Catholic church

The struggle to book my wedding in Ireland

‘How does anyone young and stupid manage to get married?’ I kept shouting at the builder boyfriend as I pummelled the keys of my laptop to try to force the website of the registrar to give me a date. It seems I picked the worst possible time to try to serve notice because, as anyone who has contacted a registrar lately will know, they are experiencing unprecedented demand for their services. This dream I had of going down the local register office and getting quietly hitched with no fanfare was fading Either there are record numbers of births or couples wanting to tie the knot, or this spike in excess

Has the Vatican abandoned beauty?

The Cathedral Church of the Holy and Undivided Trinity in the Cambridge-shire market town of Ely is one of the supreme achievements of European Gothic architecture. Its octagonal tower lifts the eye to a sumptuously restored wooden lantern from which Christ looks down in majesty. Who on Earth thinks faith can be awakened by seeing a crucifix floating in urine? On the last Friday in June, his gaze fell on a congregation worshipping him at Evensong. Two hours later, as the Times reported, the cathedral was filled with ‘a very different crowd: 800 people [wearing headphones] attending a 1990s-themed silent disco. They wore diamanté strappy heels and leather trousers, carried

The power of prayerful washing-up

My days pass largely in a state of inanition. The fit and able-bodied express their sympathy, claiming it’s much the same for them. ‘How are you?’ ‘I’m sleeping all the time.’ ‘Oh, but so are we in this terrible heat!’ Meanwhile the young get browner and more beautiful every day while going on with their energetic lives as if affected by the heat scarcely at all. For instance, I look at the cheerful lads digging up our road, putting in fibre broadband in 40 degrees of heat. I want to run up to them and implore them, with the fervour of a dying man preaching to dying men, to enjoy

The truth behind the Pope Benedict inquiry

How are we to interpret the revelation that Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI misled a sex abuse inquiry? That might seem an odd question. What is there to ‘interpret’ about the former Archbishop Ratzinger’s decision 43 years ago to allow a child abuser, Peter Hullermann, to live in Munich after he was thrown out of the diocese of Essen in 1979 for molesting an 11-year-old boy? The priest subsequently reoffended after Ratzinger moved on from the diocese, becoming Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith under John Paul II. And shouldn’t we be shocked that a former pope told this huge inquiry into decades of abuse in Munich that he wasn’t at

The churches must stay open

Hooray for Cardinal Vincent Nichols, who used the one day of the year when his pronouncements are amplified by the season to ‘sincerely appeal that [the government] do not again consider closing churches and places of worship.’ He said in a BBC interview he believed it had been demonstrated that the airiness of churches meant they are ‘not places where we spread the virus’. Mind you, Catholic churches weren’t as bad as the Church of England This is, of course, entirely sensible. It was nuts for churches to close at the start of lockdown, at least as spaces for prayer if not for communal worship. Pretty well any church is ‘Covid-safe’, in

The Pope’s merciless war against the Old Rite

I am going to have to boil this down as crudely as I can, because it’s a complex subject with a simple message, but the Pope is attempting to make it as hard as possible to say, and thus attend, the Old Rite Mass. This is the form of Mass most Catholics went to before the 1970s. It was replaced with a New Rite and the Old was driven more-or-less underground. In 2007 Pope Benedict XVI decided that priests who wanted to say the Old should be allowed to. Francis has rescinded that: now you must get the bishop’s permission and things will be weighed heavily in favour of the bishop

The word ‘mother’ isn’t offensive. The Catholic church should say so

I’m used to waiting for the Catholic church to make sense. I’m a convert to Catholicism, and Catholic ideas sometimes take a while to become clear. I start from a position of suspicious distaste, but if I sit tight, I’ve found, the strangest things come right. It’s in this spirit of patient confusion that, since the beginning of the year, I’ve been waiting for the Catholic bishops of England and Wales to speak out in defence of the word ‘mother’, and to state the simple, unremarkable fact that only biological women give birth. Out of America, out of universities, from the HR department of every big business has come this

