If I was Pope…

At the start of my post on 18th March 2019, I wrote this,

Over the weekend, I met a very dear friend for a coffee and amongst other things we talked about Catholicism. Two topics that we covered were what changes I would make to the Church if I could – I will come back to this in an upcoming post…

Here is that post.

I like the Extraordinary Form of the Mass. It is complimented by the Novus Ordo Mass
I like the Novus Ordo Mass. It is complimented by the Extraordinary Form of the Mass.

If I had my way, I would introduce a programme of complete liturgical reform that would lead to all priests being able to celebrate Mass in both the Extraordinary and Novus Ordo form. I would require each and every parish to celebrate the Extraordinary Form at least once a week whether or not any parishioner asked for it.

This is what should have happened after Vatican II rather than Catholics being forced to write to the Pope to ask permission to continue celebrating the Extraordinary Form. It should never have been like that. The Extraordinary Form should never have been so marginalised (or maybe even replaced but that’s another matter). This has led it to being politicised leading, I believe, many people to oppose not it but what they think it stands for.

I would also restore all the Holy Days to their proper place, promote the corporate and individual praying of Lauds and Vespers, the practice of confession – the beginning of a restoration of a Catholic identity in daily life.

During the Punic Wars, Cato the Elder ended every speech with this statement: Carthago delenda est – Carthage must fall; if I had my way, I would begin every homily with this question: Are we loving fully?

The answer will always be ‘no’ because unlike God we are not love. If I had my way, therefore, I would ask Catholics to think about how they love and how they might love more. When I say ‘Catholics’ I mean all Catholics – lay and clerical and all inbetween. In fact, I would bring representatives from every group together to discuss the matter. This is because I believe we are not currently listening to the Holy Spirit enough.

Whenever a Catholic, probably liberal/progressive, speaks out in favour of something that accords with secular thinking, you can be sure that another Catholic, probably a traditionalist/orthodox one, will say that this shows that their confrère has succumbed to the thinking of the age.

It’s quite possible that they have, but also possible that the Holy Spirit is speaking to the Church from outside because she has become deaf to His voice from within. For this reason, the liberal/progressive Catholic needs to be listened to just as much as the traditionalist/orthodox Catholic.

I believe this deafness of the Church is currently happening in at least one respect – that of the Church’s theology regarding LGBTQ+ people and relationships.

If something is sinful, the bitter fruits of that sin should be clear to see; the wages of sin, after all, are death. So, for example, if one is a thief, the bitter fruit of that sin is the hurt caused to the people from whom one steals; if one supports a far right or far left political party, the bitter fruit of that sin is the hurt caused to the people one must put down in order to achieve the party’s objectives.

As I look at LGBTQ+ people, however, and especially those in relationships, I see no sinfulness: I see no one getting hurt but one person or two people growing in each other. It is a beautiful thing.

The orthodox response to this would be that the bitter fruit of their disordered desire and sinful relationship is spiritual death. Well, I can only say that it is a very curious thing that what is spiritually bad can lead to a physical and psychological good.

If I could bring representatives of all Catholic groups together to discuss how they love, and how they might love more, I would ask them to prayerfully consider that the Holy Spirit is calling us to regard the fact and love of LGTBQ+ people in a new, positive, way.

One last thing on this point, it goes without saying that this meeting would be grounded in scripture. I’m not interested in emotionalism. Looking at what Scripture has to say is all the more important because it contains the (in)famous ‘clobber’ passages. Nothing can change unless new light can be shed on them.

In addition to this, I would invite the bishops to Rome to discuss the Culture of Life and ask them to come back in a year and tell me what they had done to promote this ethic from cradle to grave. Then, I would ceaselessly promote it – partly because it is worth promoting but also as a riposte to all those who think that the Catholic Church only care about stopping abortion and not what happens afterwards.

End the Culture of Silence and Shame
Further to the above – I could walk into a church and easily have a conversation with another layman or with a priest during which I admitted, ‘Yes, I can be very impatient’ or ‘I sometimes feel a temptation to hurt those I don’t like.’ We might laugh about it but certainly we would move on.

It would not be so easy, however, to tell another Catholic, priest or layman, that I was gay, bisexual, or a lesbian etc. Especially if I held any kind of official role within the Church up to, and most certainly including, that of the priesthood.

This is unacceptable. In the first place, the Church does not regard simply being gay (in the broadest interpretation of the word) as sinful; how can we be in a situation, therefore, where sins can be casually admitted but a state of being can’t?

Of course, the matter isn’t as easy as that: the Church regards same sex attraction as a ‘disorder’. That is not going to encourage me to tell anyone that I am gay/bi/lesbian etc; but the whole reason we are in the Church to begin with is because we are all disordered in some way or another. The whole point of being a Christian is to confess it, receive God’s mercy and grace, and grow.

The Catholic Church should be a place where we can be open about ourselves and the meaning of things. The Church should be a place for light; in many respects, she is, but she is also a place of shadows where laypeople and ordained are forced to hide from their spiritual brothers and sisters. This is a wickedness for which anyone who helps perpetuate it will have to answer to God. We need more light!

The Vatican
If I had my way I would make the Vatican more transparent in how it conducts its affairs, then more transparent, then more transparent after that. I would not stop until it was a world leader in transparency – a model for the governments of the world to look up to. It simply isn’t acceptable for the Church to be anything else.

Generally speaking, the Vatican needs to be more open. So much trust in the Church has been lost by the various sex abuse scandals that we have now reached the point where it is now not enough for the Church simply to act but she must be seen to be acting to make sure she becomes a safe place for all God’s people once more.

For the avoidance of doubt, I am not arguing for total transparency here; that’s impracticable; it would probably be sinful as well, but the Church must do better. A part of me would be happy to fire the entire Roman Curia and start again from scratch but I know that that would not be a good idea.

As I understand it, the Church has yet reached a consensus on whether or not women served as deaconesses in the early church. If it could be shown that they did, I would allow them to serve again in that role now.

If I did that, you can be sure that calls for women to be allowed to serve as priests, or priestesses, would be renewed. I would allow them to do so if they could find a woman among the twelve apostles.

Women in the Church
How many women serve the Church at the latter’s highest levels? In the diocese and at the Vatican? There ought to be more – especially in Rome. There is no need for men to have charge over all the dicasteries.

Pope Francis has taken a good first step in increasing the diversity of the Curia by appointing cardinals from unlikely places; if it is possible within a strict meritocracy, giving more roles to women, indeed to lay people in general, would make a good second one.

If I had my way, I would end it as a formal process. I don’t believe the Church of England or any Protestant community as a body will ever (want to) unite with the Catholic Church. The way forward is to help individual non-Catholics ‘cross the Tiber’.

In the title of this blog post I said ‘If I was the Pope’; the truth is, though, that if I had my way, I’d have more power than the pope. That’s too much. So, as soon as I got my way, I would resign and apply to join one of the Oratorian communities. I love Newman’s congregations so much! I’d love to talk more about it, but that’s a post for another day. Alternatively, I’d follow Sebastian Flyte to a monastery in north Africa.

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