Tuesday, November 27, 2012

The Problem of Democracy

The recent troubles in the Church of England are very sad – the communion is being torn asunder by the issue of women bishops.  As you know the C of E synod has just rejected the ordination of women bishops and the fallout has been dreadful.  Some Catholics in recent times have hailed the democratic nature of the Anglican synod and urged our Church to adopt it: only in democracy, we are told, can the Church become relevant and have a future.  However, in the eyes of some it seems the democratic nature of the Anglican synod has failed to produce the goods this time, and there is now talk in some quarters of imposing women bishops.  In the fray following the rejection, some MPs say they are going to sue the Church of England for breaching equality laws. 

To be honest I find it all very strange.  Those who speak about democracy within the C of E are not happy with what seems to be a democratic decision according to the model the Anglican Communion has adopted: surely democrats should accept the decision.  Well, it seems not.  Democracy is a strange animal.  Almost worshipped as the only legitimate form of government, it is sometimes seen as a burden to be overcome in secularist nations.   In the last hundred and fifty years we have seen countries in the developed west trying to encourage less developed countries to adopt the democratic model, but when these countries adopt the model many end up being dominated in various ways by the very countries that urged them to democracy.

In Ireland, for example, our ancestors fought for freedom, for the Irish to rule themselves in a democratic way: as the blurb goes: “the people are sovereign”.  But then how many times in Ireland has the democratic will of the Irish people, expressed in a referendum, been put aside by the ruling government and the people forced back to the polls again and again to produce the “right” answer?  This charade became commonplace in the various referendums on European treaties we have had in recent times, but another example, rarely cited now, is also interesting: divorce. 

Over the years we had a number of referendums on divorce in Ireland until it was passed.  Following a rejection the government returned to issue every few years to see if the view of the people had changed, yet now that we have it no government has decided to see if the people still want divorce.  Should the government not be consistent?  After all, having had the experience of divorce for the last number of years, perhaps the will of the people has changed again.

From such experiences one might be inclined to think that democracy is a one way street, veering in the direction of the most powerful and influential in society.  Certainly, as many of us have found, scratch the surface of some of those who appeal to democracy and the people and you find they are not really interested in democracy at all, but rather want to impose their rule and give the impression that the people want it.  A brief look at history reveals this to be the case in many countries from Communist Russia to modern China and North Korea.   I sometimes wonder if democracy is seen by some as such a wild animal that it needs to be chained, sedated, fed only what the elite will concede and only brought out for a walk now and again to impress the neighbours, but always on the leash.

As regards women bishops in the Church of England: first to say that I accept the Catholic Church’s position on the issue of the ordination of women, as taught by Pope Paul VI, Blessed John Paul II and Pope Benedict, and I believe that is the will of God for his Church.  If the Anglicans want to ordain women ministers it is their concern, but if they see that that is right for the Church of England, then how can they refuse to ordain them bishops?  If women can be priests for them, then they can be bishops: they cannot refuse since the offices of priest and bishop are intimately connected.  They cannot decide to go half way down the road once they have committed themselves.  That may be hard for the opponents of women priests and bishops to hear, but they will eventually have to face the inevitable.  That said: the doors of the Ordinariate are always open – we would be delighted to welcome them home. We should keep them all in our prayers.  On this issue Francis Philips has an interesting article in the Herald which is well worth reading. 

The big news in the Church here in Ireland is the appointment of the new bishop of Cloyne - the new nuncio's first appointment.  The bishop-elect is Canon William Crean from the Diocese of Kerry and was a most unexpected candidate.  Here is the bishop-elect's acceptance speech.  As bishop, Canon Crean will face many challenges - the difficulties that have arisen in his new See in recent years, and the stirrings of renewal in the Church here.  We must keep him in our prayers, as we must remember all our bishops.

Other news.  John Jalsevac over on LifeSiteNews is beginning a series of articles on internet pornography.  In the first article he writes about his own experience as an addict and offers some shocking statistics.   Brandon Vogt has a very good piece on how Blessed John Henry Newman dealt with anti-Catholic bigotry.  As I was reading it I could not help but think of our contemporary situation: good advice for us all.


  1. Do people want divorce still? No-one is required to get divorced. We voted only to have the option, not to make it madatory.

    Do you understand the massive differnce in a referendum to allow the option of divorce and a referendum to remove the option?

  2. "Massive difference"? What "massive" difference? If the Constitution says that the people are sovereign and that it is in their competence to decide, then just as they decided to vote to allow the option for divorce, then they can also decide to vote to remove the option.

    Your comment proves very point I am making. Democracy, as it is perceived by a certain group within society, usually the ruling elite (the Bourgeoisie, as Marx would call them), seems to be a one way street where these ideologues batter away at the citizens to get their agenda enshrined in law and then will not allow the citizens to rethink the issue and have an opportunity to revisit it in the polls.

  3. Good to be kept up wiht the weird developments in the Anglican Church which once was considered so close to the Roman Catholic Church. Their whole philosophy is upside down and inside out by the looks of it. I am more interested in your observations on the political side of things. I have indeed come to the conclusion myself that Democracy is only as good as the people using/abusing it. They being those administering it (the influential elite) and those voting. The value system of either of these in conjunction or apart have a great effect on the outcome of Democracy.
    Something I might request of which is seperate from this blog is can you go into the origin of the Seal of Confession. I am very much interested in knowing if it is considered of Divine or human origin.