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December 2003

The Unstoppable Clare Richards!

DAPHNE McLEOD

On January 19th 1998 Bishop (now Archbishop) Smith issued this statement on the internet:

"At the request of the Sacred Congregation for the Clergy I am withdrawing the Imprimatur accorded to the book Roman Catholic Christianity (RCC) on October 6th 1994. In the judgement of the Congregation the expression of some elements in the book are not in full conformity with the Catholic Faith. Consequently in accordance with Canon 827:2 of the Code of Canon law this book may no longer be used in Catholic schools."

This book was in use in most Catholic Senior schools in England and Wales.

Bishop Smith followed this brief paragraph with three paragraphs extolling the author of RCC, Ms Clare Richards, ex-nun wife of ex-priest Bert Richards, and praising her work for Catholic schools. In a short accompanying statement he asked his brother bishops to pray for her "as she has been very hurt by some of the comments which have appeared in the media..."

When Ms Richards eventually retired as Head of R.E. in Notre Dame Comprehensive School she received a Papal medal for her work in Catholic schools!

Furious Ratzinger

The story behind this remarkable statement deserves a hearing now that Clare Richards has surfaced again with a book entitled introducing catholic theology (sic). This book which carries no Imprimatur, points out on page 7 that it is written for "interested adults and students who are studying for the Catholic Certificate in Religious Studies (CCRS) awarded by the Bishop’s Conference of England and Wales." This means it is written to help train future teachers of religion in Catholic schools and parishes. As it contains the same heresies, distortions and omissions condemned by Rome in 1997 these will continue to misinform generations of Catholic children unless stern action is once more taken.

In 1995 and 1996 numerous parents, worried about the content of RCC, wrote to the bishops and to the Catholic Press expressing their concern about the errors their children were learning from it. Unfortunately, the bishops did nothing to protect these youngsters. Indeed, Bishop Smith wrote to the Press defending the book and its author Clare Richards. So, desperate parents were forced to turn to Rome, many sending copies of the book to various Congregations for examination.

This resulted in Cardinal Ratzinger inviting Bishop Smith to visit Rome and discuss the book with him. Apparently Bishop Smith refused to go, telling the Cardinal that he was too busy and telling friends, "If he wants to have me sacked for that he can. He can have this job".

However, in 1997 Bishop Smith was in Rome for an Ad Limina visit with other English bishops and Cardinal Ratzinger took the opportunity to ask him to come and see him immediately after his audience with the Pope.

When Bishop Smith was ushered into Cardinal Ratzinger’s office the Cardinal was holding a copy of Roman Catholic Christianity in both hands. He raised it high above his head and brought it crashing down on to his desk saying: "This book will not do. It must be suppressed."

He emphasised his point by repeating the gesture and the words three times.

Dismissing Bishop Smith’s protests that he had approved the book publicly, the Cardinal demanded that for the sake of the faith of British youngsters’, the Imprimatur must be cancelled and the book withdrawn from Catholic schools in accordance with Canon Law.

Back in England Bishop Smith asked Cardinal Hume if he had to obey and was told, "You have no choice. You have to do it." Even so, Bishop Smith continued to drag his feet until the Papal Nuncio was instructed by Rome to remind him that this matter must receive his urgent attention. So the announcement appeared on the Internet three weeks after Christmas 1997. As such a discreet announcement was likely to be missed, Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice issued a Press Release and some Catholic papers gave it prominence.

Success

The news was received with relief and joy by the parents who had been campaigning to protect their youngsters from Clare Richards’ strange religion and by the teachers who had been forced reluctantly to use RCC. I remember that I received many cards and flowers from mothers grateful for the part Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice had played in the campaign and even a pretty gold bracelet from a group of parents who had banded together. I also received a rather cross letter from Clare Richards, who had suffered financially of course.

In case you are wondering how we know exactly what happened in Cardinal Ratzinger’s office and other details, perhaps I should explain that when Bishop Smith returned home he visited Mr and Ms Richards, who were friends and neighbours of his in Norwich, and told them the whole story. Some time later they had a visit from Robert Blair Kaiser, a liberal ‘Catholic’ journalist from America. The Richards’ told him exactly what had happened and Clare remarked that she could sue Cardinal Ratzinger because she had lost royalties on about a hundred thousand books. This seems a lot. But as every Catholic child in almost every English Catholic senior school for many years to come would have needed a copy, it is probably about right. Ms Richards has published several religious textbooks so she would be able to forecast earning potential pretty accurately.

