In late 1979, a distressed mother met with her bishop to inform him that her son had been sexually abused by one of his priests. His response to this heinous crime was to fob her off and simply transfer the offending cleric to another parish. The physical assaults continued.
In 1994, an eminent Catholic educator and catechist met with the same prelate about the arch-Modernist Here I Am catechetical series which was poisoning young souls throughout the diocese. This mother, too, was waved away without a care in the world. "It’s no good talking to me about Here I Am," said the Shepherd breezily, "I haven’t even glanced at it. Go and speak to my experts." The moral and doctrinal assaults continued.
In between these two meetings, as the physical and spiritual abuse of young Catholics multiplied in his diocese, the bishop in question, Cormac Murphy O’Connor, imported the notorious RENEW programme to Arundel and Brighton.
For those familiar with the heretical roots and subjective underpinnings of the RENEW process – in which non-judgementalism and private opinion replace Catholic doctrine as the sine qua non of "spiritual renewal" – its symbolic link in this particular chain of events is obvious and reflected in the editorial title above: RENEW as the liberal philosophical bridge between a Western episcopal archetype - faithless, ignorant, smug, negligent – and the ongoing physical, spiritual, pastoral, catechetical and liturgical abuse of 40 years. For RENEW promotes always and everywhere that neo-Manichean tyranny of the human spirit described in our December 2002 number, whereby all manner of disobedience, dissent and vice can be rationalised by appeals to the "purity of intention" and "sincerity" of the "well-meaning" perpetrator. This pure subjectivism has led, in turn, to the complacency of a Western episcopate in permanent "denial" about the Catholic crisis in general and their own complicity in particular, as personified above by the former Bishop of Arundel and Brighton. Indifferent to the spiritual defilement he easily rationalised the physical defilement, even in the face of later warnings from professionals. The "sincerity" of catechetical and clerical defilers, he surely reckoned, would cover their "failings."
Without doubt Cormac and RENEW are meant for each other. The former, a tragi-comic caricature of the vacuous, self-serving post-conciliar Modernist bishop; the latter, a veritable parody of Modernist pseudo-renewal programmes, encapsulating all their 1960s experiential/Marxist/feminist/psycho-social cant and methodology. Only a prelate like Cormac driven by the same kind of all-powerful ‘fuzzy feelings’ stirred up, affirmed and unleashed in the manipulative small groups at the heart of RENEW – wherein the will assumes precedence over the intellect - could seriously enthuse about a convergence with Protestants under "a Pope for all Christians . . . who will preside not with jurisdiction but with love." Any bishop guided by reason and Catholic teaching would recoil from the heresy and contradiction implicit in such a cringing touchy-feely sentiment. So overwhelming is RENEW’s emphasis on this experiential, emotional and personal aspect of "faith life" at the expense of doctrine and the intellectual and rational, that even the American hierarchy conceded that "Because of its [three-year] duration and impact on the local church, we have to be concerned about the effects it has upon the orthodoxy and orthopraxis of our people." Those devastating effects have surfaced wherever it has been introduced, as testimonies in this edition again confirm. And no amount of alleged "re-writing" can salvage its intrinsically flawed process. Effectively, the US Bishops said that only if RENEW ceased to be RENEW could it be said to be genuinely Catholic!
Of all the indictments of RENEW, the most transparent is its manifest failure to live up to its name. Titles like DECAY or DISSOLUTION would more accurately reflect its impact on parishes and dioceses. Considering the subjectivised ‘end product’ of the RENEW process, figures become somewhat superfluous as a guide to its ‘effectiveness’ i.e. even a steep numerical increase in all areas of parish life would only mask a wholesale Protestantisation of souls, worship etc. etc. Nor can mere statistics capture the dreadful conflicts, divisions, mutual suspicion, tensions and acrimony that afflict RENEW parishes. Nonetheless, figures are at least indicative of the falsity of claims about the programme’s regenerative powers of "spiritual and pastoral renewal." To cite a typical example, consider the following negative returns on the vast sum Bishop Murphy O’Connor invested in RENEW, which he introduced to Arundel and Brighton in 1988, half-way through his 23 year tenure (1977-2000).
The RENEW-effect is even more starkly illustrated if one compares the figures pre- and post-RENEW. For example, Mass attendance in Arundel and Brighton fell by only 1,002 (2%) between 1977-87 but by 8,346 (17%) during the 1988-2000 ‘RENEW era.’ Similarly, the number of marriages annually declined in total by 79 (7%) from 1977-87 before plummeting by 456 (48%) between 1988-2000. While the equally important baptisms fell in number by only 3 (0.1%) between 1977-87 then by 94 (4%) post-RENEW. Were these figures to be set against increases in the general Catholic population over the same period of time they would appear worse still.
