Reflections on Hypocrisy during a Pastoral
"Liebe Schwestern und liebe Bruder in Erzbistum Koln! Vieles in unserer Welt liegt im argen, und in weiten Bereichen ist sie krank. . ."
Brothers and Sisters of the Archdiocese of Cologne! Much of our world
is in a sorry state, and in broad areas it is sick..."]
It was a curious thing. On this first Sunday of Lent I had arrived at morning Mass in Bonn feeling rather perky. Yet no sooner had the priest mouthed these words in his hearty rheinisch tones, than my eyelids mysteriously gained several pounds, fell heavily and refused to lift for the next ten minutes - the time it took Father to deliver Cardinal Joachim Meisner's 1996 Lenten Pastoral to his German constituents. In truth, it was not so inexplicable. More reflexive than miraculous, this instant retreat into slumberland is my now conditioned response to that most agonising of all the many and varied forms of episcopal hypocrisy which dominate these seemingly endless "endtimes" - the Pastoral Letter.
As a gauge of just how far out of touch our Shepherds are with Catholic reality, both supernatural and social, the contemporary Pastoral takes some beating. Often not for what it says but what it doesn't say, But we shall return to the good Cardinal and his sins of omission in due course. Meanwhile, as the priest droned on and I settled into a doze, my distracted half-thoughts turned to the way in which the whole idea of hypocrisy has evolved in recent times; how its essence has become so controverted that moderns, having redefined its traditional Christian parameters, fail to recognise the real thing when they encounter it. In fact, having lost their moral bearings, even the value of hypocrisy now escapes our worldly pseudo-sophisticates.
Value of Hypocrisy
This is not to say either that the general community has ceased to speak of hypocrisy - it does so ad nauseam - or that hypocrites are a worthy breed. Hypocrisy is, of course, a truly dreadful, corrosive thing. Yet it is not wholly without value. In the same way that Providence draws good even from the fathomless well of human wickedness, hypocrisy, in so far as it remains a half-meaningful term in common usage, is valuable. This value lies in what it denotes by way of implication i.e. the existence of standards. The Christian notion of hypocrisy may even be the last moral yardstick available to a world helplessly adrift in the nihilistic tempest of secularism, having long jettisoned its Catholic compass and reference point par excellence, Jesus Christ, in favour of navigation by the stars - the daily horoscope.
One hastens to add, of course, that even a steady diet of contrived, fatalistic nonsense has not yet entirely purged the religious connotations of hypocrisy from modern pagan consciousness. The liberal fog that wafts daily from our newspapers, TVs and walkmans to encircle and disorient the community - to hold us in thrall to "pluralism" - has demonstrably, to varying degrees, corrupted us all. But even amidst the fog of fuzzy thoughts and cloudy forms drifting through the condom culture, one discerns a more definite outline against which to measure the idea of hypocrisy. It is not something the likes of St. Paul or John of the Cross need to point out. These inarticulated norms lying dormant in the neo-pagan heart - standards of natural goodness and rectitude - are written into our nature by the Creator like elementary commands in a human software package: user instructions provided - complete (Scripture/Tradition) or summary form (Commandments) - but you can usually figure out the basics yourself. As regards fundamentals, therefore, the divinely programmed person is set to function in a certain way and to react accordingly when transgressors present themselves as holier-than-thou. Thus the traditional nexus, independent of Revelation, between hypocrisy and virtue.
Equality of Nihilism
Yet for all that, the casual hedonism of the day suggests that the un-churched masses are easy prey for the incessant propaganda of the liberals who, presenting this natural moral code as a repressive religious invention, have expropriated hypocrisy and now use it as a club to bash Christians, demonising those who fall from grace - who fail to live the Decalogue and practise what they preach - as the only true hypocrites. If, as just established, hypocrisy actually means "falsely pretending to be virtuous," only by eliminating whatever makes people virtuous can liberals rid the world at one and the same time of both conventional hypocrites and religious intolerance.
