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The new nuncio thinks bishops should believe not just in this life but also the next

Watch this space: if I’m right, that’s the kind of bishop we should now get

By on Friday, 13 May 2011

Archbishop Mennini, Apostolic Nuncio to Great Britain, pictured with Archbishop Nichols of Westminster (Mazur)

Archbishop Mennini, Apostolic Nuncio to Great Britain, pictured with Archbishop Nichols of Westminster (Mazur)

Last August, the new Apostolic Nuncio to Great Britain, Archbishop Antonio Mennini, gave an interview about his time as nuncio in Russia, in which he strongly defended the Russian Orthodox church against an anti-clerical backlash caused by the Orthodox fight against secularism and against its so far remarkably successful determination to regain its place in Russian society.

This gave me some hope for the effectiveness of his mission here. This (if I may be forgiven for quoting myself) is what I said on his appointment to London:

[The interview is] all fairly good and hopeful stuff, which encourages one to hope that he will be using his obvious capacity to work out what’s going on in a particular secularised culture to help the Church here to begin the fightback in the most effective way open to him – that is, by helping the Pope to appoint bishops who will do everything they can to implement rather than to undermine the Holy Father’s agenda.

All this may be wishful thinking. But maybe not. It could be that Rome has worked out, at last, what kind of nuncio we need, and is duly sending him. Fingers crossed.

Well, we shall see what we shall see: the real test will be in the kind of names he puts on his ternas, and on what kind of bishops we start getting from Rome. But the straws in the wind seem to be flying the right way so far. The need for the fight of the Church here to be against secularism (both in society and also within the Church itself) seems to have been picked up already by the new nuncio. In commenting on his first address to the Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales, Damian Thompson invites us to “read between the lines” of what Archbishop Mennini had to say. I shall return to Damian’s comment presently, for he has spotted something important, I think. I have also been trying to spot the real message underlying the usual smooth diplomat’s patter, and I think I have found something too; and it is what I was hoping to find: the clear message that he wants (and more importantly that the Pope wants) an English Church less bounded by the spirit of the age, more concerned with a vision of life perceived sub specie aeternitatis, in the perspective of eternity: a Church capable of fighting secularism by offering a vision of eternal life, a Church in other words in which soteriology, the theology of salvation, is at the root of what we are offering a despiritualised secular society. He firmly recalled the bishops to Pope Benedict’s vision of the mission of the Church:

“As Pope Benedict XVI has said on many occasions, we live in a secularised world where everything seems to be relative and nothing is acknowledged as absolute. While addressing all of you at his meeting with the Bishops of England, Scotland and Wales in the chapel of St Mary’s College, Oscott, on the occasion of his historic visit last September, he recalled how recently he was able to welcome you to Rome for the Ad Limina visits of the two Episcopal Conferences during which he spoke with you ‘about some challenges you face as you lead your people in faith, particularly regarding the urgent need to proclaim the Gospel afresh in a highly secularised environment’. He also added: ‘In the course of my visit it has become clear to me how deep a thirst there is among the British people for the Good News of Jesus Christ. You have been chosen by God to offer them the living water of the Gospel, encouraging them to place hopes, not in the vain enticements of this world, but in the firm assurances of the next’.”

As Damian Thompson rightly observes in his Telegraph blog: “This nuncio seems to have a very clear agenda, and it is that of the Holy Father, which makes a nice change.” Damian rightly draws attention to “the very firm emphasis on the ordinariate”: the Pope, said Archbishop Mennini, had reminded him (note his repeated references to the Pope’s agenda) that “he had asked you [the bishops] to be ‘generous in implementing the Apostolic Constitution Anglicanorum coetibus’. In his name, I wish to thank all of you for the way you have meticulously carried out that mandate.”

“Nicely put,” comments Damian. “The bishops have (mostly) toed the line over the ordinariate, but being meticulous (from the Latin for ‘timid’) is not the same thing as being generous. Note, too, the nuncio’s emphasis on evangelisation, which is hardly a preoccupation of the antiquated public-sector machinery of Eccleston Square.”

