Tuesday, 24 May 2011


L-R: Cistercian, Dominican, OSJV [summer]

Apologies again for having not posted in eons, but as I and this blog have been referred to... Having yesterday just spent lunch and the early afternoon with a senior Anglican colleague discussing ecumenical matters like Churches Together and the Ordinariate, I was stopped by a young man with a bicycle enquiring if I was a Dominican! I was in my "summer" habit of white tunic and black scapula and I suppose to the uninformed, I might have passed for something Dominican. Of course, Catholics fully informed of their culture and tradition know that the Dominican habit is completely white, except for the Cappa (cloak), if he'd suggested Cistercian, I might have forgiven him, though not being monks, the Oratorians of St John Vianney do not have hoods on their scapulas. To be fair, our habit doesn't look like that of any other Order, as is proper, it is not our desire to confuse the Catholic faithful and our Order has its own distinct charism and apostolate.

The young man, Laurence, has informed me that he has written about our encounter on his blog here though a good friend had already contacted me and informed me about it via email. Sadly, despite the charitable and candid nature of our conversation, Laurence has a somewhat confused recollection of our discussion. So, I feel honour bound to post here and make a few observations of my own about our encounter and to answer some of his further questions.

First of all, as I have already described at the beginning of this post, I had not "been just celebrating the Traditional Latin Mass at the Young People's Hall of the Salvation Army" as he asserts. In fact, Mass had been offered, as is traditional, in the morning, 8am in the Annexe of the Brighton Congress Hall, almost three miles away in fact - not at some strange time midafternoon nor at the place he suggests. The confusion here is simply that I said that our community used the Salvation Army, Annexe for our Masses, stating that this was just north of The Level (a park in central Brighton). As this conversation was taking place just around the corner from the Young People's Hall of the Salvation Army on Sackville Rd (in Hove), clearly Laurence must have misunderstood or misremembered our conversation when he wrote his post.

He fairly accurately describes the nature of our conversation thereafter, except that he refers to Old Catholicism - as I hope my readers here will know, I am an Old Roman Catholic, quite a different breed of ecclesial person from that of the apostate Union of Utrecht! I expect Laurence did a bit of a Google search and came across a Wiki article on Old Catholicism and put two and two together but ended up with five rather than four! Although Old Catholicism and Old Roman Catholicism share a common history, both being continuations of the original metropolitical See of Utrecht, Old Catholicism is that part which (as is often the way) apostised from the Faith but retained the material trappings and vestiges; Old Roman Catholicism is the poorer sibling who resolutely continued in the Faith of our Fathers, forsaking the material comforts and trappings of temporal power.

Now I do appreciate that some find ecclesiastical history a little difficult to follow, and I am sure that for someone who's appreciation of Catholic "Faith" and "Tradition" only goes back some one hundred and fifty years or so to a peasant girl in France and a desperate despot of a Pope, it can perhaps be difficult to appreciate that actually the Catholic Faith and true Tradition existed for some one thousand eight hundred and fifty (1'850) years prior without the later dogmatic "definitions" that have proved so unhelpful to the salvation of souls since. Such as these I refer to affectionately as "Novus Traddies", i.e. members of the New Tradition, that which has existed only relatively recently. To put it simply then, Old Roman Catholicism is the continuation of that same ancient Faith and Tradition "once delivered to the saints" [Jude 1:3], that (as today's saint, Vincent of Lerins once put it so eloquently) "Quod semper, quod ubique, quod ab omnibus" [that which has been believed always, everywhere and by all] and was so for 1'850 years prior to Bl. Pius IX's additions. For greater clarification of the principles of Old Roman Catholicism see here.

So it was then that I tried in our conversation to explain, in simple terms, the history of Old Roman Catholicism and our historic stance against the rise of Ultramontanism in the Catholic Church. I explained that although it may be argued that the doctrines of the "Immaculate Conception" and the "Assumption of the BVM" had been generally believed in The Church, they did not require defining as dogma, and that if they did, that would best be served in the ancient Tradition of the The Church by the bishops exercising their universal magisterium, i.e. not by one bishop alone, even if he is the "Successor of Peter" at Rome. I didn't bother to go on and explain that the universal magisterium would mean bishops of both the East and West, as I could tell and know from experience  that Novus Traddies find the concept of the "one holy Catholic and Apostolic Church" subsisting in both East and West, difficult to grasp (despite the teaching of Vatican II and both Blessed John Paul and Benedict XVI concerning our Eastern brethren).

