Monday, 3 September 2007

Part Five: The Road in Ruin...


I'm going to use an analogy which I'll call the Roman Road:
The War went on for millennia ; then our Saviour came and victory was ours...the way home was made clear - over the centuries all those seeking to return , to continue their long journey homeward were led towards a long road, straight and true, which led directly there...
it was well fortified and defended, it was always occupied with many thousands of travellers and companions all making the same journey ; enlightening, consoling, sharing all that they were and had...there were places of rest and refuge along the way, and in them we could regain our strength and determination to carry on and free ourselves from any unnecessary burdens and hear stories and inspirational poems and songs of long past travellers....

but darkness covered the land, local administrators , guardians of the road became negligent, lazy and indifferent to the safety of the travellers, signposts were torn down, lamp-posts were extinguished, regions of the road crumbled ,collapsed and fell into disrepair and became prone to bandit raids, towns and villages became cold and silent and laden with phantoms , to replace stone buildings mere shacks were erected, but few sought solace there - the laughing and singing rang hollow and less was talked about the journey or the way ahead and more about enjoying the now or the hovel in which they dwelled... the well known guides and community leaders hid themselves away most of the time, only emerging when it was deemed necessary for civic duty...previously where everyone knew either your name or was happy to make your aquaintance and become a friend and fellow traveller for life, more often there are secret people hidden in shadows, there are many orangeboxes along the road, upon each stands a scruffy individual telling everyone of shortcuts home, of sideroads which lead off the main road which are more comforting and secure...some declare that the road is no longer the way home, some shout that home is no longer there and we should stay put and make the best of it here...sometimes the braver innkeepers argue back or send these loudmouths away with a flea in their ear, but sometimes the innkeepers allow these renegades into their taverns with open arms and can be seen avidly discussing their ideas with the innkeeper in the backroom...
sometimes the travellers gather together to ask the town leader how they can continue on, do they have a map or directions...the town leader does not mention the older accurate maps but more recent local scribblings or sketches , even some he has made himself - which he is ready to give to anyone [for a modest fee of course!?]....want me to continue ? or are you depressed enough ?

let's be really honest;
the problem on a diocesan level is not that it is run badly by people of ill or misconceived will....
but that it is hardly being run by people of virtually no will at all !

To be blunt and 'analytical' : Dioceses are suffering from clinical depression...

Complacency, disillusionment, anxiety, fear, abject loneliness, despondency, denial of the real problems, no visible solutions, no hint of hope....

a few remedies are sought : hasty activity, making oneself too busy to contemplate what's wrong; making grand designs or schemes and putting all one's eggs in the one basket or risking everything with a single throw of the dice, then there is the seeking out of what people think is the problem - they ask among themselves and come to the conclusion that there is ;
a] nothing wrong - how could there be ? we're here!
b] something that needs to be done but it must be set off for the future because there aren't enough people or resources or we are too busy doing other things at the moment.
c] there was something that could have been done but now it's too late and we have made our bed now we have to lie in it and make do...
d] this is all part of a growing process, like birth pangs, the darkest hour before the dawn
e] we're already doing everything we can, we have already considered everything and it's all working wonderfully thankyou if only you'd allow us to get on with it and stop bothering us...

Ok, now imagine for some reason we have a new bishop who's been in a monastery most of his adult life and has no idea whatsoever what's facing him in his new diocese : what does he encounter?

