Thursday, 5 June 2014

Thy Mercy on Thy People, Lord!

I was hoping to write something more on apologetics stuff today, then I read this story. (Trigger Warning: The article discusses some pretty disturbing stuff) I don't particularly want to comment on it, but I feel like I have to.

I'm (obviously) Catholic. I also belong to the school of thought within the Church that could broadly be described as traditionalist. I prefer, when possible, to worship according to the pre-Vatican II liturgical forms, I try to observe other, traditional forms of discipline like meatless Fridays, and I regard the way in which most of the old orders of nuns abandoned the habit is one of the great cultural tragedies of human history.

We traditionalists have a tendency to get awfully nostalgic about "the good old days" before the council when the mass was in Latin, nuns wore habits and everyone knew what a good Catholic was supposed to believe and do. I can even remember one well-meaning friend of mine posting on FaceBook a comment to the effect that all the Church's problems started with the new mass and, if we had only stuck with the mass in Latin, all would be well in the Catholic World.

Except, as this story makes clear, the good old days were not really all that good. Now, don't get me wrong, I would not wish to replace one caricature of a Catholic golden age with an equally false caricature of some terrible dark age. I'm sure that the first six decades of the last century were, like every era of human history, an era of saints and sinners, an era when many people tried their best  to do the right thing, sometimes successfully, sometimes not.

But we need to be honest. A Church in which injustices of this kind could happen is a Church in which something was horribly wrong. In his classic novel "A Tale of Two Cities", Charles Dickens, while certainly no fan of the French Revolution, warned against the tendency to speak of the Revolution as if it had somehow come out of nowhere, as if the indifference of the nobility to the sufferings had done nothing to create circumstances ripe for such a revolt.

In a similar way, we Catholics, when we complain about the state of the world and the Church, when we decry increasing numbers of ordinary Catholics not listening to what the Church says, when we find ourselves in a situation where the culture around us is increasingly hostile to the Church and our message, we need honesty about the ways in which the Church we love has brought this judgement upon herself.

In some ways, the revelations in this story are nothing new. We already knew that the Catholic culture of the time, in Ireland at least, was one in becoming an unwed mother was treated as an unforgivable crime. We knew the way that, in addition to visiting these gross punishments upon women, the Church added stigma to the innocent children of such women.

Now, we discover that, in addition to stigmatising such innocents, it seems that children were malnourished to the point of death and then, there dead bodies were treated in a way that showed a horrific lack of respect for human dignity.

I have to pause and wonder about the "good Catholic folk" who created and sustained such a culture. I'm sure these people, at least some of them, read the Gospels, they surely all heard the Gospels preached to them at mass. They must surely have heard Christ's warning "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others." (Matt 23:23). Did none of them pause to reflect on the way in which the culture they were reinforcing perfectly fitted Christ's description?

Catholics, but especially traditional ones, need to accept the sobering reality of the past and the sins of the Church. And we need to call upon Our Lord for His mercy.

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