The Church is not here to appease the wider world or indeed, lay Catholics

It seems my blog on Wednesday about Charles Moore’s Telegraph article on the dearth of babies in the West and the economic consequences of this has caused the usual lively posts. To respond to “Mitsy”: I feel for the situation you describe, but the article, and my subsequent blog, was not about particular hard cases – which make bad law- but about the general demographic situation and government attitudes. There are two camps in this debate. When some people hear of a country’s birth-rate declining, they think “Good! More space for the rest of us. Less overload on natural resources.” When others hear about this incontrovertible phenomenon, they (and I am among their number) think: “This is bad news. Children are our future. Babies are the real wealth of a country” and so on. For Catholics, there is the added question: to follow the Gospel and be open to life – or not.

In response to “JByrne24”, who is sometimes tempted to make ad hominem remarks, I am not part of a Cambridge mafia alongside Charles Moore. He was at the university at least a decade after I was, and in my student days my political understanding focused (if it could even be dignified with the word “focus”) on protesting against the Vietnam War.

And many thanks to “Jabba Papa” who always stands up valiantly for Church teaching on these blogs; indeed, he has made it a (rather fiery) form of apostolate.

To follow on from that blog, I’ll draw attention to an article I read on LifeSiteNews. Written by Fr Timothy Sauppe and entitled, “You’ve contracepted our parochial school out of existence” it is one Illinois parish priest’s lament to his bishop, when asking permission to close the local Catholic school. He writes: “Bishop, it is with a heavy heart that I request this of you. As you know, priests were not ordained to be closing grade schools…The efficient cause is simple…no children. The first cause is the habitual contraception and sterilization mentality of a good portion of married Catholic Christians – in short, the Culture of Death. The final cause is the closure of Catholic Schools and parishes. Bishop, we need your leadership to address the contraception/abortion/sterilization mentality in as forceful a way as soon as possible.”

It is significant that Fr Sauppe uses the phrase “Culture of Death” not to lambast the wicked world outside, but to criticise married Catholics inside the Church who participate in this culture. The fact that he has to appeal to his local Bishop for “leadership” is very sad. Bishops, as George Weigel writes most forcefully in his new book, Evangelical Catholicism, are meant to lead their people to holiness by preaching and teaching the truth before anything else. What is the point, as Fr Sauppe indicates, of asking for money to keep the roof on a church when the congregation has gone? Do the bishops really believe the teaching of Humanae Vitae, Pope Paul VI’s encyclical on the sinfulness of artificial contraception? Their silence suggests they don’t – or that they feel so hopeless about the semi-secularised state of their congregations that they have decided the only thing to do is to “manage the decline”. But that is to acquiesce in the culture of death, not confront it head-on with the life-changing truth of the Gospel.

Fr Sauppe sounds heroic. He writes: “I have modestly preached against contraception and sterilization but for many of my parishioners it is too late…Some women don’t want to hear about [it]. They decide to go to other parishes where the pastor doesn’t prick their consciences.” Ironically, the loss of these parishioners will have hastened the closure of the parish school. The late Fr Hugh Thwaites SJ, well-known in the Catholic world in this country, had exactly the same response when he, too, had the courage to challenge his parishioners on the same question; they also went to other parishes where they felt more comfortable. But how “comfortable” does a Church have to get before it realises that it is called by Christ to be a sign of contradiction to the world?

Fr Sauppe confesses that he doesn’t have the answers as to how to revive “a dying parish or diocese.” Ordained for 20 years, he uses to think that “if I just preached the faith and celebrated a solemn Sunday Mass people would turn around.” But instead “of encountering joy and submission to the natural law and the Church’s teaching on human life and its dignity, I have found Catholic Christians either complacent or complicit with the Culture of Death.” Turning to the example of the Cure of Ars he suggests that priests (and bishops) should “fast, pray, eat potatoes for his sheep, his people” – that is, set a personal example of holy and ascetic living, alongside preaching, without waiting, as Cardinal Burke comments tellingly in the same article, “for the national bishops’ conference to take the lead.” This might sound a silly question: but what is the point of bishops’ conferences?