More about Archbishop Ngô-Đình Thục

I have been reading the book I mentioned in my posting Tic-Tac-Thuc on Archbishop Ngô-Đình Thục who had lived off the top of the hog in Vietnam with his nasty brothers, a little like Saddam Hussein in Irak. I’m afraid the story, which seems plausible enough to me, is not edifying. It is difficult to conceive of the validity of the Sacrament of Order conferred in “sordid” conditions and outside any real ecclesial context.

The story is little different from that of other bishops at the origin of “lines of succession” of independent bishops. Ngô-Đình Thục was no traditionalist but rather thought in terms of Catholicism inculturated into Asia and his native Vietnam. It would seem that his money had run out and he needed generous benefactors like Dr Heller in Münich, editor of Einsicht and arch-sedevacantist. For that reason, he was prepared to write up a piece of doggerel to support the sedevacantists after having been responsible for the Palmar de Troya fiasco.

I recommend reading this book for a realistic evaluation of this prelate and his misfortunes once the tyrannical regime of his brothers was over in Vietnam. It is time for sobriety.

I am grateful to be far away from that world of bishops of bugger-all and closer to my own English origins. Diversity is indeed what we need in the Church, but being a little more serious than some of those little tin-pot popes and prelates.

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Clericalism and Priesthood

I received one of those circular e-mails this morning, and it contained three links:

The second article is a response to the first from a fairly “conservative” point of view.

This entire reflection seems to be based on the problems caused by priests who are guilty of sexually abusing children and having the benefit of an institution that covered up for them in a way that suggests the omertà of the Mafia. Pope Francis blames clericalism for these problems. Obviously, as a priest and a bishop, this Pope must surely make a distinction between the clerical status and the gift of the sacramental priesthood.

The pressure is on to abolish the priesthood, or at least reduce it to a secular function. Perhaps what would replace it would be a clericalism of civil servants, politicians, doctors, lawyers, notaries, bailiffs, police officers and anyone who has a position of authority over others.

A short while ago, I watched a film about a paedophile priest in the Archdiocese of Lyon and the way everything was mishandled by Cardinal Barbarin. Such things cause an incredible amount of bitterness, not only the sinful acts of a perverted priest but also the priority given to the institution by those in authority rather than correcting wrongs and caring for the victims and their families. Sometimes, the abuse was not merely the sinful lust of an isolated priest, but was institutionalised in places like orphanages and places where children were taken into care.

Should the entire Church be closed down and chased out of existence? It happened in Reformation times, the French Revolution, as a result of virulent anti-clericalism in countries like France and Italy from about 1870 to World War I. What happens when those who destroyed the Church prove to be far more evil and commit worse crimes. Perhaps the Christian ideal in priests made them a little less evil than their secular counterparts.

The first article features the agony of a priest who suffered from the clerical establishment. At some time, he left the priesthood and, overcome with grief, lost all motivation to continue even attending Mass. However, there is a note of ideology as he lobbies for various typically left-wing causes. He uncritically blames the shortcomings of the Vatican II reforms on the conservatives. He blames clericalism for everything. What is clericalism?

Clericalism, with its cult of secrecy, its theological misogyny, and its hierarchical power, is at the root of Roman Catholic dysfunction.

I doubt he would read this blog, but I would advise him the same way as I think about my own life. He is still too preoccupied with the Church from which he felt alienated, too worried about other people, too bitter to find his soul. Looking at it most radically, he has three choices – suicide, addiction to alcohol and drugs, or moving on and finding a new spiritual life in another way, not necessarily in a church or an organised religion. He speaks of “fasting” from the Sacraments and formal church attendance. For him, such torture is not required for his salvation. Perhaps he needs to become a virulent anti-clerical and political activist, or take a step back and go inwards. Hatred has a horrific effect on the soul. He could learn to sail, buy a yacht and sail to a Pacific island like Bernard Moitessier. Build where others destroy – that is the way of Christ.

If it is all about women, is it really any better for example in the Church of England where women are at parity with men or even in a dominant position? Is a new type of clericalism about to replace the old? There is also the other favourite accusation: collaboration with the Nazis during World War II. Many bishops saw opportunities to work with authoritarian and totalitarian political regimes, the old story of the Grand Inquisitor! This broken priest confused different issues like the role of women and the all-male and celibate clergy. There is the question of status as in any institution, religious or secular. As mixed up as they with left-wing ideologies, some questions ring true like repression in the domain of sexuality, the threat of hell and the power of the caste.

