What Price Integrity?

Yesterday two events occurred that, in their different ways, have set people talking, not always kindly. In Inner Mongolia Antonio Yao Shun was ordained bishop, the first to be recognized simultaneously by both the Vatican and the Chinese State under the controversial Provisional Agreement between the Holy See and the People’s Republic of China. Meanwhile, in Britain, Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced the prorogation of Parliament for a record five weeks, sparking fears that he intends to force through a ‘no deal’ Brexit with minimal Parliamentary scrutiny between 14 October, when the new session will begin, and 31 October. To some, what is at present a political crisis could become a constitutional crisis. On the feast of the Beheading of St John the Baptist, it is worth reflecting how these two events say something about our understanding of integrity and what we used to refer to as realpolitik.

Let’s take the ‘easy’ one first. China broke off diplomatic relations with the Vatican in 1951, forcing Chinese Catholics to go underground until religious practice was tolerated again in the 1980s. By then, however, Catholics faced the choice of either continuing to worship in churches loyal to the pope but subject to state persecution or in churches forming part of the state system, with bishops and priests appointed by the state and disowning papal authority.

Over time, many accommodations were made, with the Provisional Agreement being seen by many as the logical outcome. Some, however, thought the Provisional Agreement a sell-out. Cardinal Joseph Zen of Hong Kong took to Facebook in January 2018 to say that he thought the pope had betrayed Chinese Catholics. According to those who had suffered under the Communist regime, the sacrifices they had made were now regarded as being of little consequence. It was a poor reward for years of trying to be faithful and living lives of integrity. From the other side, it was the old, old story: how do we best serve the needs of the present, and does that mean that we abandon the positions held in the past, regardless of the human cost?

The prorogation of Parliament is more complicated because, at one level, it is a perfectly legal measure for which there is ample precedent. The problem is its timing, its length, the involvement of the Queen (who has to agree to the Prime Minister’s request but is already attracting hostility in some quarters for doing so) and the suspicions of many as to the government’s motivation and intention. It does not help that Mr Johnson’s relationship to the truth is sometimes perceived to be a little flexible, saying one thing one day and another the next. No doubt the ‘will of the people’ will be invoked as a sacred mantra by some while others will urge that a representative democracy requires exhaustive Parliamentary scrutiny of all proposed legislation and agreements; and never the twain shall agree. The problem then is: what is the right and honourable course to follow? Where does personal or institutional integrity come into the mix? Are they one and the same, or can they be at odds with one another?

I think the life and death of St John the Baptist do shed a little light on both these questions, the Church in China and the role of Parliament in Britain.

St John was prepared to pay the price for speaking what he believed to be the truth to Herod and anyone else who would listen. Note I say what he believed to be the truth. I happen to believe that what St John said was true — that it was consistent with everything we know of Jewish and subsequently Christian ideas of God and morality — but we have to allow for the fact that the emphases he gave, and the way in which he spoke, were individual. That partly explains Herod’s fascination with him, despite St John’s condemnation of his behaviour. But it also explains why not everyone was convinced, even though they were persons of goodwill. I think we can apply that to the Vatican’s agreement with the Republic of China and the row over the suspension of Parliament.

How we ourselves view the ordination of Bishop Yao Shun or the prorogation of Parliament will vary according to our knowledge, experience, hopes for the future and our role. What I suggest we need to take on board is that opinion or preference are not necessarily the best guide to acting with integrity. This morning let us pray for Chinese Catholics and the members of the House of Commons who must actually live the integrity this post can merely talk about — and perhaps pay the price for it.

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7 thoughts on “What Price Integrity?”

  1. As always, Sister, pithy, clear-sighted and an inspiration. I am neither good nor holy, but I always look out for your blogs as they put all things in sharp perspective. I, too, have been worrying about what is happening in our country, the integrity – or not – of those who govern us. Your wise words are a comfort. I will, as you exhort, pray.

  2. I am an optimist – my motto is “Don’t look for flaws as you go through life and even if you find the, it is wise and kind to me somewhat blind, and look for the virtues behind them.” Whatever happens, “Thy Will be done” – it will befor the best.

  3. Interesting challenge to integrity being put into sharp relief I feel. If one sincerely believes that Brexit is damaging for the country, and one is paid to represent the views of the people, that is a painful place to be. Does integrity mean voting for the people’s apparent view, or follow your own views to thwart/or save us from popular vote? We really DO need to pray for them.
    We need to pray for our press too, who have been drip feeding anti Europe and anti immigration stuff for decades. Fear doesn’t lead to good decision making!

    Thank you. Again….

  4. I don’t know if it is possible to trust the Chinese government, which is waging war on Christians again, destroying church buildings and making their lives very difficult. The Catholic Society at my college was very honoured when Fr. Aedan McGrath came to give us a talk, in 1957 I think, after he had been imprisoned and horribly tortured for his faith, and particularly for his work with the Legion of Mary, and it looks as if those days are returning.

  5. It is not the actions themselves, but the consequences of the actions which may affect the populace adversely. I pray to the Lord that calamities will not befall us as a result of Brexit. We are fast beyond the determination of politicians but must do whatever we can for those less fortunate than ourselves.
    Thank you, dear Sister Catherine, for another welcome insight. God bless and care for you. Peace and love be with you xx.

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