Sunday, 28 February 2010

Qui tacit consentire

Several people have quoted the famous qui tacit consentire principle in the last few days. Who is silent gives consent. I never understood the grammar of that until it was explained to me that the expression should actually be qui tacit consentire videtur: who is silent is seen to give consent. It is of course an important nuance. One might be silent for all kinds of reasons. Being present and being silent are not together the only conditions of an illicit silence.

But it has been illustrative these last few days to see a mist of quiet descend upon us. Hardly a murmur from the quarters one would hope and expect to hear from. Are they saving their powder? Are they in fact in perfect agreement with what has occurred? Are there other factors which are simply not in the public eye? Have they calculated the capacity of their troops for resistance and realised that a counter-offensive is useless?

In a media age I'm sure we make all kinds of assumptions about the possibilties of action. We feel we are informed and can speak our minds. We are confident our education makes us fit for intervention. And we find our suspicions confirmed by every action which does not meet the standards we establish.

And yet, those we expected to speak have only led us to this point. We have been told about the age of the laity for so long. We have been invited to speak in so many other ways. And such dynamics impose necessities of their own on any community in which debate is welcomed. If leadership wishes support, it must be convincing leadership. If unity is required, we must be given a better reason than mere loyalty, especially in areas in which the laity are not only competent but prime shareholders.

But this week? Answer came there none. At least not yet. And two possibilities lie before us: either we can expect things to kick off this week when the bishops publish their pre-election statement - in which case the present lull and the previous spat will soon be forgotten. Or, we will find we were not in a lull of conflict, but in a fog of fear which imposes either a strategy of tippy-toe self-effacement, or one of inaction and confusion.

In the latter case, of course, we might feel all the more strongly that such silence is an act of complicity.


  1. Yes, it's interesting because I've been thinking about the silence of the bishops this week and the silence of Pope Pius XII during WWII. Many people believe that his silence effectively acted as consent, whereas the argument against is that he was working quietly behind the scenes and saved more lives by his reserve.

    I don't know whether or not Pope Pius XII was complicit to Nazi atrocities by his silence, or whether the bishops of E&W today are sliding into complicity with abortion; but I can't help notice the difference in catholic attitudes of what the silence means. So I think your opening paragraphs are correct in pointing out that things may not always be as they appear on the surface.

  2. The problem may simply be that the bishops believe that they have won this battle with their amendment to the legislation.

    In purely legal terms, this looks to be a correct reading of the legislation (despite Blinky Balls' protestations, the legislation doesn't impose the obligation on Catholic schools to offer "non-judgemental" abortion advice), but ignores the fact that the legislation does give the liberals the scope to subvert our schools under the cloak of that same legislation.

    I think that, at root, the problem is simply that the bishops are culturally inclined to support Labour and have not acclimatised to the fact that the Labour party are no longer to be trusted as a party inspired by Christian ideas of society and family.

  3. I know what you're saying, Madame, but we're on a different scale here. Pius XII gets it wrong and the SS carry out their revenge swiftly and efficiently. CBCEW gets it wrong and ... they upset a fast-fading government and wound the sensibilities of a very narrow if influential band of opinion makers.

  4. I don't think the comparison between the Bishops this last week and Pius XII works: he chose a way to oppose the Nazi policy of extermination which may have saved far fewer Jews than if he had chosen a different course, but at least he chose a side and everybody knew what side he was on. And at the time, his policy of public silence on the subject was matched by WSC and FDR, both of whom, like Pope Pius, knew what was going on. There was at the time a coherent case to be made for silence: silence might be wrong when seen with hindsight, but they didn't have that hindsight available to them at the time.

    Our Bishops (through the CES) seem to have chosen a policy which will force children in their care to be taught how to "access abortion" (what a euphemism!) and to obtain the means to contracept. Perhaps there is a subtle form of mental reservation at work which says that what will happen at school will be sufficiently distant to the surgery or pharmacy for it not to count.