This is a dimension this fellow neglects, that of clericalism that is not specific to priests, deacons and bishops. The problem is wider than a power base of celibate men in the Church. The same thing can happen in any human organisation where the alpha dogs take control of the pack. This happens especially in the police, in which the best men for the job have to be strong, aggressive and uncaring for those they have to apprehend. All professions in which people are highly trained for a particular role can become preserves of arrogance and elitism: politics, law, medicine, business and others. Faced with the ignorance of most people in these domains, the elite will assume authority to put an end to needless discussion. It is not a problem of the Church, but it is a human problem, shared with many species of animals. Some are made to dominate and compete, and others are made for more individualistic lives.

It seems absurd to destroy something because there are abusers. Otherwise, where do you stop? If you don’t want priests any more, then you have to put laypeople in charge of the Church, unless you want to be rid of the Church too. In that first article, it is difficult to discern what kind of church that former priest wants. One thing he does not say is that he would recommend the American Episcopal Church or the Church of England that not only has married clergy but also women clergy and a high importance given to lay participation. Yet all the problems of corporate humanity remain, with the limitations of groupthink and the abolition of imagination and initiative.

I believe that the solution is not destruction of the old and the imposition of some “new orthodoxy” with all its “hot button” issues like feminism and homosexuality – but diversity in the forms a church can take. Certainly, the Church (in its most generic meaning) needs to have room for less institutional forms and need for centralised control. I am much more sceptical about episcopi vagantes and micro-churches. Some are highly inspiring and are ministered to by men of integrity. I have a great amount of esteem for initiatives of other historical eras, like the Quakers, where a community of ordinary people define themselves as friends and meet for silent prayer and spontaneous witness of their spiritual experience. This would not be a reason to destroy the sacramental church and the liturgical life, but there needs to be diversity. Many people do not relate to rites and liturgy, and their personalities are very different from those who do.

There were many initiatives in France after the end of the war. There were worker priests who were often criticised for becoming too involved with far left-wing politics, certainly in reaction against the bishops who collaborated with the Nazis. There was an awareness of a need for some kind of “osmosis” of the priesthood into the lives of ordinary people, if we put the political ideologies to one side. Priests have suffered spiritually for decades, for centuries, and people in the parishes went to church for the wrong reasons. My own experience can testify to a tyranny of the laity in some parishes, where the priest is bullied out of existence. Even relatively conservative dioceses have no vocations and the last seminaries are closing. The only interface many people now have with the Church is a faceless bureaucracy. Why bother?

I returned to a version of Anglicanism that is conservative but without being authoritarian or totalitarian like some of the traditionalists. There is less of a sense of control and repression, of bullying and dominance.

The issue of the priesthood, as distinct from the clerical status and the institutional church, is one that needs a lot of thought. Is the priest only a cleric? Does the idea of an “ontological” priesthood need to be put aside for the sake of being on a par with something like civil servants and functionaries? I know what I was taught in seminary – being an alter Christus, a living icon of Christ. This is too often a meaningless slogan, but the idea needs to be meditated.

How well do we know Christ? A lot less well than we think…

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Nostalgia and Hope

Fr Jonathan Munn recently wrote a Sunday sermon on Remembering the Future. The theme is nostalgia, the good old days. It is a very powerful emotion in us, and commercial advertisers find it very effective. For example, an industrial baker would portray the words of an elderly man remembering his boyhood in something like the 1920’s, how he used to go to the bakery on his bicycle to buy bread for the family. As good for you today as it has always been. The implication is that it is possible to bring the past back, or at least find something that had not changed.

As a youth of 23, I arrived in France – also on a bicycle – in the hope of finding a diocese or a religious community that had not changed, that had remained “pre-reformation”. Unfortunately my sense of Sehnsucht trumped my rational faculties, because such a thing is easy to find out by reading and talking with people. Of course, there were the traditionalists with their modern authoritarian political ideology, but there were also a few parishes as would not have been possible in England in the early 1980’s. The first I went to visit was Le Chamblac and Fr Montgomery Wright, featuring in my posting With the passing years… I’m not sure this English (of Scottish ancestry) priest would have represented French Catholicism in the 1870’s, 1770’s or 1470’s. He was a unique character who marked my life and that of many others. Some of the parishes, like that of Belloy en France with Fr Lourdelet or Bouloire with Fr Jacques Pecha, were quite “traditional” but much less eccentric than the former Anglican in Normandy. Most of these priests belonged to an association called Opus Sacerdotale, which was behind the foundation the Institute of Christ the King in which I was ordained a deacon. Unlike the Society of St Pius X founded by Archbishop Lefebvre, Opus Sacerdotale concentrated more on the priestly identity formed by the Ecole Française and the fathers of St Sulpice in the seventeenth century than the theme of Christ the King expressed in authoritarian government and the denial of freedom as an inalienable right.

