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On Sunday, May 24, the Telegraph posted an article that brightened my day: ‘Churches must be allowed to reopen, MPs demand in letter to PM’.

We haven’t been able to attend church since the middle of March, which is also true for other houses of worship.

I am mystified as to why the House of Commons is able to social distance adequately, with alternate benches closed and designated seating, but religious leaders cannot be trusted to do the same in their places of worship.

Fortunately, 20 Conservative MPs wrote to Prime Minister Boris Johnson, expressing their incredulity that we can go to a supermarket but not to church (emphases mine):

Boris Johnson has been urged by a group of Conservative MPs to allow churches to open for prayer, weddings and funerals as soon as next month.

The 20 MPs, including former ministers and senior backbenchers, questioned why shoppers can go to a “busy supermarket” to buy food and drinks but worshippers in need of spiritual sustenance cannot currently pray in a largely empty church.

“Weddings (whether in the church porch or inside), christenings and other services are wanted; safely and soon”, the MPs said. “Ten can gather in a crematorium yet one cannot be in a church.”

The Government’s Covid-19 recovery strategy published earlier this month put churches and other public places of worship in the same bracket as pubs and cinemas, and said that could not reopen until July 4 at the earliest.

It added that some of these venues may not be able to open even then because “it may prove difficult to enact distancing”.

However, in a letter to the Prime Minister, a copy of which has been seen by The Telegraph, the MPs make clear that “many [of us] want further faster opening of churches and places of worship”.

They said: “We ask for clear guidance, rules removed and discretion allowed as local faith leaders stay alert and make churches, chapels and places of prayer and worship available to the faithful. Everyone understands the value of appropriate social distancing and the obligation to avoid contamination”

The letter was sent to Mr Johnson and his Parliamentary Private Secretary Andrew Bowie this weekend. It has been organised by Tory MP Sir Peter Bottomley. Other signatories include Tim Loughton and Sir Bob Neill as well as senior members of the influential backbench 1922 committee of Tory MPs such as the chairman Sir Graham Brady and executive officer Bob Blackman.

The group warned Mr Johnson that “the Cabinet and you know the strength of backbench feeling”, and expressed concern that some places of worship might not even be able to open in July.

They said: “Even that may be extended by delay in publishing regulations, decisions by diocesan bishops and local circumstances.

Quoting a representative Catholic pastor, they tell Mr Johnson: “I ask you to put pressure on the Government for private prayer as soon as possible. Two-metre social distancing is easy (easier than in a supermarket) and sensible hygiene precautions can quickly be put in place.

“It seems odd that you can go for a walk, enter a busy supermarket, get on a bus, but cannot go to a large virtually-empty-for-much-of-the-time building.”

They add: “We ask that our leaders, Government and church, especially the Church of England, together find reasonably safe ways to reopen our churches for prayer, for funerals even with limited congregations and for worship sooner than July.”

That day, I heard an interview with the Archbishop of Canterbury on BBC News. He said he was more concerned about Mental Health Week at that time than reopening churches. It seemed an odd remark. Surely, church can help assuage mental health symptoms as those so afflicted can focus on faith, salvation and fellowship — especially during the coronavirus crisis:

At present, the Church of England has instructed clergy that they may go in to church to clean it — but not to pray! Daft.

The Archbishop of Canterbury films services in his kitchen:

However, the Bishop of London, the Right Revd Dame Sarah Mullally, a former nursing chief, disagrees …

… although she films sermons from her home:

Her flexible instruction, it seems, was a wise one, as some clergy were unhappy with Welby’s wholesale closure:

Bishop Mullally, who was UK’s chief nursing officer from 1999-2004, said priests could livestream services from within a church building if they could access it via an internal door from their home, or without leaving the curtilage of the church.

The Archbishop’s wholesale ban upset priests who felt he does not have the right to order clergy who are answerable to their own bishops.

One said: “He’s panicked and shut everything down,” while another vicar who used Zoom to conduct a Palm Sunday for a 90-strong congregation and will do so again on Easter Sunday, said: “The whole situation is ridiculous”.

That said, this Good Friday tweet appears to contradict that flexibility:

On Good Friday, London’s St Bartholomew the Great filmed a service with priest and choir:

Hospital chapels are another area of contention, as this letter to the Times, from St Bartholomew’s rector (shown in the above video), reveals. Click on the image to read the letter in full:

I like this priest. He’s eager — and rightly so — to have his congregation return:

This is amazing (as in awful):

That brought another set of replies from a curate and a gentleman in Montreal:

I fully agree with the ‘social service agency’ sentiment.

The discussion returned to Mr Walker and a random Twitter user. This is great. I’m so glad the priest took this man on:

Excellent reply.

Whenever church opens, I hope there will be a new market for those who have begun praying at home — and perhaps watching online services — during the past several weeks:

Plans are already underway to work out methods for reopening London’s Anglican churches whilst maintaining social distancing.

If you missed it, please check out my last post on Notre-Dame de Paris, which ends with this stunning tweet, quickly deleted:

A Jesuit friend in Paris who works in told me cathedral staff said the fire was intentionally set.

What follows is also a bit strange. It is the best glimpse of the flash from the cathedral before the fire started.

Note the time stamps in the tweets below. Did we know there was a Mass on the evening of Monday, April 15, 2019, that had to be evacuated?

I will come back to the mystery of this fire in another post.

Today’s entry looks at what had already been removed from the cathedral during renovations and what had been saved from the fire.

Fearless fire brigade chaplain

The Paris firefighters did an incredible and exceptional job, but special credit goes to their chaplain, the Revd Jean-Marc Fournier, who dashed into the burning structure to save the Blessed Sacrament and the gold Crown of Thorns, believed to be the one our Lord wore. The journalist who posted this tweet works for the Catholic network KTOTV, based in Paris:

Breitbart has more on Fr Fournier and the cathedral’s sacred contents. Excerpts follow, emphases mine.

Fournier has been in dangerous situations before:

The newspaper reports he responded with the fire brigade to the 2015 Bataclan terror attacks in Paris, where Islamist extremists killed 90 with rifles and suicide vests at a rock concert in the city, where he was “quickly on the scene after the attack… he helped remove the wounded from the hall and prayed with the bodies of the victims.”

The priest also served as a chaplain to the French army and survived an ambush in Afghanistan where ten French soldiers were killed.

Television network Sky News reports the remarks of one member of the Paris emergency services who said of the chaplain: “Father Fournier is an absolute hero.

He showed no fear at all as he made straight for the relics inside the cathedral, and made sure they were saved. He deals with life and death every day, and shows no fear.”

In the following short video, Fr Fournier describes what he calls ‘the fire of the century’, extinguished by 600 firefighters. He also praised the fire chief and his ‘extraordinary intuition’ to save as much of the structure and its contents as possible.

Fournier said that his first thought on arrival was to rescue the Blessed Sacrament and the Crown of Thorns.

He’s a good speaker, very well prepared. Francophones will appreciate this:

On Tuesday, April 16, 2019, the Vicar General of the Diocese of Paris Philippe Marsset said that if there were miracles during the previous night, then our Lord surely worked through the Paris fire brigade:

One can understand why they were the guests of honour at the Easter Mass held at Saint-Eustache for Notre-Dame’s congregation. Archbishop Aupetit praised them for their courage and their ‘human genius which renders honour to God’s love’ for mankind:

Items already removed for renovation

A number of items had already been removed and stored for safekeeping during the cathedral’s renovation:

The 16 copper statues of the apostles and evangelists that adorned the roof of Notre-Dame made headlines last week as they were removed by crane for restoration work, intended to go two at a time over the course of the coming years. They now stand on palettes in a warehouse, having been saved from the fire which the restoration work, ironically, seems to have started.

Breitbart‘s article has photos of the statues’ removal. They were around the base of the spire, which burnt and broke off the cathedral. The statues will be restored in Perigueux, in southwest France. They will be returned once the new spire is completed, thought to be in 2022.

Items saved from the fire

Fr Fournier saved the Blessed Sacrament — consecrated hosts — and the Crown of Thorns from the fire:

Among the relics saved in the effort was Notre-Dame’s most famous and revered and holy relic, the gold-encrusted Crown of Thorns, believed to be the wreath of thorns that was placed on the head of Jesus Christ at his crucifixion.

A close up of the Crown of Thorns can be seen in another Breitbart article.

Elaborate candelabra and works of art were rescued and sent to City Hall (Hôtel de Ville) for safekeeping in St John’s Hall. St Louis’s tunic is also there. Paris’s City Hall is immense, so it is likely that the items can remain there for a long period of time.

The first tweet I saw on February 16 discussed the rooster from the top of the spire, with historic relics inside, including one of the Thorns:

As this historian said that same day, every time something else was rescued, it seemed like a miracle:

The 700-year-old statue of Our Lady was rescued. The cathedral’s rector said he saw it at midnight. He was grateful and expressed his gratitude that ‘the Mother of Jesus protected’ the cathedral built in her honour:

Tweets responding to the original one below indicate it might go to the Louvre temporarily:

This footage shows that, although there is ash all over the floor, the cabinets with the votive candles are unharmed — as is the magnificent rose window in the background:

Amazingly, all of the cathedral’s resident honeybees, living among three hives, survived:

Good News Network‘s article has an aerial photo of the hives’ location and explains:

For the last six years, there have been a trio of beehives nestled on top of the cathedral’s roof. The hives were just a few honeybee colonies that were installed across the city as a means of of boosting dwindling pollinator populations in Europe.