True to form and as he writes, the young Novus Traddie and I went on to discuss the SSPX. I confess to only half-heartedly explaining to Laurence that Old Roman Catholicism may be considered the "original" SSPX in terms of our doctrinal stance and canonical situation. Like the SSPX, we were a canonically regular part of the Catholic Church in full communion with the Holy See, but due to the errant actions of the then Pope, we were not now considered to be so [in 1853 Bl. Pius IX instituted a new heirarchy in Holland ignoring the due canonical process extant at the time]; the SSPX had their canonical status revoked in 1975 and we know well how they are generally regarded. Like the SSPX claim to do now following VC II, the Old Roman Catholic See of Utrecht maintained the true Tradition of The Church despite the definitions as dogma of the Immaculate Conception in 1854 and Papal Infallibility in 1870; we just kept on believing what was always believed before. Together with our maintenance of the Traditional Latin Mass, traditional culture and devotions, the ORC's may be compared to the SSPX. However, as I did explain, Old Roman Catholicism takes a greater application of charity to pastoralia and in general ethos and attitude than perhaps the SSPX do. "Tradition with Charity" is very much our modus vivendi and modus operandi, though this should not be confused with "liberalism" of the kind that has led our former brethren to apostasy in the Union of Utrecht.

Easter Mass 2011
The Annexe, Brighton Congress Hall

Laurence then wondered "what if" we and the SSPX were to be reconciled with Rome? How the Catholic Church might be revitalised! Initially enthused I began of course to demur, pointing out the obvious problems within the Roman Communion. He suggested that Rome had offered the SSPX a "life-line", I on the other hand pointed out that the SSPX had done very well without such and hardly needed "help", their having no obvious difficulty in attracting vocations or the support both spiritual and material of the Faithful. We discussed the various problems extant within Roman Catholicism, even touching on issues locally - the Bishop here not being exactly "orthodox" (a common fault with some). Laurence himself expressed his inability to attend the local Novus Ordo Masses, there being such variance in the manner of their offering. He stated that he went to a well-known local blogger's church for Mass, the priest there being full of zeal for the "Benedictine Reform" regarding the manner of celebrating the Novus Ordo and that he offers the Latin Mass on Friday and Sunday evenings. He even invited me to attend. Again I demured. Afterall, being able to offer the Traditional Latin Mass on a daily basis, publicly, why would I want to attend an untraditional evening celebration of the 1962 "revision" once or twice a week?

[Regarding a comment made by one of Laurence's readers, my dislike for a certain priest-blogger is about a falsehood he made about me and the uncharitable behaviour he exhibited towards me when I sought a deserved apology. For that reason I have as much regard for him as he does for me.]

Laurence on his blog asks if Old Roman Catholic Orders are recognised and valid. Here one could go into great detail and quote the numerous citations from Roman Catholic Catechisms, commentaries on Canon Law, various Catholic dictionaries etc demonstrating that ORC sacraments are indeed regarded as "valid" if "irregular" and that the Roman Catholic Faithful may avail themselves in extremis of our ministrations. If it weren't being indiscrete, I would give several recent examples of ORC priests who have individually sought or been reconciled to the Holy See and "regularised" without another ordination of any kind, just as some individual SSPX priests have. That would be indiscrete. I can, for what it's worth, assure Laurence and anyone that the Apostolic Succession into which I have been ordained has, several times been investigated by the Holy See and declared "valid". So, to answer his other question, "yes, I am a real priest" and my life and ministry reflects that. It is for that reason that I am "not just 'dressing up' as a priest" - as any cleric knows who feels honour bound to wear clerical garb in the street, its no easy thing being an obvious "religious" person and a target for abuse as well as friendly greeting. Certainly in this day and age and particularly in this city of Brighton & Hove, there is a shortage of respect or reverence for anyone and anything and most particularly a priest! As I had written before in another blog some years ago, being easily identified as a priest brings with it a share of the ignominy and justified hatred of the crimes of others and no-one in their right mind in the present climate of child-abuse scandals would 'dress up' as a priest for the sake of it! Being dressed recognisably expressing one's vocation also actually helps one to maintain the decorum and the dignity it necessitates when out in public, I'm sure I'm not alone in thinking sometimes, that if I wasn't so dressed, it'd be much easier to be "myself" instead of having always to be the saint one is striving to be for salvation... its tough being a priest and being human!

