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Bishop Philip EganPhilip Egan / Twitter

PORTSMOUTH, England, September 13, 2018 (LifesiteNews) – The English Catholic bishop who first called for a synod on the clergy has likened the contemporary Church to a “shabby shell.”   

In an interview with the National Catholic Register, Bishop Philip Egan of Portsmouth told correspondent K.V. Turley that he believes many in the Catholic Church no longer hold the Catholic faith.

“The state of the Church in the early 21st century seems akin to that of the late 15th century,” he said. “I think of the words of the philosopher Bernard Lonergan, who once spoke of the ‘shabby shell of Catholicism.’”

Egan said that the structures of the Church are still in place, but some of the “home fires” seem to have gone out.

“Many Catholics, including members of the clergy, no longer believe the Church’s teaching, especially on matters of personal morality,” he revealed.

“There is confusion over conscience, sin, grace and the mechanism of confession. Many seem to have lost a sense of heaven, the angels and saints and the transcendent, and are thus not strongly evangelized, catechized and converted to Christ,” the bishop continued. “Secular attitudes and affluent lifestyles seem to have infiltrated.”

The vast majority of baptized Catholics do not practice their faith, Egan noted. He estimated that faithful Catholics comprise no more than 15 percent of Britain’s Catholic community. The solution, he believes, lies in a “pastoral overhaul” based in the Second Vatican Council’s request for a “universal call to holiness.”

Egan said the roots of the clerical sexual abuse crisis lay in the Second Vatican Council’s having coincided with the upheaval of the 1960s.

“The origins of the difficulties come from the coincidence of Vatican II with the social, sexual and family revolutions of the late 20th century,” he said.

“Where before religious men and women lived in strictly determined ecclesial structures, the Church was now inviting them to ‘update’ the way they lived, thought and spoke. The good intention was to engage with the modern world. But this was (and is) a world undergoing radical change.”

Boundaries necessary for the protection of all were lost.

“To me, the removal of altar rails was symbolic of a removal of boundaries and the subsequent confusion of the sacred and profane,” the bishop said.

“Yet, even if liturgically we no longer need altar rails, religious men and women do continue to need appropriate boundaries in which to live out their vocation. They need boundaries and a rule of life – such as the address of ‘Father’ to a priest or bishop – in order to protect themselves and to remind themselves of their sacred identity. This is where I believe a synod could be helpful.”

Egan is well-known for his staunch defense of the Gospel of Life. He recently made headlines as the first bishop to call for “an Extraordinary Synod on the Life and Ministry of Clergy” in the wake of a rash of scandals concerning sex abuse and cover-up in the American Church.

‘There is a three-level crisis here’

The bishop believes that the ongoing Church crisis has “three levels.”

“There is a three-level crisis here: first, the alleged catalogue of sins and crimes against the young by members of the clergy; secondly, the homosexual circles centered around Archbishop McCarrick, but present in other areas across the Church, too; and then, thirdly, the mishandling and cover-up of all this by the hierarchy up to the highest circles,” he observed.

“We know that all these issues affect many sectors of modern society, and we know that in many parts of the Church, such as here in the U.K., there have been robust safeguarding protocols in place for some years,” said Egan. “Yet scandal impacts the very sacramentality of the Church and damages our evangelizing mission. Of course, we must also remember that evangelization is always two-way, like breathing in and breathing out.”

However, the English bishop believes that the scandals could lead to a “purification” of the Church.

“If we cooperate rightly with God’s grace, this present crisis could lead to a purification of the Church: to helping us all become more like what we are meant to be, disciples of Christ, a holy people,” he said. “Christ is at the helm.”