The hives have been managed by Notre Dame beekeeper Nicolas Geant since 2013; so when the Parisian cathedral caught fire last week, he anxiously awaited news of their condition …

Once specialists were finally able to check up on the honeybees, Geant was elated to hear that they were alive and well.

“It’s a big day. I am so relieved. I saw satellite photos that showed the three hives didn’t burn,” Geant told The Associated Press. “Instead of killing them, the CO2 (from smoke) makes them drunk, puts them to sleep.”

That being said, the bees are particularly lucky because the hives reside only 100 feet under where the roof was burning. If their hives had been heated to 63 degrees Celsius (145.4 Fahrenheit), the hive wax would have melted and the bees would have perished.

“I wouldn’t call it a miracle, but I’m very, very happy,” Geant added.

Church bells tolled in solidarity

Church bells tolled in solidarity with the losses that Notre-Dame de Paris suffered in the fire.

NDTV reported that, in England, bells rang on Tuesday of Holy Week and again on Maundy Thursday:

Church bells will toll across England on Thursday in “solidarity” with France and its people as they mourn the Notre-Dame blaze, Prime Minister Theresa May said.

The bells of Westminster Abbey, the church opposite parliament where kings and queens have been crowned since 1066, will be rung on Tuesday at 1643 GMT – the time that Monday’s fire broke out, May said.

“Notre-Dame is one of the most beautiful buildings in the world – a symbol of France and the French people, and cherished across the globe,” Ms May said in a statement.

“The images of destruction we saw last night were truly heart-rending.”

Bells will then be rung across the country on Maundy Thursday, three days before Easter.

Mrs May paid tribute to:

the “swift and heroic action of the first responders, France has huge professionalism in dealing with emergencies of this kind”.

She also offered to help with restoration:

“When it comes to the task of rebuilding, French craftsmen and women are among the finest in the world,” said the British leader.

We stand ready to offer any UK experience and expertise that could be helpful in the work that lies ahead to restore this magnificent cathedral.”

On Wednesday of Holy Week, all French cathedrals rang their bells in solidarity with Notre-Dame de Paris. I would encourage those who love the Church and architecture honouring the glory of God to watch this brief video of France’s magnificent cathedrals:

Bell ringing also took place in other countries, such as Poland.

In closing this post, I would like to point out the following for the many who think the Church is people alone, without houses of worship. The Archbishop of Paris had this to say in his homily during the Chrism Mass on Wednesday of Holy Week:

What is the difference between a lump of stone and a cathedral? The same difference between a lump of cells and a human being.

Both have a sacred dimension.

AMEN!

Tomorrow’s post will look at the fire’s influence on Holy Week services in Paris.

Over the past few weeks, I have written posts about Covington Catholic High School boys who were wrongly maligned and harassed at the Lincoln Memorial after the March for Life in Washington, DC, on Friday, January 18, 2019:

A school chaperone’s role is an onerous one (January 18)

Covington Catholic: responsible media backtracked (January 20)

Covington Catholic: doxxing followed by support on a fateful weekend (January 20-21)

Covington Catholic: when the media narrative turned (January 21-22)

Today, I will look at the Diocese of Covington’s response as well as those from two archdioceses.

Instead of waiting to gather facts about the incident, the Diocese of Covington in Kentucky — and at least two archdioceses — were quick to condemn the high school students.

Diocese of Covington

On Tuesday, January 22, Breitbart posted ‘Catholic Leaders Refuse to Retract Slander of School Boys at March for Life‘. The diocese unquestioningly followed the media narrative from the weekend (emphases mine below):

The boys’ school and the Diocese of Covington joined in the feeding frenzy, hastily issuing a statement of condemnation of the boys as well as a public apology without hearing the boys’ version of the story.

“This behavior is opposed to the Church’s teachings on the dignity and respect of the human person,” Covington Catholic High School and the Diocese of Covington said in a joint statement. “The matter is being investigated and we will take appropriate action, up to and including expulsion.”

We condemn the actions of the Covington Catholic High School students towards Nathan Phillips specifically, and Native Americans in general, Jan. 18, after the March for Life, in Washington, D.C. We extend our deepest apologies to Mr. Phillips,” the statement reads.

Bishop Foys created his Twitter account a short time ago in January 2019. The tone of his first tweet contradicts the above statement:

His second was this retweet of a President Trump message:

Conservative network OANN host Jack Posobiec reported that parents wanted a swift apology to the students on the March for Life:

Perhaps Bishop Foys thought the diocese’s strong statement would avert a protest in front of a Catholic church in Covington on January 22. If so, he was mistaken. Fortunately, the weather was cold:

Catholics across the country were frustrated, if not livid, with the condemnation of the students, especially as lengthy videos showing their innocence appeared that weekend:

The Daily Wire article says, in part:

The commissars in charge of Covington Diocese are not the only members of the American hierarchy behaving shamelessly during this railroading of innocent young boys. As of this writing, Cardinal DiNardo, president of the USCCB, has uttered not a word in the boys’ defense, nor has he rebuked priests like Father Edward Beck (CNN Commentator) who doubled down on his condemnation of the boys even after evidence proved them innocent.

On January 23, Gateway Pundit‘s Cassandra Fairbanks tweeted:

Fairbanks’s article states:

The students claim that after some of the kids spoke to Fox News and other outlets, the Bishop informed the school that he doesn’t want them doing any more interviews. The school faculty agreed, claiming they are worried about their safety.

While no punishment was made clear if they fail to comply, the students want to cooperate and plan to do so.

One of the mothers Fairbanks interviewed had said at the weekend (emphasis in the original, those in purple mine):

“Like I said, the Bishop here is literally victimizing the victims twice. They’ve already been victimized by the media, now they are being victimized again,” she added. “There is blood in the water and they are making it worse. They’re feeding the piranha frenzy from the liberal media. I just want people to understand that they need to wake up and stop believing the fake news and defend the kids.”

That day, Bishop Foys addressed Covington Catholic’s students. I’m so disgusted by some of the remarks, I won’t even comment (emphases mine):

I am the shepherd of this Church. I have to present not only to the people of our diocese but also to the world the facts. Not the facts that someone has imagined or the facts that someone thinks or facts that people might determine from seeing a video. I encourage all of you, especially the students who were there at the march, to cooperate with the investigators. This is with the permission of your parents. We’re not going to have you do anything without the permission of your parents. And the teachers and chaperones who were there, I am asking you, too, to be cooperative with this …

I’m going to ask you, as your bishop, to stay off social media in regards to this situation at least until it is resolved. Because the more you say — pro or con — the more you exacerbate the situation. You have to help, especially yourself, by getting off social media. Right now anything we say — you or I — anything we say is questioned. The devil is real; trust me. He has taken this good thing, this March for Life, and turned it into a media circus.”

Bishop Foys then talked to the students about the statements that have been released by the diocese and the school, which have been criticized.

Some people think our first statement was too strong, but in my mind with what we saw and what we heard at the time, we had to say what we said and we meant it. If that behavior is genuine then we have to condemn it.

“We issued a second statement yesterday. Regardless of what you heard or what you’ve read or what you think— I am on your side. I want you to come out of this in a positive light.

“In our second statement I asked people to pray that we will arrive at the truth. The only way we can do that in an objective way is through a thorough and in-depth investigation … If there was some wrongdoing we have to own up to that, too. Father Michael [Hennigen, school chaplain] is right, it is the truth that will set us free.”

“Know that I stand with you, that I join with you in that ‘Spirit that will not die’ and that together we will work through this. Thank you and God bless you.”

As Bishop Foys turned the podium over to Mr. Rowe, he expressed his confidence in the principal. “Mr. Rowe has done a wonderful job here in his leadership. I have full confidence in him and he will continue to lead you,” he said.

In his final remarks before dismissing the assembly Mr. Rowe said, “Bishop Foys supports us — now we need to support him.”

On January 25, Bishop Foys sent a letter to the parents of Covington Catholic High School students. In it was an apology to Nicholas Sandmann and his family. Foys admitted he thought the diocesan announcement of the third-party investigation into the Lincoln Memorial incident would placate venomous critics and acknowledged that did not happen.

Sadly, it took until Wednesday, February 13, for the boys to be exonerated:

If the diocese paid handsomely for this report, they were robbed. The Daily Beast reported:

The Washington Post reports Wednesday that a team of Cincinnati private investigators spent hundreds of hours reviewing footage and interviewing witnesses before concluding that there was no evidence that there were “racist or offensive statements by students to Mr. Phillips.” They did not, however, speak to Nathan Phillips or Nicholas Sandmann, the two people featured most prominently in the encounter. After the results were released, the Bishop of Covington reversed the diocese’s earlier condemnation of the students, noting that “my hope and expectation expressed in my letter to you of 25 January that the results of our inquiry … would exonerate our students so that they can move forward with their lives’ has been realized.” The report doesn’t offer any guidance on how to prevent similar encounters in the future.

The Archdiocese of Baltimore

Two days after the Lincoln Memorial incident, the Archdiocese of Baltimore — hundreds of miles east, in Maryland — got involved:

That tweet received a number of indignant responses, which outnumbered positive ones.