Boris Johnson’s refusal to talk about faith

I am struggling to make sense of the Prime Minister’s answer to my question: whether he is a practising Roman Catholic – which I asked in good faith and with good reason because he was recently married in Westminster Cathedral. His answer was: ‘I don’t discuss these deep issues. Certainly not with you.’ He is aware that – for better or worse (worse for a long time) – this has been a pertinent question for chief and prime ministers since Henry Vlll. More broadly, the professed faith (or none) of a leader matters to many voters. But it was the ‘certainly not with you’ that took me aback. There is

Cancel culture is nothing new

Spectator contributors were asked: Which moment from history seems most significant or interesting? Here is Andrew Doyle’s answer: The Synodus Horrenda of January 897 is one of many bleak episodes in history that the Catholic Church would probably rather we forget. This is when Pope Formosus was put on trial for perjury and violating canon law. The twist is that by this point he had been dead for eight months.  The trial was an exercise in score-settling by his successor, Stephen VI. He had the corpse exhumed, dressed in his sacerdotal garb and propped up in the papal court. Pope Formosus was even provided with a defence council, but the

Letters: How to slim down the nation

Peer review Sir: A neat solution to the levels of inactivity of some members of the House of Lords (‘Peer pressure’, 1 August) might be annual self-assessment against national minimum standards: record of attendance (including duration), contributions to debates, questions asked, involvement in legislative procedure, notable achievements, charitable works. Any peer falling short should be shown the ornate door, as should any caught popping in just to claim their £300.David EdwardsNorton sub Hamdon, Somerset Matrix of success Sir: It is agreed that the purpose of the Upper House is to employ its wisdom and experience to improve draft bills emanating from the Commons. The present occupants of the Lords hardly

How the Catholic church betrayed the dying

Of all the sad and surreal things to happen in the past few months, the Catholic church’s decision to abandon the dying was, for me, the worst. The Church of England abandoned its churches, forbidding first congregants then priests from setting foot in them, making it clear that in fact it actively dislikes church buildings. But the Catholic church in England betrayed the people who needed it most: the men and women who found themselves in the awful eye of the storm, dying of Covid-19 without family and, as it turned out, without even the possibility of a priest. As our infection rate begins to rise again, and with talk

Don’t close the churches because of coronavirus

Last night, when the Prime Minister made his address to the nation he declared that places of worship would be closed – thereby putting churches on the same basis as outdoor gyms. Today a statement from the Ministry for Communities clarified that churches should stay open, for private prayer. All good, Catholics like me thought. We can sit at the back of the church, in the presence of the sacrament, and say a few prayers. Yesterday I dropped into my parish church and I found one other person there, a young man kneeling before the altar, as I’d found him the day before – an oddly moving sight. On Sunday there

The Pope rebuffs his liberal supporters by rejecting married priests

Pope Francis today issued his official response to October’s ‘Amazon Synod’, which discussed a plan to ordain married men in the region. He was expected to endorse it and thus open the door for the ordination of married men throughout the whole Catholic Church. (It’s already permitted in Eastern-rite Churches.) Instead, his apostolic exhortation ignores the subject. The Pope has ‘rejected the proposal’, reports CNN disapprovingly. It adds: ‘The lack of an opening for married priests, or women deacons, is expected to disappoint the Pope’s liberal supporters, particularly in the Americas and Europe.“People are starting to adjust their expectations,” said Massimo Faggioli, a church historian at Villanova University in Pennsylvania.

