It was 15th September, 1870.  The French had lost the battle of Sedan a couple of weeks before (Pope Pius IX, a witty man, remarked that France had lost ses dents).  Just five days ago, on September 10th, King Victor Emmanuel II had written to the pope telling him that he intended to march into Rome and take it over.  The following day, the 11th, the Italian armies had entered illegally into the papal domains.  By the 20th, they will have taken Rome and the patrimony of St Peter will be no more.

But to the south, in Sobriano of Calabria, strange things were afoot.  The town had a famous shrine to St Dominic.  It dated from the 16th century; for, on 15th September, 1530, the friars of the convent had received a miraculous image of St Dominic, not painted with human hands.  In memory of this favour, a papal bull allowed them to sing Mass at two in the morning every year on that day, since this was the hour when the painting had been received.

In 1865, a large new statue of St Dominic had been sculpted and placed inside the church.  It was made of solid wood, weighing more than twenty stone, and had needed five men to put it into place.  A single man could only with great difficulty move it even a little on its base. 

At two in the morning, on the 15th September 1870, the Dominican provincial sang Mass.  He lived by himself, near the church, since the ‘laws’ of the time had dissolved all religious communities.  After the Mass, a few women present in the church thought that they saw the great statue of St Dominic moving by itself.

At eleven in the morning a solemn Mass in honour of St Dominic was sung.  Normally there would have been a procession afterward, but this year for some reason it was cancelled.  The people are disappointed.  So they remain in the church to pray.  Again, the statue is seen to move of itself, and by more people this time.  It goes back and forwards, left and right, in the form of a cross.  Not only this, but the face of St Dominic is clearly to seen to change expression: he looks alternately severe and peaceful.  Often he turns to the statue of our Lady of the Rosary, with a tender, confident gaze.  The colour in his face comes and goes.  His lips open “like those of a man about to speak”.  His right hand, which had been closed, opens and gesticulates.  The lily in his left hand moves in all directions; so do the star and halo above his head.  Wrinkles appear on his forehead, which is bathed in sweat, and his eyes move in all directions.

By noon, the fact has become public in the town.  A large crowd, both of locals and of visitors, come to look.  Some stand afar off, some go close to examine, all marvel.  The platform on which the statue rests does not move.  There are no cords attached to the statue, nor is it moved by some concealed person.  The movements are not caused by the wind, for neither the draperies of the canopy which overhangs the statue nor the candles on either side of it are moving.   In any case, the church door looks north, and there was a strong west wind that day.  The bolder folk go to take hold of the statue, and they find themselves being moved by its motion.  It rises some inches above the surface on which it rests.  Above all, though, it is the head of the saint that moves, and his expression that changes – severe, threatening, then gentle once more.

On 19th January 1871, the bishop, Philippe Mincione, announces an investigation.   Sixty-one witnesses depose under oath to what they have seen, including Fr Thomas Sarraco, the Dominican provincial.  Many more people had wished to testify, but the bishop decided to call a halt.

On 11th February, the episcopal verdict is pronounced.  There is no natural explanation for what has happened.  Further proof of this, says the bishop, lies in the many graces, and even temporal blessings, received in Sobriano since.  The moral effects on the diocese have been excellent.  “Having invoked the holy name of God, we declare that everything is supernatural and miraculous in the movements of the statue of St Dominic on 15th September, 1870”.

{from Fr Pie Marie Rouard de Card, Le Miracle de Saint Dominique à Sobriao, Louvain (C. J. Fonteyn) and Paris (Poussielgue Freres), 1871}

“O God, who wert pleased to enlighten Thy church with the merits and teaching of blessed Dominic Thy confessor; grant, at his intercession, that she may not be wanting in temporal helps, and may always increase in spiritual growth.”