It is all very hopeful, I think. The nuncio, of course, can’t have a direct influence on the way the bishops run their dioceses. But he is in a unique position to advise Rome over the appointment of their future colleagues and over their own possible promotion to even higher things, as he cleverly reminded them by congratulating Bishop Stack on his translation to Cardiff (not, of course, an appointment with which he had anything to do). He will have great influence over the future shape of the Church in this country. “As you know,” he reminded them, “there are other dioceses (also in Scotland) that need to be provided for. The Apostolic Nunciature has paid deserved attention to these ‘Provvistas’ and will continue to do so, and perhaps we might be having other appointments in the near future.”

He will not go unopposed in what is clearly his ambition to help give us faithful bishops “chosen by God to offer [the British people] the living water of the Gospel, encouraging them to place hopes, not in the vain enticements of this world, but in the firm assurances of the next”. He will undoubtedly make it his aim to seek out good, orthodox and holy men, and will give their names to Rome. But in Rome, these names will go before the Congregation for Bishops: and it is to be expected that one particular member of that dicastery might, unless the danger is spotted, be given a possibly disproportionate influence over English and Welsh appointments: could such a disproportionate influence, for instance, explain why Bishop Stack – whom Cardinal Cormac (a member of the Congregation, of course) had himself appointed an auxiliary bishop in the Westminster diocese – was appointed to Cardiff in the absence of a nuncio here?

It will be important that Cardinal Marc Ouellet, the new prefect of the Congregation for Bishops and another firm supporter of Pope Benedict, should be aware of such dangers; if he is, and if Archbishop Mennini’s clear vision for the future of the Church’s mission in this country is allowed to prevail, it really could be that we will, one sunny day, break free from the Babylonian captivity imposed by the secularising tendency which has too often seemed to characterise the leadership of the Church in this country.

  • Jeannine

    I wholeheartedly agree with you. Yet, one idea that may be missing in your piece is Pope Benedict’s continued relationship with his former students that may or might be influencing the various appointments. 

    As everyone knows, each summer Pope Benedict spends a few days (or weeks?) discussing theological ideas with some of his students, including Archbishop Schonborn & Fr Fesio. (Is there a former student who is English that might also attend these summer get-togethers?) I am not privy to such conversations but I’m sure they were discussing more than just theological concepts. 

  • Charles Martel

    Right, Archbishop Mennini, I have a recommendation for the next bishopric to fall vacant; Fr Tim Finigan. If you do that for us, we’ll know you mean business.

  • DBMcGinnity

    Dear Dr. Oddie

    It is always a pleasure to read your erudite and cogent presentation and in this case I accept the aspirations of Archbishop Mennini. In term so propagation of the faith how is this transformation going to be done? Let me make a pragmatic illustration of the problem that is within my experience. What the Archbishop is trying to achieve was already present in Ireland when I was a child where the church controlled virtually all education. The Influence with the Government was enormous, and disproportionate. In 1948 the coalition government led by John A. Costello at the behest of the Papal Nuncio Paschal Robinson and the Archbishop of Dublin, John Charles McQuaid.

