Catholic Church in crisis: save money or save souls?

The Catholic Hierarchy is letting its people down

By Amy Brooke                                                                 

When visiting in England a while back, one of the highlights of our trip was finding the tomb of the great Anglo-French, Catholic polemicist, Hilaire Belloc. With his much-loved wife Elodie by his side, he lies in the graveyard of St Francis, beside the Church of our Lady of Consolation in West Grinstead, in the West Sussex countryside which he loved.  The man whose book The Path to Rome told the story of the journey Belloc made on foot from southern France, where he was serving in the French military, to arrive in Rome on the feasts of Sts Peter and Paul to see “all Europe which the Christian faith has saved,” remains, like Patrick Leigh Fermor’s, among many readers’ favourite travel books. Characterised by his sense of history, his humour, his feeling for the people and places visited, Belloc broke every vow made beforehand – except for arriving when he said he would.

If the book also contains a strong didacticism, even bombasticism, it is still a remarkable testimony to a Europe and a time when apologists for Christianity could more than hold their own against the rising tides of Communism, Fascism, and Marxism – morphing today into cultural Marxism  – the  same old  anti-Christian Communism in drag. Under their aegis have flourished the variations of radicalism, nihilism, atheism, extreme feminism, eco-fascism and the all-sheltering umbrella of cultural relativism – of today’s recycling of racism, sexism, homophobia, gender disorder, reverse racism, and ethnic superiority.

Belloc – writer, orator, poet, and soldier – was above all a fighter – a characteristic now markedly lacking in many whom one might expect to be today’s apologists for Christianity. Even when he never really recovered from Elodie’s devastating early loss, nor that of a son in each of the two world wars of the 20th Century, he fought all his life for what he considered right.  His great, moving poem “The South Country” tells of his love for West Sussex and his longing for “the men who were boys when I was a boy” to be with him at his end. “By them and the God of the South Country/My poor soul shall be healed.”


Standing by this great Christian warrior’s grave, shamefully neglected, it was moving to learn that he sleeps with his sword by his side. But where are today’s Catholic intellectual giants? In face of the rising tide of a fanatical Muslim fundamentalism which Christianity previously held back at its last determined attack on the West – (detailed by Chesterton in his great poem Lepanto”) – where is the Belloc, the Chesterton, or a Don Juan of Austria rising to say “Go no further.” Instead, a basic corruption has spread its tentacles among the Church hierarchy, spreading sadness and dismay among the many followers of Christ worldwide living and ministering to those under their care, the selfless priests,  nuns and others giving their lives to follow in the steps of Christ.

Belloc, looking at the mess the Catholic Church had got itself into, observed that the Reformation was badly needed. He would have little doubt today that the times are well overdue for another shakedown, for the rotten apples to fall. A scandalised laity, those who have not already walked away shocked and confused, is not going to tolerate any more cover-ups or closing of the ranks to protect those in positions of power.

Moreover, pronouncements from the Vatican which dodge the real message Christ gave his followers, but instead focus on politically correct issues where Church spokesmen are making fools of themselves – making pronouncements in areas in which they have no expertise whatsoever in order effort to be thought “relevant”  – e.g.  embarrassingly wrong warnings about global warming – are a side-show.

For example, faced with a targeting of the West and a brutal persecution of Christians world-wide, too many Christian leaders are shamefully evasive and culpable. It is completely unacceptable that under the double-speak of embracing all cultures as of equal value, no matter how horrific their practices – (our own killing of vulnerable babies, pre-birth can be included here:  the Church has long inexcusably gone underground on this issue) – the growing threat from Islam worldwide, including its oppressive, even murderous treatment of women and children, is evaded by our hierarchy. The very real fact of an extremist Muslim fanaticism with its “death to the infidel” is simply ignored.

