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The Bishops of England and Wales should broadcast their plenary meetings online

The US bishops’ conference is a model for the Church everywhere – if only our bishops followed it

By on Wednesday, 17 November 2010

The US bishops pray before the start of the second day of their conference in Baltimore this week (Photo: CNS)

The US bishops pray before the start of the second day of their conference in Baltimore this week (Photo: CNS)

The US bishops’ conference this week has been gripping. Its powerful speeches and shock, cliffhanger election have been televised, live streamed, live tweeted and heavily blogged to millions of Catholics around the world.

It’s not the only bishops’ conference meeting this week. The bishops of England and Wales are currently gathered together at Hinsley Hall in Leeds, discussing – well, no one exactly knows. We have some idea of the topics – the papal visit, academy schools, the new Mass translation – but no concrete news will emerge from their meeting until a press conference on Friday morning.

Of course, it is a much smaller conference: there are about 30 or so bishops, compared to more than 400 in the US. And it is naturally quite defensive with the media – perhaps because of its history as a persecuted Church. But it needn’t be so.

One of the items on the agenda is how best to build on the “Benedict bounce”. But what better way to energise the faithful than being totally transparent about what issues are being talked about and what decisions are being made? A more open bishops’ conference could inject the same shot of excitement into the English Church as is present this week in the US.

Things have improved recently. As I write the text of a speech by the outgoing Apostolic Nuncio, Archbishop Faustino Sainz Muñoz, given to the bishops at their conference, arrives in my inbox. That would not have happened last year.

Even so, my plea to the bishops is: get the cameras set up. Arrange interviews. Make the voting and minutes public. There will be criticism, and snide commentary; but nothing you can’t handle.

  • Catholic Youth Work

    There is an argument which says that more scrutiny brings more accountability, but there is also an argument which says that you can't have genuine and robust discussions if every little thing is under a microscope. Until certain commentators – and I don't mean the Herald :) – stop dissecting every move each Bishop makes in order to find anything negative to hit them over the head with, I can see the Bishops, quite rightly, continuing to take the latter position.

  • paulpriest

    Sorry CYW – nice try – but that argument simply won't wash.

    The Catholic commentators you so readily disparage [i.e. outspoken orthodox bloggers of varying political persuasions] are very much aware of the dire situation in the land and would be the first to recognise a realist, financially viable policy where tough decisions were made and 'sacrifices' shared for the sake of the national Church. Far from using this information against them; they would be grateful that Our Bishops finally conceded that the situation was far worse than has previously been admitted.

    We direct our negativity towards an abrogation of Apostolic duty and responsibility in the moral, doctrinal, catechetical, pastoral, evangelical, canonical, ecclesiastical, religious education and social justice arenas.
    Rather than 'hitting them over the head' with anything which readily becomes available ; these commentators are first and foremost advocates for the Apostolic mandate – Their stated express wish is for Bishops to take up their Episcopal mantle and teach, preach and shepherd accordingly in communion with the Holy Father in a devout , orthodox way.

    I should suggest you refer to the online records of said commentator/bloggers in their dealings with any Bishop and you would soon discover that any negative comments are made where a Bishop wilfully refuses by omission or commission to uphold his Apostolic duty – be it conspiracy by the CES with the culture of death and rabid anti-catholic secularism ; the refusal to defend or promote Catholic doctrine and moral teachings ; their silence on political and social issues which demand that a Bishop bears witness to the faith and their flock and respond with spiritual, ecclesial and moral authority ; their collaboration with Contra-Catholic forces to the detriment of the faithful. Given too that His Holiness has only recently departed these shores it is somewhat remiss of our Bishops to still maintain silence and an ostensibly hostile non-promotion of the Pope's teachings.

    Has one word been mentioned by a single Bishop or Conference or the CCN or Official representatives on the groundbreaking “Verbum Domini” which has been published for nearly a week ?
    Yet we find them queuing up to congratulate Prince William on his engagement

    This scrutiny – and accountability – would reveal to us our Bishops' priorities; where they truly stand on all manner of issues.
    That's why plenary meetings will never involve public disclosure or media broadcast.

  • Mark H.

    I'm afraid I can't watch as I'm slashing my wrists that day. I cannot think of anything more sleep-inducing than our neutered bishops waffling on about climate change and the U.N.'s millenium goals. What a snorefest.

  • Catholic Youth Work

    Hi Paul… thanks for your response.

    I guess what I would say is that there should always be a right to question. Dialogue is the lifeblood of faith in my view. Everyone has the right to speak and the right to be heard. After all, without the right to charitably challenge what our consciences cannot stand we would probably still be burning heretics! So in one sense, yes I agree. I would augment that agreement slightly, however, with an element of concern that there is often a distinct lack of charity among many commentators; a lack of charity which probably comes form all sides of the debate (though I don't meant the Bishops themselves obviously). I think this needs to be tackled. I have been in so many nasty exchanges in my life, sometimes as the aggrieved and sometimes (to my shame) as the agitator, and I have almost always found that it only does harm. It hardens people in their views and in their hatred of one another. Hearts that are hard can neither love, nor change. It is easy, I guess, to see love as something weak and childish, and to view an appeal to it as an attempt to create false optimism and to paper over cracks. Personally, I have always found that, when practiced correctly and with faith in God, it is the most powerful force there is, and that its effects will always surprise us.

