The most important and controversial topics in world religion, thoroughly dissected by a range of high profile guests. Presented by Damian Thompson.
Why the Pope's 'Synod on Synodality' has become a joke
The Catholic Church is half way through a two-year consultation exercise that will culminate in a 'Synod on Synodality' in the Vatican next year.
A synod on what? Don't worry if you're confused. No one in Rome seems to be able to define synodality, either. What will the world's bishops discuss? Probably not the figures revealing how many Catholics have taken part in this exercise, because they're acutely embarrassing. The English and Welsh bishops couldn't even get 10 per cent of Mass-goers to take part in a consultation process that many observers suspect has been shamelessly rigged by Pope Francis's bureaucrats. And in Belgium, a country where some six million people identify as Catholic, the number of participants is somewhere between 2,000 and 4,000.
My guest on this episode of Holy Smoke is Ed Condon, editor of the influential Pillar website. His judgment is as impartial as ever – but, make no mistake about it, we're looking at one of the most expensive and self-indulgent fiascos in recent Catholic history.
Produced by Damian Thompson and Cindy Yu.
The Queen's powerful Christian faith
In this week's Holy Smoke I offer some thoughts on the impressive and distinctive Christian faith of the Queen – impressive because it's so refreshingly direct compared to that of many of her politics-obsessed bishops, and distinctive because Elizabeth II is one of a dwindling band of Low Church but not Evangelical Anglicans whose favourite Sunday service is old-fashioned Matins. Questions of churchmanship aside, however, there is no doubting the intensity of her convictions, about which she has spoken with increasing candour and confidence in recent years. Will she turn out to be the United Kingdom's last robustly Christian monarch?
Why is the Church of England so obsessed with racism?
My guest on Holy Smoke this week is, many people believe, a victim of the intolerant progressive ideology currently gripping the Church of England. He's Calvin Robinson, a name possibly familiar to you from the row over the Diocese of London's decision not to ordain him.
Calvin is a young TV presenter with conservative Christian views that conflict with the liberal opinions of the hierarchy. He's been told they are too divisive – which is a bit rich coming from an organisation whose senior bishops routinely express opinions far to the left of those of the average churchgoer. Particular offence was caused by his insistence that the C of E isn't 'institutionally racist'. The fact that he's mixed race and London's bishops are white made no difference: he had expressed a heretical opinion. So much for 'diversity'. Do listen to what he has to say.
The Catholic Church's muddle over Roe vs Wade
So Roe vs. Wade is as good as dead. Americans are about to lose their constitutional right to an abortion.
Five out of the nine Supreme Court justices have drafted an opinion in their forthcoming ruling on a Mississippi abortion case which strikes down the 1973 Roe ruling as 'egregiously wrong from the start'. As we all know it’s been leaked – but it’s expected to be issued pretty much unchanged in the next few weeks because, even if they wanted to, the justices can't change their votes without appearing to succumb to political pressure.
The unprecedented leaking of that draft opinion has been greeted by jubilation from religious conservatives and the degree of outrage that I don't think I've ever seen before by liberal opinion and the mainstream media, which amount to the same thing, really, in America. And in Britain too, at least on this topic: I haven’t seen certain BBC hacks so distressed since Trump got elected.
In this episode of Holy Smoke, I concentrate on one specific aspect of this extraordinary situation. Given that the striking down of Roe vs. Wade wouldn't actually make abortion illegal, but instead make it a matter for state law, you might think that Catholic bishops would have no reservations whatsoever about this decision. Isn’t this the famous subsidiarity in action?
Not so. For quite a few bishops, including liberal cardinals loyal to the Biden administration, this week's news has come as a very nasty surprise. To find out why, listen to the podcast.
A plan to rescue Christian art
Few things are more depressing than the art, architecture and furnishings of the average modern church. The glorious aesthetic of light and colour of the Middle Ages and Renaissance has been replaced with an infantile modernist decor more suited to a primary school than a place of worship.
In the Catholic Church, especially, bishops who may privately have reasonably good taste happily commission cringeworthy 1970s-style art because they think it's demanded by 'the spirit of Vatican II'.
Is there any way Christian art can escape from the grip of mediocrity? My guest on this episode of Holy Smoke thinks there is. She's the charismatic Rome-based art historian Dr Elizabeth Lev, whose TED talk about the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel is both erudite and, in places, hilarious. Liz's plan to rescue Church art is ingenious and, I think, achievable. But to find out more you'll have to listen to the podcast.
Monsignor Michael Nazir-Ali on his first Easter as a Catholic
My guest on this episode of Holy Smoke was an Anglican bishop for 37 years – one of the Church of England's foremost scholars and its leading witness for persecuted Christians. He was also an evangelical who, as bishop of the ancient see of Rochester, ordained women priests. But, as of this month, his title is Monsignor.
I am, of course, talking about the Pakistani-born Michael Nazir-Ali, whose decision to join the Ordinariate has come as an enormous, if surprising, boost to the fortunes of that small but dynamic organisation for ex-Anglicans set up by Pope Benedict XVI. This will be his first Easter not just as a monsignor – he has just been made a Prelate of Honour by Pope Francis – but as a Catholic. I hope you enjoy our wide-ranging discussion in which, inevitably, I ask Mgr Nazir-Ali whether he's changed his mind about women priests.