18 April 2015

Two cultures, two languages: Bishop Egan and the MP

Sometimes, when the Media are interviewing Catholics on controverted issues, they tell us the religion of the person they have with them, as if to say "Of course, you should take account of the fact that X is a devout Catholic, and so what he says must be taken with a pinch of salt".

The BBC, in the person of Ed Stourton, a Catholic remarried after divorce, gave radio space on Sunday March 22 to the RC MP for Bournemouth, Conor Burns, to make another attack on Bishop Philip Egan, Burns' own diocesan Bishop.

I think it would have been helpful to listeners to mention Stourton's own status, so as to remind them that he is himself not impartial and unbiassed when it comes to Christ's teaching on Marriage and associated matters.

Burns is described by Wikipedia as "openly gay"; surely, it would have been appropriate to inform listeners of this? Perhaps Stourton could have introduced him with something like:

"Mr Burns, who is said to be openly gay, first attacked Bishop Philip last year when the bishop gave his opinion that legislators who voted for homosexual marriage 'shouldn't be receiving Holy Communion'".

This point of mine is pure Common Sense. We all know the phrase "I see where you're coming from". For the members of the Media Establishment to be so coy about letting us know where they and their darlings are "coming from", amounts to a culpable and deceitful suppressio veri.

Readers will remember the occasion of Burns' first attack on Dr Egan. The bishop made it clear that he would not himself deny Communion to legislators voting for laws which contradict Catholic moral teaching unless this were the common policy of his episcopal conference. Some Bishops' Conference employee called "Greg Pope" promptly issued a statement which, while formally eminently correct, effectively cut the ground from beneath Bishop Philip's act of witness. And I am also sure that readers will also remember Cardinal Mueller's recent observations that Dioceses and their Bishops are not 'branches' of Episcopal Conferences or of their bureaucracies; still less should a bishop be subject to the implied supervisory correction of Conference employees. Gerhard Mueller's observation that the diocesan bishop and the Roman Pontiff have a direct and unmediated relationship is not so much pastoral as it is theological: it is the local Particular (i.e. diocesan) Church, and the Universal Church (with their circumincessio), that are, for Catholics, the basic ecclesiological realities.

Let me describe the occasion of Burns' second, Stourton-facilitated, attack. Recently, Bishop Philip, in response to appeals for advice, put out a carefully argued statement on the complex subject of support for 'charities' which have varying degrees of involvement in controverting Catholic teaching. As a bishop has a duty to do, he warned against "formal cooperation in gravely immoral acts". Burns called this "legalistic" [the second time he used the term, he expanded it into "highly legalistic"]  and "rigid".

Now that is an interesting word. Would he describe those who with unflagging determination worked for the passage of the Gay Marriage legislation as "rigid"? Or is this another of those Irregular Verbs ... "I am resolute, You are rigid ..."?.

Burns went on to attack the bishop's paper for causing "worry and anxiety". Having damned his Bishop with faint praise for being erudite, he then waffled on about "the World as it is". He referred to Bishop Philip's "absolute logic" (but, very strangely, these words do not seem to have been intended as complimentary but as a sneer). He revealed that a "couple of priests" were upset and were wailing "What on earth are we to do?". He was clearly enraged about the copious footnotes which support all Bishop Philip's statements. Imaginary "conflict" with Pope Francis got dragged into this load of nonsense.

Bishop Egan does indeed invariably footnote his utterances with great care. Far from being "legalistic", this practice is in the very highest degree reassuring to the ordinary, faithful, cleric or laic. Indeed, it is profoundly humble. A bishop's duty is, very obediently, very humbly, to teach the Deposit of Faith handed down from the Apostles in accordance with the Church's Magisterium; and footnoting exemplifies the authenticity of his teaching as well as drawing his readers more deeply into the authentic sources of the Faith. I hope that there is no Catholic bishop anywhere in the world who, instead of teaching what the Church teaches, uses his office to promote his own divisive whimsies. If there is, then there must be a relevance in Cardinal Brandmueller's recent observation that people who "insistently demand" change in the Church's dogma are "heretics" even if they happen to wear the purpura of a Cardinal. (I am glad, incidentally, that his Eminence has revived this useful analytical category.)


Nor do I like the cheap game of attempting to judge and condemn a bishop by deploying Media fantasies about what the 'policy' of Pope Francis is. Quite apart from the fact that these fantasies are grotesquely garbled, Leo XIII taught ... and so did Vatican II ... that the Bishops are not mere vicars of the Roman Pontiff, but themselves Successors of the Apostles. Here again, we have journalists assuming that maximalising view of the Papacy which I dealt with (yet again) in a recent post. Of course there isn't any "conflict" between the Bishops of Rome and Portsmouth ... the very suggestion is absolute and unmitigated rubbish ... but even to raise the possibility is to be asking a wrong question on the basis of a faulty understanding arising from a false theology.

7 comments:

umblepie said...


Well said Father, and thank you Bishop Egan for your pastoral care.

Alan said...

Hmmmm. I'm puzzled by Burns' pejorative use of "legalistic". As a member of parliament, his day-to-day work consists of making laws, which he expects to be obeyed. His disagreement with His Lordship's "legalism" relates to issues of sexual morality. During the last period in which his own party held office, it was quite enthusiastic about legislating extra "sexual offences" - rather out of kilter with the "liberal" view (with which in this case I happen to agree) that the police should keep out of the bedroom.

leutgeb said...

Alan has just made the point I was going to make.

Thank you.

Highland Cathedral said...

Which extra 'sexual offences' are you referring to, Alan?
Bishop Egan was giving a talk in Paisley today. Unfortunately I missed it.

Alan said...

I'm not an expert, Highland Cathedral, but I suggest doing a Google search for the Sexual Offences Act 2003. Also worth noting perhaps is that the same legislation that equalised the age of consent for homosexual men criminalised teachers who engaged in "sexual activity", which could be something so minor as kissing, with pupils age 16 or 17. I have known masters who got engaged to, and subsequently married, sixth-form girls with hardly a raised eyebrow.

GOR said...

I applaud Bishop Egan and his ‘rigidity’ in citing his sources. Would that more prelates were as rigid! But once again the misperceptions about Bishops’ Conferences serve to confuse even the faithful - and more so the members of the Fourth Estate.

I continue to lament the retirement of Bishop Fabian Bruskewitz, formerly of Lincoln, Nebraska in these United States. He was the only US bishop not to cave to the machinations of the US Bishops’ Conference in Dallas some time ago.

In five words he summed up his role as bishop and that of the Bishops’ Conference: “They don’t speak for me!”

Jacobi said...

Anyone who is a Catholic, is divorced and remarried without an annulment, is objectively speaking, in a state of mortal sin and therefore should not be allowed by any priest, or any lay distributor, to receive Holy Communion. Such a person is not a suitable spokesman to speak on behalf of the Church. His/her “situation” should have been explained to the listeners, and out of politeness the yet valid-spouse should have been informed so that he/she might have had the chance to contribute or comment. If Mr Sturton comes into this category so be it.


If Mr Burns is a Catholic and is openly gay and by that I mean actively homosexual, as opposed to cheerful and with a happy attitude to life, then his opinion must be taken with a pinch of salt. Bishop Philip was correct to say that any Catholic who voted for homosexual “marriage” should be refused Holy Communion by the Church since they are voting to permit an objective state of mortal sin.

This is the teaching of, or in line with, the Magisterium of the Church and cannot be changed.