What are the implications for us when gradually, all over New Zealand, the doors of Catholic churches are being closed, except at specific Mass times?  Excuses vary, from the one I have to hand in a letter from John A Cardinal Dew, Archbishop of Wellington, using the excuse that “if churches are left open during the day and if there is a theft or an attempt at arson…then the churches are not covered by insurance…It is very regrettable that we are not able to have the churches open all the time, but it is far too risky in terms of theft or any other damage being done to a church building or some of the churches’ valuable artefacts.”

The Cardinal argues that “it is very regrettable but a necessary thing to do.” His claim is extraordinary, since he is apparently well aware that Pope Francis, in spite of the confusing statements he has now made on a number of issues, has rightly insisted that church doors must stay open around the world despite security fears…

Apparently the Pope’s warning has carried little weight with the Catholic Church Establishment  in this country. And this is in spite of the fact that it has been pointed out to the Cardinal that while, under his jurisdiction, churches have closed and are still closing, mosques are opening all over the country – 23  now in Auckland alone.        

In the face of Cardinal John Dew’s seeming indifference, it is heartening to see at least one of the English Catholic hierarchy, Bishop Philip Egan, criticising Catholic churches in England now being locked during the day. He echoes the message of Pope Francis that the Cardinal is ignoring. “Please, no armoured doors in the church: everything open,” he said.  “We must not surrender to the idea that we must apply this way of thinking to every aspect of our lives” – (where doors are locked with a key). To do so to the Church would be terrible.”

However, the doors of Catholic churches are closing in New Zealand, except where some faithful parish priests are fighting back. In contrast, the minutes of a local  parish meeting made it plain that the strong initiative to close the church came from the same parish priest who had already showed a remarkable inability to be present for scheduled weekday Masses on so many occasions.  While he claimed that this initiative came from the parish council, the minutes of the relevant meeting showed this as quite wrong. What they did show was his pressuring the meeting not only to keep the church locked but to not change the Mass times, even a little, in response to a request, so that elderly parishioners would find it easier to attend.  As most parish groups tend to follow directions from the local priest, his initiative was rubberstamped with the extraordinarily understated admission that while it was “a shame” to make the church unavailable… for those “who wish to drop in and pray” (how very inconsequentially casual the use of the phrase, “to drop in”) safety and security considerations need to take precedence.     

So what of Christ’s call for those in need to come to him? This is blithely ignored by the parishes that simply hand out keys to a chosen few. What of the loss to individuals, in an increasingly fragmented society, where the incidence of those taking refuge in anti-antidepressants, alcohol and drug-taking is reaching unprecedented levels?  What of the warning against putting material possessions before the things that matter most to the human spirit? Where to for those needing to sit in a now rare place with time out for peace and contemplation?

What priest can legitimately claim from the readings of the Gospels that Christ would prefer the safeguarding of any valuable possessions a local church might hold – rather than enabling the weary and the needy being able to take refuge there? The understanding of most Christians in today’s world would be that for the Christ of the gospels, the plainest and simplest of buildings would be sufficient – rather than a closed church safeguarding valuable possessions.

Down through the ages Catholic churches have remained open as quiet sanctuaries, places of refuge for the intellectually, physically and spiritually weary; for the dying and the destitute; for lost souls –  for those caught in  the traps of dependency  being able  to come to pray for help in confusion at what has happened to their lives. Being able to drop into a church, given the Catholic belief in the real presence, the Transubstantion of the bread and wine of the Mass, according to Christ’s promise, has been an immense consolation for those noting the ever-burning red light by the tabernacle.

That people themselves are protesting has not prevented determined individual parish priests, backed by the Catholic hierarchy in this country, using the same excuse of the possible theft of valuable items, to close their doors.  They appear to be uninterested in the possibility of adequate security measures. Claims that open church buildings and property cannot be covered by insurance against theft and damage are simply embarrassing. There are always solutions available, as one parish priest commented, taken aback by the news that a local church in an adjoining parish had closed its doors. There are ways to manage security and to keep the doors open, with different parts of the country facing different risks, and employing different solutions. Not just security cameras and alarms, but the new technology now used in homes of scanning areas, and notifying with cell phone alarms any such possible entries, is a very obvious one. Cameras scanning the most important area surrounding the alter rail and special areas of a church can be set up to give instant warnings of possible trespass.