    The President Sean T. O’Kelly sent the following message to Pius XII :
    “ We the Irish people desire to repose at the feet of Your Holiness the assurance of our filial loyalty and our devotion to your August person, as well as our firm resolve to be guided in all our work by the teachings of Christ and to strive for the attainment of a social order in Ireland based on Christian principles”. “ We the Irish people desire to repose at the feet of Your Holiness the assurance of our filial loyalty and our devotion to your August person, as well as our firm resolve to be guided in all our work by the teachings of Christ and to strive for the attainment of a social order in Ireland based on Christian principles”. Is it the Archbishop’s intention to have this sort of religious environment? If so. How can this be done? It makes me sad to assert that Ireland is no longer “a social order based on Christian principles”. The trillions of euros from the EC and the concomitant social affluence ensured that secularism thrived and “to be guided in all our work by the teachings of Christ” were well and truly diluted. Ireland has become, not a very nice place from a Catholic point of view. From my childhood perspective, Ireland never was a nice place for Catholics, and I remember Ireland as a place of enormous cruelty as, The Industrial Schools and Magdalene Laundries will attest.When I was at infants school, I clearly recall that the nuns had canes stuck in their belts like swords. They used to beat the boys on the hands, but beat the girls on their bare bottoms in front of everybody . What an act of humiliation for the girls to have their knickers pulled down and be beaten in front of everyone. At the Irish Christian Brothers school it was habitual for boys to be beaten with a leather strap on the least pretext. Some of the poorer boys were verbally insulted and humiliated about their attire or place of abode. The rich boys sat up in front of the class.How can this cruelty be consistent with the love of Jesus Christ. When I was ten, a Christian Brother announced that Our Lady had been ascended into heaven, body and soul. When I asked, how will she breathe? He hit me with his fist on the left side of my head and burst my ear drum. He did this with impunity and without conscience because he know that it was enshrined in the Irish Constitution (Bunreacht na hÉireann) that priests and clerics were immune from criminal prosecution. This Catholic outrage remained until the “Fifth Amendment of the Constitution Act, 1972”, which meant that the Roman Catholic church no longer had a special position in Irish life. Two important questions to be answered if Catholicism and Christianity is to survive. My son asked me both of these questions when he was ten. “If the resurrection of Jesus is true; then Jesus is still alive; if he is still alive where is he; why does he not cure the sick and raise the dead and help the poor, as he did on earth?If Our Lady ascended into heaven body and soul, then she too is still alive and well. Why does Mary not appear to the pilgrims at Lourdes, or better still why does she not greet them personally, because she is still alive and she could be present at Lourdes, as could Jesus. I could not give him a logical answer, and I told him that I did not know and that it was beyond logic and reason. I would like if Archbishop Mennini would answer these questions coherently and without avoidance or obfuscation or referring me to a catechism, or accusing me of heresy or, telling me that “my cup of ignorance runneth over”, or some witless, ignorant, facile rhetoric, that is common with some of the unsophisticated and poorly educated bloggers.  

  • DBMcGinnity

    Second attempt: Syntax errors. I set the text in logical paragraphs,  I do not know why the previous text is all bunched up. Dear Dr. OddieIt is always a pleasure to read your erudite and cogent presentation and in this case I accept the aspirations of Archbishop Mennini. In term so propagation of the faith how is this transformation going to be done? Let me Make a pragmatic illustration of the problem with my experience. What the Archbishop is trying to achieve was already present in Ireland when I was a child where the church controlled virtually all education. The Influence with the Government was enormous, and disproportionate. In 1948 the coalition government led by John A. Costello at the behest of the Papal Nuncio Paschal Robinson and the Archbishop of Dublin, John Charles McQuaid.The President Sean T. O’Kelly sent the following message to Pius XII : “ We the Irish people desire to repose at the feet of Your Holiness the assurance of our filial loyalty and our devotion to your August person, as well as our firm resolve to be guided in all our work by the teachings of Christ and to strive for the attainment of a social order in Ireland based on Christian principles”. Is it the Archbishop’s intention to have this sort of religious environment? If so. How can this be done? It makes me sad to assert that Ireland is no longer “a social order based on Christian principles”. The trillions of euros from the EC and the concomitant social affluence ensured that secularism thrived and “to be guided in all our work by the teachings of Christ” were well and truly diluted. Ireland has become, not a very nice place from a Catholic point of view. From my childhood perspective, Ireland never was a nice place for Catholics, and I remember Ireland as a place of enormous cruelty as, The Industrial Schools and Magdalene Laundries will attest.When I was at infants school, I clearly recall that the nuns had canes stuck in their belts like swords. They used to beat the boys on the hands, but beat the girls on their bare bottoms in front of everybody . What an act of humiliation for the girls to have their knickers pulled down and be beaten in front of everyone. At the Irish Christian Brothers school it was habitual for boys to be beaten with a leather strap on the least pretext. Some of the poorer boys were verbally insulted and humiliated about their attire or place of abode. The rich boys sat up in front of the class.How can this cruelty be consistent with the love of Jesus Christ. When I was ten, a Christian Brother announced that Our Lady had been ascended into heaven, body and soul. When I asked, how will she breathe? He hit me with his fist on the left side of my head and burst my ear drum. He did this with impunity and without conscience because he know that it was enshrined in the Irish Constitution (Bunreacht na hÉireann) that priests and clerics were immune from criminal prosecution. This Catholic outrage remained until the “Fifth Amendment of the Constitution Act, 1972”, which meant that the Roman Catholic church no longer had a special position in Irish life. Two important questions to be answered if Catholicism and Christianity is to survive. My son asked me both of these questions when he was ten. “If the resurrection of Jesus is true; then Jesus is still alive; if he is still alive where is he; why does he not cure the sick and raise the dead and help the poor, as he did on earth?If Our Lady ascended into heaven body and soul, then she too is still alive and well. Why does Mary not appear to the pilgrims at Lourdes, or better still why does she not greet them personally, because she is still alive and she could be present at Lourdes, as could Jesus. I could not give him a logical answer, and I told him that I did not know and that it was beyond logic and reason. I would like if Archbishop Mennini would answer these questions coherently and without avoidance or obfuscation or referring me to a catechism, or accusing me of heresy or, telling me that “my cup of ignorance runneth over”, or some witless, ignorant, facile rhetoric, that is common with some of the unsophisticated and poorly educated bloggers.

