Pope John Paul II has just celebrated 25 years in the chair of St Peter. Even his greatest enemies in the Western media have sensed that this tireless pilgrim for Christ may, in due time, be accorded that rare accolade ‘The Great’. Nevertheless, this had not stopped them downplaying his achievements and using the anniversary as a splendid opportunity to attack the Catholic faith.
In the vanguard of these critics was the mouthpiece of the liberal agnostic ascendancy, the British Broadcasting Corporation. Panorama, its flagship programme, devoted its week to a rant about the wickedness of Catholic teaching on contraception. Filming squalor in Third World countries it all but accused the Pope of personal responsibility for human misery and death.
That such sights could be filmed in many, many places where Catholic teaching is not observed is just stating the obvious – something the BBC felt quite unable to do. The cowards who produced this propaganda, while enjoying state subsidy courtesy of our taxes, purport to be genuinely concerned about human suffering and to present an objective, balanced and factual view. It is, let us not forget, the same Corporation that has regularly refused to allow the anti-abortion parties to have their legal right, at election time, to 5 minutes air time to expose the suffering of the unborn. Journalistic ‘compassion’, it would seem, has more to do with politics than with people.
While being a major offender the BBC is not alone. The Pope’s tragedy, of course, is to have preached Christian moral discipline on human sexuality to a disordered and disobedient society. That he has, almost singlehandedly, given order and meaning to the Second Vatican Council’s teaching, so rapidly unravelling under Paul VI, is not denied. That he was the heart of the Polish anvil on which the cruel hammer of dehumanizing Marxism finally shattered is grudgingly acknowledged. That he has sought to heal the wounds of Christendom as both penitent and pastor is, as yet, but dimly understood. That he has reached out across the great divides to the other heirs of Abraham (and beyond)
is a fact significant beyond our time. That he has fought tirelessly for peace and for the oppressed against the philosophies of materialism may not be fully appreciated. He has done all this from a body shattered by gunshot and crippled by illness. He has done all this with a vision of the love of Christ for the salvation of his people.
None of this matters much to the moral dwarves of the Western media. Immersed in a society destructively self-obsessed with its own sexuality, they see only an old man telling them what they can or cannot do in bed and with whom. As the Pope will be all too aware, a society that sees everything through the focus of its genital functions is a civilization whose days are numbered. Catholic teaching, in all its fullness, is the first, last and only hope of redemption.
There are difficulties in editing a monthly periodical.
By the time you read this – unless the second coming has intervened, as the Presiding Bishop cynically remarked – Gene Robinson will have been consecrated bishop before an audience variously estimated at between four and six thousand, and with half the bishops of the Episcopal Church in attendance. It will also be fairly clear what reaction this event will have provoked around the Communion.
So what are we to say now? Should we tacitly wait or should we chance our arm? What will be the fall-out? The question is not as difficult as it seems. Robinson’s consecration is perfectly timed: it is, as the Conference title proclaimed, ‘Halfway to Lambeth’.
We predict that there will be no major fracture in worldwide Anglicanism and that primates and bishops will settle down to a grudging acceptance that the richest province of the Communion can effectively do what it wants (and that Canada can come in on its coat tails). A gay man or two taking part in the ‘spouses programme’ of Lambeth 2008 will seem as unremarkable as the appearance of women
bishops at 1998. Jeffrey John will by then have been Dean of somewhere for a long time. As a respected theological consultant to the 2008 Conference he will be in an obvious position for further preferment.
The dynamic of the Anglican Communion is so well-established that all this can be predicted with some confidence. By tradition what is excoriated at one Lambeth is embraced at the next. And Rowan, whose intentionally emollient but largely incomprehensible speech at Lambeth 1998 was a major part of the strategy, will get most of the credit. He will have ‘held the Communion together’. And, of course, by then, he will have an English woman bishop on his arm (or in the bag). Smiles all round, we would say.
What then is the future for American conservatives? It is, we fear, a sad prospect.
New Directions would rejoice to see robust action which would unite conservative forces within and beyond ECUSA, establishing an orthodox Anglican presence which would look for its guidance and salvation to the great churches of East and West. But we are not holding our breath. The internal divisions of American conservatives over women’s ministry (and the endemic persistence of divorce and re-marriage among clergy and laity alike) make such an eventuality unlikely. They will huff and they will puff; but they will not blow the house down; nor (more’s the pity) will they succeed in building a new one for themselves.
The orthodox in the west of England are in good heart. They filled Bristol Cathedral this summer and Truro Cathedral this autumn for large festivals. The autumn also saw another wonderful celebration. The parish church of St Paul’s, Charlestown, was filled for Fr Douglas Jago’s seventieth anniversary of priesting! At 95 Fr Jago’s extraordinary faithfulness and very active ministry exemplify one of the great gifts of our church – our retired priests. In offering our congratulations to Fr Jago, we salute and thank you all.