Terry Wogan used to make me laugh with his exclamation “a letter has flooded in!” and this week a letter flooded in to The Catholic Herald. However, this letter was signed by 461 priests. It urged all those taking part in the second synod to uphold the Church’s sound teaching on marriage and human sexuality.
In a casual conversation about the letter with another deacon I started to hear all sorts of individual back stories of why it was “only 461” stories of pressure put on priests to sign or not sign, various different stories relating to the signatories.
Among the signatories are five men with whom I am in regular contact, in some cases almost daily. I asked each of them why they signed the letter, the general consensus went along the lines of ‘because it’s true’ or ‘I saw no reason not to’ and ‘having read it I could not in all conscience have not signed’.
I spoke with each of these priests on a matter raised by a very small group of people with whom I spoke “where’s the faith in the Holy Spirit’. One of them made me jump out of my skin when he said he did not have faith in the Holy Spirit to see that all was well. Another told me the letter was designed to affirm to the faithful that the priests were being led by the Spirit and another pointed out, quite correctly, you cannot simply leave things to the Holy Spirit. If it were not so we would not need the oil of Catechumens at Baptism.
The sad thing that has arisen out of it all is the hyperbole in social media and the press. I was looking at the front page of one of the Catholic publications with one of the signatories, he was dismayed at what we saw, but he agreed with my assertion that the Catholic press is still the press.
I have looked at social media on this matter and it’s interesting what you see and the quarters from which it comes. There’s tales of priests being warned not to sign, but one signatory told me to speak to another with whom I am reasonably friendly, I did, he told me he was told “you ought to sign this” in a manner with which one does not argue, i hear of another who has upset his mother by not signing and wishes he has for the sake of peace.
Another reason given for so few signatories is that the letter was addressed to ‘the parish priest’, but of the five I know well, only two are parish priests and there’s a lot of retired priests names on the list. Cardinal Nichols has also been attacked (dead sheep stylie) in social media for saying that the “dialogue between a priest and his bishop, is not best conducted through the press.” and again, four out of five signatories agree with him. Sadly the article tries to make more of his words than there were, and they named a retired priest as parish priests of the Church where I most regularly attend TLM. But I am afraid I really did laugh out loud reading at the end of one “I’ll make the bullets you fire ‘em” blog that the medium used was “the discreet forum of the Catholic Herald”
The other issue that concerns me is the letter was accompanied by a press release from ‘the co-ordinator of the letter’, no name there, or even names apparently there were twelve. The press release finishes with “Theologians, philosophers, canon lawyers, well-known educators and evangelists are among the priests who have signed the appeal”. Why would this add weight to the argument of what is a very good letter? There is also theologians, philosophers, canon lawyers, well-known educators and evangelists who did not sign the letter. 461 faithful priests did, that’s all we need to know, it’s all I’d want to know, as Mother Teresa reminded us, the Lord does not ask us to be successful, he asks us to be faithful. I pray that any further initiatives are handled with a tad more grace from both sides.