Moreover, the fact that although the risk of damage to churches has always been there, down through the centuries, that today, when it was never more possible to mitigate that risk, the closing of the churches is proceeding apace, signals that something is underfoot that needs far greater scrutiny – something much more ominous than simple expediency.

The Vatican is not the Church; and a growing challenge to clericalism is now under way, a challenge to the  apparent assumption of superiority of an entrenched hierarchy ignoring Christ’s warning that the first would be last, and the last first…It is the under-regarded “little people”,  never  ordinary –  including fine priests and those in various religious orders – who are unfairly paying an undeserved penalty for the corruption in which they have taken  no part.

The hydra-headed attack on the long under-pinning of Western civilisation by Judeo-Christian values has succeeded to an extraordinary degree in stifling debate – and in producing a virtual moral vacuum. In addition, the dumbing down of our education institutions has substituted the  political indoctrination of  our young, the manipulative propaganda  of neo-Marxism, for   genuine learning  and the lessons we should have learned from history – and from great literature. Together with a now ominous State and activist courts’ enforcing of costly consequences for supposed “hate speech” so very many are now intimidated into silence.

Yet, as the brilliant former Times columnist, Bernard Levin commented, “The atrophy of moral judgment is the characteristic disease of our times – the inability to see evil, and the willingness to condone it. “

That another reformation is again well overdue, and that the gates of the Church which has long underpinned the survival of the West are being battered in another onslaught far more ominous than many perceive, is apparently the lesson that it must take on board, to survive the forces now ranged against it.

But Belloc sleeps with his sword by his side. Who is there to replace him?


 © Amy Brooke


  1. Firstly Amy, thank you writing a piece on our Faith in a seemingly secular domain, and thank you Ian for having the charity to publish it. It does read as a lament of much that you view is wrong, not only in the world around us but also in the Church. It’s hard not to disagree.

    However, I felt it worth responding with my own experience of “dropping in” to pray at various churches around the NI and Auckland, in particular over the last two years. In that time I have only been faced with one locked door. This would seem, at least for now, to counter your contention that churches are closed “except where some faithful parish priests are fighting back”.
    It occurs to me that as Catholics perhaps the reason some “drop in to pray” may be the same reason many Catholics don’t. That is, the “point of difference” with any other church – The Real Presence of Christ. I suspect however that it is simply that most Catholics have simply lost sight of this simple fact – I certainly have been guilty of that in the past. But here’s the thing, the Gospels tells us that encounters with Christ don’t just occur in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament, they also occur in our encounters with others, especially those who are weary, dying, destitute etc.
    A Parish is a community of lay faithful believers, of which the Parish Priest is but one, who happens of course to provide much needed pastoral care, administer Sacraments, “in persona Christi” (granted he does have other more administrative duties). But being part of such a community requires personal sacrifice of all, not just the Priest, a co-responsibility as it is sometimes referred to in the US. Unfortunately in today’s pluralist and increasingly secular world we as Lay Catholics are less willing to acknowledge that at a personal level – for some of us even showing up to Sunday Mass is a stretch too far.
    If we want to effect a change in the way our Parish responds to the needs of those around us, even in just ensuring our church is open to all, surely that happens at the Parish level rather than at other levels of the church. For example, if lay parishioners want to ensure their church doors remain open then perhaps it is a simple matter of creating a ministry of volunteers to “drop in” randomly, roster attendance, perhaps even practice Adoration more frequently! Show me a Priest who wouldn’t relish that kind of support from his Parish! Evangelisation and encounters with Christ will surely follow.
    Let’s worry about our own house first before worring about the heirachy.

  2. Interesting article..may I suggest that those physically & spiritually weary souls pop on down to the Anglican Church whose doors will still be open. Did you check with the Methodists, Presbyterians & Baptists, Salvation Army etc as well to see what their position was about leaving the doors open at times when services are not being held & how that affects their insurance on the building? I didn’t think so.

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