Nonsense in Nottingham
Previous editorials in Christian Order [March 2001 and January 2002], have questioned the wisdom of some of the more recent episcopal appointments in this country, including that of Bishop Malcolm McMahon OP of the Diocese of Nottingham. During research for a series of articles on the activities of dissenting feminists,(1)worrying evidence emerged about an assembly that is taking place in 2003 in the Nottingham Diocese that does little to assuage fears regarding this particular appointment.
I first learned about the Nottingham diocesan assembly through reading an article by Patricia Stoat in Network, the journal of the dissenting Catholic Women’s Network. Ms Stoat claimed in the article that she had signed up to the planning group for the assembly, and was appealing for input and help from other Network readers. CWN’s desire to bring its dissenting agenda to the assembly was later revealed in a report in the Catholic press last July,(2) which also highlighted concerns that the assembly would be looking at alternative images of God, such as "God the Mother."
Fr Ken O’Riordan, overall co-ordinator for the assembly, denied in this report that such things would dominate the assembly. Yet the Catholic Herald subsequently revealed that part of the official study programme of the Nottingham assembly referred to God as "She."(3) This report stated: "Fr Ken O’Riordan, head of the working party that drew up the document, denied that the assembly would be dominated by a feminist or gender-based agenda. Speaking in July he said: ‘That would be a distortion of what we are trying to do. We are just trying to get people to think more clearly about God and the Incarnation’." The Herald also noted that "neither Bishop McMahon, the diocesan press officer, nor Fr O’Riordan were available for comment." They were still unavailable for comment when in December it was further reported that the ordination of women would be debated at the Nottingham diocesan assembly.(4)
Fr O’Riordan’s denial that the assembly would be dominated by a feminist agenda is disingenuous, to say the very least, because although such an agenda hasn’t actually dominated the assembly, it is undeniably present in the official preparations for the assembly, and should have no place at all in any part of it. One may well ask why Fr Ken O’Riordan, as the overall co-ordinator for the assembly, has allowed a dissenting feminist agenda to become a part of the official preparations – but then perhaps he is only following the alarming precedent that was set by his own bishop the previous year.
The June 2001 issue of the diocesan newspaper The Catholic News contained an interview with Bishop McMahon, conducted by members of a youth group from his diocese, one of whom asked: "What do you think of women as priests?" Bishop McMahon replied:
"Ah, you’ll get me into trouble over this one! I think in other Churches, in other denominations, women have made very good priests and ministers. There is no doubt about that! In the Catholic Church we would want to be sure that this is the will of the Holy Spirit before we ordained women as priests. You see, vocation is a two-way thing. It’s not just the person saying I want to do it, but it is also the Church saying we want you to do it as well. We believe the Holy Spirit speaks through the Church and I agree with that, so I look forward to the day when we will have women priests. But it will not be our decision, we will realise God wants us to have women priests. At the moment we don’t see it like that at all." [emphasis mine]
The bishop effectively thumbs his nose at Pope John Paul II’s definitive and binding declaration (regarded by many leading scholars as having all the hallmarks of infallibility) that women cannot be ordained as priests and that this teaching is final.
In the same interview, Bishop McMahon was asked: "Why shouldn’t Catholic priests be allowed to marry." He replied: "Well I agree with you, they should be allowed to marry, but they should be allowed to marry before they become priests . . ." As the bishop is responsible for the formation of his priests, it would be an understatement to say that quotes like these do not augur well for the future of the diocese.
The disturbing direction and tenor of the assembly is further revealed by way of another dissident prelate ‘imported’ for the publicity campaign. Website notices and the assembly literature are all plastered with the following quote from one Bishop Peter Cullinane of New Zealand: "If we fail to prepare for the future that we see is coming, we betray both our past and our present." This is the same Bishop Peter Cullinane who in 1994 stated: "Jesus did not ‘ordain’ anyone, nor did he institute ordination as we know it. Priestly ministry as we know it did not fully emerge until after the apostolic era."(5) Of all the people who could have been chosen to promote the assembly why select a sound-bite from the heretical likes of Bishop Cullinane? A man known in his own country as "Protestant Pete"!