A Catholic priest tweeted:

Boomer Catholic clergy pass judgment on Catholic high school students before investigating all of the evidence. Why aren’t there more young people at Mass?

Someone recommended the archdiocese delete their tweet:

Very sad that a prominent archdiocese would rush to judgment and gullibly swallow a contrived, libelous attack on young Catholics. You’d do well to delete this tweet.

Someone else recommended amending the tweet in light of new facts:

You are WRONG!!! Get the facts. Watch the videos. And CORRECT this tweet. NOW!!!

Another noted that clergy love only the elite:

Love how the Catholic Church stands with elites instead of its children.

A mother tweeted:

I’ve been preparing my teens that we’ll likely see more aggression towards Catholics. Who knew it would come from a hierarchy that can’t even keep their own accountable for their sins? Our Lady of Fatima, pray for us!

A Catholic man said:

Would that the hierarchy was this quick to deal with molesters in its ranks…🙄

On January 21 — Martin Luther King Day — the archdiocese issued a clarification:

The statement reads in part:

The Archdiocese of Baltimore wishes to clarify its message condemning what was widely reported as disrespect toward a Native American elder during the March for Life in Washington, D.C. We reiterate our condemnation of disrespect and denigration toward any person or group based on the color of their skin, their religious or ethnic heritage, or immigrant status. The circumstances of this confrontation at the Lincoln Memorial are now being reported as more complex and it will be the responsibility of school authorities, parents and others involved to determine the actual circumstances, responsibility and consequences. Regardless, it is deeply unfortunate that the annual March for Life was marred by this confrontation.

That made their Twitter readers even angrier.

Risky business, that. Donations can dry up in an instant.

One Catholic tweeted:

Then let me respectfully clarify my position on the annual appeal letter I just received …until you apologize to those boys for rushing to judgement and condemnation, I’ll set the letter aside and will recommend that all Catholics in this Archdiocese do the same

Another Catholic responded:

You’ll never receive another dime from me.

A third Catholic said:

This is why we refuse to give to the Hope Appeal.Your quick to condemn these young people w/o all the facts yet you covered up pervert priest for years.. Apologize now.

A fourth sent them back to Catholic catechism:

Read the Catechism of the Catholic Church, specifically paragraph 2477 “Respect for the Reputation of Others” and the definitions of “rash judgment” and “calumny.” You owe those students an apology!

A fifth wrote:

Apologize and stop attacking the laity.

A sixth said:

This explains why the Laity is taking the lead. Because the leadership is not Catholic.

And, finally, a Venezuelan Catholic wrote:

Still waiting s not an . These is the perfect example of why more and my re people is LEAVING the church.

On January 23, the archdiocese tried again. Money talks. They probably got a lot of angry phone calls, emails and letters:

This was a guarded — let’s just say, lame — apology. The statement reads in part:

It has become apparent, however, that initial reports of that incident were at best incomplete. Those incomplete reports led many, including the Archdiocese of Baltimore, to speak out too hastily. We apologize for doing so. It is our hope that the young people involved were in fact acting in accord with the truth and values that are foundational to Catholic education. We also hope that this sad incident will give to all a renewed determination to respect the life and dignity of every person without exception.

Only three people were happy. Everyone else was scathing. Responses from Catholics follow. Interestingly enough, all of the following are from women.

One lady wrote:

Nick Sandmann turned the other cheek and you stabbed him in the back. For once could you put the well-being of teenage boys ahead of your own ambitions?

She added:

That was such a quisling statement.

Another lady said:

How about having the courage to unequivocally state that these boys did nothing wrong? So sad that pro-life Catholic boys can’t even depend on their shepherds to stick up for them in the face of persecution.

To which another responded:

Totally agree! A pretty lame statement.

A second response rolled in:

Why was everyone so quick to judge the boys in the shortened video, but afraid to condemn the aggressive behavior of adults (towards kids!!) after seeing the full video? It boggles my mind. This is a cowardly, conforming statement, at best. We are lost.

I wonder if the archdiocese thought its tweets on Catholic schooling were somewhat misplaced the following week. I accept that it was Catholic Schools Week, but when Covington Catholic High School and the diocese weren’t defending their students, one wonders.

Even after Catholic Schools Week was over, the archdiocese was still at it. Meanwhile, Covington Catholic High School’s students were still under the cosh, as it were, awaiting judgement — for having done nothing wrong:

Two days later — after the Diocese of Covington found no wrongdoing on the part of the students — the archdiocese tweeted:

Oh so generously, the Archdiocese of Baltimore felt it could finally support the students. Pah.

Here’s the statement in full. Note what could be construed as a legal disclaimer in the second paragraph:

Citing the public release today by the Diocese of Covington of the Final Investigative Report into the January 18th incident at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C., the Archdiocese of Baltimore joins Bishop Roger J. Foys, Bishop of Covington, in expressing its support for the students of Covington Catholic High School. The independent investigation, conducted by a third-party firm with no connection to Covington Catholic High School or the Diocese of Covington, found that “our students did not instigate the incident that occurred,” Bishop Foys said.

As previously related, the Archdiocese regrets communicating before all the facts were known about the unfortunate confrontation that occurred at the Lincoln Memorial with other demonstrators.  Furthermore, the Archdiocese of Baltimore again commends the students from Covington and across the nation who participated in the annual March for Life in witness of their active faith and defense of the sanctity of human life at every stage.

By then, Twitter readers must have been fed up. The tweet only garnered four responses: three negative and one positive.

First tweet:

At least you finally responded in the right way. My ongoing complaint and criticism remains: You act like pansies without a backbone unwilling to take a strong stance on any issue (esp Catholic issues) unless you have the support of a corrupted society. I keep praying for you.

Second:

didn’t support Needed an “independent investigation” in order to clear youths’ reputations. What a bunch of cowardly shepherds. Skulking under their skullcaps. Creeping behind their croziers. You should be embarrassed.

And finally:

When the ex-con fake vietnam vet got in this child’s face, his Indian friend yelled racial slurs at the white kids. The Indians then attempted a hate-crime by trying to disrupt a Catholic Mass. How sad you attacked these pro-life teens. SHAME!

The Archdiocese of Baltimore never should have said a thing.

The Archdiocese of Louisville

Closer to home, the Archdiocese of Louisville chimed in.

The Archbishop’s original statement of January 19 was replaced with one dated January 22:

Over the past few days, I have received many calls and email messages from people with many different viewpoints and seemingly opposite messages about the incidences involving Covington Catholic High School students at the March for Life. Many of these calls and messages have revealed the regrettable polarization in our Church and in our society

As many have noted, over the weekend, I joined Bishop Foys in a condemnation of alleged actions, not people. This post replaces that original blog entry with the additional information below from the Diocese of Covington.

I do not have jurisdiction in the Diocese of Covington. However, I have sought to act in solidarity with the Bishop of Covington, who is in a position to have the best information about what transpired and who has pledged an independent investigation of the situation. (See the statement from the Diocese of Covington below.) At this time, I am not going to get ahead of the Diocese of Covington’s independent investigation with additional comments.

I want to assure those who are concerned that I am confident that Bishop Foys and the school will reach out and respond to those who were impacted by these events and media reports

Whatever the investigation reveals, I hope that we can use this as a teachable moment, learn from any mistakes on the part of anyone involved, and begin the process of healing.

That, too, was pretty lame. The last sentence in particular suggests that, somehow, someone did something woefully wrong.

The Archbishop issued one further statement — a weak apology — on January 25:

I offer further reflections about the events at the March for Life involving Covington Catholic High School students.  Today’s letter sent by Bishops Roger Foys to Covington Catholic High School parents is a good description of what has transpired since the events at the March for Life.

Since I joined with Bishop Foys in condemning the alleged actions by Covington Catholic students, I apologize for what was a premature statement on my part based upon incomplete information. I very much regret the pain and disruption in the lives of the Covington Catholic community and in the broader Church and society.

I support Bishop Foys in his efforts to investigate fully what happened, to learn from mistakes, and to take any action needed to address the harm done to anyone from the events that occurred last Friday at the March for Life.

There is a great deal to be learned about the risk of responding to social media and media reports without additional analysis and especially the need to elevate our discourse and to foster the much-needed skills of listening, dialogue, and mutual understanding.

After the Covington Catholic High School boys had been cleared of wrongdoing, nothing to that effect was posted on the archdiocesan website.

One cannot help but think the Archbishop really wanted someone to be expelled. As if the boys hadn’t suffered enough — for doing nothing wrong.

If nothing else, this painful debacle proved the truth of the New Testament to the boys that followers of Christ will be persecuted.

It’s a pity that their own clergy had to join in that persecution: Pharisees, every last one of them.

I will look at the legal angles in another post.

British parents are no doubt delighted to discover that chocolate Easter egg prices are at ‘rock bottom’ in 2015 thanks to supermarket discounts.

Meanwhile, Church of England Archbishops are unhappy because The Real Easter Egg, the one with a booklet telling the story of the Resurrection, has been crowded out by eggs representing Darth Vader, Doctor Who or Postman Pat.

