Somewhere deep inside one of the many boxes of books in the attic and the garage whose contents won’t fit on the shelves of this house is an interesting manual from the 1930s: it is a year’s worth of notes for a lecturer training men who want to be public apologists in the Catholic Evidence Guild. What struck me most about the course was that it was integrated: it wasn’t just scholastic theology (though it is of its time), but ecclesiology and history, the social values of Rerum Novarum, as well as how actually to speak in public. It mission was “to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the teachings of the Catholic Church to the public”.
According to its website Catholic Voices “began with a single aim: to ensure that Catholics and the Church were well represented in the media when Pope Benedict came to the UK in September 2010. Inspired by that visit, it has become much more: a school of a new Christian humanism; and a laboratory of a new kind of apologetics.”
It was while witnessing a spat recently between a Catholic Voice and a Catholic voice, between a member of the official organisation, and a lone Catholic who isn’t part of any national organisation that I began to wonder exactly why and how the Church in England and Wales has changed so much in my lifetime.
My theme is that between these two dates something changed irrevocably in the Catholic Church in England and Wales and that the change in the nature of the public lay apostolate marks exactly what the difference is. I will go further: I think we can date exactly the point at which the Church in E&W set off in a new direction, guided by a core of activist Bishops, activist priests and activist laity, all of whom shared a vision of the post-Vatican II Church which was not shared by the largest part of Catholics in England and Wales, nor by the Church at large, as represented by the worldwide Synod of Bishops, or by the Pope; a core which made its own trade-offs and compromises to ensure a united front which has lasted to this day, but which, thanks to the Internet and the pontificate of Benedict XVI is finally beginning to collapse into the wreckage caused by its failure. From 2-6 May 1980 a “National Pastoral Congress” (henceforth NPC) met in Liverpool; its report was answered by a response from the Bishops’ Conference, The Easter People, which was published on 19 August 1980. This is where it all went wrong.
It is no longer news that Cardinal Heenan encouraged lay people to write to the Apostolic Nuncio, Archbishop Bruno Heim, to suggest his successor in Westminster in order to ensure that Bishop Worlock of Portsmouth should not get the job. Like most of the Bishops of England and Wales, Heenan detested Worlock for being an apparatchik and, in his attitude to the Council, a turncoat. Worlock had gone to Rome for Vatican II as Cardinal Godfrey’s secretary and a typically conservative English churchman. He had returned with much more experience of pulling ecclesiastical levers and, having seen the writing on the wall, imbued with the “spirit of Vatican II”. His control of various committees, for example his Presidency of the Laity Commission, made him look an unstoppable candidate. It was well known that Heim was as keen as Worlock to rebuild the Church in England and Wales in the “spirit of Vatican II”, and there were no other Bishops in England and Wales who were believed to be sufficiently progressive and sufficiently capable of taking on the job, not least because the obvious candidate on paper, Archbishop Dwyer of Birmingham, declared himself too old to take the job on.
There existed – there probably exists to this day – a National Council of Priests. In the post Humanae Vitae turmoil, it had become a powerful lobby group, equal in its way to the Hierarchy and the laity (does it sound as though the Church was trying to emulate the Anglican arrangement?) and contributed to Heim its vision of what was needed in Westminster. Its reward was to have a priest, Fr Michael Hollings, selected as part of the terna, but, ironically, its principal work at this point was to have developed a culture in which priests from Westminster, including one or two members of the Chapter, felt able to make known to the Nuncio their concern about the possibility of Worlock’s ascending to the See of Westminster.
Worlock really wanted the job and was horrified to find that Heim – who had worked for Archbishop Roncalli in the Nunciature in Paris and who knew a thing or two about the sort of public presence the Archbishop of Westminster would need – was putting at the top of his terna list the name of Basil Hume, Abbot of Ampleforth. Worlock might have represented the trimmers, those who had seen the direction of the wind and had changed before it, but he was only part of the Catholic Establishment; Hume was part of the English Establishment, public schoolboy, House Master, son of a Knight, brother-in-law of a Cabinet Secretary, and, as a Benedictine (and son of a Frenchwoman), somebody with myriad links to Europe, not to Ireland or just to Westminster.
Worlock was furious when Hume was named – “the better man did not win” – but was given the consolation prize of Liverpool, and encouragement to use his administrative talents to develop the Church in England and Wales in accordance with the “spirit of Vatican II” at the same time as Hume provided the leadership and the public face. Hume was the leader; Worlock was the manager.
Their immediate problem was the Bishops: most of the Bishops had been formed in the old days, and both believed in and valued their independence. Although the Bishops’ conference existed as an entity, it was fairly toothless. But if Hume and Worlock could force the Bishops to cede “sovereignty” to the Conference and could then replace them (through a complaisant Nuncio) as they reached 75 with a new breed of new-thinking Bishops, they could transform the Church in England and Wales.
