26 May 2014

Communion And The Remarried: We Have Been Here Before (Pt 2)

Dicebamus hesterna die that Cardinal Hume and Archbishop Worlock were facing a new threat.  I have written before about the ecclesial polity they had devised for the Church in England and Wales: a collegial House of Bishops Bishops' Conference, with the Cardinal, of course, as Archbishop of Westminster, as perpetual Head, and a House of Laity nexus of lay people, bound to the progressive world view of Hume and Worlock.  There was no room for a House of Clergy powerful voice for diocesan clergy: given that for most of the laity, most of the time, a Bishop was someone seen every two or three years when he came round for confirmations, the diocesan priest tended to be the bridge between the average lay person and the Pope, who, in the excitement first of the Year of the Three Popes and then of the election of a young, dynamic, Polish Pope, had become a fixture on the nation's TV screens. This was not to be encouraged. The clergy was to be marginalised, in the same way as the more reluctant Bishops would be marginalised, though the clergy would be marginalised in the name of rejecting clericalism, where Bishop Holland would be dismissed as a mere reactionary.

The plan called for what Clifford Longley described as the sentimentalisation of the Papacy for the lumpencatholic masses while the project, dear to the editors of the Catholic press who were part of the nexus of lay people, could be established and take root without anything ruffling the surface, and forcing the Vatican to take note.  The Papal Visit to England in 1982 was to cement this new view: the laity would turn out, and the Hierarchy would take the credit for being good pastors.  But things became urgent, for while Hume and Worlock were at the 1980 Rome Synod they had begun to realise just how hard the Vatican was cracking down on some of the dissenting hierarchies (such as in The Netherlands or Switzerland), and they needed to ensure that the focus of the Roman dicasteries did not turn towards England and Wales.

Unfortunately, the priests hadn't yet been told that they weren't part of the plan.  In the seventies, and particularly in the lead up to the Liverpool National Pastoral Congress, the National Conference of Priests had been an active and vocal participant in charting the new direction of the Church.  They had noted that The Easter People, the Bishops' response to the final report of the Congress, had watered down some of its recommendations.  So, on the return of the Cardinal and the Archbishop from the Synod in Rome, the Committee of the NCP asked to meet them.  They did, and the Secretary of the Bishops' Conference wrote a note of the meeting to be circulated to the Bishops.

The note shows first, just how much Hume and Worlock feared that Rome might intervene in England and Wales, and second, just how much they felt they needed to control the agenda.  Hume and Worlock were shown a copy of the note just before it was sent to the Bishops, at which point, to use an inappropriate secular expression, all hell broke loose.


Present: The Cardinal and Archbishop Worlock, Frs R. Spence, J. Carter, Mgr J. Buckley, Frs J. Breen and D. Forrester. Mgr D. Norris (Secretary).

A. Declaration from NCP

(1) General

The Declaration accepted wholeheartedly the findings of the National Pastoral Congress and welcomed the bishops' message The Easter People. However, the National Conference had some problems with the bishops’ message for they felt that the bishops had moved away from some of the resolutions of the Congress. The bishops appeared to give up their right as a local Church and to be too willing to give way to the Roman Curia.

The Cardinal replied that he considered that conservatism was succeeding in many parts of the world and was also rising in Rome. We had to remember that western Europe was now a minority in the church and places like Africa and South America were very conservative. Our local church has to find its way in the present circumstances and it is not always clear how it should proceed.

The Cardinal was sure that it would not help to have public calls on our bishops to act by themselves. There were some conservatives in this country who were already attacking what had already been done by himself and Archbishop Worlock.

The Archbishop was more optimistic - he compared the Synod with the last council - then the minority had proposed renewal and had managed to become the majority by the end of the council. Now there had been a change during the four weeks of the synod, though perhaps not a full acceptance of the minority view. The pope, too, had attended all the plenary sessions and had made no attempt to interfere with the freedom of those taking part. In his closing speech, the Pope had not closed the door and had in fact welcomed the propositions. Nor had he rejected the famous law of gradualness; what he had condemned was a graded law.

