REFORMATIO ANGLIAE… OR BUST
Cardinal Pole’s great plan for the restoration of the Holy Catholic Faith in England under Queen Mary never took hold. Time and the lack of worthy priests were against him. He initiated reforms at a national synod in late 1555 but within three years both he and Mary were dead, Elizabeth on the throne, and all the work undone. Yet even while he was undertaking it, many of the priests who had married or been otherwise corrupted in the previous reign had resented his reforms, wishing the Cardinal "back again in Rome."
In one important respect, however, Pole succeeded: in his choice of bishops. In 1535 all the Henrician bishops except St. John Fisher had betrayed their Faith to retain their sees. In 1559, when Pole’s bishops under Elizabeth were faced with the same choice, all but one resigned their sees rather than betray their Faith. It seems that Pole had at least chosen the right men to carry out his great Reformatio Angliae – the true Reformation of the English Church which never eventuated.
Given the thoroughly protestantised Church that Cardinal Hume has bequeathed to his successor, I for one would settle for such limited success as Cardinal Pole managed to achieve as Archbishop of Canterbury. Certainly, the blueprint for a last gasp third millennium Reformatio Angliae already exists, laid out in last year’s widely publicised, hard-hitting joint statement between the Vatican and the Australian bishops. Used as a point of reference and enforced, that statement could institute wide-ranging reforms and put an end to the routine liturgical and sacramental abuses, moral/doctrinal dissidence and episcopal negligence which have corrupted the Faith in this country as comprehensively as they have Down Under.
Released in Rome on 14 December, 1998, the statement, among much else, requires bishops personally to stamp out all tinkering with the Mass as well as the plague of General Absolution; to restore orthodox priestly formation and stop the clericalising of the laity and laicising of the clergy; to not employ liberals in Catholic institutions as teachers or writers and not allow them to occupy any official position in which they might seem to represent the Church; to "not tolerate error in matters of doctrine and morals or Church discipline," mindful of the fact that "unity must never be at the expense of truth."
Without doubt a reforming successor with that no-nonsense brief tucked under his arm would confront a wholesale revolt from presbyteries full of the same kind of truculent, worldly clergy who obstructed Pole. And most certainly the bishops of England and Wales, like the greater part of the liberal Australian hierarchy following release of the above statement, would vehemently resist an uncompromising Catholic restoration led by a new head of the Episcopal Conference. The lay populace, too, now at ease with the elasticised religion foisted on them by disaffected clerics, would scream bloody murder. Still, he could expect considerable support from we orthodox "extremists" (as Cardinal Hume liked to call us according to Bishop Crowley), since just to embark on a liberal clean-out, never mind the final outcome, would be loads-a-fun and a victory of sorts that no red-blooded Catholic would dare miss! Yet if all the best laid plans came to nought and such a man managed only to mirror Cardinal Pole’s raising up of a new generation of bishops possessed of genuine Catholic conviction – that would suffice. The restoration and survival of at least some dioceses would then be guaranteed.
To attain even that much, however, will surely require the appointment of a similar outsider to Westminster. Anything less than the enthronement of a man like Pole – someone spiritually, doctrinally, morally, liturgically, ecumenically, politically and temperamentally at odds with the neo-Protestant status quo - will seal the fate of the Church in England and Wales. Make no mistake, with English Bishops themselves forecasting the extinction of their dioceses within twenty or thirty years, this pivotal appointment is make or break - if, indeed, a quarter-century of Worlockian power plays and Humenisation has not already put things some distance beyond Catholic repair.