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May 25, 2020 (LifeSiteNews) — There has been a fair amount of criticism of Catholic bishops over the period of the coronavirus epidemic, but if you want to put things in perspective, you only have to look at the bishops of the Church of England (Episcopalians). While Catholic priests up and down the land were optimising their churches’ live-streaming technology, Anglican clergy were forbidden to enter their own places of worship, even if these actually adjoined their homes. Their flocks have been treated to the sight of services celebrated in kitchens and living rooms instead. This utterly pointless ruling was roundly criticised, but the bishops stuck to it even over Easter, only finally succumbing to the pressure of common sense on May 5. What possible motivation could they have had for insisting that their clergy not go through the sacristy door into their empty and locked churches to celebrate the liturgy? 

Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury who thinks of himself as the successor of St. Augustine of Canterbury, who brought the Christian faith to England directly from Pope St. Gregory the Great, told us that it was to set an example. Referring to the government’s message about public health, he told the press that “by closing the churches, we make a powerful symbol of the need to listen to that message.”

I’m not someone who has called for people to flout the government’s guidelines, but going beyond them in this extraordinary way seems to me a powerful symbol of the Church of England’s worship of the idol of “health and safety.”

This isn’t the first time Welby has jumped on a bandwagon without engaging his brain. He condemned the long-dead and much-revered Bishop George Bell of Chichester for child abuse, without bothering to find out if the accusation was credible, a condemnation now criticized by a succession of official reports. Welby has found it difficult to apologize to Bell’s relations, who were understandably furious. Perhaps he was hoping his zeal in criticizing the dead would counter-balance Anglican failures to deal with Peter Ball, a living Anglican bishop actually imprisoned for sexual abuse.

But then again, perhaps he would have done it anyway. He and his colleagues seem incapable of resisting the temptation of the virtuous pile-on. Over the weekend, we were treated to the spectacle of Twitter condemnations by a whole array of Anglican luminaries of Dominic Cummings, a government adviser who apparently broke restrictions on travel to arrange child care for his two children when his wife contracted the virus, making him think that he was likely to do the same. If some of these Twitter statements seem a little deranged, one must bear in mind that Cummings is a hate-figure for some on the liberal-left, so is fair game. 

Is this what liberal Protestantism has come to now?

It turns out that Cummings’ son is autistic, and that the travel rules made special provision for parents in such cases. Cummings didn’t break the rules, but I have no naïve expectation that his high-minded critics will apologize for their rush to judgment. Somehow, their rage was justified anyway, because Cummings annoys them.

In many ways, liberal Protestantism, the phenomenon usually described in America as “mainline Protestantism,” shows us the future that the Catholic Church could realize if it moves in a certain direction. Fifty or 100 years ago, their ecclesial structures represented respectable solidity, the conscience of the establishment, but the virus of liberal theology they had long harbored undermined the content of their beliefs to such an extent that today it is difficult to say what is left. Whatever it is, it doesn’t seem to be the same for any two of them. When an Anglican bishop wants to say something that will give common purpose to his flock, it can’t be about moral or supernatural realities. It has to be about something his flock has in common with the secular public. If he wants to show “leadership” on such an issue, he has to jump the shark, and express his chosen fashionable opinion in an extreme way. He can’t just be in favor of sensible rules about lockdown: he has to be a fanatic.

I can thank a merciful providence that Britain’s Catholic bishops do not engage in social media in this childish way. Perhaps they miss some of the opportunities the medium offers, but I’d take that any day over this humiliating display from the Anglicans. We can, however, see signs of the same problem in the Catholic Church. Adherence to ecological ideology, expressed with more enthusiasm than knowledge, can be an example, as is the embrace of any other popular political cause. It’s not that theology has nothing to say about politics. Rather, we have a problem when the message is something to which theology makes no real contribution. If that is so, for all the sound and fury that may be expressed, the Church is not bringing the Gospel to the unconverted world, but bringing fashionable secular dogmas to the faithful.

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Dr Joseph Shaw has a Doctorate in Philosophy from Oxford University, where he also gained a first degree in Politics and Philosophy and a graduate Diploma in Theology. He has published on Ethics and Philosophy of Religion and is the editor of The Case for Liturgical Restoration: Una Voce Position Papers on the Extraordinary Form (Angelico Press). He is the Chairman of the Latin Mass Society of England and Wales and Secretary of Una Voce International. He teaches Philosophy in Oxford University and lives nearby with his wife and nine children.