(The law of gradualness meant that people who were not complying with the Church’s teaching but who were of good will could eventually be brought towards compliance with the rules by catechesis, prayer and example.  A ‘graded law’ meant that there were people who would never comply with the teaching of the Church but could be allowed to settle for less.  This latter sounds familiar.)

When Hume and Worlock saw the draft they determined immediately that it must be suppressed: not just the front page, copied here, but the entire document even though the rest was uncontentious.  If it got to the Bishops, it would get to Rome, and if it got to Rome, then Rome might want to look more closely at what was going on.
(It is worth noting too that Mgr Norris' minute is probably a lot more temperate than what was actually said: notes of meetings usually reflect light rather than heat.)
Worlock wrote to Norris on receipt of the draft:
I hope you will understand when I say that I think it would be disastrous if this report were circulated to the Bishops. Indeed I must confess I am most unhappy about the whole of the first page and I doubt very much whether the cardinal would want his remarks reported. The reference to the attacks upon himself and myself could throw our meeting of the Conference later this month into all kinds of chaos ...
He copied his letter to Norris to the Cardinal, with a covering note:
I enclose a copy of a letter I have written to David Norris on the subject of his report of the meeting with the standing committee of the NCP. I think the report would be disastrous if it goes to the NCP. It would be even more disastrous if it is sent out with the papers for the Bishops' meeting. It will probably be best if I prepare a single sheet.
To which the Cardinal replied:
I am in full agreement with what you say about the report concerning the NCP.
So the report was suppressed.
The final part of the jigsaw, the Pope's visit, was played well: the English Hierarchy convinced the Vatican that it should play a major role in drafting the Pope's public statements if he were not to trample all over national, ecumenical and historical sensitivities.  In truth, they didn't want a visit of a Pope who would focus on issues like contraception and abortion, but curial diplomats, aware of the importance and sensitivity of this visit, simply accepted the offer of help at face value, and the visit was a tremendous success, the Pope saying what the CBCEW wanted the laity to hear.
Anybody who has been paying attention will have noted an interesting line in the note of the NCP meeting: "the Bishops appeared to give up their right as a local Church and to be too willing to give way to the Roman Curia".  The ultimate end of the plans adopted by Hume and Worlock aimed at turning the Church in England and Wales into a semi-detached federal unit of the Catholic Church: like one of the Greek Catholic Churches though less insistent on orthodoxy or loyalty to the Pope.  It would be hard to argue that over 30 years later, things were on a better course.
There is one footnote which doesn't reflect fantastically well on anyone, but which is a moment to raise the heart slightly at the end of such a depressing story.  During the Papal visit it was agreed that there would be one day in the North West of England with one Mass.  The Mass would be at Heaton Park in North Manchester, in the diocese of Salford, so there would be no Mass in Liverpool, which the Pope would visit after Manchester.  It was common knowledge at the time that Archbishop Worlock had informed Bishop Holland that, as Metropolitan, he would be the principal co-concelebrant with the Pope.  Bishop Holland, who had won a DSC as a naval chaplain during the Normandy Campaign, Bishop Holland who was privy to what Hume and Worlock were trying to do, Bishop Holland who would confound his successor, Bishop Kelly, by receiving Chief Constable James Anderton into the Church behind Kelly's back and against his wishes, was having none of it.  "Bugger off!" he said to Worlock.



Left-footer said...

Thank you Ttony. All of this is new to me.

Ben Trovato said...

Me, too! Fascinating, if somewhat dispiriting, stuff. I like the cut of +Holland's jib!

Ches said...

Bishop Holland confirmed me on a rainy day in June 1982. The church was full of infrequent attenders, there to support their children, and behaving much as they would in the local cinema. Before he began the Offertory, Bishop Holland leaned towards the mic and said in a quiet voice, 'I can stand the whispering of the rain on the roof, but I cannot stand the whispering of people in church.' ...

It had the desired effect!

Genty said...

The machinations of the leading hierarchy and the inertia of the rest is deeply depressing but unsurprising. Thanks for shedding more light on why we are where we are. It's even more depressing that one of the kind is gliding purposefully around the corridors of the Vatican.

Patricius said...

Thank you very much for both of these fascinating posts