The Real Easter Egg

Meaningful Chocolate produces The Real Easter Egg, a tasty teaching aid (my words) which comes with a small booklet explaining why eggs are a central symbol of the Resurrection.

The Warrington-based company has been making the eggs for four years. However, it is not always easy for them to negotiate shelf space. Their website provides a list of UK supermarkets selling the egg, made with quality Fairtrade chocolate.

David Marshall, who runs Meaningful Chocolate, told the Daily Mail:

We do wonder at times if there is an anti-Christian agenda from some of our supermarkets who just keep turning it down. It is as if some feel Christianity is politically incorrect or the Easter story, which mentions Jesus, might put people off.

‘One buyer asked us what Easter had got to do with the Church, while another simply said, “I don’t think this is a credible product” and asked us to leave.’

John Sentamu, the Archbishop of York, and George Carey, former Archbishop of Canterbury, are urging Asda, the Co-op and Sainsbury’s to stock the egg.

Pagan, useful or both?

A growing number of Christians all over the world, but mainly in the United States, consider that, as the Easter egg and the Easter Bunny are not in the Bible and that they were part of pagan rituals, they have no place in the Resurrection story.

Yet, when we think back to the early centuries of Christianity, when missionaries risked life and limb travelling around Europe to spread the Gospel, what was the best way for them to tell people about Jesus? One cannot help but think of St Patrick, who taught about the Holy Trinity using a shamrock.

We’re talking about people who were illiterate and whose lives revolved around nature, upon which they were dependent for survival. The world then was not the way it is now: clean, sanitised, educated, plentiful. Life was precarious. Death was just around the corner. Food was not widely available 365 days a year. Hens stopped laying eggs. Animals went into hibernation. Most crops were unsustainable during frosty months. Is it any wonder, then, that people rejoiced at the advent of Spring?

Most of today’s well-meaning believers labelling everything ‘pagan’ are driving everywhere, buying food at a supermarket and maintaining their lawns devoid of other life. Look at any suburb.

Under such privileged circumstances, it is easy to denounce symbolism of the ancient world as being purely pagan with no crossover into Christianity. The same was true during the Reformation in discarding anything symbolic or exemplary, such as stained glass illustrations of biblical events or recalling the lives of the saints, many of whom died for the faith.

Fine, for those who wish to do that. However, there is another side to the story.

Hares and rabbits represented life

Explore God has a good article explaining what the hare and, later, the rabbit, represented for ancient peoples.

Life and fertility are intertwined in man’s atavistic need for survival and propagation. No animal represents these characteristics quite as well as the beautiful hare or cuddly rabbit.

Explore God tells us that a thousand years before Christ was born, the peoples of Mesopotamia and Syria viewed the hare as representative of life and rebirth. In the Greco-Roman world, gravestones had depictions of rabbits for the same reason.

The early Christians also used the hare and the rabbit to represent rebirth in the resurrected Christ.

The ancient world, northern European traditions and ‘Easter’

The word Easter is only used in Teutonic, Scandinavian and English languages.

Therefore, English-speakers would do well to stop saying that Easter is a pagan feast. We might have appropriated a pagan word for it (as we did with Sunday), but it is not universally known as that in every other language.

Infoplease says (emphases mine):

Prior to that, the holiday had been called Pasch (Passover), which remains its name in most non-English languages.

In French, for example, it is Pâques. The Passover which the Jews celebrate is called Pâques juif.

Explore God summarises the possible origins of the word ‘Easter’:

– The ancient German fertility goddess Eostra, associated with the hare;

– The ancient Norse word for Spring, which, translated into German is ostern.

It is difficult to know which came first: ostern or Eostra.

Infoplease says that the Venerable Bede, chronicler of the early Anglo-Saxon world that he witnessed, described the month of what we now call April as being named after Eostra:

“Eostremonat,” or Eostre’s month, leading to “Easter” becoming applied to the Christian holiday that usually took place within it.

Some historians see no connection with the Babylonian and Assyrian goddess Ishtar as her feasts occurred later in Spring. Explore God explains:

It seems probable that around the second century A.D., Christian missionaries seeking to convert the tribes of northern Europe noticed that the Christian holiday commemorating the resurrection of Jesus roughly coincided with the Teutonic springtime celebrations, which emphasized the triumph of life over death. Christian Easter gradually absorbed the traditional symbols.

On the other hand, Christina Georgiou explains Eostre’s connection with the hare and the Ishtar story. Easter was not established until 325 AD at the first Council of Nicaea:

… co-opting an existing pagan holiday served the purpose of sowing the seeds of a new religion on existing faith.

In the east, the festival of Ishtar (correctly pronounced ‘Easter’) and the resurrection of  Tammuz also took place shortly after the equinox.

Still, they might have been on to something, even if it wasn’t exactly new. The holiday they picked had many of the same connotations attached.

The mystery of death and resurrection is remarkably similar in many places and times, and the time of year when it is recognized is practically universal across the northern hemisphere …

The  totem of Eostre is a hare—and according to the story, the goddess can turn into a hare at will. In one legend, the goddess comes upon an injured bird, who she saves by turning into a hare, it being the animal she is strongest as. Yet, having been a bird, this hare could still lay eggs, and in gratitude to the goddess, the bird laid colored eggs on her feast day ever since.

The hare heralded new life as did lilies — and the first eggs of the season.

Other related rituals

Georgiou goes on to explain that whether pagans of the ancient world worshipped Ishtar in the Cradle of Civilisation, Adonis/Aphrodite in Mediterranean lands or Eostre in the North, certain practices and rituals surrounded the vernal equinox.

One of these was fasting from meat for 40 days prior to the equinox. Some cultures cut down a tree in the shape of a ‘T’, commemorating Tammuz’s death and resurrection, which they believed occurred soon after the equinox. In the days approaching this time, pagans sang songs of mourning and held a vigil. On the appropriate morning, the priest or shaman comforted mourners by telling them that they, too, would rise like Tammuz from the grave to new life.

From this, it is easy to see why Church fathers established the feast of the Resurrection at a similar time. Fasting could easily translate into Jesus’s time in the desert to fast and pray. The tree held significance as Jesus died on the Cross.

Pagans and fundamentalist Protestants might be angry about this history for different reasons, but the springtime story helped to spread Christianity in earliest times throughout Africa, the Middle East, Mediterranean countries and Europe. What’s not to like?

Eggs, hens and early civilisations

We’re used to going to the supermarket to buy eggs. It’s nothing unusual for us. Eggs are on sale all year round.

However, historically, this is a relatively recent development.

Hens cannot lay eggs without a generous supply of light. Today, this is done artificially indoors so that we can enjoy them throughout the year. However, in the old days, as daylight grew shorter, people used to gather eggs for winter storage. At some point during the winter when production had ground to a halt, they probably ran out or the eggs spoiled.

Once longer days rolled around in the Spring, hens guarded their newly-laid eggs by hiding them. Georgiou tells us:

When does laying season begin? You guessed it.

And, if you’ve ever kept free-range chickens, you know that this time of year they hide them everywhere. Yes, even in the grass. (No, I never kept chickens, but when I was in college, my landlord did, and these are things I can attest to personally.)

Hmm. Think of American Easter baskets. They have artificial grass and chocolate eggs, a throwback to a hen’s natural behaviour.

She explains that in pagan times, the hare’s winter behaviour — nocturnal — was associated with the moon. In springtime, hares resumed running around during the day. Eggs also began reappearing; pagans connected them with the sun, the ‘golden egg’:

The two together indicate a balance between the sun and moon, appropriate for a holiday that is centered around the vernal equinox, a time of equal day and night, and also to indicate the fertility of the season.

Therefore, eggs were a prominent food at pagan rituals taking place at this time. Infoplease says that the ancient Egyptians, Persians and Romans all used them.

Early Christian missionaries used the egg as a symbol for the Resurrection: out of the hard shell (the tomb), new life emerges.

As Christianity displaced paganism, various peoples attached this symbolism to the egg. Elaborate decorations also appeared.

The pagan fasting became a Christian tradition, recalling Christ’s own 40 days in the desert. Not only was meat restricted, eggs were, too. Easter represented Christ’s Resurrection and the end of the fast.

People gave each other eggs as gifts, a token of mutual rejoicing at new life through our Lord’s victory over death and the tomb.

Christians in the Middle East and Greece painted eggs bright red, recalling His blood shed for our sins. Armenians carefully emptied the contents of the egg then painted the shells with pictures of our Lord, Mary and the saints. Early Germans also hollowed out eggs which they hung on trees. They coloured whole eggs green to give to family and friends on Maundy Thursday.

Austrians buried eggs in plants with decorative foliage. When they boiled the eggs afterward, a pretty plant pattern emerged on the shell. Further east, the Poles and the Ukranians painted eggs silver and gold. They also developed an elaborate method of egg decoration called pysanky. This involved applying designs in wax on the eggshell before dying it. They reapplied wax then boiled the egg again in other colours of dye. The end product was a multi-coloured, patterned delight.

In Russia, Tsar Alexander III wanted an exquisite Easter present for his wife. In 1885, he commissioned Pierre Faberge to create the first of what we know as Faberge eggs.

The white week — hebdomada alba — and Easter parades

Traditionally, Easter has been the time when catechumens — those who have been instructed in the faith — were baptised.