Prime_Jedi[This is full of spoilers for The Last Jedi]

I walked out of the Last Jedi a bit bewildered. There are some excellent scenes in it. I actually quite like the disillusioned Luke idea. The Snoke death scene is great (except if it turns out in Episode IX that he has no interesting back-story). Talking of which, the Rey-is-just-a-complete-random decision is also quite courageous and, in a way, interesting. Many ideas unfortunately are just terrible. The comic elements on Ahch-To deflate the significance of the entire sequence rather than making it seem real (as with Yoda in Episode V). In fact, Luke’s faliure to realise who Yoda is and the Master’s eccentricities in The Empire Strikes Back are genuinely funny but very Arthurian in tone so they work brilliantly. The roasting of the Porgs, the mocking of the nuns and the blue milk sequence on Ahch-To are just unpleasant. While, as I said, I think the idea of Luke realising there was an essential misconception behind the Jedi is quite good, the concept is badly underplayed. We don’t learn what this problem was or its true significance and, with the general bathos of Ahch-To, the whole journey of Episode VII ends up seeming as if it was a waste of time. Although the final confrontation between Kylo and Luke is quite good the stakes feel too weak. Why do these few survivors matter? Rey seems to be the only really important person and she is already safe. I suppose this is worsened by the fact that we know Leia will not be in the next film anyway. Perhaps if we thought Episode IX would be all about her the emotional impact would be greater. I’m afraid that from the Leia = Mary Poppins scene onwards the space pursuit, mutiny and Canto Bight story lines are incoherent, clunky and cringeworthily preachy.

In summary The Last Jedi is a failure with one or two good scenes. This is sad as I like the character of Rey and Kylo Ren improves in this film. I don’t want the sequel trilogy to fail. I thought The Force Awakens was weakest when it seemed like a remake of Episode IV and best when it concentrated on the new characters. J. J. Abrams now has an Episode IX to film with none of the original three protagonists (unless Luke isn’t really dead). If Luke appears as a force ghost that shouldn’t be too big a problem as Mark Hamill has been the best actor out of the original three in the sequel trilogy so far. J. J. Abrams needs to fix Episode VIII by making meaningful things which Rian Johnson has left banal. I don’t know what to do with Rose and Finn. They can’t be just dropped but perhaps some sort of sub-plot ending in heroic self sacrifice that exposes the stupidity of Rose’s obstruction of Finn’s attempt in this film might be in order. Poe Dameron needs to emerge as the leader of the Resistance to make up for the stupidity of his ritual humiliation in The Last Jedi. Something has to be snuck in to explain why hyperspace cannot in general be weaponised (and thus why no one had attempted this very obvious tactic before).

Most important of all the reason the Jedi went wrong needs to be explained. Star Wars – Rebels has already reintroduced the Bendu from the Legends chronology and he has referred to the ‘Ashla and Bogan’ as the two sides of the Force (which in the old canon were the two moons of the Je’daii homeworld of Tython which symbolised the two sides of the Force). In the teaser trailer Luke told (presumably) Rey that ‘the Balance’ is ‘so much bigger’ than either the Light or the Dark Side of the Force but this was cut from the film. My suggestion is this: The idea from the Legends chronology should be revived that the original Je’daii (the predecessor order of the Jedi) pursued the Balance between the Light and Dark Sides not the Light alone. The idea in the Legends chronology was that some of the original Je’daii turned exclusively to the Dark Side and the rest were so appalled that, when the devastating civil war this caused came to an end, the remainder decided to embrace only the Light.

Yoda tells us “Anger, fear, aggression; the dark side of the Force are they” but anger, fear and aggression are not evil. They are passions, one end of a continuum in the centre of which lies a mean in which virtue is found. The idea that anger, fear and aggression are mala in se is the central error of Stoicism. Perhaps therefore the Je’daii were Peripatetics who understood this. The first Dark Side users were Sophists who believed in succumbing to and indulging the passions to which we are most inclined and employing reason as the passions’ slave. The Jedi were Stoics, so shocked by the corruption of those who turned to the Dark Side that they either convinced themselves that our leading passions are evil in themselves or that it is best to devote oneself to the contrary inclinations because balance is too prone to give way to the domination of the Dark Side.

