Skip to main content

Sense and nonsense from Germany

Cardinal Mueller is a wise man, capable of surprising us.
"We can talk a lot about God, and in the end, do so without faith", said Cardinal Mueller a couple of weeks before the recent Synod on the Family in Rome. It is the most sensible observation I've noted out of all the soundbites over the last month on the subjects of divorce and homosexual relationships.

Meanwhile Cardinal Kasper seeks to sideline the bishops of Africa in favour of his own personal progressive agenda. He wants to fudge the Church's teaching on a whole raft of issues.

How can these two men come up with such different opinions when faced with the same pastoral realities in Germany? Could it be something to do with the fact that Mueller has actually spent a lot more time with ordinary Catholics and so knows something about the real challenges of Christian life for ordinary people? 

Mueller has 8 or 9 years experience in parishes, 16 as a theology professor and then ten as diocesan bishop, all after the Second Vatican Council. He was also a pupil of Gustavo Gutiérrez,  one of the few liberation theologians to stay spiritually close to the poor and to their traditional popular piety and to maintain a traditional sacramental, ecclesial and eschatological view. Gutiérrez is a theologian who has stayed in touch with the people's faith in a way that many other left wing theologians have not. He and Mueller are still friends, which will no doubt surprise people who think of Mueller as a crusty, heartless bigot.
Cardinals Kasper and Daneels


As far as I can make out, Kasper spent just one year as a priest in a parish from 1958-59, then the next 31 years as an academic, before becoming Archbishop of Munich in 1989. He is a man of committees and conferences. Kasper experienced the whole Vatican II phenomenon of the 60s and 70s from inside an academic bubble, probably peopled with a higher than usual percentage of vociferous intellectual Catholics in 'irregular' situations. One supposes that his circle of intimates is composed mainly of liberal theologians and progressive bureaucrats inside the Church.  Like Mueller, he is the protégé of a famous theologian: he was formerly assistant to Hans Kung, the famous progressive theologian who disputes many key Catholic spiritual and ethical teachings and who recently announced his intention to commit suicide over the coming months. Kung, unlike Gutiérrez, is a theologian who has completely lost touch with the religion of the poor. His is a religion for middle-class intellectuals.

And the German context is one of an institutional structure that is too wealthy for its own good, in the context of a Church that has become completely bourgeois and really no longer speaks to the poor and marginalised. That is perhaps why those dismissive remarks about Africans slipped out so easily. 

All the common sense is coming from outside Europe: whether it is from the Phillipines, from Australia, the States or Africa. Time for the Europeans to take a back seat and listen to these fresher voices.

Honestly, nothing has really changed on the theme of sexuality since the Early Church. Divorce was an enormous pastoral issue then. Lots of men were having sex with other men and with boys in the Greek world in which Christianity took root. Abortion was rife. Contraception and early versions of the morning after pill had already been invented at the time of Christ. If anything, pagans were often more sexually profligate than modern post-christians.  


The big change in our day has been internet pornography; and perhaps also the fact that contraception has been made simpler and more effective. Pornography and the sexual license springing from contraception have had a big effect on families, on psychology, on the moral and spiritual lives of individuals.  But aside from that, little has really changed about human nature. We are still, most of us, like Abbé Prévost and his Manon, a contradictory mixture of beauty and ugliness. 

People continue to be deeply motivated by their sexual urges and their need for companionship. And they feel at the same time a call to heroism and truth. And the parodox of these competing forces shakes us all up. The sexual feelings of modern men, as with their forefathers,  are still a source of difficulty and shame when they clash with our moral obligations, as they so often do. People have struggled with these crosses for thousands of years.

So, if divorce and homosexuality were on the agenda in the first century, what's wrong with them being on the agenda in the 21st century? Nothing. It is quite normal that people should be asking these questions and looking for answers. The problem is that if Christ and His Church already addressed these issues with love and clarity back then, how is it that modern man needs a different answer from those given by Jesus and St Paul to the exact same questions all those years ago?

Hey, we all sin. We all long for Christ's embrace when we have fallen. He picks us up, sets us again on the right course and says 'Go and sin no more'. 