Well for a start most of his authority within the diocese has been usurped from him !!? From Rome ? Of course not ! By his predecessor placing his own men in positions of authority ? No. Guess again...
Diocesan government has become riddled with 'quangos' ; most under the ostensible auspices of that dreaded behemoth known as the conference of bishops - education, RCIA, youth programmes, catechetical material in schools AND the diocesan representatives on those commissions, committees, quorums, clades, inner-rings [clerics or lay-people the bishop may personally loathe or consider a heretical reprobate]- they decide practically everything - even the movement of feast days , provincial timetables , a significant budget from the diocesan purse, etc , etc etc.. all the exigences which used to be within the sole remit of the bishop has been 'tendered out on a long-term lease'!!!

so the Bishop looks to his personnel ; and weeps...
the good people ? the effective, orthodox, holy men ? well there are a few but they are stuck clinging to their parts of the diocese for grim death trying to keep them into a coherent semi-functioning machine - simply none of them can be moved except maybe slid across to a larger more encumbent parish to replace the bloody useless ,if not dangerous or mentally unstable ones, some will be sick and elderly and incapable of doing anything more than they are possibly doing now, in fact for a few charity demands that some of their burden should be removed...
of the rest ?
well there will be a handful of priests going through a severe mid-life crisis - they will be in trouble, crisis of faith, mental exhaustion, deep feelings of all the things I've mentioned in previous postings, and for some they will have been up to less than a modal priestly behaviour.
The youngsters ? half of these priests are bleeding useless - they don't know what they're doing, they don't believe in half of what they're doing and most of the time they do as little as possible anyway or they're trying to find any excuse in the book to get out of doing what they are supposed to be doing....
some of the priests in the diocese will already be working to a diferent agenda and trying to impose it upon the diocese - the 'professional' clerics of the quangos, together with their covens of laity. the bishop either submits fully, attempts to waylay them or sidetrack their authority, or commences a long drawn out war of attrition attempting to regain his power and authority back from them...
there will be the odd tin pot tyrant who needs either kicked out of his post, or put out to pasture or merely deprived of a few of his more capable assistant priests who are being too well moulded into his image and likeness; and a few positions of power may need to be taken away from him too...
there will be a few surprisingly capable priests who are imply not being used to their full abilities ? why? diocesan politics - maybe they just don't fit in, or have made enemies in the wrong places or are just unwilling to conform to certain other people's agenda, and sometimes through just sheer negligence and oversightedness....
but within the majority ? who are the ones readily available for promotion ?

of course there are nominal jobs of little import these days as their roles are simply not used or implemented - things like 'vicars of clergy', deans [deanery structure is a joke!] ,boundary commissioner ,archivists etc - anyone can have these as they mean very little - there are the diocesan finances which are the main import so there will only be a select few capable of these anyway...
but the rest ? the bishops secretaries? the chancellors? vicar general ? the deans of the cathedral ? vocations director , canonical lawyers etc... well, unless the bishop is willing to go against the grain and pick the best for the job [something that normally only happens infrequently now, the bishop's secretary is mainly the priest the bishop loathes the least - the vicar general ? the least offensive or antagonistic , the vocations director ? the young charismatic priest...as well as that there will be a few positions that have to be filled with certain people 'expected' to get the job...] - so unless the bishop is willing to compromise some other aspect of the running of the diocese, he is compelled to pick from a select bunch :

these are invariably the ones whom the bishop can afford not to have have on the front line in the major parishes, the ones least likely to be boatrockers, the bland , the mediocre, the clever but not too clever [even though they may be ostensibly academic and may have had a couple of books or articles published - in this scenario intelligence has nothing to do with wisdom - and a bishop doesn't want any too wise in such positions - they'd be much better in a big parish] , the ones trained more as administrators or accountants, the ones with a head for business or are experienced with liaison with all the quangos but aren't part of the system, the paper shuffler, the inoffensive, the academic who did their licence in something worthwhile like canon law...
the non-entity who has just been around for such a long-time....the ones with 'links' to people in the know....

so regrettably the administration is run by the second-raters with a few non-raters thrown in and a couple of "I'd love to sack them now but I dare not - they're better inside the tent widdling out..." types...
there maybe the odd 'clerical celebrity' too - one famous for their being a member of some quango or commission or for writing something - whatever - they assume the authority by popular assent among the 'professionals' and it's better to go with the flow , even if you think they're either useless, just plain wrong, or responsible for the end of civilization as we know it !!

