Is the church facing its own brexit-esque crisis?

If Brexit and Trumpism taught the world anything it is that the Western world is experiencing a winter of discontent. All around are signs of polarisation and fracture which, if they are not addressed, will surely lead to trouble.

Those in authority must therefore unite, seek common ground and begin the hard work of bringing people ‘back together’; an act of re-membrance which cannot occur if blind to your own faults. Humility is needed to listen and respond. Forging ahead with your own agenda, whilst leaving people behind, will not cut the mustard anymore. We stand at the brink of real crisis in the world and peacemakers- on all sides of the political spectrum-are going to be needed if civility is to triumph.

I want to reflect on a few examples of current societal dis-connect before considering if this malady is also hurting the church. Should our bishops be mindful of a growing disconnect between what they envision and what the faithful actually need? Are they becoming as out of touch with grass root parish life as Hollywood stars clearly are with those struggling on low wages and zero hour contracts?

The most obvious example of dis-connect in society is economic. In recent years elites have pushed a new global era..but have not shared the spoils. The result is a massive rise in corporate profits but slump in wages. Those at the top experience steep rise in living conditions- all else feel the pinch. Globalisation has, in its present form, benefited the rich and those foreign markets they exploit, at cost to the middle classes back home. And this was the main reason, I believe, for the whipping up of the whirlwind; something had to give. Thus the EU got the boot (to the rage of the British establishment) and Donald Trump got elected (to the rage of the American establishment). Less selfishness and greed might have helped.

And nothing summed up this disconnect better than the photograph above of highly privileged pop star, Bob Geldof, sticking up his fingers at lowly pro-leave fishermen. He and the fishermen living lives as far apart as it is possible to imagine. How do we help to bring them together that they might better understand and serve the other? How can we help an electorate trust those in authority, and foster a sense of national pride and togetherness, when CEOs in large companies earn more than the average worker’s wage in a couple of days? There will always be rich and poor but unfairness of opportunity is something else entirely.

This leads to the next obvious division in modern society between the generations. Turn on Classic FM and most every advertisement is for luxury cruises and aimed at the boomers. That generation now retiring were able to work hard and succeed. They benefited from virtually free university education, with grants worth enough to survive and could later purchase family homes cheaply compared with today. A far cry from millennials who face crippling student debt and cannot even afford single bedroom flats. How can their opportunities be so stunted in comparison?

How do we expect future generations to raise families paying off unreasonably steep mortgages and student debts? The only realistic answer, unless something changes, is via inheritance and not, as it should be, via hard work. Society is being ever more skewed in favour of those from wealthy backgrounds, whose families can help, and this simply will not do. It needs to be skewed in favour of those who have worked hard. We need free markets and level playing fields not stitched up systems. So how can it be dealt with before the losers rise up and show their ire? Peace cannot flourish for long when unreasonable yolks are placed on shoulders.


And so to the church where we also find signs of worrying disconnect; between clerics who set the agenda and the faithful in the pews. We seem to have inherited a generation of bishops, formed in the seminaries of the 60’s and 70’s, hellbent on ‘bringing in a new era’…or more truthfully an era that claims to be new but is actually passe and spent. The tedious return to “Spirit of Vatican II’ mentality heavy on sentiment, light on doctrinal integrity. The pushing of reforms at odds with what is actually bringing growth and renewal at parish level.

Consider the noise around the footnote of Amoris Laetitia. It is clear the intention of the Year of Mercy and Synod on the family was to encourage liberalisation of teaching. Yet all the latest evidence confirms churches with liberalising agendas decline, whilst those upholding orthodoxy flourish.  Why then is liberalisation still being peddled at all costs? Is it not because those who champion it are out of touch and cannot see beyond yesterday’s agenda?

It leaves many on the ground, especially younger priests, in frustration. Our future jeopardised via failing methodology that, in the fifty years it has already been attempted, emptied seminaries and closed parishes!! Why are we looking  backwards not forwards? Why does it feel like 1970 again? Even Cardinals long since put out to pasture have been raised back from the dead under this current leadership. By all means promote mercy but can we get with the times?