I never did find what I was looking for, namely the product of origin, the “real thing”, except those few parishes and a couple of monasteries of the Solesmes Congregation. They were islands struggling to survive, and which did better with the arrangements made by Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI. The secret garden of our nostalgia is within us. Not only can we only search within ourselves, but we cannot escape from ourselves. We follow ourselves to the ends of the earth for our entire lives. I find Continuing Anglicanism  nearer to that idea than authoritarian traditionalist Roman Catholicism, but we have to be true to ourselves and allow ourselves to yearn for what is beyond our ego.

A few days ago, I had an interview with the French authorities in view to my French citizenship (I will be allowed to keep my British nationality). As the conversation developed, the lady asked me to write her a resume of my life, but something more than what I would present for my translating work. As I began to write, I felt the past events of my life pressing down on me, like a judge pointing a finger and saying with a loud voice “I accuse you of a wasted life!“. Is there any coherence, any teleology, or am I just a wreck at the age of 60? I felt the same reproach coming from my wife, but I don’t believe that was her intention. Where were those waters of Babylon by which I sat and wept?

Strangely, I have never experienced my own past as something to worship and idolise. I am thirty years younger than my father (who is doing very well for his ninety years). Logically my 1960’s should have been to me like his 1930’s. I have often heard of the 1930’s or 50’s like some “golden age”. Perhaps people were more courteous and a worker was more concerned to do a good job for the sake of pride. The 1930’s were also a time of poverty and anxiety. There was the Great Depression and the rise of fascism in Europe. The flamboyance of the 1920’s was over. I suppose I experienced the end of the Trente Glorieuses in the mid 1970’s, as our country seemed to have lost its soul and ideals. We had to be more careful with our money as strike followed strike, as did the electrical power cuts. Were those “good days”? My memories of schooldays were those of boring and stuffy old men, and of philistines and bullies. Finally, those days were neither good nor bad. It was my time slot for my youth. I have now arrived at the age of sixty, and I feel no different – other than the odd aching knee or painful gout in a foot. I used to think that sixty-year-old men were very old!

Humanity has essentially remained the same. Individually we can show great inspiration and genius. Collectively, going by the evidence of British politics, humanity shows very little sign of either emotion nor intelligence. We have computers and cell phones, which can be very useful. I use both, and sending an e-mail or making a phone call from just about anywhere beats writing a letter, putting a stamp on the envelope and going to the letter box – or finding a phone box and hoping we have the right change. Yes, I remember the A and B buttons and the four penny coins! Now, we have devices that out-perform Star Trek – except that we can’t (yet) be beamed up or down from the Enterprise.

There are ideologies that would deprive us of this technology, like for example the old Luddites or some of the environmentalists. We would adapt, either adapt or die. I am probably better equipped through living in the country and having practical skills. But it would be hard, having to saw wood by hand or using energy sources like running water. It might seem an ideal. Some people do go off-grid and live in the wild. I admire them, but I wonder if they find their teleology or meaning of life.

Are people less respectful now than in the past? I doubt it. Just differently.

I experienced nostalgia differently. For me, it was like that of the Romantics, a period hundreds of years ago, and filtered, refashioned and projected not into the present but into the future. This is an element of that concept in German Romanticism of Sehnsucht, the archetypical Blue Flower of Novalis. There are many aspects of the future we can fashion and influence, putting the Idea before the supposed external reality. This is Idealism and something that brings Hope and the onward movement we need to live. In the thought of Heraclitus, life is fire, movement, progress from opposition of thesis and antithesis.

