Of course, I found myself very annoyed. (Have I mentioned that I don’t like John Cleary?) The malcontents interviewed on this program draw our attention to the falling mass attendance compared with fifty years ago, to the removal of Bishop Morris, the new missal translation (which they weren’t consulted on), ordination of women and contraception, “creeping infallibility”, etc. etc. There is the usual complete rubbish about how the Church is winding back on Vatican II etc. We know the narrative very well now. It is very predictable.
Those interviewed about the woes of the Catholic Church in this program are not young. They were either baby boomers – or older (as in the case of the priest on the program). When they opened the discussion up to people who called in on the phone, the last speaker was “Chris in St Albans”:
Chris: John, look I’m a bit younger than these people. I’m 43, and twenty years ago or more, I was rejecting the baby boomer view of the Church, and I’m still rejecting it now.
John Cleary: What do you mean by that?
Chris: Well, they’re the people who take it upon themselves to speak for the whole church community when they have no mandate to do so. The fact is, it was their generation walking out on the Church and failing to provide proper religious instruction leaving my peers in all manner of strife, broken marriages and trying to navigate their way, when in fact I see today healthier numbers in the Seminaries than ever before, a Church more responsive to younger people, a Church that’s put the guitars away and got real about what the Catholic Church is about and being proud to be Catholic, daring to practice Catholicism, not pandering to some kind of return to protestant ideas of the reformation. Look, we’re a free country, we came out of a terrible experience in Ireland, we’re exercising our freedom to practice Catholicism, going to mass is striking a blow for freedom…
John Cleary: I’ve got to cut you there because we need time we’ve only got three minutes left.
Cleary then goes on to turn the conversation to the Latin Mass of all things, which naturally gets derided by the speakers.
But Chris surely had a point? The problems we are now tackling arose because of policies and directions in the period between 1968 and 1985 (it is the priest on the program who says something to the effect that it was full steam ahead in the Spirit of Vatican II until about 1985 when the direction seemed to change). The people who promoted these policies were the generation known as “baby boomers”. Now here in this “Catholics for Renewal” project we have the same generation of people wanting to push the same policies as the solution to the very problems those policies caused in the first place. It beggars belief!
In contrast, again as Chris observed, the direction adopted in recent decades – which ironically has been more faithful to the Council texts than the “Spirit of Vatican II” policies – has led to slow but steady growth in the numbers of students in our seminaries, to a vitalisation of Church engagement with youth, to a renewed liturgical practice, to young Catholics daring to practice their faith because they have learned what that faith is, and so on.
I really do wonder if there isn’t so much a “division” in the Church between “liberals” and “conservatives” as a kind of “generation gap” which prevents those on either side of the generational divide from seeing the world as the other does. We’ve a long way to go in the renewal of the Church, but we are on the right road. Now is not the time to do a U-turn and go back to the failed visions of the 1968 generation.