THE TABLET THE I NTERNATIONAL CATHOLIC WEEKLY
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DAMAGED SOCIETY NEEDS REPAIR
New research into last summer’s riots in British cities offers a description of a country that many will find uncomfortably close to the truth. The riots were a surprise, but perhaps ought not to have been: there are trends which are shared by those who riot and those who do not. Individualism and selfishness are not confined to young men on the lawless streets in August. It was indeed “futile anarchy”, in the phrase used by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, in an article this week; and he expected more of it. Many of the rioters told researchers they felt visceral pleasure from turning the tables on authority, and they enjoyed the sudden freedom to help themselves to “free stuff ” once the looting started. It is all too understandable.
The police have worked hard on community relations, with extensive investment in community policing and fostering better relations with racial minorities. These must have been of benefit to the community, but it is disturbing how little that counted for, once the trouble started. Instead, many rioters said antagonism towards the police was one of their chief motivations.
They complained bitterly about having been stopped and searched in the street, yet stopping and searching is one of the main tools against knife crime – and the principal victims of knife crime are these same young people. It is no coincidence that a great deal of the damage done by the rioting was directed towards facilities that served their communities. It was almost as if they were rioting against themselves.
The latest report from the British Social Attitudes survey, in more refined language, says something similar. People are gradually becoming more selfish and individualistic, less wellmeaning towards the less fortunate, less trusting, and less aware of any sense of community or of responsibility towards it.
Both the rioting and social attitudes surveys suggest that the British are moving inexorably towards “a war of all against all”, in Thomas Hobbes’ famous phrase, which he uses to describe what happens when humanity reverts to a state of nature without government, without community. Life eventually becomes, he says, “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short … ”
Trying to prove Hobbes right is a social experiment that had better not go much further. There are many significant organisations in Britain that have a role to play in stemming the tide; and it is not unstemmable. Religious bodies, Churches especially, have a vital place in the social fabric whose value has been insufficiently recognised, both by public authorities and by those who set the moral tone of the culture.
Such bodies also have a responsibility, therefore, to “deepen their social engagement” – the very phrase used by the Catholic bishops of England and Wales for their programme for expanding the work and influence of Catholic agencies in society. What they are up against was well put by Archbishop Vincent Nichols in a lecture this week, where he said the “search for community” had to “compete with another instinct strongly reinforced by many factors today: the instinct to be a free-standing, selfsufficient individual”. It is practically a symbolic image of the summer rioter, brick in hand, silhouetted against a burning bus amid broken and looted shops. As John Galsworthy almost said: “He cares for nobody, no not he, and nobody cares for him.”
NON-NEGOTIABLES OF THE COUNCIL
Reconciliation between the Catholic Church and the Society of St Pius X – the ultra-conservative movement founded by Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre – has long been one of the ambitions of Pope Benedict XVI. But the process has generated much scepticism elsewhere in the Church. Archbishop Lefebvre defied Rome by ordaining four bishops in 1988 because in his view some of the documents of the Second Vatican Council broke with the Church’s traditional teaching. In the sermon during the illicit ordination, he singled out Dignitatis Humanae (Declaration on Religious Liberty). And that has remained a key sticking point. Many commentators regarded the Declaration as one of the council’s greatest achievements, and it underlies much of the progress that has been gained in the last 50 years in relations between the Catholic Church and members of other faiths. So when one of the Vatican’s negotiators on reconciliation with SSPX, Mgr Fernando Ocáriz, mentions the possibility that certain “controversial” texts of Vatican II might need to be reinterpreted and refers to religious freedom as one of the issues involved, the rest of the Church needs to pay attention. If Mgr Ocáriz meant to imply that in order to persuade SSPX to come back on board, Vatican II is up for renegotiation, then he is surely mistaken. If he said it only to mollify the SSPX leadership and draw them into a closer embrace, however, then SSPX itself will begin to question his good faith.
In his article in L’Osservatore Romano, Mgr Ocáriz refers to parts of the texts of Vatican II as “descriptions of the state of society, suggestions, exhortations, etc.” which are not binding on the faithful. It is not possible to apply that description to Dignitatis Humanae, however, because it baldly states, in Chapter II clause 9, “This doctrine of religious freedom is rooted in divine revelation, and for this reason Christians are bound to respect it all the more conscientiously.”
The approval of the text was one of the Vatican Council’s most dramatic moments. Indeed, observers of the debate reported an eruption of anger from the bishops of the United States – who strongly supported the Declaration – because at one point they thought they were being thwarted by the Vatican Curia. Criticisms of the Declaration were precisely that it was not compatible with traditional teaching. The most famous contradiction is with Pius IX’s Syllabus of Errors of 1864, and his condemnation of the proposition that “every man is free to embrace and profess that religion which, guided by the light of reason, he shall consider true”.
There is no “hermeneutic of continuity” that can reconcile the two positions. And the bishops knew exactly what they were doing. Even more sensitive would be any tampering with Nostra Aetate (Declaration on the Relation of the Church to NonChristian Religions), which contains the council’s historic repudiation of anti-Semitism and which Archbishop Lefebvre also objected to. SSPX must be made specifically to sign up to Nostra Aetate as part of any reconciliation agreement, as SSPX has long been tainted by a suspicion of anti-Semitism. Since Nostra Aetate, it has not been possible to be simultaneously an anti-Semite and a Catholic in good standing. That must not change one iota. The honour of the Church depends on it.
2 | THE TABLET | 10 December 2011