13 December 2009

By special Appointment, HOOP MANUFACTURERS To The HOLY SEE

The Roman Catholic Church, God bless its cotton socks, is currently blessed with a new growth industry. The manufacture of Hoops. An example: think what happened in 2008 after the publication of the motu proprio Summorum Pontificum. This had the deceptive superficial appearance of being a document crafted to enable any Latin Rite priest to say the Old Rite, without any sort of license or permission from the Holy See ... or the local episcopal conference ... or the diocesan bishop ... or even (in the case of assistant priests) the Parish Priest. Indeed, that is what the document started off by saying, in words which, to untutored Anglican eyes like mine, looked quite clear and unambiguous. But of course, we Anglicans have no expertise whatsoever in the exquisitely fine finer points of Canon Law.

This is where the Hoops come in. When a papal document says that X can do Y without needing permission from Z, what that really means canonically, you see, is that before X can even think of doing Y, he needs permission from Z. So, dutifully, loyally, some of those RC bishops in 2008 immediately turned to the ancient craft of Hoop Manufacturing. And, my goodness, the quality of those hoops! It quite takes our poor Anglican breath away! Special examinations turned out to be the the classiest hoops: examinations in Liturgy; examinations in Latin. "Jump through these, my boy", said the bishops, "and jump through the additional hoop of an interview with me to explore just why you want to do this, and then ... well .... we'll think about it. There! Can't say fairer than that! That's what the Holy Father had in mind!"

One of the most under-discussed elements in the policies of the current pontificate is the principle of Subsidiarity. A few years ago, this notion was quite popular: the idea that decisions are best made at the lowest possible level. There was a brief period when this was seen as a welcome, a refreshing, antidote to a culture of bureaucratic, anally retentive, centralisation of power and of decision-making. Episcopal Conferences did very well out of the fashion. "Devolve it all to us", they cried. "We're the local chaps; we know the local circumstances. Subsidiarity!! It affirms the local Church! It strips power from those beastly bully-boys in the Roman Dikasteries!" And my, were these 'local chaps' angry when John Paul II and his henchperson Ratzinger had the nerve to suggest that, theologically, the 'powers' of Episcopal Conferences were the Emperor's New Suit.

But, on the other hand, it has become clear that when - as in the case of Summorum Pontificum, which devolved liturgical decisions to the lowest conceivable levels - it comes to devolving something below the level of episcopal conferences and their entrenched incestuous power-hungry bureaucracies, Subsidiarity suddenly stops being sexy and becomes a sharp-edged implement of which it might be said (in the immortal phrase of our Anglo-Welsh World War II hero Corporal Jones) that They Don't Like It Up 'Em.

Like our Holy Father Pope Benedict XVI, we Anglican Catholics think that Subsidiarity is a Very Good Thing. It has been one of our central ecclesiological principles for 150 years. Come to think of it, it's what we mean when we talk about our Patrimony.


  1. Father, not for the first time I find myself wondering whether the distinctive combination of erudite analysis, irreverently humorous presentation and underlying seriousness of purpose (as well demonstrated by your esteemed blog) is something unique to Catholic Anglicans. (Picking up on a recent thread, I can't help thinking that Mgr Knox would have thought so.)

    If so, is it also part of the Patrimony? And do Mgr Faley and his masters therefore think that, like the rest of the Patrimony, if it is to be accepted in the Ordinariate it needs to be "very clearly stated and very clearly described" (stated and described to death, in fact)?

  2. All Anglican Catholics (real ones who believe the Pope, not fake ones who think he’s a phoney) should have the phrase:


    conditioned as a primitive auto-response. I think it will win a lot of fights in the near future, even against belted heavy-weights.

  3. Fr Francis: I don't think it can be unique to Catholic Anglicans, as Mgr Knox most certainly still displayed it when he swam the Tiber! (Think of Caliban in Grub Street or Let Dons Delight.) Newman has it in Difficulties of Anglicans and Loss and Gain, both written after 1845.

    Actually, I think it's Oxford... (Please, Fr H, don't tell us you went to Cambridge - I couldn't bear it!)

  4. Ah, Sue Sims, but would Knox or Newman have possessed the trait in the first place had it not been for their particular ecclesial background? (Thank you, though, for reminding us how early the trait manifested itself – that must make it an integral part of the Patrimony for sure.)

    But you may be right that it's an Oxford thing. And just to set your mind at rest, a quick glance at Crockford shows that our host attended Hertford and Staggers – there's no indication that he ever frequented that strange and slightly dubious place on the edge of the Fens.

  5. Unless we can set up a controlled experiment, I suppose we'll never know for sure. But I must admit that the evidence seems to favour your hypothesis to some extent.

  6. Father
    You have forgotten the last hoop to jump through that is painted on the wall...