Of course the Christian life can be difficult for us. It is difficult for a married man who is tired of his wife and so takes a mistress as a way of saving his marriage; it is difficult for his wife too, no doubt, and difficult for the mistress ...  it is difficult for a lonely homosexual who cannot cope with his solitude; it is difficult for the beautiful young woman whose husband is seriously disabled after an accident and who weeps every night because she just wants to be held by a man.  And what about the man who, by no choice he ever made, seems only to desire intimacy with children and not with adults? What about the bisexual man who finds himself in love with a beautiful woman and also with his best male friend and who wishes he didn't have to chose between those two loves? (Have you never stopped to wonder why the politicans make so much fuss promoting gay marriage and yet propose nothing similar for bisexuals, who are probably much more numerous?) There are many categories of people who are faced with a difficult clash between their sexual urges, their thirst for intimacy and affirmation and then the demands of morality.

It is all a mess. And it always has been . At least, ever since Adam and Eve. Ancient Jews, Egyptians, Romans and Greeks faced the same problems. And Christ and his apostles gave answers to people with problem situations such as I describe. These situations are not something new.


Christ is the answer to these problems, not the Church. The Church can bring Christ's light and love, but cannot replace them with her own pronouncements. And this is the mistake that a lot of professional church people can easily make. Cheap talk and dishonest intellectual or legal 'fixes' from the Institution are not the answer. The touch of Christ, the look of Christ, the love of Christ. That is where the answer is. And in fact the Church cannot vote or define the love of God into or out of existence in general or in specific cases. If God wants to love us then He will, whatever the Church may say. And God does love us all, especially the hopeless sinners.

On behalf of sinners, let me say thank-you to God for His unconditional love.  If the Holy Father wants to know what I'd like out of his Synod on the Family, I'd say this: clarity, truth and guidance for living. And also, some exhortation to governments and to secular society on how to support the family at this difficult time. As for acceptance and love, anyone who wants that can get it from the Lord without the need for a committee vote.  As Cardinal Mueller so cleverly put it: "We can talk a lot about God, and in the end, do so without faith". Let's not fall into that trap.  As for what to tell the sinners, just tell them the truth. Even when it hurts. The best part of that truth is that we sinners are loved by Almighty God.


Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Does the state destroy true education?

Michael Oakeshott (1901-1990) was one of the leading conservative intellectuals in the English-speaking world during the post-war period. Born into a Fabian socialist milieu, his own conservatism seems to have arisen from the political crucible of the 1930s, in reaction to the dual horrors of Nazism and communism. According to Oakeshott `modern governments are not interested in education, they are concerned to impose `socialization' of one kind or another upon the surviving fragments of a once considerable educational engagement."

He saw the job of the state as simply to stay afloat, rather than heading off in some idealistic and utopian direction; and of education, to engage the young, and not so young, in a conversation with our heritage, and a conversation between certain different modes of thinking and being that would give them a life of freedom and even of adventure:

"men sail a boundless and bottomless sea, there is neither
harbor for shelter nor floor for anchorage,…

The Return of the Young Fogey?

I remember when I was a teenager my sister gave me a delightful Christmas present, The Young Fogey Handbook. It came out at the same time as the even more successful Sloane Handbook, about 25 years ago.  The essence of the Young Fogey was that he was satorially and culturally reactionary, seeking a kind of donnish gentility frozen in the period 1930-1950. He sought to relive Brideshead Revisted, Miss Marple, and Jeeves and Wooster all at once. The Handbook made a lot of Betjeman, AN Wilson, Charles Moore etc. It was an entertaining read, but I remember feeling at the time that I would never quite cut the mustard sartorially. I owned a pair of jeans.
But it seems to me that the Fogey that began all fogies was JRR Tolkien. His disapproval of anything modern, his love of tweed and pipes, and his fondness for medieval religion make him an obvious member of the group. When shown a tape-recorder by one of his undergraduates he consented to use it, but first exorcised it by reciting a Pater N…

Robert Burns for Catholics: Singing Auld Lang Syne with the Angels

Tomorrow night, the 25th January, has been a deeply anchored part of my personal calendar since I became a student of Edinburgh University nearly twenty years ago. That night is the night of heavily distilled Scottishness that commemorates the nation’s most famous and beloved bard, a night known throughout the world simply as Burns Night.

Robert Burns, known by Scots as Rabbie Burns, was born into a farming family at Alloway in Ayrshire in 1759. He died in Dumfries at the early age of 37. During his short life he took the Scottish literary world by storm, and secured a place for himself in history and in legend. Every year, lovers of Scotland throughout the world mark the 25th of January, the day of his birth (in 1759) with an evening of song, poetry, speeches, comradeship, food and what he affectionately called Scotch Drink:

Gie him strong Drink until he wink,
That's sinking in despair;
An' liquor guid to fie his bluid,
That's prest wi' grief an' care;
There let him bo…