The tortured logic goes that liberals alone, therefore, are beyond accusations of hypocrisy because, having cast off the shackles of popery, they are free to both practice what they preach (sodomy) and preach what they practice (abortion). And so the sodomist and abortionist point their sneering fingers at the hypocritical Catholic adulterer who begs forgiveness for his sin. If only he would wallow in his crime, laud his venality, surrender this mythic notion of virtue, all would be well - hypocrisy and religious discrimination vanquished by the equality of nihilism. Thus the law of how all men should live from the Olympian vantage point of liberalism. The sodomist creates and promotes conditions for the spread of a killer virus then justifies awarding himself a red-ribbon, a badge of honour, for his trouble - because, well . . . "at least," he asserts defiantly, "I'm not a hypocrite!"
Perhaps, in the long-run, this attempt to commandeer hypocrisy and present it as a Christian disease will only serve to keep alive the contraindicators of faith and virtue. In,the meantime, however, classic liberal posturing by the likes of Danielle Mitterand will continue to take their toll. In her recent best-selling book En toutes libertes, the wife of the late French President, who for years shared him with his mistress and illegitimate daughter, glories in having developed with her husband a "modern" marriage free of "hypocrisies bougeoises": reciprocal infidelity, extended family, etc, etc. All that presented not only as the most natural but most respectable thing in the world. Never mind that for 14 years she and Francois were charged with leading the French nation which, one might have thought, implied moral responsibilities by way of setting an example. On the contrary, Mme Mitterand is thoroughly satisfied with herself because whatever else she might be, she is not one of those despicable Catholics who promise so much and deliver so little. But freed from such hypocrisy, what does she offer in its stead? "The example Mme Mitterand proposes to us," wrote one French daily, commenting on her book, "is the total absence of morality, the negation of elementary notions of law and order." In other words, Madame proposes the equality of nihilism, realised through the liberal formula outlined above, to wit: elimination of the very idea of Christian virtue in order to break free from a traditionally conceived hypocrisy rooted in Catholic dogmatism (read: prejudice).
Interestingly, this represents a break with the entrenched Continental attitude of private vice and public virtue; that schizophrenic separation of personal and civic life and apparent indifference towards the sexual peccadillos and perversions of public figures - long presented to the outside world as European "maturity" in matters venereal. "Perpetual immaturity" might be closer to the mark in describing Europe's adolescent sexual persona! But however one judges that, at least no one publicly justified the immorality of private acts. The hypocrisy was ever recognised albeit unspoken. It is true that despite his extra-marital arrangement", Franqois , for example, could hold court on family Values without a whimper from public or press, just as practising Catholic Helmut Kohl can still retain the moral high ground despite his renowned relationship with confidente Juliane Weber. Yet in both cases one perceives the overriding imperative: retention of a moral facade. Pathetic? Two-faced? Certainly. All the same, it is something; the last trace, in fact, of that deference to Christian virtues that Mme Mitterand and others like her wish to annihilate.
Very well. But what, given man's "pre-programmed", ineradicable distaste for duplicity, is to be the new measure of hypocrisy in this brave nihilistic world? A merely profane honesty? Indeed, the great hypocrisy of the day is dishonesty pure and simple. The increasingly evident, unwritten axiom is that anything is permissible as long as one is honest and open because this denotes sincerity, which is all. Honesty - sincerity - cancels out the contradictions and inconsistencies between private and public personas that might once have raised questions about a man's fitness for office or for dispensing advice on ethical, moral or social issues. To be dishonest, on the other hand, about one's homosexuality or adulterous liaisons, in the sense of refusing to laud or at least rationalise your trespasses in public, is to sin against the inexorable juggernauts of "pluralism" and "reality."
In this pathetic arena, cut adrift from the Christian moral axis, there is no logic because no common ties - just indiscriminate, free-floating links unconnected to any single chain. The artist, actor or writer, for instance, sees absolutely nothing inherently inconsistent or hypocritical in denouncing war and sexism from big lofty public pulpit while simultaneously portraying graphic sex and violence with images and words. This, he says, is "realism." To censor a graphic recreation of the blood lust of the latest Ted Bundy or Fred West would not only be to undermine the Director's self-expression (unthinkable!) but to pretend that such things never happen, to restrain an expression of "reality," which would be simply "dishonest" - and that is hypocrisy.
Recently asked by media pundit Selina Scott whether he felt remorse for his central role in the sex, drugs and rock'n'roll revolution of the '60s, the devastating consequences of which continue unabated, Pete Townshend, former leader of legendary rock group The Who, responded on cue:
"I had this art school training and I was deeply conscious of dishonesty. I felt I had a duty to be absolutely honest. I was desperately afraid of being hypocritical. Even today, I'm afraid of hypocrisy. But I'm not afraid to look back and take responsibility for anything I've done."