My suggestion is that the Prime Jedi – the founder of the Jedi order wrongly thought to have died tens of thousands of years ago (a mosaic of whom appears in The Last Jedi) – should be revealed to be Snoke. It should turn out that the leader of the original Dark Side devotees who triggered the civil war that rendered Tython uninhabitable was consumed by the Dark Side not because he sought it, but because he sought to embrace the Light Side alone and the reaction of his nature corrupted him entirely and led him to the Dark Side. When he realised that his revolt would fail and, while his war would destroy Tython, the Je’daii would prevail, he instructed his most talented pupil (Snoke) who had already long previously infiltrated the Je’daii, but at too junior a level to change the course of the war, to persuade the victorious Je’daii that the Dark Side must be abandoned forever. Snoke’s master realised that however good the Light Side Stoic method might be it could not suppress the tendency of some Light Side users to react and turn to the Dark Side. This would ensure, so long as the reformed order never realised their mistake, a steady flow of Jedi turning to the Dark Side and replenishing the ranks of the Sophists despite their seeming annihilation at the end of the war.

This would be the fatal error of the Jedi which Luke has half realised and which Snoke foresees Leia will discern in the ancient Je’daii texts if she ever sees them (hence the importance of killing her before she meets Rey). Snoke emerged from his millennia of concealment when Luke founded the new Jedi Academy because he feared that Luke would be the chosen one who would discern the original error of the Jedi and restore balance to the Force thus he needed to destroy him. In fact, Rey and not Anakin or Luke is the chosen one who engages with the Dark Side with no temptation to be dominated by it. She shows anger without wrath, desire without lust. Dark Side devotees are thrown up by the Force only because no one exists in whom the balance is maintained. Anakin brought balance to the Force by reducing the number of Force users to four: two Jedi and two Sith. The reason the Jedi were celibate (despite the transmission of the Force harnessing midichlorians by descent) was that the Jedi had discovered the children of exclusive Light Side Force users were far more prone to turn to the Dark Side. Rey will bring balance to the Force by achieving it in herself and her disciples. How this message should be elaborated in narrative terms I am as yet unsure…

This last week has brought not one but two statements presented as being from Pope Francis which seem to be – how shall I put it? – heteredox.

The first is indisputably his. It is the Letter to the International Commission against the Death Penalty. A somewhat clumsy Zenit translation is given here. We might have expected simply a repeat of what is in the Catechism – that the death penalty can be justified as a matter of social self-defence (which doesn’t imply self-defence only against the man who is executed, but could include self-defence by deterrence or by the very visible upholding of the moral law), coupled with a prudential judgement, to which no Catholic is bound, that today it will very rarely if ever be the case that the death penalty is necessary.

That’s not what we find. Instead we read:-

(i) self-defence cannot apply in the case of the death penalty as it can in the case of enemy invasion, because the harm done by the criminal is now in the past, and can’t be changed;

(ii) the death penalty is a crime against the dignity of man;

(iii) the death penalty has no legitimacy, because of the possibility of error;

(iv) the death penalty deprives the criminal of the possibility of reparation (and, bizarrely, of the possibility of confession)

(v) the death penalty is contrary to divine mercy (if only Moses had known that);

(vi) the death penalty is worse than the crime committed by the criminal.

He says, “today, the death penalty is inadmissible”; but the points (i) to (vi) imply that it always was. He quotes our Lord saying “put your sword back into its sheath” and telling the one who was without sin to cast the first stone, but does not point out that neither of these involved a properly-constitued tribunal. He does not mention Christ quoting with approval the law, “He that shall curse father or mother, dying let him die” (Mk. 7:10), nor St Paul’s assertion that the civil ruler or “prince” does not bear the sword in vain, i.e. without good reason, but rather as God’s minister (Rom. 13:4).

Nor does he quote the statement of faith which Innocent III gave to the Waldensians, which includes the assertion:-

With regard to the secular power, we affirm that it can exercise a judgement of blood without mortal sin provided that in carrying out the punishment it proceeds not out of hatred, but judiciously, not in a precipitous manner, but with caution (Dz. 795).

Nor does he quote the teaching of the Roman Catechism of St Pius V, that:-

Another kind of lawful slaying belongs to the civil authorities, to whom is entrusted power of life and eath, by the legal and judicious exercise of which they punish the guilty and protect the innocent. The just use of this power, far from involving the crime of murder, is an act of paramount obedience to this commandment which prohibits murder.