    My post above didn't mention blogs, and they were not the only category of commentator in my mind. I think that some blogs do a lot of good. As for the others, I guess I would ask them what they are really trying to do. Are they trying to annoy people they don't like, or are they really trying to change those people and invite them to see things a different way. The choice you make in this regard must radically affect the way you pursue it.

    Let's pray for all concerned. And for our Bishops too, as they go about their difficult work.

  • paulpriest

    I wish I could understand half of what you write CYW ; but then again the half I do understand terrifies me.

    “Dialogue is the lifeblood of Faith” – I think you'll find Love is the lifeblood of Faith – agape de me echon – ouden eimi [1 Cor 13]

    “without the right to charitably challenge what our consciences cannot stand we would probably still be burning heretics! ” – This means what exactly ? Heresy or heterodoxy or appeals to a relaxation of moral probity derives from 'conscience' and therefore everyone has a right to express what they think; irrespective of their position, their vows or their ignorance on the issue ; with the proviso that they exercise 'charity' in the process – I take it by charity you mean they are polite, well-mannered and sensitively inoffensive.

    Yes that must be what you mean because you move on immediately to refer to commentators' 'lack of charity' – meaning they were discourteous and ill-mannered.
    But of course you remove Bishops from any accusations of being 'uncharitable' i.e. rude.

    So – when a Bishop threatens to get a Catholic journalist sacked, or sacks/transfers priests because they're defending the faith or worshipping in a way the Pope promotes but the Bishop finds distasteful , or orders a priest-blogger to remove the name of his parish from his blog, or refuses to defend a priest-blogger when bullying heterodox monsignors threaten legal action, or bawls out a pro-Life campaigner for upsetting the government? When a Bishop closes churches and schools and wastes the funds on their favourite pet projects ? When a Bishop refuses to defend the Pope against calumnous media witch-hunts or defend Church teaching on abortion, contraception, extra-marital sex, the proscription against women priests, when a Bishop dismisses papal teaching as 'mere opinion which can be ignored', or dismisses the necessity of the sacrament of confession, refuses to help save the life of an unborn child about to be aborted – because his dinner's on the table! When Bishops allow anti-Catholic culture of death promotion to be taught in the classroom ; when they allow condoms, the pill and the morning after pill to be distributed to, and Abortion referrals to be made for underage Catholic schoolchildren in a Catholic school ?
    When Bishops do all this – of course – they do it all with the optimal amount of Charity – i.e. in your definition of the word they do it inoffensively and courteously ?

    I take it your argument is you catch more flies with honey than vinegar ?
    That harsh words merely make an opponent more recalcitrant and dogmatic; that they will close their ears to the argument thus preventing the possibility of further dialogue?

    Well to some extent gentleness is our strongest weapon – BUT – from decades of long-term debating experience I can tell you most solemnly – an opponent primarily appreciates and respects sincerity and authenticity – if they are not afforded that – and instead treated to a patronising milk-and-water pragmatising syncretism ?
    Arguments so weak and inconsequential , obfuscatingly indeterminate to imply there is no difference between opponents ?
    The response will be contempt and dismissal for being both an intellectual scoundrel and a cowardly liar.

    If we are called to defend the faith we must do so sincerely, authentically, firmly, gently and humbly – but not with faux-politeness or patronising false humility – this truth is not ours – for Catholicism Truth is a Person – Our Lord Jesus Christ – if others take umbrage at this Truth it is their problem – we are forbidden from conspiring, collaborating, mitigating, ameliorating, dimishing or denying this Truth just for a peaceful life or so as not to cause offence to anyone else… or to be populist or accommodating to government, the media or the forces of secularism.

    I think you have to understand what's being fought against here – plain and simple – it's Evil !
    The evil of lies – the evil of oppression and injustice – the evil of murder to the point of genocide.

    …and I think you have to understand what's fought for – Life, Love, Happiness, Beauty, Truth, Justice and the continuance of the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church.

    I guess you don't read many blogs – Catholic bloggers are screaming out for Our Bishops to be Catholic and our Bishops to be Bishops : Nothing more.

  • Catholic Youth Work

    I suspect we probably won't agree here!

    I agree with your comment about love being the lifeblood of the faith though… Maybe there's something in that?

    Time to gracefully bow out of this one :)

  • Anti Paul Priest

    You have no chance of any transparency while you have Bishop's like Thomas McMahon of Brentwood.

    I and many other parishioners have been trying to meet with him for three years to discuss a matter of abuse of the Clerical office at St Augustine's, Barkingside!

    A simple meeting is all we ask, a chance to be listened too!