To blaspheme is to mock God, and "God is not mocked."
BLASPHEMY IN BRISTOL
On Tuesday 1st October 2002 the Cathedral of Sts. Peter and Paul in Clifton, Bristol, played host to a magnificent demonstration of how far our bishops and priests are prepared to travel in the name of ecumenism, political correctness and (witting or unwitting) pro-feminist cant. His Excellency Bishop Declan Lang - scarcely one year in office - threw open the doors of his episcopal seat to a glitzy array of women vicars, women ministers, women spirit-dancers; women, in short, from every walk of "religious life" (although very few nuns - none recognisably so). The peak of this pan-feminist parade was the presence, and sermonising from the cathedral pulpit, of the female "bishop" of Hanover, Dr Margot Kaessman. It had to be seen to be believed.
Some sixty or seventy people were already there when I arrived - including a small posse of ladies by the main entrance, with banners demanding the end of celibacy in the priesthood, the end of male hegemony of the priesthood, and probably the end of the priesthood period, if I had asked. Inside, a large number of official-looking women wandered freely around the sanctuary - the Blessed Sacrament chapel had been roped off and plunged in darkness, in case you were wondering - inspecting the large slab-like altar, covered with a cloth and equipped with seven or so candles, of which more later, and the pulpit, which had been decked out for the occasion in what I took to be Joseph's Amazing TechnicolorTM Dreamcoat, so vivid was the rainbow display of scarves swathed around the lectern. The proportion of women to men was 9:1 against, whilst the average age of those present must have been somewhere in the 60-65 bracket. Children of the revolution, I mused.
By 7pm, there were about 150 people inside the cathedral. I took time to look at the curious patchwork quilt hanging above the lectern: set against a purple background, it was made up of one hundred squares depicting tapestry rainbows, trees, moons, animals and plants - and, just for balance, one Cross, figureless and lost in its surroundings. Various dignitaries started arriving, bedecked in gold chains and medals, anxious to show Establishment backing for the spectacle... I counted up the number of women I could espy in fancy dress, sporting Roman collars: by 7.10pm there were some sixty or seventy. It struck me as odd that, just as the old priests decided to cast off the collar as a symbol, in their eyes, of oppression and division, so the new priestesses have picked them up, anxious to ape their male counterparts as closely as possible, without noticing that few of the men wear them any more.
Heinz 57 in an 'Assisi
After a hymn which encouraged us to sing "...justice, once so long denied,/restore to all their dignity and pride," of which Fay Weldon would have been proud, the Anglican Bishop Barry Rogerson rose to conduct a prayer of thanksgiving. He at least mentioned Our Lady as Mary, Disciple and Mother. He went on, however, to add words of praise about women as leader in Church (not the Church).
He was followed by a large Afro-Caribbean gospel choir, backed by a small R&B band on one side, who had the audience - not a congregation, surely! - swaying by Verse 2 and clapping by Verse 3. It was as if they couldn't wait to let themselves go. But I did notice, among some of those around me, a certain air of resignation. Was it true Charismatic fervour whipping up all these people? Or a certain fear of standing out? In the words of Cardinal Ottaviani, said of the bishops at Vatican II, "They are afraid of looking old." The majority of the audience were still, by and large, well past forty and many of them past sixty.
After the all-singing, swaying, clapping experience had died away, a liturgical dance entitled "Spirit Weaving" was performed by three ladies billed as the Christian Dancers of Bristol who, clad in black and wearing bright red, gold and silvers sashes, wafted around the sanctuary, waving red, gold and silver flags in very meaningful directions, all to the backing of a solo female singer, plaintively warbling away. The effect all this might have had on me was marred by the thought that they resembled nothing so much as a Pan's People reunion group who had decided that, due to considerations of age and dignity, a little light banner-swishing was all they could manage. Of course, the effect of the dance was alien to true Catholicism - but then so was the effect of the whole. If this was "Spirit Weaving," I should not have been in the least surprised to have found the Spirit had woven itself into a large, untidy antimacassar as a result.
Each of these speakers, as they left the sanctuary, lit a candle on the main altar. A brief flash of recognition hit home as it struck me that Novus Ordo candles are no easier to light than Traditional ones... All this was followed immediately by a disembodied woman' s voice reading a heavily altered Magnificat, which started "The birthing of the ordinary revolution," and ended "the handmaid of the Lord, in her own shaft of light stands tall and empowered [my emphasis], breaking each day in community the 25p sliced bread of life." This appeared to be likening the Most Sacred Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of Our Lord in the Holy Eucharist to the morning crust at breakfast.
The Lutheran Church, we were reminded, now has four women bishops, and one quarter of its ministers are women, That this should be announced before the Catholic bishop with an air of pride shows how little the meaning of true ecumenism is understood. Pope Paul VI did indeed warn Archbishop Coggan of Canterbury in the 1970s that if the Anglican Church ever ordained priestesses, it would render all possibility of reunion effectively null and void. Yet here, in Bristol, in 1994, the Church of England took that step. It was Bishop Barry Rogerson, now sitting here, gleefully, in this Catholic Cathedral, who eight years ago laid hands on thirty-two women in the Anglican Cathedral, barely one mile away. And it was Bishop Lang who decided to resurrect it all here in Clifton this night.
The intercessions which followed Bishop Kaessman's sermon were the usual mixture of warmed over socialist, feminist and liberal catchwords, covering every eventuality except that of increasing vocations to the priesthood among men. The whole "Celebrate!" event came to a climactic end when a last hymn was sung entitled "All the trees of the field shall clap their hands," which, besides being literally dubious, sounded like a show-stopper song from a modern musical and aroused much audience participation in the form of clapping, swaying, etc. Twelve women with a multitude of coloured flags took up position in a large semi-circle behind the sanctuary and waved them around to the music; a group of school girls performed various running-jumping-standing-still exercises in front of the altar, and the whole thing came to a big finish just as the assembled dignitaries processed out. It was all very odd.
Bishop Lang's abomination
It was a simultaneously dispiriting and puzzling experience: on the one hand, yes, it was an abomination for a Catholic cathedral and a Catholic bishop to permit such a wilful demonstration in favour of something Rome has specifically outlawed - it would be equivalent to Westminster Cathedral holding a Mass of Thanksgiving for the work of the Marie Stopes Foundation. Yet I was intrigued to realise that the majority of people attending were all of a common type: well-dressed, well-spoken, well-educated, and old enough to have been in the first wave of Vatican II revolutionaries. These were the young Catholics of the 1950s and 1960s who were the willing and unwilling accomplices of the Teilhard de Chardins, Bugninis and Kungs in their efforts to destroy all notions of the One, Holy, Roman, Catholic and Apostolic Church. They are, in a sense, even more to blame than later generations will be for the destruction of the Church: they had the benefit of true Catholic upbringings, and they turned their backs on it in pursuit of false prophets.
But at least they have memories of how things were once, and should be still. I spoke with one old lady outside afterwards, before I plunged into the rain. "Rather different from the days of Pius XII and the Old Pro." (The old Catholic Pro-Cathedral of the Apostles which now lies, abandoned and decaying, a few hundred yards away). "Yes," she said, "but that was the old days. Now we're all so much more empowered." That word again. Well, I suppose possessing a gun empowers one to shoot oneself.
May Our Blessed Lady, Mother of God and supreme model of womanhood, instil in the hearts of men and women everywhere a truer appreciation of the unique role Our heavenly Father intends for us, and may Our Lord grant us many holy priests to do His work and carry His message far and wide, and many religious vocations to assist them. Amen.
The author is a student at Bristol University