Why we hang on longer than Anglicans
SIR – The news item “Anglicanism in steep decline …” (September 8) draws attention to the alarmingly increasing numbers turning away from religion reported by the National Centre for Social Research. The figures are worrying, but it would be a tragic error if the causes were not identified and rectified. Stephen Bullivant’s report, “Contemporary Catholicism in England and Wales”, contains a significant clue in the observation that those raised Catholic are more likely to “stick” than those raised Anglican. He believes that doctrine is not the major factor, and that family and community environment, rather than doctrinal matters, play a more important role.
There may well be another related and significant factor. Catholics in their early childhood are more likely to have been taught the fundamentals of their faith, and a basic feature of Catholicism is a more uniform interpretation of doctrine and beliefs. The Protestant denominations, on the other hand, have a more flexible approach to the interpretation of the fundamental beliefs, even open to individual interpretation of the Bible and Christ’s teaching, resulting in the lack of accepted core beliefs; what the writer Steve Bruce has called a “declining stock of knowledge”.
The unifying role of religious beliefs is also evident among Hindu and Muslim communities and must serve as role model in this context. Religious decline has been attributed to progressive secularisation where there is loss of contact between the practising population and those not participating in Church activities, leading to a lack of social cohesion. Social influences and social relationships are vital in the spread of any new ideas and growth.
More recently, Catholics too have fallen into the trap of succumbing to political correctness, dropping Nativity plays and other valuable means of communicating religious knowledge, while also adopting a more lax attitude in their interpretations of the tenets of Christian beliefs. The consequences are patently obvious.
A funeral that should have been broadcast
SIR – Having been myself ordained by the late Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor and regrettably prevented from attending his funeral, I nonetheless took comfort in the expectation that I would be able to follow it either on television or online.
I discovered to my sorrow that no television station found it preferable to Bargain Hunt, Loose Women, Couples Come Dine with Me or The Hotel Inspector.
That perhaps is to be expected, but I thought that it might be reasonably hoped that the Catholic Communications Network (CCN), for whom we take an annual collection, might have made the Mass available online at least. I was deeply disappointed to find no evidence whatever of such a service, and was left to wonder what, if not this, the CCN do actually consider worth making available.
Fr Seán Finnegan
Sacred Heart Church, Caterham, Surrey
In defence of EU law
SIR – Sir Bill Cash’s article on Brexit and democracy (September 8) was, at best, incomplete.
The world now works very differently from when the nation state and its legislative and judicial bodies were established. Now many things operate internationally: the internet and communications, transport, manufacturing (with, in many cases, one part of a product made in one country and another in another), banking and financial services, enormous multinational companies, and crime and terrorism, to name a few.
If we are not to live in a lawless world we need laws that sit above these things and courts to administer those laws. The EU is the first attempt to make this kind of law-making democratic and the European courts the first attempt to give the citizen access to a court in relation to them. For the UK citizen, Brexit will undo all this.
Returning to structures designed for a different world should not be equated to a victory for democracy.
Sin and secrecy
SIR – In the current debate concerning the Australian government’s proposal to require priests to inform upon their penitents, it seems to me that Catholics have rightly demanded that their freedom of religion be respected. However, as far as I know, no one has attempted to explain to the secular world the practical reason why Confession is so confidential in the first place.
Absolute secrecy is offered to the penitent because by so doing he is relieved of the fear of earthly reprisals for his sins, and so is not artificially inhibited from seeking God’s forgiveness.
Has no one in Australia’s government considered that if a priest were required by civil law to report to the police all those who confessed to paedophilia or other crimes, then the most likely outcome is that any such person seeking to preserve their liberty would simply not make any such a confession in the first place?
In which case, the police and civil authorities would be no better informed than they are now with the sacramental seal preserved. In fact, quite possibly less so, as at present the possibility exists that the occasional sinner might be persuaded to surrender themselves to the force of the law – a possibility which is likely to be deterred by the proposed reforms.
Giffnock, East Renfrewshire
Counting the days
SIR – I join you in welcoming the restoration of the celebration of Epiphany and the Ascension of Our Lord to their proper days. How unfortunate then that your leading article in the September 8 edition refers to Epiphany as occurring on the Twelfth Night of Christmas. It can easily be shown that by counting the days from Christmas Day itself that Twelfth Night is on January 5. It can also be seen from a liturgical perspective that this is the last day of the feast of Christmas, whereas January 6 is the first day of the season of the feast of Epiphany. I normally encounter this mistake regarding the date of Twelfth Night among those only loosely connected with the Church, so was surprised to find it occurring in the pages of your journal.
Harrogate, North Yorkshire
SIR – I recently went on pilgrimage to the Holy Land led by the Franciscans, who are the custodians of various sanctuaries in the country in which Our Lord was born, lived, died and was resurrected. On my visit to the place where tradition has it that Our Lord was born, I was scandalised by the behaviour of the Greek Orthodox clergymen who were present on the spot. More than once during the various visits to this particular holy site, the Greek Orthodox priests shouted at us “Latins out!” as to emphasise the distinction between the Greek Orthodox Christians and the Latin Christians who were visiting and making their devotions.
Is this the official stance of Greek Orthodoxy towards ecumenism? And if it is, is this an honourable way to behave in a place of such great and unique significance for all of Christianity?
Fr Geoffrey Attard