In the Catholic blogosphere you are seldom more than two clicks away from a lunatic. On New Year’s Day I did an online search for Fr Tim Finigan, who the day before had undergone heart bypass surgery at St Thomas’ Hospital in London, and I was anxious to know whether it had gone well. I could find nothing about the operation, but on my second click I found myself in a foetid swamp occupied by a Jew-bashing blogger called “Maurice Pinay”.
Pinay is an assumed name, but I think his views are his own. In any case he does not care much for Fr Tim, and has dissed him for what he calls his use of “post-temple rabbinic concepts”. It is far too complicated to go into here, but Mr Pinay is convinced that Fr Tim has embraced “diabolical Tridentine Judaism”.
As it happens, Fr Finigan’s op was a complete success as I discovered later in the day. So at least 2016 began well. There are no immediate signs, however, that it will end well.
This time last year I made two predictions for 2015: the first (and wildest) was that the Tories would win the election and the second was that the world would not end. I am far less sanguine now. I do not go along with the end-timers and their Mystic Meg predictions, of course, but it does sometimes seem that we are on the eve of destruction.
The news on the first Monday of the year was not good. The newspapers splashed with the story of a new and bloody ISIS video featuring a man and a young boy with British accents. Later in the day stock markets around the world plunged on news that China’s manufacturing sector had contracted again last month. No one knows where the next terrorist attack will be but everyone knows there will be one. Everyone knows, too, that there must be another financial crash.
Meanwhile, the European Union – that brave attempt to unite Western Europe on the principles of Catholic social teaching – looks to be finished. In England we are preparing for a referendum on the EU, which may be held as early as July. A small and sullen majority will vote to stay in.
In the United States a new president is to be elected, in what is shaping up as an unusually grotesque contest. It would be impudent of me to advise my American friends how to vote, but if I had to choose between, say, Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, I’d choose Trump. He says a lot of silly and nasty things, but unlike Mrs Clinton, he is not a warmonger. He is happy to leave Syria to Mr Putin’s tender mercies, and wants America to spend its borrowed billions at home, on schools and hospitals. Besides, as he says, Americans don’t win wars these days. If the world is in a mess, then the Church seems to be in meltdown.
I still don’t know what to make of Pope Francis. I warm to him when he causes outrage among some madtrads. At the same time, though, he often strikes me as being a bullying liberal – condemning “restorationists”, “pickled, pepper-faced Christians” and (my favourite) “self-absorbed, Promethean Neo-Pelagians”.
But he is wrongly condemned by right-wing Catholics, some of them fans of Rush Limbaugh, when he speaks ill of capitalism. The Pope is, after all, a Catholic, not a capitalist.
In other areas he is less clear, and nowhere more so right now than on the family. He will publish an apostolic exhortation on the recent synod some time in the spring. The document will not explicitly change doctrine, of course, but traditionalists fear that it will be worded in such a way as to allow progressive bishops, through priests in the confessional, to allow some unmarried couples to live together as husband and wife and at the same time receive Holy Communion.
This is already happening in some parts of Europe (just as it is, for example, in the case of contraception). There will be “wiggle room”, so to say. But do divorced and remarried Catholics necessarily want the Church to give them a nod and a wink? I am not sure that they do. Some at least would react to any such apparent change in doctrine by concluding that the Church in Rome was not the Church of Rome.
Here is one final prediction: there will be more sedevacantists at the end of the year than there are now. The Church is, in effect, in schism. Quite soon, perhaps, formal schism will be declared. All I can say is that I hope “my side” manages to reach an accommodation with the Russian Orthodox Church.