Apart from all these things, the legitimacy of the death penalty has been taught by the universal and ordinary magisterium of the Church for many centuries and is therefore surely a matter of faith.

I can see no way to reconcile the pope’s statements listed above, with the possible exception of (iv), with this teaching of the Church.

That was the first thing.

The other thing is not an official statement, but another of these interviews with the Italian atheist chap. But it can’t be written off, because the previous interviews have been put in a book and published by the Vatican Press. So the pope presumably considers the Italian chap a reliable conduit for his own opinions. Part of it is in English here.

So, the unusal bit in this interview happens when the Italian atheist chap says to the Holy Father, “What about the souls that choose selfishness and put out the divine spark? Will they be punished?” And the pope is quoted as saying, “They won’t be punished but annihilated (non c’è punizione ma l’annullamento).” The chap says that the pope’s words were netta e chiara, “clear and distinct”.

Annullamento means annihilation or destruction. It can also be translated as cancellation, but what would that mean?

In other words, we have here the doctrine of the Jehovah’s Witnesses, that the wicked will not suffer after death, because they will no longer exist. Obviously this is contrary to Scripture, Tradition and many statements of the magisterium. To quote just one, from Lateran IV:-

All will rise again with their own bodies which they now bear to receive according to their works, whether these have been good or evil, the ones perpetual punishment with the devil and the others everlasting glory with Christ (Dz. 801).

I suppose it would be just about possible to interpret these words attributed to the pope in an orthodox way – ‘not punished’, because they will suffer the natural consequences of their own choices rather than a penalty arbitrarily imposed; ‘annihilated’ not ontologically but morally, in that they will no longer be capable of love etc. But frankly, would there be any point? If the words were not meant in their obvious sense, it is for an official spokesman to disavow them.

Of course none of these things touch the dogma of papal infallibility; the conditions for an ex cathedra judgement are not present. But we seem to have a pope who does not know the Catholic faith.

No doubt it was very wrong of Richard Williamson to have consecrated a bishop in that monastery in Brazil last week (and I was sorry to see him do it in such a-hole-in-the-corner way; that was not how Archbishop Lefebvre acted. Also, why on earth did he choose someone nearly as old as himself?) But in times like these, I find it difficult to be sorry that there is another orthodox bishop in the world; perhaps even a Catholic bishop, given how hard it is to excommunicate oneself under modern canon law.

Michael Davies once said that future Catholic apologists would have greater difficulties with the Eucharistic Prayers for Children than with the morals of the Borgias or the worst excesses of the Inquisition. Perhaps also they will have more difficulties with the present pope than with Popes Liberius, Honorius I and John XXII combined.

A  blessed Passion-tide to all.

The Catholic Church in Germany is special in many ways. Church Tax, automatically collected by the state for the Catholic Church and diverse religious communities, is one of them.

Not always does the Catholic Church spend the revenues from Church Tax wisely. Worse than that, some of the money also goes to “Catholic” groups and activities that are in more or less direct opposition to the teachings of the Church. So what if some faithful Catholics would find their conscience does not permit them to contribute to funding these activities, and, instead of paying Church Tax, want to donate the equivalent amount of money to orthodox Catholic charities and groups?

To do this, they would have to go to the registrar and, either verbally or in written form, declare that they wished to leave the Catholic Church (I guess, verbally the formulation could be somewhat adapted). Until 2012, the position of the Church in Germany was that the consequence of this was automatic excommunication. However,  in 2006 the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts decided that this is not the case:

The substance of the act of the will must be the rupture of those bonds of communion – faith, sacraments, and pastoral governance – that permit the Faithful to receive the life of grace within the Church. This means that the formal act of defection must have more than a juridical-administrative character (the removal of one’s name from a Church membership registry maintained by the government in order to produce certain civil consequences), but be configured as a true separation from the constitutive elements of the life of the Church: it supposes, therefore, an act of apostasy, heresy or schism.

