“The mega-scandal of sex abuses by Catholic priests has not helped…”
Does this not seriously understate the impact of the Catholicism’s (ongoing) sexual and child abuse scandals?
Existing Catholic congregations seem to have developed a remarkable ability to ‘look the other way’ as the global scale of the problem and the ineffectual (at best) nature of the hierarchy have become apparent. The whole scene looks very different and far more hazardous, though, to someone on the outside who might contemplate either joining individually or exposing young people towards whom they have a responsibility to the tender mercies of the Catholic clergy.
The unraveling of this whole story over the past two decades has surely driven a wrecking ball through whatever the Catholic church’s prospects of expanding due to ‘modern’ practices elsewhere might have been. As we can see from the lack of even a trickle of people switching.
From Catholicism’s perspective this whole story looks like remaining one big ‘might have been’.
See our news story on the Abbey service
“Curiously, the reason given for this position was not that the Church of England had ceased to stand in “apostolic succession” after Henry VIII severed it from Rome in his noble project of legitimizing his occupancy of Anne Boleyn’s bed…” (Peter Berger)
I suspect that Professor Berger knows perfectly well that his snarky comment about Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn is misleading. It perpetuates the popular stereotype that the entire English reformation was based on little more than Henry’s desire to ditch his wife, Catherine of Aragon, to take up with a younger, prettier woman who popular culture today has concluded must have been a sex crazed nymph. The only problem is that the popular understanding isn’t historically accurate; the English reformation was about far more than Henry VIII’s raging hormones.
There are numerous reasons that the English reformation actually occurred. First, there were legitimate questions about Henry’s marriage to Catherine. As Professor Berger must know, before Catherine and Henry were married, Catherine was married to Henry’s older brother (who died). Because Catherine almost certainly consummated her marriage to Henry’s brother there is a legitimate question about whether the marriage was permitted under canon law and whether the pope had the right to waive canon law to permit Henry and Catherine’s marriage. It should also be pointed out that Henry was only 15 when he was married off to Catherine (who was considerably older than he was) and that the marriage was solely designed to cement the English alliance with Spain. Of course, dynastic marriages such as this were not uncommon.
Secondly, the English reformation was motivated by the extraordinary abuses of English commoners by priests and bishops. Not only was their property stolen by the ecclesiastical authorities, but the Church authorities practiced a virtual reign of terror over the English populace punishing and even executing them at will for the most minor religious infractions. Ecclesiastical courts ran amok and were not checked in any way by civil authorities. In certain ways the situation in England in the 16th century was similar to what we are witnessing today in Sharia courts in Muslim nations like Shia Iran and Sunni Saudi Arabia.
Most importantly, Henry’s desire to divorce Catherine and marry Anne was motivated by his desire for a male heir which Catherine never gave him (both the sons born to Catherine and Henry died at a very young age; their only child to survive was Mary).
By modern standards this may seem bizarre but it is important to remember that within the memories of many Englishmen, England had recently experienced a horrendous and bloody civil war, the War of the Roses, that resulted from the lack of clarity about the appropriate heir to the throne. Because no one contemplated the possibility of a female monarch, Henry and all of England was extremely anxious for a male heir to the throne. Henry’s desire to divorce Catherine, who at the time of the divorce could no longer have children, was almost certainly motivated by his desire for a son, not his desire to get into Anne’s bed. In case it hasn’t occurred to Professor Berger, Henry could almost certainly have gotten into Anne’s bed and the beds of plenty of other women without actually marrying them. Ironically, after his death, the reign of Henry’s son, Edward VII was very short because he died at the age of 15. Henry was eventually succeeded by three daughters ; first Jane who served for only 9 days and was eventually beheaded at the order of her sister Mary, then Mary and finally Elizabeth. These were the first female monarchs England had ever known.
Some of Berger’s readers may be unfamiliar with this history and Berger does them a disservice by suggesting that the English reformation was motivated by little more than the King’s desire for sexual escapades.
Readers wanting to learn more about this should read two books by the great British historian J.A. Froude (both are available for the kindle). The books are entitled “The Divorce of Catherine of Aragon” and “The Reign of Mary Tudor.”
Froude writes brilliantly. He is clearly pro-Protestant and anti-Catholic, but his books provide an accurate and entertaining rendition of what really happened.
“It is doubly dubious in the case of the Church of England. Who was left after Henry VIII executed bishops who refused to acknowledge him as head of that church, after Queen Mary executed those who had, and Queen Elizabeth I did away with those who wanted to stick with Mary’s project to return to the church’s allegiance to Rome? I suppose that diligent historians could find a couple of bishops who survived these massacres—probably masters of the art of accommodation.”
Berger’s allusion to “masters of the art of accommodation” reminded me of the Vicar of Bray’s song that I first learned about in Walter Russell Mead’s book, “God and Gold.” It goes like this,
In good King Charles’s golden days,
When Loyalty no harm meant;
A Zealous High-Church man I was
And so I gain’d Preferment.
Unto my Flock I daily Preach’d,
Kings are by God appointed,
And Damn’d are those who dare resist,
Or touch the Lord’s Anointed.
When Royal James possest the crown,
And popery grew in fashion;
The Penal Law I shouted down,
And read the Declaration:
The Church of Rome I found would fit
Full well my Constitution,
And I had been a Jesuit,
But for the Revolution.
When William our Deliverer came,
To heal the Nation’s Grievance,
I turn’d the Cat in Pan again,
And swore to him Allegiance:
Old Principles I did revoke,
Set conscience at a distance,
Passive Obedience is a Joke,
A Jest is non-resistance.
When Royal Ann became our Queen,
Then Church of England’s Glory,
Another face of things was seen,
And I became a Tory:
Occasional Conformists base
I Damn’d, and Moderation,
And thought the Church in danger was,
From such Prevarication.
When George in Pudding time came o’er,
And Moderate Men looked big, Sir,
My Principles I chang’d once more,
And so became a Whig, Sir.
And thus Preferment I procur’d,
From our Faith’s great Defender
And almost every day abjur’d
The Pope, and the Pretender.
The Illustrious House of Hannover,
And Protestant succession,
To these I lustily will swear,
Whilst they can keep possession:
For in my Faith, and Loyalty,
I never once will faulter,
But George, my lawful king shall be,
Except the Times shou’d alter.
And this is law, I will maintain
Unto my Dying Day, Sir.
That whatsoever King may reign,
I will be the Vicar of Bray, Sir!
“The whole scene looks very different and far more hazardous, though, to someone on the outside who might contemplate either joining individually or exposing young people towards whom they have a responsibility to the tender mercies of the Catholic clergy.”
Yet, does that same process occur to those about to enroll their children in public school, boy scouts, the league of the militant godless, etc?
The sex abuse was horrific and inexcusable. But its scale was overblown by the media.
As Phillip Jenkins said:
“my research of cases over the past 20 years indicates no evidence whatever that Catholic or other celibate clergy are any more likely to be involved in misconduct or abuse than clergy of any other denomination—or indeed, than non-clergy. However determined news media may be to see this affair as a crisis of celibacy, the charge is just unsupported.”
I recommend his “Pedophiles and Priests: Anatomy of a Contemporary Crisis” and “The New Anti-Catholicism: The Last Acceptable Prejudice”