Centuries ago, the newly baptised wore white robes during Easter week to symbolise their new life in Christ. That week was referred to in early Christianity as hebdomada alba: ‘white week’ in Latin.

Infoplease says that during the Middle Ages local churches arranged religious processions after Mass on Easter Day. The congregation processed in their towns or villages following the clergy and deacons who carried a processional cross and/or a Paschal candle, which would have been lit at the Easter vigil service. Unlike today, people dressed up for church and Easter would have represented the perfect occasion for wearing new, Sunday best attire. Hats and bonnets would have been important, too, as they were seen by everyone. These processions, originally religious and solemn, became more secular and joyful. They evolved into what we know as Easter Parades.

The German Easter Hare — the children’s judge

From what we have seen so far in the history of springtime and Easter symbolism, we know that a) it was an important time of year as it meant food production could recommence, b) ancient civilisations attached atavistic importance to the hare and the egg and c) Christianity was able to biblically use certain elements — fasting, the tree of sacrifice and the egg — to make Christ’s death and resurrection more understandable to pagan populations.

In the 16th century, possibly the 15th, Germans borrowed the aforementioned Eostre story about the transformation of the bird into a hare that could lay eggs and transformed it into a religious Oschter Haws or Osterhase (‘Easter Hare’).

Proflowers explains:

Children were told that a special hare would deliver gifts of colored eggs to the baskets made by good little boys and girls. Homemade baskets were crafted from bonnets and capes, and then hidden within the home. This tradition has evolved into modern-day Easter egg hunts and Easter baskets!

The first German settlers in the United States brought this tradition to Pennsylvania.

Parents told their children to be good or else the Easter Hare would not leave them a treat. I read elsewhere that the Easter Hare might determine that bad children needed a good whipping instead of a basket.

The Easter Hare — now the Easter Bunny — arrived in secret to leave these hidden eggs. From this we have the traditional Easter Egg Hunt.

We can see the similarity of the Easter Bunny with Father Christmas/Santa Claus operating on the reward-punishment basis. In Dutch traditions, Sinter Klaas (St Nick) goes around in the early hours of the morning on St Nicholas’s feast day — December 6 — to leave a treat or nothing. Sinter Klaas travels with his friend Black Pete, who metes out a whipping to bad boys and girls. These days, Black Pete is seen as politically incorrect. Whether he was actually from central Africa as today’s activists say is unclear. The best testimony on that came from one of my ex-colleagues, a Dutchman, who said that the warning his parents gave him before December 6 was, ‘Be good or the Spaniards will take you away!’ This refers to the long-standing rivalry centuries ago between the Netherlands and Spain. It is possible that Pete — Piet, in Dutch — represented Spaniards who would have had somewhat darker skin. Or Piet could have represented a similar-shaded person from St Nicholas’s native Turkey. Another theory posits that Piet was covered in soot from sliding down so many chimneys.

But I digress.

Suffice it to say that the Church’s principal feasts share this mandate for children to be good — or else. It’s an easy way of shaping their early behaviour into a civilised, godly one. What harm can that do? The child can digest ‘reward-punishment’ better than he can theology at that stage. That is not to say theology should not be paramount even then with prayers and Bible stories, but the ‘reward-punishment’ principle teaches simple, practical lessons quickly. A child’s mind only runs to the immediate future.

How Easter treats further developed

Germans developed the first edible Easter Hares out of pastry and sugar in the early 1800s.

Today, Easter is the second largest day of candy consumption during the year. The first, at least in the United States, is Hallowe’en. Here in the UK, it is probably Christmas.

We are awash in chocolate eggs and chocolate bunnies in the run-up to Easter. In fact, one of our local shops brought out creme eggs on the 11th day of Christmas this year: January 5!

We don’t have Easter baskets here in the UK, and now, having done this research, I know why.

Twenty-five (or more) years ago, candy companies sold complimentary mugs, sometimes egg cups, with their Easter eggs. This went by the wayside 20 years ago, unfortunately, although I was able to procure a Snickers mug for the 1990 World Cup, a Kit Kat one the following year and an M&Ms one, my last mug purchase. I still have all three. They are fun and practical.

Easter cards

Easter cards became popular in Victorian England. A 19th century stationer had a card with a hare on it and added a seasonal greeting. From there the rest is history.

Today, at least in the United States, Easter is the fourth-most popular greeting card holiday after Christmas, Valentine’s Day and Mother’s Day.

Last but not least — the pretzel

Before leaving the food aspect of Easter, it is worth pointing out that the pretzel is an Easter treat.

Apparently, the pretzel is the world’s oldest snack food. In 610 AD, an Italian monk wondered what to do with leftover bread dough. He decided to make small twists of dough, the shape of which was meant to resemble children’s arms folded in prayer.

Conclusion — and the Passover connection

In closing, what is important about Easter is that Christ Crucified – Christ Risen is the most important concept we can share with young people. An Easter basket helps to convey to a little one that shared joy of everlasting life through our Lord’s death and resurrection.

And we might also recall that one symbol — the egg — came to the Jewish Christians from the original Passover seder. Therefore, we acknowledge our spiritual history with the Old Testament as well as Jesus’s mandate for us in the Last Supper:

the hard-boiled egg is one of the seven symbols set out on the Seder plate. Easter and Passover, after all, are strongly connected to each other. According to the Gospel accounts, Jesus celebrated a Passover meal with his disciples just before the crucifixion. After the disciples began proclaiming Jesus’ resurrection, they continued to celebrate a yearly Passover in the way Jesus had instructed them to, remembering his death and, more importantly, what his death and resurrection meant for them.

Whatever way you choose to celebrate Easter with your family, I wish you a very happy one, indeed.

On November 8, Justin Welby was named as successor to Rowan Williams as the Archbishop of Canterbury.

I wrote about the candidates — including Dr Welby — on April 13, 2012. Welby, currently the Bishop of Durham, was ‘astonished’ to receive the appointment, just as he was he was ‘astonished’ to be appointed Bishop of Durham in 2011.

It seems unlikely that traditional Anglicans will be astonished by anything the new Archbishop of Canterbury will encounter or undertake. Translation: we are likely to be somewhat disappointed. Hey ho.

Welby is an ‘evangelical’ but favours modern liturgy, church unity, Islam, financial sector diktats and, possibly, single-sex marriage.

The new Archbishop is also big on the Alpha programme and was a lay pastor at London’s Holy Trinity Brompton when the Revd Nicky Gumbel made the courses (more here) phenomenally successful to the point where they are now ecumenical and international.

Oh well.

At least Dr Welby speaks French — having worked for oil company Elf and serving later as honorary consul for France when he was Dean of Liverpool.

We can but pray that God guides him in the way of Scripture going forward. That could take some time.

The consultation process for finding Rowan Williams’s successor as the Archbishop of Canterbury will begin in May 2012 and end sometime during the summer.

The Anglican Communion will have a new spiritual leader by the end of this year.

So, who might be in the running?

Below are profiles of three possible candidates: the Archbishop of York, the current Bishop of Durham and a past Bishop of Durham.

John Sentamu, the Archbishop of York

The Most Revd and Rt Hon Dr John Sentamu is the bookmaker’s favourite to become the next Archbishop of Canterbury.

Dr Sentamu is also the only Church of England bishop to be stopped under the ‘sus’ laws (‘reasonable grounds to suspect’).

Sentamu was born in 1949 in Uganda, one of 13 children. He then went on to read Law and practice as an advocate of the High Court of Uganda. In 1974, Sentamu had been married for just three weeks when Idi Amin threw him in prison for 90 days. Afterward, Sentamu fled to the UK. In 2007, he gave a speech describing the torture he underwent in Uganda, saying:

 the temptation to give up hope of release was always present.

Wikipedia tells us more:

He read theology at Selwyn College, Cambridge (BA 1976, MA 1979, PhD 1984). He was baptized at Eden Baptist Church, Cambridge. He trained for the priesthood at Ridley Hall, Cambridge, being ordained a priest in 1979. His doctoral thesis is entitled Some aspects of soteriology, with particular reference to the thought of J.K. Mozley, from an African perspective.[4] He worked as assistant chaplain at Selwyn College, as chaplain at a remand centre and as curate and vicar in a series of parish appointments before his consecration, in 1996, as Bishop of Stepney (a suffragan see in the Diocese of London). It was during this time that he served as advisor to the Stephen Lawrence Judicial Enquiry. In 2002 he chaired the Damilola Taylor review. That same year he was appointed Bishop of Birmingham where his ministry, according to the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, was praised by “Christians of all backgrounds”. Sentamu became President of Youth for Christ in 2004 and President of the YMCA in April 2005.[5]

On 17 June 2005 the prime minister’s office announced his translation to York as the 97th archbishop.[6] He was formally elected by the chapter of York Minster on 21 July,[7] legally confirmed as archbishop in London on 5 October, and enthroned at York Minster on 30 November 2005 (the feast of Saint Andrew), at a ceremony with African singing and dancing and contemporary music, with Sentamu himself playing African drums during the service.[8][9] As Archbishop of York, Sentamu sits in the House of Lords[10] and was admitted, as a matter of course, to the Privy Council of the United Kingdom.[11]

Sentamu has also held university chancellorships and has been awarded a number of honorary degrees.