Westminster Cathedral’s musical heritage is under threat

The Catholic diocese of Westminster announced last week that it is holding ‘a strategic review of the role of sacred music in the mission of Westminster Cathedral’. It didn’t add: ‘because our master of music has walked out in despair, after warning that recent changes to the choir will ruin its sound’. But that is the situation and I suspect the purpose of the review is to extract Cardinal Vincent Nichols, the Archbishop of Westminster, from the hole he has helped dig for himself. It’s a nightmare for Nichols because Westminster owns what you might call the Berlin Philharmonic of Catholic choirs. And even that doesn’t do its reputation justice,

Wildly entertaining Pope-off: The Two Popes reviewed

The Two Popes stars Anthony Hopkins and Jonathan Pryce — that’s two reasons to buy a ticket, right there — as Pope Benedict XVI and his successor Pope Francis I, and it is wildly entertaining, so now you have a third reason too. True, it does, as others have noted, shy away from directly tackling the most difficult questions currently facing the church. But is that really the film you want to see? Rather than this affectionate and literate bromance that does, in fact, nudge us towards the bigger picture, but slyly? Also, it is brilliantly comic. Pope Benedict, for instance, doesn’t get jokes but does try to tell one,

A hero bishop, a human disaster… and the Pachamama

What exactly is the role of a bishop – Catholic or Anglican – in the modern West? They spend a certain amount of time in church, of course, but what they love best is a committee meeting. And ‘dialogue’ with various groups. Sometimes they combine the two and have ‘mutually enriching dialogue’ at committee meetings. On today’s Holy Smoke I meet a different sort of bishop: one whose most important dialogue is with armed warlords and their teenage mercenaries. He runs a hospital that is desperately short of doctors and medicine amid a humanitarian crisis in which over 200,000 people have died. And he has young men queuing up to

Podcast: Why the Vatican is more corrupt than ever

As the world’s Catholic bishops meet in Rome to waffle about the problems of indigenous peoples in the Amazon basin, events in their own tribe have taken a dramatic turn. Last week, Vatican police raided the Church’s own money-laundering watchdog. Meanwhile, in a simultaneous raid on the Vatican Secretariat of State, prosecutors seized documents, computers, telephones and passports. It seems to be a dirty business. According to the Italian press, police want to know more about a multi-million-pound real estate transaction in Mayfair. Significantly, all the seized documents reportedly relate to the years when Cardinal Angelo Becciu, a close papal ally, was running the Secretariat of State’s offices.  In this

Abba, Twitter vs Instagram, and papal selfies: the modern face of the Catholic Church

As a lifelong Catholic, I’ve often thought that two of the Church’s chief characteristics are a) how weird it is when you think about it; and b) how weird it is that so few people in it think how weird it is when you think about it. Happily, if a little smugly, I have to say that nothing in the first episode of Inside the Vatican (BBC2, Friday) caused me to revise this theory. There was a time, of course, when allowing TV cameras to film your institution was a risky strategy, as St Paul’s cathedral and the Royal Opera House can testify after those fly-on-the-wall series of the 1990s

Is Boris Johnson, baptised a Catholic, really a Christian?

In today’s Holy Smoke podcast, Harry Mount and I discuss the mysterious religious beliefs of the man who will be the first baptised Catholic to enter Number 10. Boris Johnson’s Catholic baptism – as a baby he was given the faith of his mother, Charlotte Fawcett – has received little publicity. Understandably, perhaps, because he was confirmed an Anglican at Eton, which makes him someone who chose to become an ex-Catholic (and, according to strict interpretations of the Magisterium, thereby placed an obstacle in the path of his salvation). My guest is Boris expert Harry Mount, who tells me that our new PM’s godmother is Lady Rachel Billington – daughter

Will Cardinal Pell’s fall prompt soul-searching in the Catholic Church?

I have heard surprisingly few Catholic responses to this week’s news of the conviction of Cardinal George Pell. I guess those who are not in denial are in shock. Let me interrupt the stunned silence with an outsider’s perspective. This is not just another paedophile priest story – Pell was a key figure in the Vatican under the last three popes – and a major public face of the church’s moral conservatism. So will his fall bring a new level of Catholic soul-searching, a new critique of the Church’s entire moral culture? Pope Francis himself often seems to call for such critique. Last week he warned against the potential dangers