But have you noticed one thing?
I haven't mentioned a single thing regarding what the priest believes, how he acts, or how well he has integrated his priesthood into his pastoral life - why ? because the majority of the time when considering people for positions of authority and responsibility in a diocese it's an irrelevance !!! Unless the bishop directly goes out of his way to ensure it happens !
And a lot of the time the price is too high for the diocese and its structural integrity if the bishop chooses the best as his closest associates.

So what happens ?
when it comes to the choice of the next bishops ? among whom do the conference of bishops, the papal nuncios etc look to recommend ?
well whom do they know ?
who have they encountered?
who is 'sound' according to their agenda?
who is popular ?


you see here is the bitterest , deepest irony of them all...this is the age of the internet, the wi-fi, the blackberry, the mobile phone, the fax, video conferencing - you name it ...
this is supposed to be a global village...

would you be surprised to learn that the majority of clerics simply NEVER interact with each other except on the most major of diocesan occasions - some priest in the same town or city in neighbouring parishes may never speak to each other from one year to the next, the majority of priests in a diocese have neither had a decent conversation or any reasonable encounter with half of the rest of the diocesan priests - it's incredible ! it's ludicrous - but more than that it is highly morally disordered....

but this is the breeding ground for our new bishops...
and in such a stagnant pond how do you expect anything to truly flourish ?
sometimes the Holy Spirit works its way round human will and gets the right people in the right position, but all too often we get um...well?

This has been the worst written of all of these, and i apologise for it because it was written at lightning speed and with little real composing - but I'll sum up what i'm really trying to say in the next one, which should hopefully be online in a couple of hours...

6 comments:

gemoftheocean said...

Oh. My. Someone's been reading too much Oswald Spengler. Go play miniature golf or something. You'll feel better. If you want to change the world around you...start with YOU. Every age has faced its own challenges, things aren't going to get better as far as avoiding challenges. It's up to you to make the most of the opportunities, because wherever there is a "challenge" it's an opportunity to improve.

Things won't ever be 100% right, but just do the best you can. No reason why life on this earth has to be a hell-hole.

As far as:
"so the Bishop looks to his personnel ; and weeps...
the good people ? " Personally,
I would worry about a guy who stands around looking at his personnel, weeping, wringing his hands. He has more power than most to "change things." Start by saying some prayers and lighting a few candles that the man grows a pair.

On the side of the angels said...

Sorry , but you're wrong ; and one of the reasons I was asked this question was because of the state of British catholic dioceses...
This isn't some spengler toynbee pessimistic cyclical depiction - this is stating what is...
Yes, ages used to address challenging situations and crises; but not the people of today - they are running and hiding - akin to people suffering from clinical depression...

You simply aren't listening to what is being relayed; rather you respond with trite platitudes like 'change yourself first' and 'he should grow a pair' asp grasping the opportunity.
It's like shaking a mother with post-natal depression and saying 'pull yourself together!'

How are these people going to sort things out on their own ? primarily most aren't exactly aware that anything is wrong, if they are aware they most assuredly have no idea where the problem is or the root cause of the problem and they sure as hell have no idea regarding a solution!!!

we've gone beyond the stage of merely sending in 'a few good men' to sort out the problem; knock a few heads together, kick a few reprobates out and start training and educating the well-meaning but ignorant - we're not talking about an illness we can treat with bedrest,surgery , exercise or a course of antibiotics...

we're talking about a second catholic reformation - more than a century of long-term reforms reminiscent of Trent whereby we practically have to start again from the ground up...

how can we preach the gospel when there are millions of priests and lay catholics out there who simply do not know what church dogma or doctrine or morality or praxis is !?
across the globe catholicism has been twisted, altered, ignored, dismissed, abused to imply the diammetrically opposite view, compromised to ingratiate itself with the secular society, humiliating itself by adopting 'spirit of the age' fads or sentiments...