Despite this notorious history, however, now-Cardinal Murphy O’Connor has again dredged up RENEW and determined to inflict it on the unsuspecting souls of Westminster – at their expense, of course. Providentially and ironically, he set this plan in action late last year just as the Father Michael Hill sexual abuse saga from his Arundel and Brighton days returned to haunt him, when Hill, gaoled in 1997 but paroled in 2000, pleaded guilty to the indecent assault of three additional boys aged 10 to 14 years between 1969 and 1987. Throughout the media blitz that ensued, the Cardinal continued to rationalise his repeated acts of negligence on the laughable grounds that during the 1980s "the guidelines weren’t there" to advise him about child abuse or dealing with clerical abusers (never mind the very precise and detailed norms covering clerical sins against "the sixth commandment of the Decalogue" in whole sections of The Code of Canon Law! In truth, as with his complete disregard for the content of his diocesan catechetical programme, he was too bone idle - i.e. too busy honing his golf swing and tinkling his grand piano - to bother dragging the Code from his bookshelf and reading it). "We’ve been on a learning curve," he told BBC’s Newsnight by way of further self-mitigation, repeating the mantra several times like a disgraced political muppet mouthing a skin-saving sound-bite. In fact, he has learnt, and understands, absolutely nothing, least of all about himself. "I never took an allegation of child abuse uncarefully," he went on. "I care for priests [and] children very much." Like the mothers whose pleas for justice he blithely waved away, we know better. (As do the clergy and laity of Arundel and Brighton who suffered his arrogance and bullying in so many other ways, such as his uncompromising demands for expensive, pointless and thoroughly Protestant re-ordering of churches).
Cardinal Murphy O’Connor’s Protestantised understanding of "renewal" and thus what lies in store for a RENEWED Westminster was loudly telegraphed when he kicked off proceedings by gathering all the priests of the archdiocese for a knees-up at Butlin’s Holiday camp in Bognor Regis from 5-7 November 2002, where they rubber-stamped RENEW (aka At Your Word Lord) as their vehicle for "pastoral revitalisation." Accordingly, parish newsletters notified the faithful: "There will be no Mass on Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday – there will be Eucharistic Services instead." Just as telling was the choice of Cardinal Danneels of Belgium and Fr. McDade S.J. of Heythrop College to address the assembled clergy on the requirements for Catholic renewal and evangelisation - which is akin to seeking marriage advice from Elizabeth Taylor. Indeed, if Westminster readers want a snapshot of the sterility and Catholic-cleansing RENEW will usher in they need only refer back to John Burke’s Holy Church Inc. in our January 2002 number. For those without access to that edition, here is part of Mr Burke’s brief description of a typical pastoral planning document from the Cardinal’s days in Arundel and Brighton:
The words "God" and "Catholic" appear twice, mainly on the fourth and last page, in contrast to "community" which is repeated a dozen times. And whereas there are six mentions of so-called RENEW, the Holy Spirit gets a single mention at the bottom of page 3 along with the Gospel. There is one mention of "Christ" on the final page, unless "the Lord" counts on page 1. Jesus is absent. There is liberal mention of ecumenism and liturgy, but the rare naming of Mass as such is with a small "m" along with a single mention of the Scriptures. There is not one Biblical quotation, although then-Bishop Murphy O’Connor’s photo adorns the back page.
By the time RENEW splutters to the end of its three year cycle, Cardinal Murphy O’Connor will have spent an obscene amount of money on this accursed programme over the last 17 years. Still more of the Catholic faithful’s hard-earned cash chucked down the drain to satisfy his Modernist addiction to glossy pastoral gimmicks and give-aways - which novelties not only betray his own vacuity but, by removing the essential cognitive dimension of faith (the Catechism) from spiritual renewal, further dissolve the bonds of Catholic unity they purport to strengthen. The only thing RENEW ever renews is the endless cycle of dissidence, disobedience and abuse of every kind through its flight from the intellect and affirmation of personal experience and emotion as the measure of all things. And tragically, as we have learned in recent times, the exorbitant cost of the pseudo-renewal programmes themselves pales against the aggregate spiritual, social and financial costs that their subjectivism elicits and sustains both within the Church and wider community.
