HAS the Catholic Church gone mad?
PETER HEPPLETHWAITE, S.J. examines the findings of JOHN EPPSTEIN, who thinks she has
I-las the (' iIIu lir Church Cone Mad:' I'y John Eppstein i blot SLaccy Lid. L 1.75) S INCE the entl of the Coun cil there have been a number of hooks which have sounded the alarm about certain tendencies in the Church. One thinks of Maritain the improbable peasant, von Hildebrand with his Trojan Horse, and Louis Bouyer.
They made a serious case which h.is to he pondered.
Mr. Eppstein s hook is in the same line. but it reads like u parody of the g? !L. it k entirely predictable, ;end what distinguishes it from the authors mentioned above is an cxtra venom, t zest for discosrring plots and factual inaccuracy. It is the lrst effort in "religious publishing" of a house which has Io its credit f•Ve iii( Bw.v 7 r,rr. a symposium on subversion. and The ru. t. for Soul/i ,4/rrru.
1 :Ilmtist stopped reading on p.91. and only plodded on out of a probably mistaken sense of duty. Up till then the author had presented a rather garbled -version of what the Council said. I he Council is regarded as the source of all our woes, but the author obscures his tracks by remarking : "It is a tragedy that the Council should have been followed (whether post hoc or prop!Pr hoc is a matter of acute controversy) by the sorry disarray of the Catholic community which we are ~tallying in this book" (p.24).
Mr. Eppstein's special bogey is liturgical change. He sees it as "arbitrary," and the result of "allowing lobby methods to prevail" (47). So successful were they. that the Fathers of the Council approved the conslitution on the Sacred Liturgy by a massive 2.158 votes in favour with only 19 against! I do not think that the Bishops of the Catholic Church were or are quite so naive as Mr. Eppstein's theory supposes. Nor' does Pope Paul VI scape a whipping from our ultra
papalist: "His historic personal responsibility for allowing the destruction of a tradition of worship on which the piety and religious cultures of centuries had been based is undeniable" (161).
Mr, Eppstein does not seriously ask the question 1t hv. He does not need to. for he has his "lobby" and "eager propaganda" explanations to hand. Yet tiny serious treatment of the Council demands some exgimination of the motives the Council itself gave, among which the pastoral one was predominant. Not appreciating or rejecting the ex elicit motivations, he ascribes discreditable ones of his own invention, of the type "many of its leaders (the Church's) are leaning over backwards to persuade Protestants, not to speak of Humanists and Communists, that the Catholic Church is not the Church it has always claimed to be" (p.5). On this account, the Church is committing institutional suicide.
"Selling the pass" is another of his favourite expressions. And at the worst, in the words of his arresting title, the Church has succumbed to collective madnessI can think of other ways of putting it which show a little more confidence in the Holy Spirit.
All these are to some extent questions of interpretation, on which 1 believe Mr. Eppstein to be sadly wrong. Sadly, because I understand his plight and his sense of having the carpet removed from under him. But on page 91 he packs such a collection of errors into one paragraph that the reliability of his generalisations is gravely jeopardised. He revives the hoary charges against IDO-C which originated in France and have gone round the world, despite refutation, in innumerable duplicated sheets. As a founder-member of 11)0C, 1 think it my plain duty to reveal that it was not a conspiracy to undermine the Church. People like F'esquet and Laurentin were recruited for their professional competence, not as part of an antipapal plot. And how does Mr. )Eppstein suppose that Roberto Tucci, another founder member, would have stayed at his post as editor of CiviEia G'atlolira, which is censored by the Secretariat of State, if the facts were as he imagines them to be?
The short-lived English IDOC group provided fair game foi "guilt by association" theories. It did indeed include "four leaders of Slant," but only one attended regularly. My own views on Slant have never been concealed. As for Mr. Jack Dunman, of the British Communist Party (a trump card, that one), he came to one meeting, said nothing, went away bewildered and was never seen again. Shortly afterwards, the British IDO-C group sensibly dissolved itself.
The most unjust charges are ode a people wh those m against le g p p o cannot defend themselves, such as the Znak group in Poland. He shows not the slightest grasp of the Polish situation. Znak, he says, is "no less opposed to the Primate" than
Pa.r : but if that were true. why should Mr. Jerzy Turowicz, one of Znak's deputies in the Seym and editor of the Znak weekly, have been chosen by the Polish Bishops to lead the Polish delegation to the World Laity Conference in Rome in 1967? Has the conspiracy extended itself to the Polish Hierarchy alt well as the Vatican Secretariat of State? Such is the tone of the book that i suspect Mr. Eppstein would rather believe that, than revise his theory.
The cat is let out of the bag in the introduction. His sources arc Marcel Clement's Hoinme Norn rcur in France, and Approaches in England. "Where I have quoted them," he explains, "1 have checked the sources and found them accurate" (p.ix). It is evidently not enough to check sources. They must also be verified.
Another feature which renders the book of doubtful worth is its lack of essential distinctions. "New theology" becomes just a vast Hole of
Calcutta into which theologians he does not like are tumbled pell-mcll. I am quite prepared to regard Pere Cardonncl as nn incompetent menace; hut. I would want to distinguish his positions from those of Schilleheeckx (whom Mr. Eppstein constantly misspells) lend Rahncr, and those again from Abbe Mare Oraison. Anti how are we to regard the following edifying story of "counter-attacks by infuriated youths attached to the old religion" who pelted the avant-,'ardc' Father Oraison as he entered the Church at Passy, and proceeded to sing the Credo loudly in Latin"?
But the gravest injustice is done to Teilhard de Chardin, who is erroneously regarded as the father of the "new theology." Teilhard is the villain of the piece, and the use of the October 1950 letter is nothing less than odious. Mr. Eppstein hints that Teilhard stayed in the Church in order to undermine it, instead of taking "the more downright and one would have thought more honest — decision of earlier reformers to break
lifter that blow, the attack on Cardinal Suenens for "democratisation," and the defence of Portuguese Africa, seem inevitable and harmless.