  • Weary Convert

    I have been waiting for the standard cleric-excusing riposte from Mr Oddie and the usual crowd but they have been very quiet on this one.  I wonder why? – though I can guess.

  • DBMcGinnity

    I mentioned before that it is a paradox to me, that those who claim of be most devout, are also the most obnoxious, insulting, uncharitable and unchristian. To be it would be so wonderful if those who disagreed with any point of view if they responded with logic and reason. Then there is an opportunity to reflect and meditate on their response, and perhaps learn to understand their premise. There are nine bloggers who are habitually antagonistic, using the most frightful prose, that denotes their lack of scholastic attainment. Please note; I deplore any form of intellectual arrogance and snobbery, but I am most intolerant of the witless ‘Smart Alec’ who misuses philosophy and theology to make a bad argument with aggressive and hostile overtones. This sort of Roman Catholic thuggery has been around for far too long. 

  • Parasum

    “I mentioned before that it is a paradox to me, that those who claim of
    be most devout, are also the most obnoxious, insulting, uncharitable and
    unchristian.”

    If we *were* “devout”, we might be a good deal kinder. *Zealous* people are unkind because great zeal is no proof of great charity. It’s possible to be zealous and uncharitable, though zeal at its best is also thoroughly charitable: but getting to that stage is a lifetime’s work. That does not make what you’ve noticed any less regrettable, obviously :(

  • Aunt Raven

    Let me offer one answer to your son’s questions –there are several correct answers, by the way, but each  depends on the point of view one takes of the question.  

    Jesus is alive in well in Heaven (glorious eternity, beyond time and space) in his ascended glorified body, and so is his Mother, Mary.  Jesus is also physically alive and well –body, blood, soul and divinity,  in the Blessed Sacrament, reserved on altars around the world.  But his glory there is deliberately hidden, so he does not frighten us with his power and overwhelming beauty–our eyes and minds would be as overwhelmed as Peter, James and John were at the Transfiguration–they fell flat on their faces when they saw him in glory!  

    The Church –in the true faithful, who try hard to live by the Gospel, even if they aren’t perfect — are really and truly the Body of Christ acting in history, in the here and now of daily life–ours, and everyone else’s. I takes faith to “see Christ” acting through another good person, but with prayer and wisdom, it is possible.  

    Whenever good people endure hardship, tragedy, or injustice without giving up hope, and forgiving their enemies ( they are really martyrs even if they don’t die in spectacular violence) –they are in fact showing the patience of Christ in his sufferings, and are being one with Him in his sacrifice to bring salvation to those who were/ are His enemies –remember, He said, “Love your enemies’” . Whenever good people fight injustice and win, they are doing the work of Christ to redeem secular society against the evil of selfish people and also the devil who just likes to wreck anything good, including society. 

     So we are one with Christ (and Christ is living in us, even though we can’t “feel it” when we show any kind of virtue or do any good deed, however small. But one sure clue that this is so is an interior peace, a sense of “rightness” in your life which has nothing to do with whether you are happy or sad–a kind of reassurance which comes because you know you are doing the right thing, even if you endure loss or sorrow. This is the effect of the Holy Spirit dwelling in your heart and soul, and St Paul calls it “The peace which surpasses all understanding.” You can also call it “a good / clear conscience.”       