and please don't forget, we no longer have the back-up system of the millennium old repositories of faith in the abbeys and monasteries that Trent needed to implement the counter reformation.
Nor do we have the loyalty of millions...rather every country has a few thousand mini-churches
in the minds of seletive cliques , inner rings, communities or even individuals - catholicism is turning more and more into divisive baptist Chapters...and no more so than in the US !
In the meantime I was asked about the british situation and how I've experienced it over the past few decades - we're in a lot of trouble - to the extent of not just disenfranchisemnet of millions of catholics but the virtual disintegration of catholicism on the british mainland within two generations where all that will be left are hundreds of empty churches being converted into luxury apartments, localised oases of the faith in the cities and thousands of square miles where catholcism is a sheer wilderness with tiny ageing watering holes of ineffectual well-meant lamenting for times past...

gem, if you sincerely think that the US doesn't have this problem because of the high church attendance I think you should consult the latest sociological and ethological studies regarding morality - catholics in the US are increasingly prone to using their religion as a form of socialising and separatist self-identity ; this externalising is prejudicial and detrimental and leads to a form of vindictive retributional reactive morality which is utterly contrary to catholic teaching...
just beause catholic attendance is still arbitrarily consistent - it doesn't mean that catholicism is thriving or even passing through generations - what's more likely is secularised ritual church attendance with a hint of religiosity as a form of social mores. The previously intrinsic religiosity found in the catholic churches throughout the US is being replaced with an extrinsic irreligious secularity where personal forms of cafeteria catholicism replace authentic doctrine and morality - gaining mutual support by the collective mentalities of like minded socialisers. We're in trouble because of our rapid decline in attendance and our poorly trained priests - the US is in rapid decline because the attenders are being corrupted and neglected by poorly trained priests

To resort to the american vernacular, wake up and smell the coffee !!

gemoftheocean said...

Oh, I am very aware of all the social dislocations. And rather than think of US catholic church attendance as "high" I think of it as "low" -- it used to be around 75% of Catholics attended weekly Sunday Mass.

All I am saying is: look for the positive and build on it. It is a platitude, but none the less true that a 1000 mile journey begins with a single step. Take the step.

And expect things to take time. Things didn't go to hell in a handbasket overnight - they're not going to be cured overnight either.

On the side of the angels said...

gem, I understand your sentiments; and I applaud them but things can only be repaired/cured/reformed if people see the problem and understand what the problem is, how it became a problem, and the fundamental why it needs fixing and why we're able to fix it by applying that which we know to be loving, moral and true !!

you can only fight ignorance by shouting the Truth from the rooftops in the right way...not by hoping that things will get better on their own...

gemoftheocean said...

And yes, Angels, you are right in that people have to admit there are problems, because if you don't acknowledge anything is wrong, then you can't fix what ails.

But it is also so easy to get overwhelmed by it all, then you can get trapped into analysis paralysis and do nothing - which is always a danger. Perfectionists can be like that - oftentimes people who procrastinate tend to be in the perfectionist camp, and end up doing not as much as they could have "Waiting for the perfect wave" so to speak.

I'm just saying bite off a piece you can chew and "go for it." It seems to me you would be very good at apologetics. Are there any groups in the UK where you could help in that area? [Or any other area like that?] You have a lot to give and offer and it's apparent you're clicking on two cylinders when you've got eight under the hood. [Or in your case, bonnet.]

When things get rough [and you feel these things acutely, because you are smarter than most] it's always best to remember that not only did Peter and the apostles have nothing but the sandals on their feet and the clothes on their backs to go on with. Most of us won't face being crucified upside down. So build on what you have, and give it your best shot.

A priest I knew once said "if you never made a mistake, you never made anything" - and I think he's right.

BTW, you are much berter looking when you smile. I'm sure your wife would agree! "Smiling" picture works better than "pouty" picture.

Emma Peel said...

The man can't help the pout