THE INTERNATIONAL CATHOLIC WEEKLY FOUNDED IN 1840
LISTENING TO THE SPIRIT
Opposition to the papacy of Francis inside the Church may be noisier in the United States than elsewhere, but it raises questions of universal significance. Thus Pope Francis’ latest strictures against the “liturgical formalism” and “closed mindset” of traditionalist Catholics, particularly in their support for the pre-Vatican II liturgy, do have lessons for those outside that American camp. And if dialogue – which involves listening as well as speaking – is the preferred communication model in the contemporary Church, then the question also arises: what does the traditionalist position have to say to the mainstream? Is it enough simply to say that resistance to liturgical reform is a key element in a fundamental rejection of the Second Vatican Council, rather than just an aesthetic preference for the Missal of 1962?
This ecclesial crisis would be fruitful if it turned attention to what has become a habitual neglect of the Council itself. Ever since it ended there has been an inadequate catechesis in parishes and schools not only in understanding the teaching of individual Vatican II documents but of the intentions and motivations behind the entire Council. It was essentially a project of reform, but it cannot be understood without knowing what it was reforming. What were the weaknesses in pre-conciliar Catholicism that an overwhelming majority of the world’s bishops felt had to be corrected?
It is in this context that support for the pre-conciliar liturgy has morphed into bitter opposition to the entire Francis papacy and indeed to virtually every aspect of the reforming vision of the Council. But it would be too easy to dismiss traditionalists as nostalgically longing for a return to the Catholicism of the 1950s, or indeed of the 1850s. Rather, they long for a purified memory of that Catholic era, with all its flaws and blemishes airbrushed out. One of the strengths of the pre-conciliar Church was a strong sense of a distinct Catholic identity and a refusal to be contaminated by hostile elements in the world outside; it was a “fortress Catholicism”. One of its weaknesses was a tendency to think of the life of faith as obedience to rules and assent to propositions. The Council fathers wanted to return Catholics to a richer understanding of discipleship as a life of friendship with God and with their neighbours, and to recapture the experience of faith as an encounter with the Christ of the Gospels and the living Christ of today.
Even Popes Paul VI, John Paul II and Benedict XVI displayed a certain ambivalence about some aspects of Vatican II, still harbouring a sympathy with a Catholicism that put rules and propositions first, even if slightly different rules and propositions to those that had applied before. Pope Francis is not that kind of pope. He is a teacher who relies more on encouragement than punishment. That is closer to the spirit of Vatican II. Pre-conciliar Catholicism might have seen fuller seminaries and fuller churches – though numbers were starting to decline before the Council started – and it had a sense of purpose, but it tended to infantilise the laity, who were led to understand that their role was to pray, pay and obey. The rapt attention to every detail shown by zealous traditionalist Catholics at Mass today has to be contrasted with the preconciliar reality: usually, a priest mumbling in Latin at one end of the church, his back turned to a congregation, while they fumbled through a perfunctory rosary. That had to change. Reform was unavoidable.
THE NORTHERN IRELAND PROTOCOL MUST BE FIXED
Even with 38 Bills listed to be enacted, the Queen’s Speech on Tuesday failed to stir the blood of the government’s own supporters, while energising its opponents by doing nothing to relieve the cost of living crisis. A much-threatened Bill that was missing, however, was one to amend or abolish the Northern Ireland Protocol.
Northern Ireland is the only place in the United Kingdom sharing a land border with the European Union. The Irish Republic belongs to the European single market, which mainland Britain left as part of the Brexit process. Northern Ireland was left half in and half out – thereby creating an almost insoluble political problem. Goods entering the EU single market have to be checked to ensure they comply with EU regulations. These checks either have to be conducted at the land border between Northern Ireland and the Republic, or, if that border is to remain open, at the sea border between Northern Ireland and the British mainland. The alternative – the United Kingdom as a whole remaining inside the single market – was rejected as not Brexity enough.
The Protocol opts for the Irish Sea border rather than a land border, which could have jeopardised the Good Friday Agreement. It was designed to persuade Parliament to support Boris Johnson’s Brexit proposals, which it did. The
EU, and the Irish Republic in particular, accepted it in good faith. The Unionists, on the other hand, protested that it treated Northern Ireland differently from the rest of the United Kingdom. The Johnson government turned a deaf ear to Unionist protests. But then it demanded – for whatever reason – that the Protocol be scaled down or even abrogated altogether. Having agreed that the European Court of Justice would have jurisdiction over the way the Protocol was applied, the UK government then decided this was incompatible with British sovereignty. And now the largest Unionist party, the DUP, is refusing to nominate a deputy first minister for the power-sharing executive until the Protocol is “fixed”, whatever they mean by that, preventing the executive from functioning.
The UK government’s bad faith is blatant and egregious. The EU has every right to be shocked and offended. But that does not solve the problem. The power-sharing arrangement gives both Nationalists and Unionists a veto over any arrangement they do not like. Without an adjustment to the Protocol there will be no power-sharing executive in Northern Ireland. Regardless of how disgracefully Johnson has behaved, the Protocol has to be “fixed”. The “Orange card” has been played. And it trumps everything else. That’s how the Good Friday Agreement was designed.
2 | THE TABLET | 14 MAY 2022
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