When a retired canon lawyer sued the archdiocese of Freiburg for having excommunicated him nevertheless (a lawsuit that moved up to the Federal Administrative Court of Germany), the Bishops’ Conference seems to have become really eager to settle the matter. In September 2012, they published a document(“Allgemeines Dekret der Deutschen Bischofskonferenz zum Kirchenaustritt”) stating that someone not paying Church Tax, (while not truly excommunicated) is still barred from receiving the sacraments unless in immediate danger of death.

Apparently, this decree has the blessing of Rome – says the German Bishops’ Conference, claiming that the decree was shown to the Holy Father before publishing and citing a decree of the Congregation of Bishops of 28 Aug 2012, Prot. No. 834/84. Unfortunately, this decree is not available online – nor, apparently, was a group of laymen (never mind their agenda for the moment) given the opportunity to read this decree, after letters to the German Bishops’ Conference, the nuncio, and others. On another website, the authority of the Congregation of Bishops to countermand the 2006 decree of the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts was questioned.

So, all is very murky.

My questions to the valued knowledgable readers of this blogs are therefore:

  • Is someone not paying Church Taxes in Germany (for reasons and under conditions described above) sinning?
  • Would it be licit for a priest to administer the sacraments to such a person, in spite of the decree by the Bishops’ Conference?

I would be very much obliged for clarifying replies.


Archbishop Vincent Nichols ‘offered flowers at the altar of Hindu deities’

Cardinal O’Malley’s Methodist reaffirmation

O'Malley's Methodist baptism

With ‘gay marriage’ in the bag, the BBC are now softening us up for Phase II with an article: How does a polyamorous relationship between four people work?

Chris and Tom bonded over video games (?!) and became firm friends. Before long, Chris had fallen in love with Tom’s wife, Charlie. “It had never crossed Chris’s mind not to be monogamous – now he says he could never go back,” says Sarah.

Tom admits it’s all a bit weird but he’s optimistic that the intolerant bigots (OK, he didn’t put it quite like that) will be won round in the end:

“Anyone who is expecting some massive social change overnight is terribly mistaken, but it will happen.” 


Tonight at 8pm on Radio 4 the BBC will broadcast Monogamy and the Rules of Love, presented by Jo Fidgen, “a leading Norwegian transsexual sexologist”.  (Imagine putting that on your form at the Job Centre).  Fidgen explains that the reason you are not “cool” with Chris and Tom and Charlie and Sarah is because you have a closed mind and a small heart:

“We don’t see any contradiction in loving more than one friend. No-one asks us to only love one of our children. Why shouldn’t it be any different with romantic love?”  Does true love really mean forsaking all other lovers? Most of us assume a conventional serious relationship depends on sexual fidelity. What happens when we open our minds and our relationships?”

Who knows what’s down the road?


Life Site News reports: ‘I am still not getting what I want’: Gay couple suing church for refusing ‘wedding’

Barrie Drewitt-Barlow and his partner Tony (surely it should be Tonie, if we’re being consistent) have already purchased four children and are using sex selection procedures (costing £100,000) to make sure the next one is a girl.  “It’s called gender-balancing”, explains Tony.  The pair have also founded The British Surrogacy Centre, so that like-minded people can do the same.


Commenting on their next move, Barrie says:

“The only way forward for us now is to make a challenge in the courts against the church. It is a shame that we are forced to take Christians into a court to get them to recognize us.  But we don’t want to force anyone into marrying us – it is supposed to be the happiest day in my life and that would make me miserable and would spoil the whole thing,” he said. “Aren’t Christians meant to forgive and accept and love?” He added, “It upsets me because I want it so much – a big lavish ceremony, the whole works, I just don’t think it is going to happen straight away.”

Barrie is quite a whizz at the old theology it seems, having recently explained to ‘4-Thought TV’ that the reason surrogacy involving homosexuals is OK is because of Abraham.  ‘Cos he couldn’t have his own kids.  Or something.  Checkmate, Christians.

It’s all a bit Disgruntled of Peebles round here recently, but these three posts on the postconciliar machinations south of the border make interesting if sad reading.

How did we get here I

How did we get here II

How did we get here III and final 

Anyone know someone who could do a similar thing for Scotland? Thomas FitzPatrick who wrote that Faith in Education book?