When Mr Kaiser eventually returned to the States he in his turn put the whole story on the Internet for the amusement of other members of a ‘chat room’ he belonged to. One of them printed it off for me and I still have the print-out dated December 9th, 1999.

RCC Revisited

Why rake all this up now? Because, in spite of having had her version of the Faith so whole­heartedly condemned by Rome in 1997, Clare Richards has had the temerity to run a theology course in St Edmund’s parish in the diocese of East Anglia for Catholic teachers and future teachers of religion, and has even produced the aforementioned book on theology for them. A book which arrogantly repeats the errors, distortions and omissions found in RCC.

It was because Clare Richards’ previous book, RCC was so exceptionally bad that Rome took the almost unprecedented step of intervening over a local bishop’s head to insist on the withdrawal of its Imprimatur. The only other similar incident in this country occurred in the seventies when Rome insisted Cardinal Heenan withdraw the Imprimatur from an explicit sex-ed book put into Catholic schools by Bishop David Konstant - then Father Konstant and Head of R.E. for Westminster. Again, distressed parents, receiving no response to their appeals in this country, had to turn to Rome.

So what is wrong with Clare Richards’ latest effort, introducing catholic theology? There is not room here to list everything so I will keep to the major problems.

We are warned in the Preface that when Ms Richards gave her theology course people "were excited by the new thinking and by having the chance to question old ideas." Instead of admitting that she has thought up these new ideas herself, Ms Richards credits them to the Second Vatican Council. This contradicts Pope John XXIII’s assurance in his opening address that:

"The greatest concern of the Ecumenical Council is that the Sacred deposit of Christian Doctrine should be guarded and taught more efficaciously" and that "the Church must never depart from the sacred patrimony of truth received from the Fathers."

According to Ms Richards, however, this purely pastoral Council made many changes.

Ms Richards sees the Church going sadly astray early in its history in spite of Our Lord’s promise to be with it always. For example, on page 75 commenting on infant baptism she writes: "By the fifth century… the theology had shifted from a positive invitation to live a renewed life in Christ to a negative preoccupation with Original Sin." And a little later she says: "The radical conversion call of the Gospel was lost". However, a mere fifteen centuries later the Second Vatican Council came along to "steer thinking back to the early Church and move the emphasis away from individual salvation from Original Sin into initiation into a community which tries to make the Kingdom of God a reality."

She even claims that the new baptismal rite only "speaks of Original Sin as the condition of a wounded, broken and rebellious human world".

Lessons in Apostasy

Perhaps most disquieting of all is Ms Richards’ assertion on page 94 that the Second Vatican Council re-defined Revelation from being "a set of propositions" (Truths) about God to the idea that "revelation is discovered less in the mind than in the whole human experience of life." This, of course is not found in any Vatican II document nor is it the way Revelation is defined in The Catechism of the Catholic Church - though it is the basis of all the modern R.E. books approved for use in British Catholic schools.

Once you have decided Revelation is based on individual experience the door is open to all kinds of innovatory teaching in both faith and morals.

The Divinity of Christ

For example, because of her obvious scepticism about the Blessed Trinity, Clare Richards repeats the ambiguities about the Divinity of Christ contained in her earlier book Roman Catholic Christianity:

  • Does our present Christianity stem from Jesus or Paul?" [p.26]
  • That Jesus was a healer is incontrovertible, but all cultures have had healers. They prove nothing." [p.29]
  • He (Jesus) talked of his vision of God"; "The theme of all his preaching was freedom -liberation". [p.34]
  • How did Jesus understand his own identity? Did he discover his mission as he grew older? Did he think he had a unique relationship with God the Father and Creator? Was he ‘born of a virgin’ in a biological or a symbolic sense? How does the Church see Jesus? Divine or human or both? [p.35]

These questions about Our Divine Lord go on for a while with the explanation that "there are no straightforward answers" except to the last question: "Who is Jesus for me?" This time we are told - "And there will of course be many different answers to that." [p.35]

The Resurrection

The Resurrection is also dismissed on page 34 with the statement: "He (Jesus) was executed as a criminal. But within days his Jewish followers claimed he was more alive than ever".