    But pleasing God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, means having Faith:  believing spiritual reality even when you can’t see it. Faith has many levels: 1)  believing God exists, 2) believing and acting on what he says through scripture and Church teaching, and 3 trusting that He himself, as a person, loves and cares for you even when life seems very scary or confusing. 

     Jesus said, to Thomas, “You believe because you have seen; more blessed are those who have not seen, yet believe.”  If faith were easy, it wouldn’t be a virtue. 

    Jesus, being God, is everywhere; but If everybody could see Jesus incarnate in his Glorified form, faith wouldn’t be necessary! The Blessed Virgin Mary is present invisibly every place where people think of her or pray to her; –but if she visibly greeted everyone say, at places like Lourdes or Fatima, then people wouldn’t develop the character which comes from Faith. People obtain miracles by faith.   

    By the way, there are lots of miracles which take place at Lourdes and other similar holy places, but some miracles don’t happen immediately; they take place over time (many don’t know this). The miracles we get are those which are suited to our spiritual good –some need them quick, and some need them slower . ONly God knows which kind is best for a person. Some people would not be better off with a miracle–if they got it, it might actually harm them, so God listens to their prayer, but answers in a way other than a miracle.   And you also have to know that  some miracles are invisible, and are called miracles of grace:  because these change people inside for the better in ways people could never change themselves–like being cured of hatreds or addictions or grief.

    Lots of people experience miracles before the Blessed Sacrament too, though these are often given to people who have spent a lot of time just “Keeping Jesus company” quietly, and generally these miracles are not things they ask for themselves, but for others.  Quiet miracles that are often called “good luck” or unusual “happy coincidences.”  God likes to work quietly, and let those of faith recognize these quiet miracles, which we call “works of Divine Providence.”  

    But more times than you can imagine, Jesus or Mary DO appear to ordinary people !  The thing is, that usually these people don’t talk about it, because the circumstances are very, very personal and private and they don’t want other people to think that they are somehow “really holy”  when they know they’re just ordinary with ordinary faults they are still trying to overcome.  They’d be embarassed if othes misunderstood and called them “saints.” Usually when people see Jesus or Mary, it is to console them for some terrible sorrow or burden in their lives, 0r to strengthen their faith when they are at the end of their strength and their faith needs help.   And sometimes Jesus or Mary appear to a person to strengthen and prepare them for some great trial ahead of them, which will try their faith but which is somehow necessary for their good or for the good of others.   

    Either way, if you talk to a person who has seen Jesus or Mary in all their wonderful beauty, they will tell you that looking back after a long time, they realize that  it was because they had gone through, or were about to go through, some terrible but unavoidable suffering in their life.  God never burdens us with trials beyond our strength; we can always trust that.  But sometimes Jesus or Mary come visibly to make really sure we understand that.    

    I know many people who have nearly died who have seen Jesus, and they said he is so beautiful and kind that they were sorry they had to come back to this life –but they also knew they still had work to do to help others, and because this will please God, they really don’t mind returning, and sometimes share this experience with another when they think it will help their faith.  

    If you haven’t seen Our Lord or his Blessed Mother, it means you don’t need to –your ordinary faith is in good shape.  Just keep praying that your faith grows and matures through your life; and if you do, it will.  There are plenty of saints who never had visions or worked miracles during their lifetimes.  The Devil likes to call attention to himself –God is humble, and likes to keep a low profile, that’s why we don’t hear of spectacular miracles most of the time, even thought there are many hidden ones.   When they do come, it is to strengthen weak faith.  

    I hope this explanation helps a little.  LIke I said before, there are other good ways to answer this question, and other people will have other insights and ways of expressing it.    

  • Aunt Raven

    Jesus warned the Pharisees about this sort of attitude;  and he warned the ordinary good people not to be put off or discouraged by them. Some things never change, whether the Pharisees were 1st century Jews or 21st century Catholics ;-)   

     St Paul summed it up by saying, “Be not righteous overmuch.” That said, the gospels mention some holy Pharisees: Nicodemus, St Joseph of Aramithea. . . men of learning who were humble and whose faith was shown in action.