Ironically, I spent the period of the Pope's visit in London, but was working. I got out early in the morning, and managed this spectacularly empty picture of the Mall soon after 7.00 am on saturday morning, but spent most of my time indoors and with very limited access to television except for the News at the end of the day. The only service I saw all the way through was the Evensong at Westminster Abbey, and it caused me to reflect, first that Mgr Marini and the Pope both seemed alive to the sheer quality of the service on offer: a modern composition to welcome the Pope which didn't quite come off but scored an A+ for showing willing; Stanford, whose music the Holy Father may never have heard but which is the embodiment of a particular sort of observant Anglicanism; properly vested clergy; clergy who knew all the verses to their hymns; a sense that this was their new Sunday best, that they would do absolutely everything that they could to welcome their very distinguished and very welcome guest; and second, that it just didn't cut it; that what was happening was an end, not a beginning; that this was probably the last time that a Pope would engage with the Church of England as it has been since the Restoration of our Hierarchy; and third, that our Hierarchy just isn't up to it. Hearing the addresses of the Pope and of the Archbishop of Canterbury, I wondered which Bishop in England and Wales would be able to write something so intellectually commanding. Most could emulate the theological wrongness of the A of C, but not the intellect. We don't have Bishops of the calibre to take on the secular world: that's why it's taken the Pope's visit to alert the media that there is a radical alternative to the world, the flesh and the devil. The Bishop of Arundel and Brighton preened himself that the Pope would come and see a Rolls Royce model of how to manage terminal decline: instead the Pope preached a path to a new springtime.
In fact, when I think about the Hierarchy, the word that springs to mind is "mediocre". We are desperate for leaders: they don't all have to be intellectuals, though it would be nice if two or three were; they don't all have to be profound theologians, though it would be nice if two or three were; they don't all have to be gifted administrators, though it would be nice if two or three were; they don't all have be be good communicators, though it would be nice if two or three were; but they have to be able to lead us.
When Cardinal Murphy O'Connor's resignation approached, Cardinal Pell's suddenly appearing as a candidate wasn't an accident. This was not a game of Fantasy Archiepiscopal Nominations: what was wanted was a debate about the sort of person the Church in England and Wales needed, and the Vincent Nichols who was Archbishop of Birmingham when Cardinal M O'C was 74 needed to show himself as something other if he were to become the Archbishop of Westminster we need. We needed somebody who could approach the cathedra in awe and aim to grow into it, rather than try to shrink the cathedra to his stature. I still think the jury is out, but what happens during the next few months, after we have reflected on the messages the Pope has left us, will tell us which course he is trying to steer.
More soon on what it was like to watch the way that Catholic bloggers told the story of the Birmingham Oratory.