The inference here is that taking "responsibility" for what he did in no way implies being ashamed of it, since shame, as presently understood, only arises in the context of dishonesty (hypocrisy) while Mr. Townshend's hedonistic, anarchistic salad-days were an "absolutely honest" outpouring of self-expression.
Meanwhile, as if to add his considerable weight to this liberal push, Luciano Pavarotti, upon trading-in his wife Adua for 27-year-old secretary Nicoletta, declared triumphantly: "Nicoletta and I are very happy. To hide or deny this would be a crime." Never mind the moral dimensions of the real crime - breaking your marriage vows - since, essentially, there are no such parameters, no virtuous reference points, just "honesty" to oneself viewed in isolation.
Naturally, to challenge this newfangled hypocrisy, detached as it is from any external reference point, is to risk the ultimate liberal put-down: "How Victorian!" Well, if the puritanism of Victorian England was unhealthy and the gap between their Christian social mores and many private lives truly hypocritical, what we do today is much worse. The Victorians, at least, did not set about rationalising such arrangements - in the manner of Danielle Mitterand and friends, who seem ever more desperate to uproot the last vestiges of moral rectitude in the cause of tearing qway that accursed mask of "hypocrisie bourgeoise," seen as the animating [Catholic] force of religious intolerance.
Amidst this changing face of hypocrisy, however, one observes a perverse turn of events. In discarding virtue from their equation and thus moving away from the received Christian understanding, the worldlings have, paradoxically, moved closer to the contemporary Church! This takes us back to the start and our small congregation of German faithful dutifully absorbing Cardinal Meisner's hauntingly familiar brand of duplicity.
There was much talk of the "sickness of the world"; the "therapy" of "grace and truth" delivered by Jesus through His Church as the only effective remedy for this sickness; the obligation to increase works of "charity" for "the poor"; inevitable allusions to the "threshold of the 21st century" etc, etc. On one level, it all seemed fairly innocuous. Like so many Pastorals, just another missed opportunity to feed the flock some solid meat. That, of course, is a problem in itself. Nothing for the anti-Catholic standard-bearers of the new hypocrisy to worry about here. No inflammatory Christ-like talk about sword wielding and setting off family feuds in the service of Catholic truth! Just a typically banal episcopal message delivered to an averagely listless congregation.
Yet in terms of episcopal hypocrisy it was, per usual, what the Cardinal didn't say and didn't confess that really grated; the talk about a "sick world", rather than a sick Church and a sick Archdiocese, that turned the stomach. The greater part of his message, you see, was to do with the conclusion and recommendations of a much celebrated and controversial three year Pastoralgesprach (pastoral discussion), among clergy and laity, that he had initiated in 1992. Predictably, however, the anaemic, cliched snippets mentioned in his Pastoral - calls for new pastoral strategies, adult education . . . (etc, ho hum) - overlooked one wee matter: the dissent that marked the final public summary of his three year talk-fest.
To listen to the Cardinal, apart from two fleeting, tell-tale signs of decay (re illicit liturgical practices and further reduction in parish Masses), everything sounded hunky dory in Erzbistum Koln, with the rousing prospect - you'll be expecting this - of further Erneuerung ("renewal") following the 36 month Gesprach ("dialogue")! But the final report throws a very different light not only on the specific tone and direction of that lengthy discourse itself but on the terminal condition of Germanic "Catholicism" in general.
At the final meeting of the Pastoralgesprach, it was decided to present the bishops with a sampling of participants' opinions (Meinungsbilder) on additional, selected issues beyond its frame of reference. On the question of women priests, 75% of participants did not accept the infallible declaration that the Church could not ordain females; 64% thought lay preaching at Mass should generally be allowed and 89% wanted at least a relaxation of Church discipline in this regard; 77% felt it desirable to open the diaconate to women; 35% thought laity should be free to perform baptisms; 74% wanted to open new forms of entry to the priesthood; 78% were in favour of randomly re-employing ex-priests "despite their having broken sacred vows"; and, naturally, to give these ideas every future possibility of realisation, 93% looked to a stronger voice for the laity in choosing bishops. Given an average abstention rate of between 4-5%, the orthodox minority among these trusted episcipal advisors was even more miniscule than it appears(1).
