The traditionalist blogs are fretting about the possibility of the Roman Catholic Church going back to the 1970’s, airbrushing not only Benedict XVI but also John Paul II. The idea is sobering, but it depends on our idea of the 1970’s and the fact that history does not repeat itself exactly.
How did each of us live the 1970’s in a different ways according to our age and which Church we belonged to? For me, in 1978, when it was still Paul VI, I was 19 and working in a music shop. I was organist at a Church of England parish in York, St Clement’s with a fine Willis organ and worked with a small men and boys’ choir. Our parish was liturgically conservative with Sung Eucharist each Sunday, celebrated facing the east in English-style vestments according to something like the English 1928 rite. We still had Evensong from the standard Prayer Book. Christian commitment? I seem to have been attracted by the idea of prayer and learning something about Christian teachings, but I had other priorities in my like as a young adult.
I cared little about Rome in those days. All I knew about Paul VI is that he was against contraception and had got rid of the old Latin Mass. Someone told me about Archbishop Lefebvre, but a French bishop was of no relevance to me. Back in the 1970’s, many things were changing, but we still had conservative values. We still unkindly called homosexuals queers, poofs and fairies! They were brutal years. New buildings were systematically extremely ugly and we had The Sweeney on the television. It seemed to be a time of exaggerated masculinity. Andropov reigned in the Soviet Union, and like in the 1950’s up to the Cuban crisis, we feared the spectre of nuclear holocaust.
Naturally I don’t look back at the 1970’s like my father would see the 1940’s or my late grandfather would see the time of World War I. It would seem that none of these three generations had much to be nostalgic about when considering their teenage years. There was no war in my 1970’s, but it was a time that alienated me.
Now what is it about the 1970’s that seems so attractive to the progressives? Was it the TV cops and robber shows, Dad’s Army, the pop music which for all its ugliness was more melodic than the present day “rap” or “techno”? We were in financial crisis then under Harold Wilson and Jim Callaghan before Margaret Thatcher’s Conservatives were voted in in 1979. We are in financial crisis now, and we don’t have Thatcher any more. Perhaps our time is in logical progression from the 1970’s, through the 80’s, 90’s and 2000’s. It is as banal as that.
Is a return to tradition, whether it is a matter of liturgical trappings or general attitudes, a “back to the future” movement? Did the Benedict XVI Papacy really represent the future? I have nagging doubts as to whether he was really the person writing those inspiring books in the 1980’s and 90’s or someone playing an elaborate game. Was he a visionary or a cynic?
I repeat the question: what is it about the 1970’s that seems so attractive to the progressives? The era was before John Paul II and Benedict XVI. It was the era of Paul VI. But Paul VI was a conservative who believed as much in his infallibility as Pius IX when he bashed in the nails of clerical celibacy and outlawing contraception. He was viscerally opposed to homosexuality and, if one reads his encyclicals, he was as theologically orthodox as Pius XII. He was no progressive, but as far as I can see, a man with divided loyalties and who could be pushed around and manipulated as Benedict XVI was.
OK, so Paul VI is not the reference. So, between him and the reactionary Pius XII, there is only John XXIII. There’s a big problem – he was interested in the liturgy and kept the “high church” Papal and liturgical trappings. But John XXIII was late 1950’s and early 1960’s, hardly an era for today’s super progressives. Things were bubbling with optimism in those years, but it was all fleeting.
The 1970’s were an era of pessimism and fear, as the hard line took back control of the Kremlin after a few years of detente. Perhaps this is the inspiration of Küng, Mahoney, Kasper and others, not the openness and optimism of the 1960’s but the “party’s over” hard-line “realism” of the 1970’s. They were the years when Paul VI complained of the smoke of Satan and had regrets that his Church was less disciplined and “in order”.
What those people love about their idea of the 1970’s was the authoritarian side of Paul VI – expressed in his decision to forbid the celebration of the old liturgy. That is really what tickles them, because John Paul II and Benedict XVI went in the direction of including traditionalists. Paul VI was a tight-fisted so-and-so! The vision is that anything goes for the liturgy but everyone must be in lock-step for everything else, especially morals and looking up to the clerical and papal dictatorship. Now that’s just what a nineteen-year old Anglican church organist drawn by beauty and things that inspire would not be interested in. I didn’t even give the RC Church the time of day in 1978, except occasionally playing the organ at St Wilfrid’s church in York where there was a nice acoustic and quite a nice organ up on a very high west gallery.
I am not sure whether the model of Paul VI is that of Pope Francis. Paul VI was a curialist and a diplomat, a Francophile, a European. Francis is something else, and we will need time to put our finger on it.
Do we remember the cynicism of Cardinal Kasper, the railway analogies apart?
We are on good terms with the Archbishop of Canterbury and as much as we can we are helping him to keep the Anglican community together, Kasper said in 2010 referring either to the TAC or the Forward in Faith leaders in England. He snottily added, It’s not our policy to bring that many Anglicans to Rome. This is not affirming the freedom of God’s people but keeping the tin lid on the institutional status quo that didn’t care shit about conscience or spiritual content!
Perhaps Francis would take us back to the 1960’s. The problem is that my childhood years were full of optimism about technology and progress, the end of the Vietnam War, detente with the Commies in the Soviet Union (but they invaded Czechoslovakia in 1968). They were the years of Vatican II and Populorum Progressio – the “first” Paul VI and not the self-hating Hamlet of the late 70’s. They were also the years when the Novus Ordo rites were first experimented with and published. It was also the time when the old liturgy was not yet strengsten vorboten!
Reform of the reform of the reform? Now this is getting confusing. Don’t expect papal speeches and magisterial documents. Everything is going to be in appointments of Curial officials, especially if we find the likes of Kasper and Mohoney being favoured for their bubbling enthusiasm. Watch episcopal appointments in the dioceses and if there are differences in general orientation from those of Benedict XVI. Watch out for the new 12-bishop super-synod! Who’s going to be on that? We can doubt that Francis will ever discuss the liturgy or the incomplete Benedictine legislation for the old Latin liturgy or Anglican “patrimony”. Also, look at the altar where Francis will celebrate Mass, and see if you get three candles at one end, the crucifix on the other end (or on a stand) and a microphone in the middle. That would be the end of the “Benedictine arrangement”. But it hasn’t happened yet.
What’s going to happen to Mahoney and Kasper? They are both old men. Are they going to be gracefully retired, or are they going to make a comeback? Those two need to be watched. Apparently, they have both blown Conclave secrets, but so has the Pope himself.
I have noticed a certain paralysis in the blogosphere, or at least that part of it in which I have been involved over the past few years. The atmosphere and the clouds of deceit are thickening, though the air was never really clear during the Benedict XVI pontificate. Personally, I am definitively alienated from that Church in which I spent only fourteen years as a layman, seminarian and deacon. Prognostics for independent Churches like the Continuing Anglicans differ, but there is an enormous paradigm shift that will bring in a new justification – as lifeboats, like in the early days.
If Pope Francis has misguidedly begun his Papacy in illusion, we will see his spiritual vision overclouded by pragmatism and “realism”, by opaque bureaucracy far exceeding the gay cliques of the Benedictine and Joannine-Pauline eras. Many will be alienated and a few may want to connect with small and bureaucracy-free Churches built on the Episcopate, the Sacraments and the Apostolic Faith. Most will die spiritually from thirst and hunger.
Some of us may yet feel that we have no reason to continue living in the part of the world where we are, and where only emptiness remains after Christ has been rejected or simply forgotten. Move on? But where? We have to realise that this drama is being played out within each one of us, as we agonise over our choices. We just need to know what we want.