This emotion is of capital importance at a time (the same thing has been in other times too) when church religion seemed to be dead and only good for being discarded as unfit for use. When we cannot rely on the outside world and “other people”, then we have to rely on ourselves. To do this, we have to be able to desire and hope. We sometimes receive glimpses of that desire that calls of God and the joy of knowing him. We are given a sense of wonder and awe through experience, whether of the liturgy or nature. Rather than being threatened with punishment by authority, we are drawn to beauty and the sense that the object of our love lies beyond our reach. We must never give up, but continue to reach. Some might ask us why we reach for something that is unattainable. Don’t we get frustrated? Isn’t it better to reach for things we can have and possess? No, because something else will always be beyond our reach. We begin with a radio, then a bicycle, then a motorcycle, then an old car, then a new car, then a Ferrari, and then a helicopter, and an aeroplane, the biggest mansion in the world, and so it goes on. My material possessions are something like in the lower-middle of all that. There are things I would like (like a sailing yacht), but I have to establish priorities – because I am not alone and there are other things to consider first. That is common sense, but in the midst of all these things and cares, there is the big hope and desire that is never quenched.

We need a sense of direction in life, and perhaps our Sehnsucht can be “managed” by developing achievable goals, milestones and a sense of achievement with each one. In the spiritual life too, we need to be like the mustard seed planted in good earth so that we can take root. Paradoxically, failure in some of these intermediate goals can bring us humility and a clearer view of the supreme desire and hope.

This is how I see my life, rather than the finger-pointing judge. I have come to understand that there is a single thread running through all the successes and failures. The passing years have brought me to understand that the utopia will never be found outside myself. Those colourful parish priests have died. Some of those parishes have been allowed to continue with other priests, others closed down in an act of vengeance from a spiteful bishop. The monasteries have continued, of more consolation to retreatants and visitors than the monks who live under a totalitarian regime. The seminary I went to has changed, perhaps for the better with age and experience. What is old is not always ideal. Static traditionalism as in the thought of Parmenides explains how “all reality is one, change is impossible, and existence is timeless, uniform, and necessary”. I remember reading Owen Chadwick’s book From Bossuet to Newman, contrasting the immobilist notion of Christian Tradition held by the scholastics and Newman’s theory of organic development. The latter notion is a major dimension in Pope Benedict XVI’s thought.

This notion of organic development is an aspect of our personal lives as in history in general and theories of religious tradition. Newman would use the analogy of nature to try to distinguish healthy changes from ruptures and acts of destruction like the Protestant Reformation. The theory, like all theories, is an imperfect analogy. A part of our Hope and Sehnsucht is to move beyond the tyranny of time to an existence where movement, change and dynamics bring joy and happiness, not bitterness and disappointment.

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Tic-Tac-Thuc

In this way, Archbishop Pierre Martin Ngô-dinh-Thục was irreverently referred to by someone I knew in Fribourg in the late 1980’s – Tic-Tac-Thuc. By then, he was already banalised and ridiculed in contrast with Archbishop Lefebvre, and compared with colourful characters of earlier times like Arnold Harris Mathew and René Vilatte.

I have just acquired Edward Jarvis, Sede Vacante: The Life and Legacy of Archbishop Thục, Apocryphile Press 2018. I have it on my Kindle reader, so will fill in time whilst waiting for tides and that sort of thing when I will be out in my boat. Like Bishop Duarte Costa of whom I wrote in The Boys from Brazil, the fact that Ngô-dinh-Thục was a genuine Roman Catholic archbishop did not remove the stigma of being a sort of “Godfather” of Vietnam’s ruling clan under his brother Ngô Đình Diệm who was killed with his entire family by the Communists. Thục escaped, leaving only intrigue, money, secret deals and the Vietnam War.

I have yet to read this book. If the book by the same author on the Brazilians is anything to go on, I am likely to find out some very interesting things. I never met Archbishop Thuc himself, but I did read many things about him, mostly apologetic from various sedevacantist groups in France and the USA. His detractors advance a thesis of the invalidity of ordinations and episcopal consecrations conferred by Thuc on account of mental incompetence. Frankly I do not believe this to have been the case.

He was responsible for the Palmar de Troya sect acquiring valid Catholic orders, and later for a number of more or less respectable episcopi vagantes. That is of course if a mechanical “line of succession” is all that is needed to transmit the Sacraments of the Church… Since this subject attracts the curiosity of those who like religious gossip, here is a page giving links to what I have written in the past on Palmar de Troya and sedevacantism. I am not ready or prepared to throw myself into polemics on these subjects, for the simple reason that I was through with Roman Catholicism when I joined the ACC for the first time in 1995 and the TAC in 2005. The French have the expression jeter de la poudre aux yeux, which is usually translated into English as smoke and mirrors.

