that website is undergoing some reconstruction at the moment).

These two “reports” are really more of a series of personally written catecheses by the bishop (following extensive consultation and review) addressing crucial issues in the life of the parishes and schools in his diocese. You can read about the whole project on this “blog/forum”.

Suffice it to say that he got himself into hot water with the UK education authorities for demanding that Catholic schools in his diocese have:

“Crucifixes in every classroom, “sex-education” based on the principles of chastity and the sanctity of marriage, no school fundraising for anti-life groups and religious education based firmly in the Catechism of the Catholic Church” (see source here)

but no way was he backing down:

Bishop O’Donoghue told the six committee members, “Every school has a philosophy. And a philosophy which puts God at the centre and morality as objective, is no less powerful than that which says God is irrelevant and morality is up to the individual choice.”

“To our view, the role of democracy is to embrace all views, and not to infringe on basic human rights.”

He said “the impression that is coming across” from politics and the media is that “some people seem to think that the only true democratic stance is the latter, namely that God is irrelevant and that morality is up to the individual.”

Now his “Fit for Mission? Church” has drawn praise from the Congregation of the Clergy in Rome.

This morning, Bishop O’Donoghue is in the news again with the Telegraph giving an extensive report of comments he made (source, as usual with the Telegraph, not given, although the impression – wrongly – is given that they came from “Fit for Mission? Church”) regarding the negative effect which more widespread higher education seems to have had on the Catholic faith in the UK:

“What we have witnessed in Western societies since the end of the Second World War is the development of mass education on a scale unprecedented in human history – resulting in economic growth, scientific and technological advances, and the cultural and social enrichment of billions of people’s lives.

“However, every human endeavor has a dark side, due to original sin and concupiscence. In the case of education, we can see its distortion through the widespread dissemination of radical scepticism, positivism, utilitarianism and relativism.

“Taken together, these intellectual trends have resulted in a fragmented society that marginalizes God, with many people mistakenly thinking they can live happy and productive lives without him.

“It shouldn’t surprise us that the shadows cast by the distortion of education, and corresponding societal changes, have also touched members of the Church. As Pope Benedict XVI puts it, even in the Church we find hedonism, selfishness and egocentric behavior…

“The Second Vatican Council tends to be misinterpreted most by Catholics who have had a university education — that is, by those most exposed to the intellectual and moral spirit of the age…

“These well-educated Catholics have gone on to occupy influential positions in education, the media, politics, and even the Church, where they have been able to spread their so-called loyal dissent, causing confusion and discord in the whole church…

“This failure of leadership has exacerbated the even-greater problem of the mass departure from the Church of the working-class and poor. For example, the relentless diatribe in the popular media against Christianity has undermined the confidence of the ordinary faithful in the Church.”

Is he wrong? We don’t think so. Neither does Telegraph journalist Damian Thompson, in a piece on his blog called “With friends like these, the Church doesn’t need enemies.” The “friend” to which Thompson refers is the Tablet with an article by Nicholas Lash called “Log in the Church’s Eye”. I don’t subscribe to “the Bitter Pill”, so I rely on Thompson for this summary and comment:

Meanwhile, on page 12 [of this week’s Tablet], “leading theologian” Nicholas Lash tears into Bishop Patrick O’Donoghue for his recent admirable statements about the sickness of contemporary society and the inability of his fellow bishops and Catholic university intellectuals to come to grips with it. If the Bishop had named individual universities or individuals “he might well have had a series of libel actions on his hands,” says Lash pompously.

He concludes: “Bishop O’Donoghue is, I understand, shortly to retire. Perhaps he might care, in retirement, to spend some months (incognito, if possible) in a university chaplaincy. He might then have the courage to withdraw and apologise for many of the grave accusations levelled in this interview.”

It’s true that “POD” is retiring from active ministry as a bishop; but he will, of course, continue to serve as a priest, as he has done faithfully for decades. Which is is more than can be said for Nicholas Lash, who, like so many Tabletistas, is an ex-priest.

It seems to me that Lash’s comments merely prove the Bishop’s point, no?

But sadly, one thing that the Bishop of Lancaster has in common with the Bishop of Bathurst is age. Both men, at the end of their careers as bishops, have shown courage right to the very end. And here is where we are winning, folks. The faithful priests and bishops among us have staying power. They will be working for the Kingdom until the day they die.

The others end up writing for the Tablet…

(BTW: There is a support page for Bishop O’Donoghue on Facebook. Is that, perhaps, a “POD”-cast?)

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0 Responses to "Fit for Mission? Church" – English Bishop Tells It As It Is

  1. matthias says:

    Malcolm Muggeridge was Rector of St Andrews university and he referred angrily to students use of the Pill,unfettered sex,drugs and alcohol and labelled these bahviours the refuge of any olddebauchee. Who criticised him the loudest-the Anglican and Catholic chaplains at the University.The Good Bishop is excellent company,being excoriated in THE TABLET by a theologian who obviously does not want to see or know the truth.
    as the Bible says ” A man’s enemies are those of his own household”

  2. Anonymous says:

    Simple question, to which I hope there is a simple answer:

    Why can’t Catholic schools teach the true teachings of the Catholic faith?