How can we help the episcopate see that the world is unconvinced by poor liturgy, watered down doctrine and wishy washy preaching? That tribal and  institutional models of belonging are dead? People dont need or want or respond well to a church that embraces popularism and caves into political agendas. They want a church of integrity and fidelity to God’s word; alive in the Spirit and therefore not only catechising and sacramentalising but also evangelising.

My experience also tell me that people are tired of left wing activist clergy they want authentic priests; those who can bring about a living relationship with Christ. Enough of vanilla establishment men chosen to be  bishops and later exposed as perverts and thieves. We need the inspirational and zealous priests promoted- those who hunger for the kingdom and challenge the world with the Gospel. We want and need bishops close to their people not business men whose days are spent in meetings dreaming up strategies on business models.

If prelates are to save us from further fracture and loss they must get out of their bubble and re-connect on the ground. The tired old battles currently being faught in the Vatican only threaten division.When only our favoured agendas and voices are listened to blindness and deafness inevitably occur. What we need is authenticity and holiness and much less disconnect. An end of the establishment model based on secular business and a return to the bishop found amongst his people.

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17 thoughts on “Is the church facing its own brexit-esque crisis?

  1. Congratulations, Fr Ed, on having the courage to say this. The following example illustrates the point.

    A little over three years ago, Oratorian priests took over the running of St Wilfrid’s Church in York. Oratorian liturgies are noted for their reverence and their faithfulness to the rubrics. There have been a number of consequences:

    1. larger congregations,

    2. a surge in the number of adult conversions,

    3. the church having a greater visible presence in the City of York,

    4. the revitalisation of groups like the SVP.

    The Oratorians also introduced the Latin Mass (Extraordinary Form) which brought a whole new set of people. Later the introduced Vespers and Benediction on Sunday evenings. Now it is a very busy church.

    However the really good news is that in the three years that the Oratorians have been at York, four novices have been attracted to join the community. One of these is now at the Oxford Oratory, leaving three potential priests to carry on the work in future decades. In fact there are indications that the community is likely to continue to grow.

    What better example can there be of orthodoxy and good liturgy being the way forward!

    1. Church politics? Could you name the parties? Or is it actually writing in concern for the church regarding the assaults she is facing, precisely because this can hamper souls from finding God?

  2. How many more versions of the mass am I going to have to get used to in my lifetime?
    Perhaps we should revert to the original Greek (or was that Aramaic ?)

    1. Or was it Hebrew? I don’t know the language of The Last Supper. It seems that the early Eucharists (Masses) were celebrated in whatever the local language was. It was a bit later when Greek became the formal language and then Latin. But, speaking as someone who has, over many years, attended Mass in various rites and languages. Tt does not matter so long as one has an appropriate Missal(ette) with an English translation (or whatever) and can recognize the key moments. I’ve had to attend mass in Greek Orthodox churches and some have translation booklets for non-Orthodox visitors. Many also preserve the old custom of providing portions of blessed bread (not consecrated) for non-communicants and others to partake of at the end of Mass. We could do with bringing it back into our churches

      1. I still have my old missal with English on one side and Latin on the other. Of course only the server said the responses. The people tended to do their own thing, some followed the mass in their missal, others said the rosary and some devotional reading. Others just reflected or said their own prayers. This was of course why the ringing of the bell was so important enabling everyone to focus on the beginning of the cannon and then on the consecration and elevation.
        The first big change was the so-called ‘dialogue masses’ at which all the congregation were encouraged to say the responses in a dialogue with the priest and I particularly enjoyed the new concept of active participation. I think it would be good if all celebrations of the extra-ordinary form were dialogue masses.

        1. I maintain that Divine Worship is a great tool for bringing the best of both together. It is in the vernacular and responsive and yet clearly oriented as the tridentine Mass toward the hill of Calvary and not celebration of the community.

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