There is insufficient space for an exhaustive study of all the website notes and literature pertaining to the preparation for the Nottingham diocesan assembly, but there are sufficient examples here to demonstrate that there is a spirit at work which is alien to Catholicism. The following examples show that those promoting dissent in this assembly are either doing so with Bishop Malcolm McMahon’s knowledge and approval – or else he has completely failed to check the material that he has endorsed for use in the official preparations for the assembly. In either case it is simply unacceptable.
The official Nottingham diocesan assembly website contains the following statement from Stage 1: Session 3 – Group Leaders’ Notes: "God! What difference does He Make! Purpose of this session: To explore our ideas of God and how He/She works in our world".(6) [emphasis mine]
Also, on the same web page further down there is the following story, to be used as a closing prayer:
"You learn one day that on the other side of a river lives a swami (guru) about whom marvellous things are spoken. At all costs you must get his blessing. So you set off. There is the river! You can't ford it and to try to swim would be dangerous. But on the bank you notice a ferryman with a boat. You ask him to take you to the other side. "Gladly", he replies, "But first you must get rid of your luggage. I take only men, not their belongings". "But it is not possible to leave my luggage, how can I manage without my belongings? I have in it my food for the journey, my blanket for the night. I have flowers and fruit to offer to the swami. And I have my holy books, which I read each day. After all, my luggage is not so heavy; come on, ferryman, I will pay for it." "Please yourself", said the ferryman, "take it or leave it. Without luggage I will take you. If you stick to your luggage I will leave you here. Which do you want, the blessing of the swami or your old bits and pieces?" So the luggage is thrown away, one crosses and one receives the blessing of God."
This "story" echoes a theme that is present throughout all the assembly literature – even in the official diocesan assembly prayer - which is that of leaving behind "all that weighs us down." Concern has been expressed that this vague concept is being used by dissenters to promote or justify "leaving behind" any area of Catholic belief or practice that isn’t in accord with their erroneous views or aims.
The second excerpt from the website(7) is a feedback from launch material and states in point 7: "Issues concerning the Universal Church:
How can the issue of women’s ordination be important for discussion within the diocese, when the Holy Father has declared that it is no longer up for debate? Do the good people of Nottingham Diocese think they are above the teaching that has to be observed by the rest of the Universal Church? It will be interesting to see if Bishop McMahon will use the assembly in September 2003 to promote the definitive and final Church teaching on women’s ordination, or if he will continue his "I look forward to the day when we will have women priests" position. Apart from flagrantly disregarding the teaching of the Holy Father, such a position would continue to give false hope to the proponents of women’s ordination and confuse and scandalise the faithful.
It was interesting to note there was deemed to be a "need for clarity" regarding the divorced and re-married, and questions regarding homosexuality. Fortunately for the assembly, Church teaching on the indissolubility of marriage and homosexuality are crystal clear and easily available, so there should be absolutely no confusion at all regarding these teachings, unless, of course, the assembly decides to ignore them, as it apparently has done by re-opening the debate on women’s ordination after the Holy Father has closed it.
The official Nottingham diocesan assembly handbook, a glossy colour 72-page booklet published by Redemptorist Publications, opens with the following introductory statement from Bishop Malcolm McMahon:
There is so much muddled thinking, and so many errors, ambiguities and absurdities inviting heterodox and heretical responses in this booklet, it would be impossible to reprint all of them, but here is a brief selection of excerpts. Bear in mind that these excerpts are from what Bishop McMahon calls "prayerful reflections," and for which he thanked the authors. Some, though not all of these "reflections" can be seen on the diocesan assembly website:(8)
3rd Sunday of Advent, Isaiah 61: 1-2
"A blast from the past . . . words attributed to a chap called Isaiah, who lived 2,700 years ago in the Middle East, whose wife was a prophet, who called his kids Shearjashub and Mahershalalhashbaz, and claimed to speak on behalf of God:
The spirit of the Lord is upon me because the Lord has anointed me; he has sent me to bring gospel to the afflicted, to mend broken hearts, to shout liberty for captives, to proclaim release for those who are bound, and to herald the acceptable time of the Lord . . .