The NPC was designed to effect this change: to use the numbers of engaged lay people and compliant priests to design and build new structures for the Church. To anybody who remembers “entryism” in the Labour Party – the way in which Party structures were taken over by the “new Left” – the methodology is familiar. First of all, the premise on which the NCP was predicated was expounded:
“Over the past decade, since the end of the Second Vatican Council the Catholic Church in its homes, parishes and dioceses has been slowly discovering the fruits of the Council. This has been a process both exciting and unnerving: exciting because of the new visions unveiled; unnerving because of the unfamiliarity of the ways.
On every journey there were to be opportunities to check the way and to take stock, so as to walk more certainly in the future. There have also been several consultation-documents bringing responses call¬ing for careful consideration. With all this in view a National Pastoral Congress will be held in 1980, taking as its theme: "Jesus Christ, the Way, the Truth and the Life".
In the eighteen months preceding the Congress every diocese in England and Wales will make its own preparation, so that at the Congress itself a substantial representation of the Church, prepared in mind and spirit, will be able to reflect together on the developing life and mission of the Church. In this way, the Catholic Church in England and Wales may be encouraged to go forward renewed in faith and hope and love.” (June 1978).
The ground was prepared during the intensive preparation period: existing structures of parish-deanery-diocese were built into a series of discussion groups which attracted activists to manage the administration and reporting of the groups, and who would become the delegates to the NPC itself. The pre-Congress discussion phase was structured around a series of Discussion Papers, which were amalgamated into Congress discussion papers.
The Discussion Papers, looked at in 2012, are blatantly partisan, and it is only when one remembers how self-selecting the discussion groups were, that one can believe that they weren’t laughed out of court. They are built around a congregation ”at Mass this Sunday, any Sunday”. Here are five of the vignettes used to stimulate discussion:
“Joe is a Shop Steward in his union. He will soon be having discussions with his employers about an increase in wages. If they don’t get what they want the union will go on strike. Joe doesn’t like the idea but he feels that the wages of himself and his workmates are far too low and not enough to bring up a family on. Where do his Christian principles come in?”
“Lorraine Jeanne Baptiste is 9 years old. Her mother is a single-parent who comes from St Lucia in the West Indies. Her mother has tried to get Lorraine into the local school but the application was refused on the grounds that the mother is said not to be a practising Catholic. The girl is going to catechism classes with the local nuns in preparation for her First Communion, but she does not really know the other Catholic children in the parish.”
“Jim Doyle has just been made redundant at work. He had been lapsed for some years but started going to church again recently when the local Churches jointly condemned the National Front and took a stand together about unemployment. This made sense to him, though he still cannot make much of the Sunday sermon.”
“On the estate, where there are some ten thousand people, there are no resident doctors or health clinics. The local hospital for the area is about to be axed. There is high unemployment in the area and the Job Opportunities Programme has not been able to cater for all the summer school leavers. So there is resentment and increasing vandalism. John Barber, who has one son in the Army, another unemployed and a girl due to leave school next year, is worried about the amount spent on national defence and armaments. He has been urging that more Government investment be channelled locally but was challenged by the former curate whom the Bishop has now sent to be a naval chaplain. The curate argued that the defence spending was more than justified to defend western freedom.”
“Sister Margaret has been trying to start an ecumenical prayer group. She has had a mixd response. Some say that it doesn’t matter what you believe as long as you say your prayers. Others find it hard to pray together unless they know each other from church. She believes that only through prayer can they be united as Christians.”
You don’t need to be a theologian to understand what the right answers are! And the discussion groups sent their replies to the dioceses, and thence they went to the organisers who collated them and summarised them as Diocesan Reports. In the interim, a list of “priorities” was issued, and “people” were asked to indicate the six topics they considered of major importance. The results were as follows:
1. Unity with other Christians 67%
2. The particular needs and problems of young people 66%
3. Education in all forms and for every age group 60%
4. Third World: justice and peace; world hunger; overseas aid; apartheid 58%
5. War, peace and violence; arms trade; human rights 56%
6. Ministry: vocations; deacons and other ministries 54%
7. How to spread the Christian Gospel more effectively 51%
8. More responsible involvement of lay Catholics in the life of the Church 49%
9. Present day value of our local organisation in the life of the Church 36%
10. Racial discrimination; immigration; multi¬cultural society 34%
11. Town and country living; decay of the inner city, etc. 27%
12. Use of natural resources; nuclear energy; pollution; profit 21%
13. Role of women in the Church and in the world 20%
This is a list of the concerns of the activists and does not in any way represent what the Catholic in the pew was concerned about because the Catholic in the pew was given Hobson’s choice: this was the way in which the Church would redefine itself. No change was not an option. Remember that when this list was drawn up there was no adult Catholic so young that he or she couldn’t remember the Mass in Latin, and the whole pre-Vatican II world of parish life. The mute didn’t understand how they had lost what they had; the deserting were not interested in what seemed to be a new religion; it was the activists who were redefining the Church.