At the heart of RENEW’s perverse experiential philosophy, of course, is self-absolution. Even as they perpetuate the corrosive cycle just mentioned, the bishops continue looking for scapegoats and avoiding personal responsibility for the trail of ruined lives, shattered faith and financial waste they leave in their wake. RENEW-style, they believe their "purity of intention" absolves them from blame. Cardinal Murphy O’Connor speaks of his regret "at the mistakes the Church has made in the past, due to a lack of understanding of this complex issue."[my emphasis] No, Eminence, not the Church, but the Shepherds – to wit, you. And since when did the sexual assault of children by priests become such a "complex issue"? As Father Richard Barrett complained: "It is not the Code of Canon Law which has failed children but those in authority who have not implemented these very clear norms (not just guidelines) governing clerical conduct since the Code was promulgated in 1983. If the code had been implemented, charities in Britain would not be the object of claims for administrative negligence. It appears that some officials are incapable of taking legal advice. Is the code to be blamed for such resistance to its laws? I think not."[The Tablet, 6/1/01]
It is this abdication of basic epsicopal responsibilities, rooted in loss of faith, that has now produced a burgeoning child abuse bureaucracy (the Catholic Office for the Protection of Children and Vulnerable Adults) which is costing the laity £280,000 to set up and whose yearly wage bill already exceeds £100,000. This bureaucracy, together with the countless (often draconian) recommendations of the Nolan Report on child abuse from which it sprang, is now the child abuse panacea eagerly trotted out at every interview to assure the world that the bishops have the problem under control. Their own liberalism having created the artificial demand for this hugely expensive and intrusive monument to officialdom in the first place, the bishops, like the smug corporate managers they are, now claim credit for ‘best practice.’ Meanwhile they continue their spiritual abuse of children through false catechesis and sex-ed in the Catholic classroom and maintain an open door policy for homosexual entry to English seminaries, thus ensuring a perpetual clientele for their abuse administrators. This is the grim reality behind the Cardinal’s pat response about "[helping] my fellow bishops implement Nolan so that we really have a climate of child protection in the whole of the Catholic Church." What about "implementing" Humane Vitae or The Truth and Meaning of Human Sexuality or the Catechism of the Catholic Church or the General Catechetical Directory or the Instruction on Collaboration of the Laity in the Sacred Ministry of Priests or the provisions of Canon Law or a hundred other Church documents collecting dust on episcopal shelves? Implementation of their protective orthodoxy, though alien to RENEW, would do far more than Nolan to ensure that "any mistakes made in the past never, never, never happen again" as Cormac idly pledged on Newsnight.
The Cardinal also wrote to the Times: "I am deeply sorry for the damage he (Michael Hill) has done, and to the extent that my decision contributed to any of that damage."[my emphasis] No, Eminence, not "any of that damage," but "all of that damage," seeing as you appointed Hill to the Gatwick airport chaplaincy fully aware of his past and fully informed (several times) that he would likely re-offend. The young boy Hill raped while at Gatwick is now in his late 20s. Having seen through the dark and suicidal times he still relives the nightmare every day and is in no doubt where the guilt lies. "For me," he said, "the Archbishop is as responsible as Hill for what happened. He claimed that allowing Hill to work at Gatwick was a mistake, but it was one hell of mistake to make."[The Times, 25/11/02]
Perhaps the hardest thing for faithful Catholics to stomach in all of this is the ivory-tower fantasy-land of RENEWED-Catholicism into which the bishops retreat when their sins are laid bare. In that emotive dream-world, safe from self-awareness and self-knowledge, they can shift the blame and scapegoat others to their hearts content, as illustrated by the Cardinal’s self-serving attempt to blame the media for his woes: "... many others feel deeply concerned by the apparently relentless attack by parts of the media on their faith, and on the Church in which they continue to believe." [Letter to The Times, 21/11/02]. No, Eminence, down here in the real world the best of believing Catholics in this country are far more concerned about the "relentless attack" that episcopal Modernists like you and your English brethren have waged on the Faith and the Church in this land to the point of extinction – as embodied in corrupting, episcopally-sponsored programmes like RENEW and ICONS. And as for your claim that "The question of resigning for me really doesn’t arise [because] the Catholic community on the whole would want me to continue to do this work," you shouldn’t believe everything you are told by sycophants who tell you what you want to hear instead of what is good for your salvation. On the contrary, it is widely held that your resignation and retirement to a remote monastery to do penance for the rest of your life, which reparation the situation certainly demands, would do far more for the glory of God, the credibility of the Church and your own soul than all the carefully rehearsed sound-bites and weasel-words you have spouted these past months. The Great Unwashed are not as easily fooled by a reassuring Irish brogue as your spin-doctors would have you believe, Eminence. Nor, I believe, is God.
"I wonder," asked the Newsnight interviewer, "if you have reached any conclusion as to why it [child abuse] has become such a problem for you?" On cue the Cardinal generously spread the blame: "The problem is everywhere, let’s be clear about that. It’s been a great shock to society, the Catholic Church and to me." The simple answer to the interviewer’s question, however, is that the local Church won’t solve its abuse problem until it solves its episcopal problem. The Cardinal is an emblematic part of that problem: a cleric completely out of his depth, promoted way beyond his ability with nothing to offer a local Church in spiritual and numerical meltdown except more of the same bogus "renewal" which has fuelled the crisis for 40 years. Manifestly, as Christian Order has well documented, he has no faith, no humility, no shame and an utter lack of self-awareness. This magazine alone begged Rome not to appoint him to Westminster in the first place, knowing his abject track record in Arundel and Brighton, and pleaded with them not to elevate him to the Sacred College, especially at a time when the Hill saga had just erupted, knowing it would all end in tears and ignominy for the Church. The whole country was crying out for strong Catholic leadership. We needed an episcopal prophet: Rome consecrated the Cormac-RENEW-abuse nexus instead. They have everything to answer for.