One can comfortably suppose, therefore, that in the first instance it is the health of the minds and souls of his Cologne flock that should concern the Cardinal when speaking of "sickness." Rather than condescending words about the sorry state of the world at large, he would do well to treat and heal his own before piously proclaiming what he called a "Diagnose fur den Patienten 'Welt'." He was right to remind us that our sick world suffers from "three great wounds" - error, death and hate ("Irrtum, Tod und Hass") - to be conquered by Christ's gifts of truth, life and love ("Wahrheit, Leben und Lieben"). But if we consider the pride, disobedience and ignorance underlying the above straw poll, so diplomatically ignored by his Eminence, and then recall that wherever error and spiritual death take root a real hatred of the demands of Christ's Magisterium is close behind, we suddenly find the Cardinal's "three great wounds of the world" festering in his own backyard! And the healing gifts of truth and authority - recognition of the cancer of dissent and the will to treat it - nowhere within earshot. Yet until truth takes precedence over hypocritical posturing, until it is proclaimed vigorously and often and given adequate episcopal protection, the subsequent spiritual gifts of "life and love" extolled by the Cardinal will remain a dead letter in the Cologne Archdiocese as elsewhere.
"Whited Sepulchres" of the Latin Rite
A few years back I wrote a weighty tome to illustrate this very point(2) - the practical connection between erroneous ideas and that spiritual death which Christ urged us to fear more than physical demise. The prelate in that scenario, Bishop Noel Daly of Sandhurst, Australia, also had a problem with hypocrisy vis-a-vis Pastoral Letters and sins of omission.
Now, sins of omission are no doubt among that multitudinous number covered over by charity (deo gratias!) and it is evident that many clerics are banking their very salvation on this beguiling 'escape-clause.' I wish them luck. Nonetheless, when such sins double as ecclesiastical hypocrisy - given the Lord's particular distaste for "whited sepulchres" in high places - I'm not so sure that even brotherly love can underwrite them. A Vatican high-flyer once assured me that their inclusion in the Novus Ordo Confiteor ("...what, I have done and what I have failed to do") was a major breakthrough and saving grace of the New Mass! An insight which surely rockets "clutching at straws" into new galaxies of meaning! Still, it does indicate a certain recognition of the gravity of sins of omission in the spiritual order of things and to my mind at least, begs the question: if the blessed Mother counselled little Francisco of Fatima to say many extra rosaries to assure his salvation, how many rosaries and Novus Ordo Confiteors will our Shepherds need to say to assure theirs! Not only for what they have done and what they have failed to do... but for what the didn't say!
Take Bishop Daly's case as recorded in my book. In 1989 I wrote to advise him that his commendable Lenten Pastoral had neither been read from the pulpit nor distributed by the local priests since they had already jettisoned the sort of practices he was calling for: silence and respect in church, extra Masses and increased emphasis on Confession and devotions to Our Lady. Bishop Daly, of course, knew full well the sorry state to which his diocese and especially the parish of St. Joseph's, Benalla, had been reduced through priestly dissent and disobedience. But like Cardinal Meisner, he chose to turn a blind eye. He preferred to say some worthy things while leaving the hard things unsaid; to present himself as an orthodox and obedient son of the Church while simultaneously encouraging the kinds of attitudes and practices he publicly disavowed; to write pious Pastorals without the slightest intention of reforming himself or his own diocese - "You hypocrites. . . 'This people does me honour with its lips, but its heart is far from me'." [Mark 7:6]
It is increasingly evident that this kind of episcopal pharisaism no longer fools anyone. The State Premier of Victoria, neither a Catholic nor a particularly religious man, recently advised Archbishop Frank Little of Melbourne to take the beam out of his own eye and put his own house in order before dispensing pious criticisms about government policy on gambling and social welfare. Despite the dissent, scandals, fragmentation and numerical decline that wrack his archdiocese and which he has done so much to foster by actively furthering the Modernist cause in every sphere of Catholic life, Archbishop Little and his apparatchiks reacted with their Sunday best impression of righteous indignation to the suggestion that something was amiss with the Church in Melbourne! Themselves apart, who do they think they're kidding? When career politicians, who would normally seek to curry favour with ecclesiastical dignitaries at any cost, suddenly feel free to expose the "whited sepulchres" who now dominate episcopal colleges of the Latin Rite, the game is well and truly up. It was precisely because the Pharisees were "all hypocrisy" that the Lord told the apostles to avoid them. For the same reason not only more and more of the faithful but outsiders too, it seems, want less and less to do with the Princes of the Church.
