Fr. Nicholas pens an article

Fr. Nicholas, assistant priest of St. Anselm’s, has produced a challenging and thought provoking article for this month’s Portal; the online magazine of the Ordinariate. In the article he muses on the present furore surrounding Amoris Laetitia and especially on the silence of many bishops in response to the crisis. I reproduce it here with his permission.

“They Don’t Like It Up Them Sir!” Some Thoughts on Amoris Laetitia and a Pledged Troth

Two men presently occupy the Chair of St Peter. One, somewhat oddly, does so in the relative humidity of downtown Houston: the other, late of The Argentine, now does so in Rome. Francis, by divine permission Lord Bishop of Rome has given to all the faithful a thoughtful and beautifully written presentation of God’s plan for marriage helpfully entitled Amoris Laetitia. Steven, presumably also by divine permission, Bishop of the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of St Peter, has penned what ought properly to be called an epistle which he has called “A pledged troth A pastoral letter on Amoris Laetitia”. Whilst I quite understand that much of what flows out of Rome is written in a most peculiar way and appears to have been rendered into English by Albanian emigrees it really is quite something that a bishop should have felt it necessary to explain in such an engaging way what the Pope was driving at when he penned his reflective thoughts on marriage. He does so because his flock contains many who as former Anglicans have been nurtured by an Episcopal church in which divorce is an ever present reality and the teaching on the sacraments has been less faithful to the generally understood thoughts of the church on the subject than it should have been.

Bishop Lopes too writes beautifully, although his prose style is blighted by the hypnotically dull footnotes which are required of all who do Roman theology. This is the essence of what he says. Marriage is lifelong: that is what the words “till death do us part” mean. One cannot marry unless one is free to do so and understands what marriage entails. Marriage is a sacrament. Christ told us what he thought marriage entailed and since he remains God we really have no power to change His views on it which, one way or another, ought to be ours. I may have missed some of the theological nuances but that really is the gist of it. You will all be relieved to hear that Bishop Steven is quite sure that this is what Pope Francis was driving at in Amoris Laetitia. The two of them also agree that marriages break down rather a lot and that society as a whole has a rather different view on the consequences of that than does the church.

Where they apparently part company is on quite what we need to do about this. The former Bishop of Bevendon, Dr Spacely Trellis, would not entirely have approved of the unhelpful stance taken by the Ordinary; rooted as it is in the teaching of the church founded upon the most ancient of theological reflection and buttressed by both doctrine and dogma. Fortunately, the Pope can boldly go where no one else dares to tread. Having noticed that Catholics have a thing about Holy Communion and that an unfortunate consequence of divorce is that people quite wrongly think they can remarry and have sexual intercourse without committing adultery (so that they take communion to the great peril of their souls) the Pope thinks we really ought to do something about this most unsatisfactory state of affairs. Quite a lot of really enlightened Churchmen have come to the conclusion that in a world in which Christians are being driven out of the Middle East and in which the population of Rome is not really Christian and is distinctly anti clerical it would be a good idea to stop erecting barriers to the faith and to allow people to keep doing this. I may have got some of this wrong, because there is a very large extract of mercy to be added to the mix, but that is the general drift of the argument. The Pope, of course, would never fall into any sort of error and clearly would never do so about marriage or indeed any other sacrament, such as penance, and that is something that Bishop Steven is also really pleased to reassure us about.

What Bishop Steven tells those committed to his charge is as follows. The church has always taught us that marriage is a lifelong commitment and that divorce is impossible. It simply is not within the church’s power to alter the nature and consequences of marriage. Adultery is a grave sin. Having sexual intercourse with a person who is not your spouse, even if you have been permitted to enter into a relationship with them by the state, is adultery. Those in a state of mortal sin must not take communion. That too is a rather important rule because otherwise the communicant sinner purchases to themselves the greatest peril to their soul. Naturally, this, according to Bishop Steven, is the general line taken by the Pope. Given that this is so one wonders what on earth prompted the bishop to put pen to paper.

The answer, of course, although Bishop Steven is too dutiful a son of the church to say so, is that the Pope thinks that bishops and priests should exercise the mercy for which the church is justly famous by letting adulterers who have a settled intention to continue sinning to take communion. That is the current battle exercising the minds of the College of Cardinals and every bench of bishops throughout the world. The English and Welsh are uncharacteristically silent about this because they are split down the middle on the subject.

This pastoral letter bluntly tells us what we all know but would sometimes rather not hear. Actions have consequences, promises taken before God are vows, sacraments are just that and frailty, although all around us, is not the most sensible reason for abandoning that which we have always known to be both true and right. The Pope has no more power to change the church’s teaching on this than did Parliament in the mid-1530s when it had the little matter of the King’s divorce to deal with. That experiment has not been entirely successful and the Roman Church would do well to remember that. The Anglican Church used to believe that its task was to take the church to the people and to conform the people to the faith of the church, and it did so with great fidelity. Although it would deny it absolutely it now firmly believes that its mission is to take the church to the people and to conform the church to the image of those to whom it is taken. That is a dreadful consequence of liberal relativism of which, unfortunately, we hear so much today. It has destroyed the Anglican church and it will destroy any other church which permits the devil the luxury of employing it in our midst.