In 2006, television executives invited him to be part of the reality show Celebrity Big Brother. Sentamu declined:

saying “Celebrity can be malign in that it becomes a form of idolatry, and people live their lives vicariously through the rich and famous rather than attending to their own lives.”[30]

He has similarly traditional views on marriage and in vitro fertilisation (IVF); he supports St George’s Day and Christians working in the public sector who have been persecuted for their faith.

He also has not been afraid to take political stances against kidnapping in Palestine and Robert Mugabe’s regime in Zimbabwe, among other causes.

Last year, he played things a bit safe by donating bird boxes to parishes in the Archdiocese of York and minimising premarital sex.

Sentamu is married with two children.

He would be a good choice for the Southern Cone (Asia, Africa and South America) as well as for the Church of England.  He would provide good structure and firm yet understanding leadership.

Justin Welby, the Bishop of Durham

The Rt Revd Justin Welby was appointed Bishop of Durham in 2011, succeeding N T (‘Tom’) Wright, more about whom below. Prior to that Welby had been the Dean of Liverpool for four years.

He is married with five children. A sixth, sadly, died.

Welby, born in 1956, is the grand-nephew of former Conservative Deputy Prime Minister Rab Butler, later Baron Butler of Saffron Walden.  Welby was educated at Eton and Trinity College, Cambridge. There he read History and Law.

He then spent 11 years in the oil industry and was Group Treasurer of Enterprise Oil. At the end of the 1980s, his life took a different tack:

From 1989 to 1992, Welby studied Theology and trained for the priesthood at Cranmer Hall and St John’s College Durham before becoming a Curate at Chilvers Coton with Astley (Nuneaton) from 1992 to 1995. He then became Rector at St James’ Church, Southam and Vicar of Ufton from 1995 until 2002.

In 2002, he was appointed a Canon Residentiary at Coventry Cathedral and Co-Director for International Ministry at the International Centre for Reconciliation. In 2005, he left the latter post when he was appointed Sub-Dean and Canon for Reconciliation Ministry.

Welby was appointed Dean of Liverpool in December 2007 and was installed in a service at Liverpool Cathedral on 8 December 2007.[4]

On being appointed Bishop of Durham in 2011, Welby told the BBC:

I was astonished to be offered the role. It is a passionate desire to see a church that is vigorously full of spiritual life, serving Jesus Christ and serving those around it.

Welby has written widely about business as well as a book about the Church which would not be out of place in a church growth reading list: Managing the Church?: Order and Organization in a Secular Age.

He is also a leading member of Coventry Cathedral’s Cross of Nails community, which travels to war zones around the world with this smaller version of the cathedral’s distinctive postwar cross. Last year, Welby explained:

In that sense, the cross within Christian thinking marks the end of disruption of a relationship, and of a new future. And we see, in the work we do now in the Community of the Cross of Nails and in our reconciliation world-wide, that the cross is a powerful way of demonstrating hope. Because it speaks of the possibility of new harmonious and peaceful relationships. First with God and then with others.

Harmonious and peaceful relationships are important to him. He would like Christians to understand and make peace with Muslims — a collective rapprochement (emphases mine):

… the Church has both the understanding and the means to face this great issue with tools and opportunities that can offer a genuine solution.

The understanding comes first. Christians understand the importance of the spiritual life, and thus should be able to relate to Islam in a way that the secular may find more difficult. In Nigeria I was challenged as to my own belief in the incarnation and deity of Christ, by a Muslim. … There was the capacity for dialogue based on mutual respect.

If you believe that can be applied universally, I would suggest that you read this catalogue of one month’s Muslim persecution of Christians around the world.

It is for that reason that I would be very wary of what sort of Archbishop of Canterbury Welby would make. One imagines that he would make more pronouncements as his predecessor did about integrating Sharia law into English law.

N T (‘Tom’) Wright

Some American readers might be surprised to see Wright’s name here: ‘Isn’t he an Evangelical?’

Yes and no. Not an Evangelical but an evangelical Anglican.

I was interested to read the first three comments to this post on the Anglican site Stand Firm:

Red Hat Rob: Could NT Wright be persuaded to return from academia?

Matt Kennedy: I hope not.

David Ould: Indeed, that’s the last thing we need. Please no.

Kennedy and Ould are clergymen, by the way.

Nicholas Thomas ‘Tom’ Wright was born in 1948, so is one year older than John Sentamu (see above). He attended Sedburgh where he focussed on Classics, then went up to Exeter College, Oxford, where he read Theology.

He was ordained in 1975 and held chaplaincies as well as academic positions at Oxford, Cambridge and McGill (the ‘Canadian Harvard’, in Montreal).

In the early 1990s:

He moved from Oxford to be Dean of Lichfield Cathedral (1994–99) and then returned briefly to Oxford as Visiting Fellow of Merton College, before taking up his appointment as Canon Theologian of Westminster Abbey in 2000.

In 2003, he became the Bishop of Durham.

On 4 August 2006 he was appointed to the Court of Ecclesiastical Causes Reserved for a period of five years.[11]

On 27 April 2010 it was announced that he would retire from the See of Durham on 31 August 2010 to take up a new appointment as Research Professor of New Testament and Early Christianity at St Mary’s College, University of St Andrews in Scotland, which will enable him to concentrate on his academic and broadcasting work.[12][13]

Wright is married with four children.

N.B.: What follows in the rest of the post will have highlighted good and erroneous theology. Please read with care and discernment.

Wright is a prolific author, espousing the ‘open evangelical’ perspective.  I’m not familiar with it, but it is a conservative stance which is ‘inclusive’, as it attempts to meet with ‘culture’. What that means in practice is unclear.

One of its manifestations is a site called Fulcrum, which has a selection of articles about Anglican issues as well as a discussion forum. Its home page features a quote from Wright:

I see the launch of Fulcrum as a call to evangelical Anglicans of whatever background to work together, to play a full part in the Church of England and the wider Anglican Communion, to make the running, instead of always reacting, to be in the front row of innovative Gospel-work.

‘Gospel-work’. Hmm.

Wright has ‘an appreciation’ of Rowan Williams on Fulcrum, which reads in part:

His mind has been, above all, for unity, always central to a bishop’s vocation. Not a shoulder-shrugging, lowest-common-denominator unity, but the hard-won, costly unity that makes demands on charity and patience rather than on conscience

Despite routine pessimism, the Church of England isn’t finished. In a sense, it’s just getting going. We need someone with vision and energy to pick up from where Rowan’s charismatic style has led us and to develop and deepen things from there …

I wouldn’t bet on the Crown Nominations Commission proposing someone with the right combination of spirituality, wisdom and strategic thinking, plus boundless, multi-tasking energy. But that’s what I shall be praying for.

So, we are to seek church unity over discernment and our conscience? Hmm.

On the discussion page for this article, there is a curious comment from reader David W (Monday 26 March 2012 – 09:41 a.m.):

The NT asks believers to serve our leaders, so that their job is not a burden. They take on great responsibility and will be judged by God more strictly.

On this basis believers should thank Rowan Williams for what he has done.

Really? I spent some time searching for such a verse, remembering that the Apostles always introduced themselves to their local ‘churches’ as ‘your servant’. Furthermore, the notion of blind obedience no matter what came to mind — the toxic churches I wrote about during Lent.

To refute David W’s comment — partly rooted in truth and partly in error — I would point to a considered essay by Steve Atkerson of the New Testament Reformation Fellowship, which favours congregations of under 100 people and a return to church leaders who are influencers not rulers. In ‘The Ministry of Elders’, he points out all the verses from St Paul which support the idea of the pastor, deacon or elder as an ‘overseer’, but adds a number of New Testament qualifications:

Much may be gleaned from the way that New Testament writers made appeals directly to entire churches.  They went to great lengths to influence ordinary rank and file believers …  Their primary authority lay in their ability to influence with the truth.  The respect they were given was honestly earnedIt was the opposite of military authority wherein soldiers respect the rank but not necessarily the man.

Hebrews 13:7 reflects the fact that the leadership style employed by church leaders is primarily one of direction by example: “Remember your leaders . . . Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith.”  Along this same line, 1 Thessalonians 5:12-13 reveals that leaders are to be respected, not because of automatically inferred authority of rank, but because of the value of their service — “Hold them in highest regard in love because of their work.”  Jesus said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them.  Not so with you.  Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave (Mt 20:25-28) …

Lest this lose its impact, you should stop to reflect that “the youngest and the slaves are precisely those without authority in our normal sense of the word.  Yet this is what leadership among Jesus’ people is like”.1

So, if so-called ‘open evangelicalism’ is about a military, cult-like automatic respect and service on demand for hierarchy just because of their title, especially for someone who might be destroying Christ’s Church, then count me out.

More on Wright specifically, though, and this is where his theology starts to get quite dodgy.

In the 1960s and 1970s, a few theologians began reinterpreting St Paul’s epistles. I’ll go more into this tomorrow, but by 1982, this revisionism was called New Perspective on Paul (NPP). Essentially, these theologians have reinterpreted these epistles to be more in tune with first-century Judaism. They say that Luther and Calvin misunderstood Paul’s letters.

N T ‘Tom’ Wright is today’s principal champion of NPP, which, depending on the interpretation of some of his fellow supporters, has the tendency to become a semi-Pelagian works-based error.