Since the beginning of the year 44 Spanish women have died at the hands of current or past husbands, fiances and lovers. 28 of these women were over 40. Only eight had asked for protection. Despite the war declared on sexist violence by the governmnet of Jose Zapatero, and despite the resources dedicated to fighting it, the problem gets worse.  73 women were killed by men close to them in 2010, 18 more than the year before.

“The fight with violence against women is a rout of our socialist government”, the director of the Foro Español por la Familia Benigno Blanco told Rzeczpospolita. He says “the fault lies with the purely ideological approach to the problem, which is essentially very complex”.

“It’s not just a matter of conflict between the sexes, there is also a cultural component, of personal ethical culture or upbringing, or, for example, alcoholism”. He pointed out that violence is significantly  more common in informal relationships. 

From here (google translate version – it confuses subject and object a lot, and “sam” means himself, not Sam-the-name, but if you bear in mind it’s the men doing the stabbing you’ll get the gist).

 Newspapers are very frustrating. This is an interesting story, but there’s no debate, no presentation of argument and answer. They’ve quoted someone who “would say that sort of thing”; the other major daily would have picked someone would say the other sort of thing. I was a bit disappointed when I came back to this story this morning to blog it and noticed who the quotee represented. It’s not that what he says doesn’t seem to make sense, but it’s not much use in discussion with someone who is convinced of the rightness of what a socialist government does and what a feminist ideology says.

I was the more interested because I just came across Erin Pizzey, famous (I learn) for setting up a women’s refuge in London. Possibly a screaming femino-nazi, one thinks. But in fact she sees domestic violence as being about persons, as involving moral agents. Funny I should be particularly moved by reading that her dream in founding the refuge was “women working with women in co-operation with men”. I have been reading some of the statements of Wanda Nowicka, the abortion campaigner who tried and failed to sue for defamation of character someone who pointed out she was paid by concerns making money from abortion and contraception; less interest in people, in human beings, than in her brand of woman. The usefulness of Pizzey’s statements is that she worked hands on in the field she is talking about. Like the Good Counsel Network (who, incidentally, need some material help at the moment). Wanda Nowicka isn’t, I will bet, spending inconvenient time and money she can’t afford helping socially vulnerable women not to have abortions.

(SPUC and SPUC Scotland are separate organisations.)

Now, back in the day, the branch of SPUC I joined did two things I particularly remember. We shoogled collecting tins, mostly outside football grounds, and one quiet lady prepared letter-writing materials on matters of the day. She investigated the question, identified and described the players, mustered and summarised facts and arguments, and sent all this out to a list of people who used this to write letters to the relevant MPs and the like. Funds went mostly to SPUC Scotland in Glasgow. They produced useful leaflets which we stuck through doors before elections or important votes. They also trained people to give one-off presentations in schools, and provided them with materials for the presentations. None of this was earthshaking, but it was all concrete, and worked on an “enabling” model that assumed there were other people who wanted to do something about promoting a culture of life even if most of their time was taken up with family and work.

I always assumed this was rather the point of SPUC. A few people given over to doing the legwork that most people don’t have the time, or perhaps the facilities or ability, to do. The charities index and the handy voting records index produced by London SPUC seemed to be along exactly the same lines, and there was the great and hugely useful 2002 book A Way of Life (a revised edition of a book produced when there was a particularly concerted effort to get more abortion into Northern Ireland).   Stuff people could actually use.   The  Love your unborn neighbour book produced by SPUC Evangelicals was something I was happy to pass on to a girl from my college CU.

Now I get news digests in which the first item advertises a talk by a Catholic apologist, and most of the rest are about sex education and assorted legislation to do with men who like to engage in sexual activity with other men.  And the “SPUC Director” blog varies this with insider comment on Catholic affairs.

The many bizarre ways in which the place of sexual activity in human life is conceived (sorry) are in large part the cause of the acceptance of abortion. And ultimately without the Gospel no moral discourse can understand human reality. But while most people who work for or support SPUC will hold these positions, is attempting to promote them the work for which SPUC was founded?


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