The bishops of England and Wales meet with the pope

The bishops of England and Wales have been in Rome this past week for their ad limina visit, and on Monday they met with the pope who spoke to them about various issues. The full text of the address is here, but I would like to emphasise a few elements below. 

The bishops of England and Wales with the Holy Father. Photo courtesy of L'Osservatore Romano.

 

“I urge you as Pastors to ensure that the Church’s moral teaching be always presented in its entirety and convincingly defended. Fidelity to the Gospel in no way restricts the freedom of others – on the contrary, it serves their freedom by offering them the truth. Continue to insist upon your right to participate in national debate through respectful dialogue with other elements in society. In doing so, you are not only maintaining long-standing British traditions of freedom of expression and honest exchange of opinion, but you are actually giving voice to the convictions of many people who lack the means to express them: when so many of the population claim to be Christian, how could anyone dispute the Gospel’s right to be heard?” 

The pope refuses to allow the Church to fall back on herself, safe in her own little world. There is a duty to make knows the truth in the Church to those outside it. The part I bolded is an indication of how sharp the pope can be if he wants to get his point across..  

“In a social milieu that encourages the expression of a variety of opinions on every question that arises, it is important to recognize dissent for what it is, and not to mistake it for a mature contribution to a balanced and wide-ranging debate.” 

Disagreement for the sake of disagreement has no place in  a debate, although too often it is heralded as that much-lauded and often misunderstood freedom of speech. Yes, we have a right to voice our opinion, but that does not free us from the obligation to think it through or deal with any consequences of what we say. 

“Indeed, since the priest plays an irreplaceable role in the life of the Church, spare no effort in encouraging priestly vocations and emphasizing to the faithful the true meaning and necessity of the priesthood. Encourage the lay faithful to express their appreciation of the priests who serve them, and to recognize the difficulties they sometimes face on account of their declining numbers and increasing pressures. The support and understanding of the faithful is particularly necessary when parishes have to be merged or Mass times adjusted. Help them to avoid any temptation to view the clergy as mere functionaries but rather to rejoice in the gift of priestly ministry, a gift that can never be taken for granted.” 

That is such an enormous risk in a society which has virtually no sense of sacrality left. We don’t recognise it when we see it, assuming we even see it at all. When a priest is seen as merely a functionary, we ultimately diminish the very essence of all of God’s gifts to us, because we don’t accept them for what they are. 

“I would ask you to be generous in implementing the provisions of the Apostolic Constitution Anglicanorum Coetibus, so as to assist those groups of Anglicans who wish to enter into full communion with the Catholic Church. I am convinced that, if given a warm and open-hearted welcome, such groups will be a blessing for the entire Church.” 

As for that last point, Anglicanorum Coetibus is having an effect on the papal visit to the UK in September. Apparently, Queen Elizabeth II is miffed about the pope’s initiative to open the doors to Anglicans who want to return home to the Catholic Church. After all, the queen is the head of the Anglican church, so she is not amused that the Holy Father has made it easier for members of her flock to leave and swim the Tiber. 

She cancelled the planned dinner with the pope, which to me seems a bit childish. The Queen’s government officially invited the pope, which means essentially that the Kingdom did, and now the personification of that Kingdom seems to back pedal a bit. 

Well, whatever happens, the papal visit to the UK looks to be stormy. There is a lot of enthusiasm, but the opponents are, once more, very loud.

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