Bishop Lopes tells us gently but firmly that those of us who married must stick to the bed we have made. Marriage breakdown is often awful but its inevitable consequence is not ‘re marriage’. Nullity may sometimes be an option, stigma never is. Taking Communion is not something that one just does. Confession without a settled intention of avoiding the same sin does not lead to absolution. Priests, and bishops for that matter, cannot just make things up because it suits the moment.

How remarkable that Anglicanorum coetibus has produced a bishop who believes it to be his duty to ensure that the faith of the church and its teachings are to be protected against error and who is not afraid by public pronouncement to put down the mighty from their seat. How strange that the other 6,000 bishops have apparently not done so. But then, as L/Cpl Jones so shrewdly observed, most of them really don’t like it up them Sir.

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15 thoughts on “Fr. Nicholas pens an article

  1. Excellent article!

    But, if I may be slightly picky about the wonderfully Anglican phrasing: is Francis not the Metropolitan Archbishop of Rome, and therefore ‘by divine providence’ rather than ‘permission’?

    1. Agreed David, but one needs to understand that Fr. Nicholas, eccentric delight that he is, continues to refer to many nations using their colonial names. So any hope of this is remote.

  2. Father,
    May I note the sentence: “the Pope thinks that bishops and priests should [be] letting adulterers who have a settled intention to continue sinning to take communion”?
    I think that this is true but cannot be sure as he has not said so explicitly. He has allowed others to say so without correction. He has not said whether he upholds or rejects previous teaching. This ambiguity is the current problem.
    Were the Pope to confirm the view indicated we would have to choose between loyalty to the Pope or to the Faith as previously taught.

      1. Absolutely Father. The lack of clarity in Papal “teaching” is a problem. There will be much for the next Pope to resolve.
        Thank you for your blog. Sadly I have no access to the Ordinariate.

  3. The working of The Spirit.

    We are in danger of overlooking something that, to me, seems rather important. It might be worth remembering that we accept that the outcome of a conclave is guided by The Lord. If that is so, then He picked Francis knowing the ‘pot-stirring’ that would follow. That means that The Lord has an outcome in view which will be made clear in His time and at a place of His choosing. We cannot direct the working of, or impose a timetable on The Holy Spirit, what we can do is pray. The massive level of attack on the Church from inside and outside would seem to indicate that Satan is worried about something.

    1. We cannot direct the work of the Spirit nor impose a timetable. But caution is needed when invoking the Spirit. For many try and justify heresy or innovation claiming it ‘a new work of the Spirit’ suggesting that the Spirit could somehow contradict the establish words of the Son. Suggesting such conflict within the Godhead, as if He got it wrong before, is an obvious nonsense. Yet it is very common on the lips of modernists who, after all, have nothing else to back themselves up with being out of synch with scripture and tradition and in synch with the sexual revolution and established secular consensus.

      1. It is so tiresome so constantly to come across such hypersuperueberpapalist gush about the “Holy Spirit guiding the choice of pope,” that it is refreshing to read what one Prof. Ratzinger once wrote on the subject:


        ‘Anyway, one shouldn’t exaggerate the role of divine inspiration. As one cardinal put it to me after the election of Benedict XVI, “I was never whapped on the head by the Holy Spirit. I had to make the best choice I could based on the information available.”

        Perhaps the classic expression of this idea belongs to none other than the outgoing pope, Benedict XVI, who as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger was asked on Bavarian television in 1997 if the Holy Spirit is responsible for who gets elected. This was his response:

        “I would not say so, in the sense that the Holy Spirit picks out the Pope. … I would say that the Spirit does not exactly take control of the affair, but rather like a good educator, as it were, leaves us much space, much freedom, without entirely abandoning us. Thus the Spirit’s role should be understood in a much more elastic sense, not that he dictates the candidate for whom one must vote. Probably the only assurance he offers is that the thing cannot be totally ruined.”

        Then the clincher:

        “There are too many contrary instances of popes the Holy Spirit obviously would not have picked”!’

        1. Does not mean that the guys have not been let through in order to teach us lessons (sometimes not obvious for years if not centuries). The primary one perhaps being that the church is steered through the storm and the The Lord is there. If He were not, it would have collapsed long ago. The history of the papacy shows that it has contained examples from the rogues to the saints and everything in between. In other words, just like the Apostles, there has been a bit of everything but He keeps his promise. That is where we rest our trust.

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