I have written extensively about the National Pastoral Congress which took place in Liverpool in 1980, and which, in my opinion, led the Church in England and Wales in the wrong direction. What happened next is equally depressing. Cardinal Hume told later how he and Archbishop Worlock had visited Pope John Paul II in Rome and had handed him a copy of the Conference's report, The Easter People, provocatively open at the section on birth control, and drew his attention to that page. The Pope dismissively waved it aside.
Clifford Longley describes Archbishop Worlock's retelling of this story:
Worlock tended to follow Heenan's custom of sentimentalizing the papacy for public consumption, always giving the impression that everything was for the best in the best of all possible worlds. Thus in a speech on the work of the Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission in Croydon in 1982, he does not repeat Hume's account of them visiting the Pope to hand over a copy of The Easter People, deliberately drawing the section on contraception to the Pope's attention and seeing him wave it aside dismissively. Instead: 'With Cardinal Basil Hume I flew to Rome and we handed the first copy to Peter’s successor, John Paul II, the symbol of unity. To him we said: "Here is our church in England and Wales. Now will you come to visit us?"' etc.
Nevertheless, Hume and Worlock went to the subsequent Synod of Bishops which took place in Rome in 1980 empowered, as they felt, by having been requested by the Congress to deliver a particular message, one which the Bishops' Conference had endorsed.
It was clear that the election of John Paul II had changed the mood (or had been a reflection of the change of mood) of the Church. The high tide of the Spirit of Vatican II at the heart of the Church was receding, and it was already much less likely that the direction the leaders of the Church in E&W wanted to follow would be the direction the Synod would discern as correct.
Archbishop Worlock nevertheless spoke to the Synod in terms that would seem familiar (and just as wrong) today:
Personal factors increasingly today include the desire for genuine interpersonal communication and relationships in marriage and in the family, the ability of couples to control fertility, and the changed status of women, and therefore also of men, in society and the family.
External, or social, factors which endanger the family today are frequently cited as including a spirit of materialism, hedonism and other secular values. It would, however, be more accurate, and perhaps more just to many Christian couples, to point also to lack of adequate housing, poverty, unemployment and enforced leisure arising for many from economic recession or from the micro-electronic revolution. These social factors are the more damaging to families insofar as they condemn them to living conditions which are unworthy of their dignity, increase the pressures on the family from within, and prevent it from giving positive Christian witness to love, fidelity and security, and from resisting materialistic values ...
But the church cannot turn a blind eye to the many family tragedies which are increasing in society, and no less in the Church itself. To these victims of misfortune, not necessarily of personal sin, or of sin which has not been forgiven, the church, both universal and local, must have a special healing mission of consolation. Nor can the church neglect those Catholics whose first marriage has perished and who now find themselves in a second more stable and perhaps more mature union which might have many of the desirable qualities of the Christian family. Many acknowledge that their union is irregular in the eyes of the Church, and yet nevertheless feel, even if inarticulately, that they are not living in a state of sin, that they love God and may in some mysterious way be living according to his will, even if against, or outside, the Church's legislation. The number of such members of the Church is growing daily, and very many long for full Eucharistic communion with the Church and its Lord.
As is well known, many pastors, and many theologians are of the view that such Catholics may be admitted to Holy Communion, under certain conditions, notwithstanding the danger of scandal, namely that other Catholics, either about to marry or living in a weakened marriage, may disregard the Church’s teaching on the fidelity and indissolubility of Christian marriage, with ruinous results. But what is most interesting and calling for close consideration, is that many married laity, moved by pastoral compassion, are of the same opinion, and do not fear that Christian marriage will be destroyed by such a practice. They seem to consider that fidelity and indissolubility are human and Christian values on their own account, and do not derive their force from being regarded as necessary dispositions for receiving Holy Communion. In this, as in every other aspect of marriage and the family, it would be desirable to listen to the voice, experience and Christian wisdom of married couples themselves.
It is breathtaking to hear such sophistry from a Bishop: the range of economic reasons for remarriage, the seeming fact that if people discern that "living in sin" they are possibly living God's will, and the fact that some married lay people wouldn't mind if these remarried people received Communion: it is as shocking to read these words 34 years later as it is to read Cardinal Kasper's today.
He got nowhere of course, though it amusing that the arch-fixer of the CBCEW was so out-fixed by Synod officials in the drafting of its recommendations to the Pope that he complained, but was ruled out of order. He and Cardinal Hume had become exposed, and two Bishops, Lindsay of Hexham and Newcastle and Holland of Salford, complained in an article in The Universe that Hume and Worlock appeared to have departed from the line agreed by the Bishops' Conference. And another threat was appearing from the other side ...
But that will have to wait for Part 2.