The disgraceful melange of incompetence, reckless irresponsibility, false-charity, self-interest, cowardice, lies and, criminal complicity that has marked episcopal handling of clerical sexual abuse cases across the globe, above all else, is responsible for finally driving this hypocrisy out from under cover of its pseudo-Catholic facade and into the public forum. While revelations about the callous response of the hierarchy and the scandals themselves continue to shock the world at large, those on the inside are far less bewildered - seeing this Catholic contribution to "social sin" as the inevitable sum of countless "personal sins" of priestly dissent.
Rooted in personal difficulties with the Sixth Commandment, manifested in particular aversion to Humanae Vitae and general ambivalence towards the entire field of doctrine, morals, liturgy and law, tolerated or encouraged by bishops the world over and accumulating for thirty years, these workaday sins of pride and disobedience have finally burst through the walls of the Catholic cloister in a most foul and impure flood. The resultant human wreckage - the ruined lives and suicides that mark the abuse scandals, not to mention untold parish tragedies of the type related in my book - is perhaps no more frightening than the hypocrisy which gave rise to it; the two-faced posturing by Shepherds who, slaves to human respect and desirous of being all things to all men, mouth orthodox platitudes while winking at dissent and now seek to marginalise or blame the innocent victims of their own apathy, negligence and loss of faith. [see The Catholic Response to Clerical Corruption].
All that, of course, is grist to the mill for Catholic antagonists and a severe blow to the case for virtue just when the world needs it most. Like the dissent it fosters, hypocrisy is a cancer that undermines and ultimately destroys everything it touches. What credibility a Church that prefers to treat the sickness of the world before healing herself? What integrity churchmen who call incessantly for justice and peace yet fail to uphold either within their own household? And now, as if to plumb new depths in response to such damning rhetorical questions, we find that most of the bishops have even abandoned good "old-fashioned" hypocrisy. Which is to say that having eliminated virtue from the equation a la Mitterand, while lacking the "sincerity" to publicise and laud their crimes a la Pavarotti, they've ended up as just a bunch of "dishonest liberals" - hypocrites a la mode.
We perceive here, as in so many areas, the relentless convergence of a dying civilisation and a runaway Church. Perhaps these reflections serve to indicate something of this ongoing contemporary rapprochement - between the spirit of the world and the Catholic hierarchy; the swelling defiance of the former aided and abetted by the increasingly ambiguous faith of the latter. But perhaps, too, they are merely a roundabout, cathartic way of explaining that I now close my eyes and withdraw because although I've heard it all before, at both ends of the world, episcopal cant never gets any easier to bear. If once upon a time a bishop's Pastoral really "grabbed" the listener and challenged him, personally and socially, it was surely before my present incarnation. My experience simply consists of sanctimonious passages about championing "truth" and "peace" and "social justice" to bring "conflicts and wars to an end," while, every passing day, dioceses seethe with discontent and scandal and champions of orthodoxy are treated like lepers.
The only alternative to long, deep, drowsy breaths, it seems to me, is to mount the pew and scream maniacally - "TELL THE TRUTH!" Guaranteed to rouse a congregation from its torpor, to be sure, but unlikely to achieve the stated objective, which, as ever, lies entirely in the hands of the local bishops. Rather than diagnoses of die Welt and endless Pastoralgesprache, self-knowledge and frank admissions of episcopal humbug should be their urgent priorities. Cardinal Meisner, for one, could start the ball rolling, by commencing his next Pastoral with a simple, humbling, true confession:
"Dear Brothers and sisters in Christ, our Heilige Katholische Kirche is in a sorry state, and Erzbistum Koln is sick!"
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(1)These figures accurately reflect the state of the nation judging by an Easter 1996 opinion poll conducted among 1,000 German Catholics by Focus Magazine, which revealed that 82% rejected Church teaching on pre-marital sex, 78% renounced Papal infallibility, while 75% spurned both the discipline of priestly celibacy and the binding decision against women priests.