These are the major tenets of NPP, from Wikipedia:

Works of the Law:

Paul’s letters contain a substantial amount of criticism of “works of the law”. The radical difference in these two interpretations of what Paul meant by “works of the law” is the most consistent distinguishing feature between the two perspectives. The old perspective interprets this phrase as referring to human effort to do good works in order to meet God’s standards (Works Righteousness). In this view, Paul is arguing against the idea that humans can merit salvation from God by their good works (note the New Perspective agrees that we cannot merit salvation- the issue is what exactly Paul is addressing).

By contrast, new-perspective scholars see Paul as talking about “badges of covenant membership” …[6]

Human effort and good works:

Due to their interpretation of the phrase “works of the law”, old-perspective theologians see Paul’s rhetoric as being against human effort to earn righteousness. This is often cited by Lutheran and Reformed theologians as a central feature of the Christian religion, and the concepts of grace alone and faith alone are of great importance within the creeds of these denominations …

Wright however does not hold the view that good works contribute to one’s salvation but rather that the final judgement is something we can look forward to as a future vindication of God’s present declaration of our righteousness. In other words our works are a result of our salvation and the future judgement will show that.[9] Others tend to place a higher value on the importance of good works than the old perspective does, taking the view that they causally contribute to the salvation of the individual.

This can be easily misinterpreted. If Wright does not think that our good works — not necessarily grace-based but ticklist deeds — contribute to salvation, then why an NPP? Again, more on this tomorrow.

Grace or favour:

Old-perspective writers have generally translated the Greek word charis as “grace” and understood it to refer to the idea that there is a lack of human effort in salvation because God is the controlling factor. However those who study ancient Greek culture have pointed out that “favor” is a better translation, as the word refers normally to ‘doing a favor’. In ancient societies there was the expectation that such favors be repaid, and this semi-formal system of favors acted like loans.[17] Therefore, it is argued that when Paul speaks of how God did us a ‘favor’ by sending Jesus, he is saying that God took the initiative, but is not implying a lack of human effort in salvation, and is in fact implying that Christians have an obligation to repay the favor God has done for them. Some argue that this view then undermines the initial ‘favor’ — of sending Jesus — by saying that, despite his incarnation, life and death, Christians still have, as before, to earn their way to heaven. However, others note this is the horns of a false dilemma (all grace versus all works). Many new-perspective proponents that see “charis” as “favor” do not teach that Christians earn their way to heaven outside of the death of Christ. Forgiveness of sins through the blood of Christ is still necessary to salvation. But, that forgiveness demands effort on the part of the individual (cf. Paul in Phil. 3:12-16). [18]

The Atonement:

For old-perspective writers the atonement theory of Penal Substitution and the belief in the “finished work” of Christ have been central. New-perspective writers have regularly questioned whether this view is really of such central importance in Paul’s writings. Generally new-perspective writers have argued that other theories of the atonement are more central to Paul’s thinking, but there has been minimal agreement among them as to what Paul’s real view of the atonement might be.

N. T. Wright has argued that Paul sees Israel as representative of humanity and taking onto itself the sinfulness of humanity through history. Jesus, in turn, as Messiah is representative of Israel and so focuses the sins of Israel on himself on the cross. Wright’s view is thus a “historicized” form of Penal Substitution.[19]

This is at odds with Luther and Calvin and, indeed, a number of Reformed (Calvinist) theologians have critiqued and criticised NPP. However, NPP has delighted Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox observers:

The increased importance new-perspective writers have given to good works in salvation has created strong common ground with the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches. Historic Protestantism has never denied that there is a place for good and faithful works, but has always excluded them from justification and salvation, which Protestants argue is through faith alone, and in which good deeds are of no account, either within or without God’s grace. This has, since the Reformation, been a line of distinction between Protestantism (both Reformed and Lutheran) and other Christian communions.

The worst part of NPP — outside of the lack of agreement among its proponents — is the hyper-conservative cult-like offshoot movement called Federal Vision (FV). FV is highly patriarchal and legalistic where pastors and elders favour an ‘intuitive’ — not doctrinal — interpretation of the Bible. Salvation, they believe, is partly dependent on ‘covenental’ church membership — and all that membership might entail. Although it is not a denomination, a growing number of Reformed churches in the United States have been influenced by it.

Indeed, Federal Vision advocates have praised N T Wright’s thoughts on NPP:

Most of the Federal Vision proponents have publicly said they appreciate much of what N. T. Wright has written. Both Mark Horne[50] and Rich Lusk[51] have defended Wright against his Reformed critics. Horne has said that the NPP “is not a rejection of the Reformed doctrine.”[52] Lusk has said virtually the same thing, saying that Wright “is a true sola scriptura Protestant.”[53]

Peter Leithart, Steve Wilkins and Steve Schlissel share similarities theologically with the NPP, though they have not publicly said they have consciously shaped their theology after Wright’s. Leithart, however, has said that Federal Vision theology “is stimulated by Anglican New Testament scholar N. T. Wright . . .”[56]

It would be a shame if this line of thought were to overtake the Church of England and the Anglican Communion because it would appear to violate Articles XI through XIV of the Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion (p. 3):

XI. Of the Justification of Man.

WE are accounted righteous before God, only for the merit of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ by faith, and not for our own works or deservings. Wherefore that we are justified by faith only is a most wholesome doctrine, and very full of comfort; as more largely is expressed in the Homily of Justification.

XII. Of Good Works.

ALBEIT that good works, which are the fruits of faith and follow after justification, cannot put away our sins and endure the severity of God’s judgement, yet are they pleasing and acceptable to God in Christ, and do spring out necessarily of a true and lively faith, insomuch that by them a lively faith may be as evidently known as a tree discerned by the fruit.

XIII. Of Works before Justification.

WORKS done before the grace of Christ and the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, are not pleasant to God, forasmuch as they spring not of faith in Jesus Christ, neither do they make men meet to receive grace, or (as the School authors say) deserve grace of congruity: yea, rather for that they are not done as God hath willed and commanded them to be done, we doubt not but they have the nature of sin.

XIV. Of Works of Supererogation.

VOLUNTARY works besides, over and above, God’s commandments which they call Works of Supererogation, cannot be taught without arrogancy and impiety. For by them men do declare that they do not only render unto God as much as they are bound to do, but that they do more for His sake than of bounden duty is required: Whereas Christ saith plainly, When ye have done all that are commanded to do, say, We be unprofitable servants.

But, then, of course, the Reformers had it all wrong. Didn’t they?

Whilst I admire Wright’s belief, which is much more specific that Rowan Williams’s, because of NPP, I am unsure as to whether Wright would make a suitable Archbishop of Canterbury. He would do a wonderful job of bringing the Anglican Communion together, however, with what theology?

My apologies for the length of this post. If you have read this far, my thanks.

Tomorrow: N T Wright on the Resurrection

Monday: A British Evangelical’s criticism of NPP

Before Easter, I promised a follow-up post on Dr Rowan Williams and the process for choosing the next Archbishop of Canterbury, expected to take up the post soon after Williams stands down at the end of 2012.

Reactions

On March 22, 2012, Virtue Online featured a round-up of reactions from Anglican bishops around the world — conservative and ‘liberal’ — in David Virtue’s editorial (emphases mine):

Archbishop Nicholas D. Okoh [the Metropolitan and Primate of the Anglican Province of Nigeria] noted that when Dr. Rowan Williams took over the leadership of the Anglican Communion in 2002, it was a happy family. He is leaving it with decisions and actions that are stumbling blocks to oneness [unity], evangelism and mission all around the Anglican world …

Okoh concluded … by saying that the announcement did not present any opportunity for excitement. “It is not good news here, until whoever comes as the next leader pulls back the Communion from the edge of total destruction.”

Dr. Peter F. Jensen, the Archbishop of Sydney, was more nuanced, but also recognized the underlying failure of Dr. Williams to lead the communion

There is apparently no evidence that Williams was asked to leave or was forced out of office. The decision was entirely his alone, according to sources in London.

Following his unexpected announcement that he is to leave Lambeth Palace at the end of the year, the Archbishop of Canterbury’s candor about his desire to retreat from the outside world is being interpreted as an insight into his tortured state of mind. There is some truth to this …

Some within the Church accused him of having a “lack of courage” while one Anglican pointed out that, “even Judas only betrayed his friend once”

Historians will recall Dr. Williams’ tenure as a colossal, tragic failure. His inability to understand the rise of the Global South with its evangelical emphasis on Scripture, faith and morals (the legacy of men like John Stott, J.I. Packer and Michael Green) reveal a spiritual blindness and a myopia that is hard to fathom.

History will not be kind to him. The only question now is who will follow him and is it too late. Any compromise candidate will be anathema to archbishops like Nicholas Okoh (Nigeria) or Eliud Wabukala (Kenya) and the rest of the Global South including Southeast Asia and Latin America (Southern Cone).

Personally, I think this is a great opportunity for Anglican repair, revival (not in the tent sense) and renewal. It is also a great lesson for Anglicans to learn about lukewarm and/or secularly-driven Christianity, both of which one could detect in Williams’s leadership.

