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Let’s not damn celibacy with faint praise
SIR – JG McCann (Letter, March 9) is “convinced that compulsory celibacy is a huge barrier to dynamic leadership in the Church”; that although “being married and raising a family is also an immense commitment”, the “difference is that marriage is a completely free choice”.
One can only imagine the shock experienced by thousands of newly ordained priests on discovering that they are forced to be celibate; whereas, of course, they are well aware that embracing celibacy is inseparable from embracing the priestly vocation.
Married priests coming from other denominations have also made a sacrifice, which is to be highly valued, but it is far different from
allowing ordained priests to marry as a simplistic solution to the decline in vocations. Mr McCann admits there would be “massive pastoral implications”, but: “The way forward would be to replace the benign dictatorship of the clergy, and seriously involve the laity in pastoral teams with real power and responsibility.” How smoothly we go from the Pope ending this “massive suffering endured by the clergy … with a simple stroke of a pen” to replacing the clergy with the “dictatorship” of an empowered laity that might not be so benign.
In the Bible, sexual continence was not unknown even among married men on a sacred mission; when King David, anxious to cover up his adulterous affair with the pregnant Bathsheba, ordered her husband to return to his house, Uriah refused, reminding David that he was still on a military campaign, which meant refraining from marital relations (2 Samuel 11: 5-27).
We are now in the “end times” – the final battle for mankind – and we all need to redouble our efforts to defend the faith as opposition to it increases. Our priests need to be “battle-ready” so they can prioritise God’s calling. Even if they do not need literally to give their lives for the faith, we can at least value their commitment to giving up every day of their lives to God; to leave celibacy as some optional “add-on” is to damn it with faint praise.
The answer to the vocations decline, as with the problem of lapsation, is not to relax the rule on celibacy but to preach the Gospel. In fact, it is the answer to everything.
Woodford Green, Essex
Where there is no will, there is no way either
SIR – Your leading article (March 9) rightly states that “the Church has to face the truth that its mission to promote the sacrament
of marriage is failing”. This is despite the fact that Familiaris Consortio in 1981 exhorted every single diocese to establish an office for marriage and family, and the former Pontifical Council for the Family provided an excellent definition of marriage preparation across the life cycle in 1996. It is not inspirational, authoritative “how to” teachings that have been lacking, but rather the ecclesiastical will, manifested with appropriate levels of zeal and resources.
For 13 years I tried hard to establish and build key resources, apostolates and programmes to build a culture of vocation to matrimony for Westminster diocese, on the least amount of ever-diminishing financial resources compared with other more fashionable, headline-grabbing work.
Two synods and an exhortation on the family since 2014, and the office I created is now subsumed into another with no one recruited to carry on my work since I left in 2016.
Your leader also rightly states: “We need, in a sense, to start again, and where better than with the truth about God and the truth about human beings, so beautifully revealed to us in the opening chapters of the Book of Genesis?” Again, from 2004 I set out to promote and build up awareness of Theology of the Body with an annual lecture and many other initiatives expounding Pope St John Paul II’s catechesis of human love in the divine plan. Though my efforts never met with obstruction, they did not enjoy the visible, tangible and public endorsement from the diocesan structures that they needed to gain sufficient traction.
So what kept me going? The account by the Venerable Bede of how St Augustine, after he arrived in England, wrote to Pope Gregory to describe the levels of aggression, lawlessness, random sexuality, broken families and neglect of children which he felt made his work futile. The pope told him to concentrate on teaching the Anglo-Saxons about marriage and its many benefits. Augustine and his missionaries did precisely that and according to Bede, England recovered.
A thirst for doctrine
SIR – Your leading article (March 2) speaks of confusion about Holy Communion, yet I am convinced that the matter is deeper. The principal factor concerns the nature of human love as it relates to human sexuality.
When doctrine is made to appear to be “looking both ways” in order to help difficult situations, it undermines Christian teaching. Doctrine loud and clear has within it inspiration, stability and vitality, along with mercy and the necessary understanding.
There is no doubt that when we get beyond the ambiguities, natural among a people fallen from grace, purifying our minds leads to greater and deeper love, peace and joy (cf Matthew 5:8). This is the teaching for which we hunger and thirst. The more this is lived and taught, the more a real revival in a more unified Church will eventually develop.
Fr Bryan Storey
St Paul the Apostle, Tintagel, Cornwall
SIR – I thought Will Gore’s review of The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story (Arts, March 9) was very good and gave due credit to the principal actors in the TV drama. But should Christian people really be watching this stuff? It was lurid, violent and sadistic, and the gay sex scenes were explicit rather than suggestive.
I sat through it and must admit that I appreciated the compelling drama of the plot and the fine acting, but at the end felt somewhat discomforted and a little ashamed that I had done so.
I had an uneasy conscience as I turned to say Night Prayer. How could I square watching it with St Paul’s counsel: “Fill your minds with everything that is true, everything that is noble, everything that is good and pure, everything that we love and honour, and everything that can be thought virtuous or worthy of praise” (Philippians 4:8).
Do others sometimes feel like this, or do I just have an oversensitive conscience?
Market Harborough, Leicestershire
SIR – Tim Stanley’s article “When America forgot to pray” (Charterhouse, March 9) was insightful. It’s interesting to note that none of the mass killings at the schools in this country has taken place at a Catholic school, where students are taught how to love God and neighbour. Could this be the reason for the difference?
Mgr Tom Skindeleski
Delray Beach, Florida