    Long after being educated in one of the more praiseworthy Catholic schools in this nation, it still astounds me that I (and so many others) left if with nothing more than a vague sense of “values” and very little understanding of the Faith. Because we were never taught.

  3. matthias says:

    You could apply this to Anglican and Uniting Church based schools of which i have had experience as a parent.
    The current issue of climate change and sustainability are examples of the new ‘values’ and i ahve seen in schools of the above denominations these being pushed. Not about what Christ has achieved on the Cross once and for all.

  4. Athanasius says:

    The problem, Anonymous, is that most of our teachers know nothing about the faith, and we have Catholic teachers’ colleges that generally don’t care. The RE coordinator at my daughter’s Catholic school was Jewish (and that was an improvement!)

    No-one within the Catholic education system really believes this is a problem. As long as the government education grants keep flowing, who cares?

    They think that a muddled sense of ‘social justice’ is Catholicism, and regard the historical basis of Christianity in Christ as mere baggage.

    I’m getting very cynical these days. Obviously I need a dose of grace!

  5. Arnold I. Reeves says:

    This is precisely why government aid to Catholic schools has been a disaster in practice, as Australia’s own B. A. Santamaria admitted near the end of his life (having spent all too much of that life championing the philosophy in question).

    Government aid means that there is no incentive to avoid heresy, because the heretic is at least as lavishly subsidised by the taxpayer as is the faithful Catholic.

    Had even 1/20th of the energy and political agitation expended within Australia on demanding government aid for Catholic schools been spent on making homeschooling possible and affordable for Catholics, we might actually have had what we manifestly do not have now. That is, young Catholics who know their faith, have read widely in that faith, and do not regard that faith as a sort of cosmic rock concert with papal appearances attached.

  6. Innocent III says:

    As an RE teacher in a Catholic school I am well aware of this problem. The very curriculum is designed to inhibit any discussion of the Catholic faith as central to peoples lives. The course might well be renamed Social Justice, Personal Development and Comparative Religions. As Arnold said State Aid was a disaster. Bishop Matthew Quinn who led the Catholic opposition to the Education Act of Henry Parkes knew this only too clearly. Though he fought for state funding he was not prepared to compromise Catholic teaching. He would have Catholic schools with funding if possible but Catholic schools without funding if necessary. It is time to close down the existing schools and begin again with schools geared to taching the Catholic faith.

  7. Anonymous says:

    It must be understood that R.E. in Catholic schools is not – would that it were! – an exercise in catechising practising Catholics. Instead, the vast majority of students are non-practising and politely uninterested. What can be done when parents don’t take their kids to church, and even tell them to put up with R.E. to maintain the polite fiction that they believe in it?

  8. Schütz says:

    Well, Anon, the good bishop’s “Fit For Mission? Schools” document actually shows what can be done.

    I could also recommend reading stuff by Archbishop Michael Miller, who used to be the Secretary of the Vatican’s Congregation for Catholic Education. Check out this speech here: http://tomorrowstrust.ca/?p=2395

    And imagine having a resurrected medieval pope for your school RE teacher. What fun! (Even more fun for the headmaster – sorry, principal – I would guess).

  9. Schütz says:

    I should also ask His (resurrected) Holiness what curriculum they use for RE at his school. May I suggest a change of curriculum? We have a very neat, locally produced job, put in action by +George Pell, completed by +Denis Hart, and overseen by +Peter Elliot called “To know, worship and love” for Prep to Yr 12.

  10. Past Elder says:

    How do we know it’s not anti-pope Innocent III? Guess we need a novus ordo Ouija board.

    I can certainly see your points about the effect of state funding re Catholic education in Catholic schools.

    How then to account for the same state of affairs in US Catholic schools which have no such funding?

  11. Arnold I. Reeves says:

    Past Elder writes:

    “How then to account for the same state of affairs in US Catholic schools which have no such funding?

    It’s true that a lot of American schools are scarcely recognisable as Catholic. But it’s also true that America has orthodox Catholic schools, orthodox Catholic universities, militant pro-life bodies, and a thriving intellectual life (as shown by the best US Catholic magazines), about which Catholics in most other countries can only dream. (Evelyn Waugh made the point about American Catholic institutions putting Englishmen to shame in his essay “The American Epoch in the Catholic Church.”)

    Wonderful what people can achieve when they don’t have the luxury of relying on governmental handouts for everything!

  12. Past Elder says:

    Good God, if the situation here were something good of which Catholics elsewhere can only dream, I might well leave on that alone, except I already left!

    “Wonderful what people can achieve when they don’t have the luxury of relying on governmental handouts for everything!”

    Yeah, well we’re trying to put an end to THAT! See you at the Chevy dealer!

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