However, two caveats here. One is that, as evidenced by the overwhelming positive response from liberal bishops in Virtue’s article, many Anglicans will want another Williams type, one who will do the job better. They will miss the signs of the damage done because they think the way he does. The second caveat is that if we think our church is lost, then it almost becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy that we will lose it, and that would be a crying shame. Doctrinally, it is the best denominational fit for millions of its members around the world, myself included. However, if we do have a resurgence of Anglican orthodoxy, I do not think it will happen overnight — it might take at least five years — and it will certainly not be without conflict.

I question whether Williams really loves the Anglican Communion and the Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion. If so, it was rarely in evidence in his public pronouncements. How is it that orthodox Lutheran and Reformed congregations go from strength to strength? By pastoral leadership which understands and preaches Scripture and ties it into their respective confessions of faith! But I digress.

I also would not be surprised if within a year or two, Williams writes a book which reveals a shocking surprise to many about his view of the Christian — and Anglican — faith. That said, I do not think that it would be much of a revelation to his critics.

My apologies in advance to those of Celtic heritage, but his appointment had something of anti-Englishness about it. Stand Firm, a great Anglican site of news and opinion, has a few ongoing posts about Williams with reactions from its readership. On this post, an English cleric — A Senior Priest — says:

The man wasn’t even an English bishop. Rowan Williams is a Welshman foisted by a Scot [Tony Blair] on the primatial throne of all England. His entire tenure in office ab initio has been a giant diss on the Church of England, and an utter failure in every possible respect. Alas, the damage he has done will prove to be irreparable. “Good riddance to bad rubbish”, as we say in England. His departure can be said to be the best decision he’s made during his archiepiscopate. I can think of no other, though I used to at least try to do so, naif that I was.

Yes. It is highly unlikely, for instance, that an Englishman would become the Anglican Primate of All Scotland.

Did bishops know beforehand?

Observers of corporate or political worlds know that when someone resigns, a number of their peers already sensed things were in the works.  This is why they are rarely surprised by formal announcements of this kind.

It is no different with the world of church. On this Stand Firm post, reader Dr Priscilla Turner commented:

It would be a mistake to suppose that any reasonable candidate had no warning of Rowan’s departure. They will all have known months if not years in advance.

Earlier in the comment, she explained:

Historically speaking, Ebor [ancient Latin shorthand for the post of Archbishop of York, the city which was originally Eboracum] becomes Cantuar [Archbishop of Canterbury] unless there is a really solid objection such as age or unwillingness to serve. Sometimes Dunelm [Bishop of Durham] is being groomed instead. Some of us think that Tom Wright is therefore still in the running. Cantuar has to have academic weight. Ian Ramsey was being groomed in this way … and became a bishop for the purpose. He would certainly have gone to Canterbury, except that he died so suddenly instead.

I’m not sure about ‘historically speaking’ and ‘becomes’, as a look at the list of the Archbishops of Canterbury throughout history shows they came from various bishoprics. It might be that the Archbishop of York is the preferred candidate, I do not know. I only recall two selections — for Carey and Williams — and remember that two candidates were shortlisted. That’s when the process becomes more public and is — or was — covered in the press. The media are — or were — also allowed to interview the candidates and publish or broadcast these. Generally, questions concern the place of the family in modern society, opinions on church-related issues as well as a prognosis for the future of the Anglican Communion.

The selection and appointment process for the next Archbishop of Canterbury

Stand Firm has reposted the selection process in full from the Church of England website, which is down as I write.

Please be sure to read it in full, as I shall feature only a few excerpts below:

Friday 16th March 2012
The responsibility for choosing the next Archbishop of Canterbury rests with the Crown Nominations Commission (CNC). Its task is to submit the name of a preferred candidate (and a second appointable candidate) to the Prime Minster who is constitutionally responsible for tendering advice on the appointment to the Queen.

The membership of the CNC is prescribed in the Standing Orders of the General Synod. When an Archbishop of Canterbury is to be chosen there are 16 voting members

  * The Chair (a layperson) – to be appointed by the Prime Minister
  * A Bishop – to be elected by the House of Bishops
  * The Archbishop of York or, if he chooses not to be a member of the CNC, a further Bishop to be elected by the House of Bishops
  * Six representatives elected from the Diocese of Canterbury by their Vacancy in See Committee
  * The six representatives (three clergy and three lay) elected by General Synod to serve as members of the Commission for a five year period
  * A member of the Primates Meeting of the Anglican Communion elected by the Standing Committee of the Anglican Communion.

In addition, the Secretary General of the Anglican Communion, the Prime Minister’s Appointments Secretary and the Archbishops’ Secretary for Appointments are non-voting members of the Commission.

A consultation process follows, anticipated to begin in May and last throughout the summer.

The process will among other things include:

  * Review of background material and results of the consultations, discussion of the challenges for the next Archbishop and, in the light of these, consideration of the personal qualities required
  * Consideration of candidates
  * Voting to identify the recommended candidate and a second appointable candidate, whose names will go forward to the Prime Minister.

Then — a slightly revised procedure will come into force this time:

Since 2007 the agreed convention in relation to episcopal appointments has been that the Prime Minister commends the name preferred by the Commission to the Queen. The second name is identified in case, for whatever reason, there is a change of circumstances which means that the appointment of the CNC’s recommended candidate cannot proceed.

Once the Queen has approved the chosen candidate and he has indicated a willingness to serve, 10 Downing St will announce the name of the Archbishop-designate.

The College of Canons of Canterbury Cathedral formally elect the new Archbishop of Canterbury.

The election is confirmed by a commission of diocesan bishops in a legal ceremony (the Confirmation of Election), which confers the office of Archbishop on him.

The new Archbishop does homage to Her Majesty.

The new Archbishop is formally enthroned in Canterbury Cathedral. 

A number of readers probably wonder if the Queen as Defender of the [Anglican] Faith would oppose a candidate.  It is unlikely.

Responsibilities of the Archbishop of Canterbury

The page goes on to list the Archbishop of Canterbury’s responsibilities. Again, excerpts follow:

There are six principal aspects to the job of the Archbishop of Canterbury:

1. The Archbishop is the Bishop of the Canterbury Diocese. He has delegated much of his responsibility for the diocese to the Bishop of Dover, who leads a senior staff team of the Dean, three Archdeacons and the Diocesan Secretary …

2. The Archbishop of Canterbury is also a Metropolitan, having metropolitical jurisdiction throughout the 30 dioceses of the Province of Canterbury. As such, he can conduct formal visitations of those dioceses when necessary. Establishing close links with bishops in his Province is an important part of his work and he visits three dioceses each year. It is a Metropolitan’s responsibility to act as chief consecrator at the consecration of new bishops, grant various permissions, licences and faculties, appoint to parishes where the patron has failed to do so within the prescribed time limits, act as Visitor of various institutions and release, where appropriate, those who have taken religious vows.  He and the Archbishop of York are joint Presidents of the General Synod

3. As leader of the ‘Church by Law Established’ the Archbishop, in his capacity as Primate of All England, is ‘chaplain to the nation’, classically exemplified at a coronation. More routinely he has regular audiences with the Queen and the Prime Minister, and is frequently in touch with senior Ministers of State and with the Leaders of Opposition Parties. In addition, both Archbishops and 24 other senior bishops have seats in the House of Lords.

4. The Archbishop is the Focus of Unity for the Anglican Communion. He is convener and host of the Lambeth Conference, President of the Anglican Consultative Council, and Chair of the Primates’ meeting. In these roles he travels extensively throughout the Anglican Communion, visiting provinces and dioceses …

On overseas visits, a meeting with the Head of State is almost always a part of the programme, as are meetings with other significant political persons.

5. The Archbishop … nationally … is one of the Presidents of Churches Together in England, who provide strategic guidance to ecumenical endeavours.

6. The Archbishop takes the lead in relationships with members of other faith communities both in this country and overseas, reflecting the increasing significance of those communities for the context in which the Church’s mission and ministry take place.

I shall be watching news coverage to bring you more in the months ahead.

Tomorrow: Possible successors

xavier-university-louisiana-logoCatholic Archbishop Alfred Hughes has declined attending this year’s commencement ceremonies at Xavier University in New Orleans.

WWL-TV.com reports that the Archbishop sent his regrets with the following statement:

“It is with regret that I make the decision not to participate in the Commencement Exercises this year at Xavier University in light of the university’s decision to invite Ms. Donna Brazile to be the Commencement speaker and receive an honorary degree,” Hughes wrote in a letter to Xavier President Dr. Norman C. Francis.

Like the earlier protest raised when President Barack Obama was announced as a speaker at Notre Dame University, Hughes’ absence will be done to protest Brazile’s stance on abortion.

“Ms. Brazile has a public record in support of keeping abortion legal,” Hughes wrote. 

“I recognize that Ms. Brazile is a Catholic Louisiana native who has worked effectively in service to the poor and African Americans in particular.  However, her public statements on the abortion issue are not in keeping with Catholic moral teaching.”

Yet another Catholic university courting the Cult of Death! 

We have the ongoing controversy over Obama’s invitation to headline Notre Dame’s commencement, then Jesuits rushing to cover up Our Lord’s name for him at Georgetown, followed by Joe Biden’s speech at Georgetown and now Donna Brazile at Xavier.  Let’s see, all actively support abortion and two out of three are Catholic. 

Who’s next — Nancy Pelosi?  John Kerry?

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