4th Sunday in Ordinary Time, 1 Corinthians 7: 32-35
"St Paul, who became a Christian four or five years after the death of Jesus, has a reputation for being a male chauvinist whose reflections on marriage and celibacy are about as relevant as his advice to slaves to be content with their lot. Here’s what you have to stomach today [emphasis mine]: I want you to be free from anxieties. The unmarried man is anxious about the affairs of the Lord; but the married man is anxious about the affairs of the world, how to please his wife, and his interests are divided. And the unmarried woman and the virgin are anxious about the affairs of the Lord, so that they may be holy in body and spirit; but the married woman is anxious about the affairs of the world, how to please her husband. I say this for your own benefit, not to put any restraint upon you, but to promote good order and unhindered devotion to the Lord – from Paul’s first letter to his Christian community in Corinth (Greece). So what do you think of that, then? . . ." [Fr Joseph O’Hanlon, p. 22].
2nd Sunday of Lent, Mark 9: 2-10
"As a church are we listening to the breath of the Spirit? We talk about the shortage of priests as if it were a crisis but if we have been praying for vocations for 40 years and have fewer priests then might this not be an answer to prayer! Could God be showing us a new style of priesthood? St Paul appointed elders in each community. Today a lot of people look after their own families incredibly well. Collectively they could look after their own communities. Individually and as a church we must listen before we do anything and then the vision for each of us personally and for our church will be revealed." [Alison Riggott, pp. 34-5].
5th Sunday of Lent, Jeremiah 31: 31-34
"Do you think we should have women priests? Do you think it is wrong to raise the question?" [Fr John Daley IC, p.41].
4th Sunday of Easter, Psalm 118: 22
"The stone which the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone! Psalm 118:22. The stone may be heavy. It may do no more in life than be in the way. You pass around it, and, with familiarity, you come to ignore it as no more than a blot on the landscape. A lumpen but immovable object which gets in the way . . . Until you need it . . . There will come a time when the stone will block the floods, fill the breech in the city walls, roll down the hill and rout the invading hordes. Or it may, suitably dressed, set off your new fireplace. Either way . . . The great Christian people are the lumpen stone in the Church and the bosses better start listening soon or we’ll roll on top of them!!" [Fr. Joseph O’Hanlon, p.50].
There is also much vague talk of "risk taking" throughout the whole booklet – but never once does it state exactly what one is meant to be risking or why. Taking a risk always implies a potential loss of some possession or benefit in order to achieve or gain something more. Exactly what might be lost if these risks are taken? What is hoped to be achieved or gained by taking risks? Unfortunately, we are never enlightened. One such quote from Tony and Elaine Prior on page 15 asks: "Are we confident enough to take the necessary risks? Have we the faith and courage to step out of the boat?" This vagueness is characteristic of many of the questions posed throughout the booklet.
The old Modernist ploy of making people feel guilty about attacking error or defending truth is evident on more than one occasion. On page 7 Alison Riggott states: "Be a joyful messenger. Choose encouragement and love rather than gloom and negativity. How am I speaking of the Diocesan Assembly, negatively or positively?" And on page 27, Fr John Daley IC asks: "We have good catholic societies and sodalities that seek to do good, but we know that sometimes there can be hurtful tongues and eager ears. Am I speaking positively about the Diocesan Assembly?"
But surely the question should be: do all aspects of the diocesan assembly deserve to be spoken about positively?
There can of course be gratuitously "hurtful tongues" but these are not to be confused with "plain speaking tongues" and it would appear that some plain speaking and forthright questioning has become necessary here. Perhaps Bishop Malcolm McMahon and Fr Ken O’Riordan could answer the following crucial questions:
The actual assembly is going to be held at Loughborough University in September 2003 and its progress will be monitored, so watch this space for further details.
I would ask all Christian Order readers – especially those in the Nottingham diocese - to challenge this inclusion of dissent in an official diocesan event, and also to join me in praying to Our Lady Immaculate, that she may crush the diabolic spirit of pride and rebellion increasingly prevalent in the Nottingham diocese.
(1)"The continuing feminist threat to the Church," CO, January 2002 and "Update," CO, December 2002.
(2) "Network to bring radical agenda to diocesan assembly," Catholic Herald , 19 July 2002.
(3) "Official study programme says God is She," Catholic Herald, 27 September 2002.
(4) "Laity to debate women priests at diocesan assembly," Catholic Herald, 13 December 2002.
(5) "A Pastoral-Theological reflection on Pope John Paul II’s Apostolic Letter concerning Ordination to the Priesthood", Bishop P J Cullinane, 1994.