The Church

When dealing with the Church we are told the Council rejected "the model of the Church bequeathed to us by the Council of Trent of a Hierarchical Church" in favour of "community - a circle instead of a pyramid" [p.61]. Ms Richards also claims that, "Previously the Catholic Church... presumed that the fulness of the Christian Faith was only to be found in the Church of Rome", but now "in a spirit of ecumenism the aim is no longer for one party to convert the other but for both parties to understand each other in order to convert whatever needs converting in themselves." [p.66]

The Bible

The Bible is covered at length in the first two sections but always reconciled with "modern science"; modern, often Protestant, scholarship; and personal experience - which produces some odd results. On page 30 we read that "If readers of the Gospels do not themselves feel healed the accounts (of miracles) are pointless." The accuracy of many accounts is undermined and we are told "Never confuse story with history." [p.27]

The Sacraments

The Sacraments are explained without reference to Sanctifying or Sacramental Grace:

1. Without Original Sin, Baptism is merely "the sacrament of solemn initiation into membership of the Christian family" [p.74].

2. Confirmation is defined as "the celebration of the presence of Jesus in the world through his Spirit of love" [p.76], thus confounding belief in the Blessed Trinity yet again.

3. In the section on the Eucharist we are told "those who believed in him (Jesus) came together to celebrate his new presence in the sharing of bread and wine [p.77], repeated on page 78, and that "no-one was excluded from his (Jesus) table".

4. Penance is accused of "fostering a sense of guilt" which must be replaced by "less emphasis on personal failings and more on a search for social justice" [p.80].

5. The purpose of Extreme Unction is now "to comfort the sick" [p.81].

6. The Priesthood is described as "taking care of parishes and other communities" without reference to the priests’ unique role in offering the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass and administering the Sacraments. And of course we are reminded that "all the faithful share in the common priesthood of Christ" [pp.82-83].

7. With Marriage we get a dismal picture of the pre-conciliar Church’s "teaching on sexuality being legalistic, sin-centred and resting heavily on the thought of Augustine of Hippo" [p.84]. The crisis in the Church is blamed partly on "Disenchantment of married couples about Church teaching on contraception" [p.85]. The teaching is obviously wrong, not the married couples.

Morality

Having given our future teachers her own version of the Faith to teach, Ms Richards goes on to re-write Catholic morality. She quite correctly begins by saying how important authority is in moral teaching and explains the extraordinary magisterium as "when the bishops solemnly gather together in Council as they did at Vatican II in 1963-1965" (but obviously not in Trent or any earlier Councils as she has discredited them) or "when the Pope speaks on behalf of his brother bishops" [p.89].

No, Ms Richards, in fact the Pope has the authority to speak independently as supreme pastor and teacher of all the faithful, including the bishops, and his definitions on faith and morals are irreformable (see Lumen Gentium 25).

Having explained how the Council of Trent’s defence of Catholic doctrine against the Reformation was bound "to result in a negative moral climate" [p.93], she claims that the Second Vatican Council "reploughed the whole field of moral theology and its legalistic tradition" [p.94]. Now we are to look to "the whole human experience of life" including "sociology and psychology" to find moral guidance. Ms Richards admits that this is "a break away from the past" and it certainly is.

We no longer have a series of commands to obey but simply a record of the various ways the early Christians solved their ethical problems" [p.98]. This means "we make our own responsible decisions" about issues such as divorce ("Matthew adds an exception to the absolute ruling in Mark") and the sanctity of human life. The Church’s teaching on contraception has already been discredited, now the question of euthanasia is left open and the Church’s ruling against abortion called into question. On page 101 Ms Richards says: "Theologians like Charles Curran, Richard McCormick, Bernard Haring, and Karl Rahner" suggest scientists who say human life begins "two or three weeks after fertilisation" may be right. This means that "in extreme circumstances it would be permissible to remove the early embryo or take the morning after pill."

Remember some of the students reading this will soon be teaching Catholic teenagers. Is this what we want them to teach? John Smeaton of SPUC was appalled when I showed him this and one or two other pages.

What Can We Do?

A good young priest told me that this book, published by Kevin Mayhew, should be on the Index, if we still had it.

As it is, the bishops must condemn it publicly to ensure that it is not allowed to lead future Catholic teachers astray.

Sadly, some bishops neglected to protect the children entrusted into their care from sexual abuse, even protecting the priest predators. Now this has been taken up by the police and the media they are going to be very careful not to repeat it in future.

Unfortunately the police and the media will not care about the spiritual abuse of the children inherent in allowing introducing catholic theology to misinform student teachers of religion. So we will have to make it clear to our bishops and to Rome that unless steps are taken to protect our children from being led out of the Church by this bizarre counter-faith, we can no longer entrust our children to Catholic schools and to teachers who have been instructed in such a travesty of the teachings of Christ.

We could also remind the bishops that although they will not have to answer to the civil authorities for allowing false teaching disguised as Truth to pollute the minds and hearts of our children, they will, one day, have to answer to a higher Court.