Laurence postulates whether I would be better off "in the Church" of Rome for my salvation rather than "outside" of it. I, of course, would say that I am not "outside" of the "one holy Catholic and Apostolic Church" even though I may not be recognisably in the Church of Rome! It's always important to remember, I feel, that Rome says of herself that The Church subsists in her. Dominus Iesus makes it quite clear that The Church exists outside the communion of Rome too, in carefully defined ecclesial communities possessing a "valid Eucharist" of which the Old Roman Catholic Church has severally been recognised as one together with the Eastern Orthodox. I may not be in direct communion and jurisdiction with the Bishop of Rome, but I'm not the one who altered the Faith and changed the goalposts for salvation by issuing new dogma "necessary for salvation" that it wasn't necessary for all to believe for 1'850 years previously! We do offer our Masses "una cum famulo" and we sincerely mean it, afterall, the Pope is the historical Patriarch of the West even if the present office-holder has chosen to "drop" that title. I personally have a great affection for Benedict XVI and hope he lives long enough to solidify all that he has been working towards re the restoration of the Mass. But I am all too aware that bishops like William Morris (Toowoomba) are many in the Church of Rome and the variety of standards both liturgical and doctrinal within the Roman Communion are not better and are as fractious as those in say, the Anglican Communion. Whilst in theory the Holy Father may be "in charge" he is not actually the local Ordinary even with his "universal jurisdiction" and it is in the local and particular Church, i.e. the local dioceses, that I/we would have to practice in. Not at the moment, thank you!

Now, as many of you know, I have occasionally performed as a character called "Dame Margot" fundraising for charities. Its easy for detractors of course to use this polemically as some kind of angle to heap question marks about the reality or validity of my ministry. I don't see a confusion. I'm not a crossdresser and I don't have an inner confusion about my gender status, I'm an actor playing a role. I am simply a talented individual (so I've been told) who's prepared to make people laugh at/with me and raise money for worthwhile causes. I should add that most of my performances have been in churches and for churches! It always amuses me, slightly, this notion that priests can't be real people able to have a laugh at their own expense. What a ridiculous notion! Locally here, I am not the only priest who has no qualms being a "fool" for the sake of charitable fundraising, there is another very respectable ecumenical colleague who dresses up as Agnetha or Frida (I forget which) from ABBA! He's done that in front of his Church School children too! There are other priests similarly, Catholic, Anglican etc who regularly play the Dame in a Church hall pantomime, who do impressions of Elvis at the drop of a hat and one I remember well, did a brilliant impression of Liberace (he too was a senior cleric)! The very idea that in some way these venerable colleagues and I, "embarass" the priesthood or even The Church is itself, frankly, laughable! Countless are the times my performances and status off-stage have introduced conversations about the Faith from those pleased to see that 'we're not all stuffy'. I'd worry a lot more about those priests who keep themselves aloof and their lives "private", for they are more than likely to be the ones with poor judgement and personal habits that when exposed cause greater scandal to The Church than anything I or my more flamboyant colleagues do.

So, would I not rather offer Mass in communion with Rome? Of course I would. Why don't I? For a variety of reasons but chiefly probably, for the sake of my soul. No, I don't particularly enjoy being in an ecclesial minority, but at least I know that my colleagues and I believe the same thing, have the same intentions, that there is no question of anyone adopting heretical ideas or offering Mass another way! That counts for a lot in my opinion especially when the struggle for salvation is so tough anyway, why make it tougher?! I realise that "perfection" will not be found here on earth and I am the first to say that the Church exists for sinners not saints! I agree with Laurance on that point, but like I say, why make it tougher? My search for the Truth led me to where I am. I have sacrificed much to accomplish that. One is not saved by simply being in communion with the Bishop of Rome, but by conversion of life, of mind, of heart, of the soul to the will of God and the sustenance of the Sacraments, Christ's own abiding presence with and through His Church; that is not confined alone to the Roman Communion. It is Christ, not Peter, who saves.

I enjoyed our conversation and I'm pleased to read Laurence did too. I shall add him to my list of blogs that I read and perhaps we'll meet again. Its all too easy for folk to behave as if they're way is the only way, that is not my way. Certainly Catholics of whatever stripe - Eastern, Roman, Oriental etc have much more in common than separates us and we would all do well to focus on that commonality than on what prevents us from yet realising that perfection in unity that Christ prayed for His Church. But we can pray, we can talk, we can learn and we can love each other as brethren should I'm sure if we concentrated on that we might yet enable the world to recognise us as His disciples [John 13:35]. 

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