The most important and controversial topics in world religion, thoroughly dissected by a range of high profile guests. Presented by Damian Thompson.
What are Church of England services really like?
Last week, out of a mixture of curiosity and boredom, I ended up watching an online Church of England Eucharist from a parish church in Hereford. The text of the liturgy was almost identical to that of the Catholic Mass I had attended the night before. We'd even sung the same hymn, and the celebrant’s vestments were indistinguishable from those of a Roman Catholic priest. But the person wearing them was a woman, and it reminded me that since that particular battle ended nearly 30 years ago I had been present at only one C of E Sunday Eucharist. So in this episode of Holy Smoke I ask William Moore, The Spectator’s features editor, what it’s like to attend Anglican services outside London, as he does weekly with his young family in Sussex. I think you’ll enjoy what he has to say.
Sixty years on, Vatican II turns nasty
Ten years ago the Catholic Church happily celebrated the 50th anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council. Most people thought it was a good thing – and those who had their doubts were careful to express them diplomatically.
Sixty years on, by contrast, Vatican II is the source of rancorous division in a collapsing Church. Liberals, describing themselves as 'The People of God', are invoking it to propose surreal changes to the doctrine that would have scandalised the Council fathers. They like to portray the forthcoming two Synods on Synodality – whose consultations attracted only a minuscule number of lay Catholics – as the fulfilment of Vatican II. Even, in some circles, as a sort of Vatican III.
Meanwhile, traditionalists, assured by Benedict XVI that they could attend the Latin Mass without rejecting the Council, are now regularly mocked by Pope Francis for their 'rigidity'. He's busy banning their Masses, claiming that they're incompatible with Vatican II. And some traditionalists are wondering if he's right – in the sense that it was the Council that sowed the seeds of what they regard as the Bergoglian heresy. Conspiracy theories abound.
In this episode of Holy Snoke I ask whether, considering not just this present nastiness but also the failure of the 'People of God' to meet the evangelical challenges of the Council, it might have been better if Vatican II had never happened.
The Catholic Church is falling apart at the seams
This headline may seem sensational, but the evidence is overwhelming. The Catholic Church is experiencing a bewildering range of crises, some of them long-term and familiar, such as demographic collapse and the continuing scandal of sex abuse. Others are being manufactured by a Pope who is allowing a faction of Catholic boomers to push an incoherent 'New Age' agenda. Whether Francis truly supports their ideas is anyone's guess – but he's increasingly willing to spout their inanities. On Saturday the Pope's official Twitter account told the faithful:
'The plant paradigm takes a different approach to earth and environment. Plants cooperate with all the surroundings [sic] environment; even when they compete, they cooperate for the good of the ecosystem. Let’s learn from the meekness of plants!'
This was tagged #TimeofCreation. But creation of what? Yesterday, Luke Coppen of The Pillar reported that the Diocese of Haarlem-Amsterdam in the Netherland – where plant-based spirituality has been trendy for decades – will be closing 99 out of its 164 Catholic churches over the next five years.
This may be a depressing episode of Holy Smoke – but, given that the mainstream media isn't interested in the fate of the Catholic Church, I do recommend that you listen to it.
Why has the West caved in to the progressive witch-finders?
Is western society in the grips of a progressive hysterical epidemic comparable to the Salem Witch Trials?
My guest on Holy Smoke this week, Andrew Doyle, argues precisely that in his book The New Puritans. He suggests that gender ideology, and particularly the dogmas of trans activists, together with the fantasies of Critical Race Theory, are dragging society into an alternative reality that resembles a fanatical religion. But it's one that doesn't have to employ its own ideological police – because actual police forces, along with other powerful institutions including the churches, have signed up to the New Puritanism (usually without understanding it).
Andrew Doyle has a doctorate in Renaissance poetry from Oxford University, so he's well acquainted with the postmodern manipulation of language and epistemology that equip proponents of so-called cancel culture. He'e also someone the new puritans would dearly love to cancel, in his roles as broadcaster, comedian and the creator of Titania McGrath, the hilarious Twitter parody account that's been suspended several times for poking fun at people who enjoy being satirised about as much as your average witchfinder-general.
Don't miss my interview with the formidable Dr Doyle!
Is Pope Francis protecting a convicted sex abuser?
In this episode of Holy Smoke, I look at the ever-deepening mysteries surrounding Bishop Gustavo Zanchetta, who was given a job assessing Vatican finances after he was forced to resign from his diocese in Argentina following allegations of abusive behaviour and financial mismanagement.
This year Zanchetta received a lengthy jail sentence for abusing seminarians. But he’s serving his time in a comfortable monastery, while the clergy who investigated him are the targets of a mysterious Vatican investigation. Now one of the abused seminarians has spoken out, accusing the Pope of protecting Zanchetta. This is potentially the biggest scandal involving a reigning pope for decades – and yet the mainstream media seems to be looking the other way. But I’m not. Don’t miss this episode.
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.