Sedevacantism is easy to undo once you have rejected the claims made about the Papacy by the first Vatican Council in 1870 and the prevailing interpretations of the notion of infallible magisterium and what happens when or if a pope teaches formal heresy. If such doctrines have no credibility, as Anglicans and the Orthodox hold, then sedevacantism is perhaps the easiest way to refute the absurd claims about the prime bishop of the Roman Catholic Church.

I was myself ordained a priest by a bishop consecrated by Clemente Dominguez y Gomez, himself consecrated by Thuc in December 1975. I received ordination to the priesthood sub conditione by my present Bishop to give assurance of the integrity of my priesthood in respect to the faithful of the Anglican Catholic Church. It also brought resolution to my troubled path as a deacon and priest trying to be of service to various marginal groups claiming to be Roman Catholic.

It is without doubt that I will discover many things about that sad figure of the Vietnamese bishop exiled in Italy, in southern France and finally in America. I have for a long time been convinced that he was not deprived of his mental competence, but that he was not a man of integrity, or at least one who was motivated by hatred and cynicism. More later, when I finish the book…

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Swallows & Amazons for Grown-ups

Two years have passed since the last Semaine du Golfe. It gets better every time (every two years) as more people bring their boats and the organisational logistics people become more experienced. This year, it is from the 27th May to 2nd June, always the week of the Ascension, which corresponds with the neap tides. 1,528 boats are registered for the gathering, including Sarum (centre of the photo above with the red sails).

I have also gained more experience, not only in handling the boat, but also in assembling all the stuff I really need and no more. I have a better (and more environmentally-friendly) outboard engine than my old British Seagull, a 3 hp two-stroke Chinese engine designed for strimmers (weed whackers as the Americans call them) and mounted on an outboard assembly with a compatible mounting and centrifugal clutch system. The engine is air-cooled, so that much less trouble and I will have 20 litres of ready mixed petrol / 2-stroke oil for the week. It beats rowing when the wind drops or the close vicinity of other boats literally takes the wind out of my sails!

Also I have organised my storage space better now that I have fitted inspection hatches to my buoyancy tanks and can use them for storage. That should give me a tidier ship.

Each time, the places visited change, so it is new as well as familiar each time. Here’s some footage of two years ago:

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Easter Greetings

I wish all my readers a happy Easter full of the joy and hope that comes from the risen Lord. Should any of us have the slightest doubt, let us remember that there is no otherwise explicable way an image could be printed on the Turin Shroud. I leave you with a little definition given by the great Benedictine monk Dom Odo Casel of the Abbey of Maria Laach.

The pasch is a sacrifice with the consecration of the person that flows from it; it is the sacrifice of the God-man in death on the cross, and his resurrection to glory: it is the Church’s sacrifice in communion with and by the power of the crucified God-man, and the wonderful joining to God, the divinization which is its effect.

Both of these sacrifices flow together; they are fundamentally one; the Church, as the woman of the new paradise and the bride of Christ, acts and offers in his strength. Christ living in time made his sacrifice alone on the cross; Christ raised up by the Spirit makes the sacrifice together with his Church which he has purified with the blood from his own side, and thus won her for himself.

Because of the inmost oneness of being, and the realm of action following upon it, which grows up between bride and bridegroom, between head and body, it follows that the Church must take a share in Christ’s sacrifice, in a feminine, receptive way, yet one which is no less active for that. She stands beneath the cross, sacrifices her bridegroom, and with him, herself. But she does so not merely in faith or in some mental act, but rather in a real and concrete fashion, in mystery; she fulfils the ‘likening’ of that sacrifice through which the Lord offered himself in the presence of earth and heaven, in utter openness, in the total giving of his body, to the Father. Here again we meet the essential meaning of the mystery of worship.

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Viollet le Duc

If there is a subject for the Blue Flower, it is that of the great Romantic French architect Eugène Emmanuel Viollet-le-Duc (1814 – 1879). I encourage you to watch this video, which is in French:

Gothic restorations of the nineteenth century might have lacked complete academic authenticity, but Viollet le Duc was a major influence in the Gothic Revival like Pugin in England. Without his work, many great French churches would have crumbled and collapsed after the abuse meted out by the revolutionaries and the merciless weather.

Again, a blessing in disguise, the fire of Notre-Dame de Paris has brought the patrimony of the Middle-Ages and the Gothic Revival into the foreground. Now is the time to appreciate our churches and cathedrals and remember why they were built – man’s homage to the glory of God. Viollet le Duc’s work is a part of this patrimony to treasure, restore and appreciate.

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