If we accept the thrust of the argument in Friday’s post (which seems to have garnered a great many re-tweets, for which thanks to those who did so), the question arises, what, if anything, is to be done?
It is no accident that many of those most alarmed at recent events in Rome are converts. Many of us (for I am one myself) came to the Rock that is Rome as the one secure place in the shifting sands. Some wonder whether Orthodoxy is an option? As one who took that option but went on to cross the Tiber, I am a bad person to ask. I found much to admire and love in the Orthodox tradition, but it is not mine, and I found the ethnic aspects distracting. Moreover, whilst in the countries of its strength, Orthodoxy tends not to encounter the problems with liberalism which we have in the West, those of us in the West know it is encountering them here; you can run, as they say, but you cannot hide.
To those, and there are such, who say ‘leave the Church of Rome’, I would say what Peter said: “Lord, to whom shall we go? Thou hast the words of eternal life?” The Church stands eternal on the Rock of Peter’s faith, and neither preachy Popes, sophistical Jesuits and the forces of ACTA, are going to shift it. This is hardly the first time in its history that the Church has faced existential threats, and there is no point being a Christian soldier and fleeing at the note of the last trump! There are, as the debates over the Synod has shown, myriads of faithful Catholics, not least among our Cardinalate and the episcopacy; and it may well be that at times it is easy to exaggerate the number of unorthodox ones.
What would not be helpful would be to engage with those on the ‘change’ side of the debate in the way some of them have engaged with conservatives. We know their mantra – ‘hard hearts’, want of ‘mercy’, too much concentration on ‘the law’, ‘Pharisaism’ – and we know how how we react to those words; there is no reason to suppose that the other side will be any more converted from their position than we are if we respond in kind. We are to love the sinner, even as we hate the sin, and we are to be mindful that we are sinners too. We no more own the Church than do those whom we oppose – we are all its children, and we all err and stray, and we shold beware the spiritual pride which can come from seeing ourselves as defenders of orthodoxy – it was such who rejected the Chalcedonian definition of the two natures, and it was such who rejected language about hypostases because such language was unknown from the Bible. Whilst, as I argued on Friday, and others have argued, the laity have a place in discussing such matters, so too do trained theologians, and as we get into some of the more intricate aspects of Christology and other dogma, it is as well to have the humility to acknowledge that.
It seems a good rule to me that when in doubt, ask what the Church has always done and stick with it. The temptations to personal infallibility are many, and it is surprising that so many who say they believe in the Fall, succumb to them when it comes to the Faith.
Let me conclude with a confession of my own. Unlike so many who have crossed the Tiber, I am unconvinced by the arguments against women priests, they seem, and have always seemed, embedded in a gendered sense of identity which is, itself, time-bound. But, be that as it may, who am I to put my thoughts against the universal opinion of the Church until yesterday? The same is the case with regard to the process of annulments, where I welcome anything which makes it quicker to discern the answer to the question of whether a marriage was ever valid. Here, it seems, the Church is happy to move in that direction; on the question of the ordination of women, the answer is no. As a Catholic, it is my duty to accept both sets of decision, and not to insist that in some way I am right. That is true of us all.