MEDIA IN A RED HAT
Well, let there be no doubt that in Westminster Central Hall at precisely 2.30 pm on Saturday 4 May 1996, the Feast of the English Martyrs no less, one such rare and providential moment in the form of four resolutions and a full-house of committed Catholic souls craving for leadership - was handed on a platter to Basil Cardinal Hume. And let the record show that, incredibly - the serpents whispering in his ear - he slapped the hand that offered it, made his excuses.... and walked away.
In the process, within the short space of his half-hour talk at the Faith of Our Fathers Conference - an epic, triumphant and potentially historic day for the orthodox English troops of the Church Militant - he also achieved an astonishing "quadrella." In one telling hit, the Primate of England and Wales evoked an alien presence among his own; adjusted a theological virtue and an evangelical counsel to fit his own disorder; disgraced himself with a final statement that sent the collective body temperature of 2,000 Catholics soaring; and, in sum, personified the very crisis of faith and authority that provoked the Conference in the first place.
1. Alien Presence: The mother sitting beside me as the Cardinal gave his address said it all when, head in hands, she moaned: "He's living on another planet!" She was referring to the rationalising vacuity of his talk - not just what he said but what he didn't say; -what he refused to admit. Unlike the present Vicar of Christ who has already shown deep appreciation and feeling for his flock, through a profound, public apology for all the episcopally-induced sufferings endured by the faithful since the Council (Dominicae Cenae, 1980), the Cardinal's singular lack of sympathy for and empathy with the orthodox souls before him was palpable. At the very moment of possible triumph, his natural monastic inclinations choked beneath the weight of his official episcopal persona and the humility needed to follow the Holy Father's lead escaped him. Even one genuine note of recognition, sympathy or encouragement would have been something, and no small thing at that. Instead, just weasel-words masking a total lack of pastoral solicitude for this multitude of faithful believers so clearly on fire with love for Christ, His Mother and the one, true Faith - "the very people," as the great Dietrich von Hildebrand emphasised, "who should by all rights be the joy of the Bishop's heart, their consolation, a source of strength for overcoming their lethargy." Not so, according to the Cardinal. On the contrary, to his mish-mash of pious thoughts he added disdainful, thinly veiled references to those orthodox disturbers of the peace who would dare to inject a little passion into the fight to save Catholic orthodoxy from episcopally-sanctioned oblivion. Put simply, he slagged his audience! He publicly scorned those "who should by all rights be the joy" of his heart!
Unlike its complicitous Catholic counterpart, the secular press understood what had passed well enough. "The savage truth behind the Cardinal's smile", sneered the headline in The Independent. Though cliche-ridden and vitriolic, the Conference report in the liberal daily went on to rightly explain that the Cardinal "delivered a reprimand which those who understood the coded vocabulary of English Catholicism were describing as 'savage'," that he was "firm in his rebuke" of the "Catholic right-wing in Britain" and that the "ultramontane" types who attended "will doubtless feel that the Cardinal's stern words will confirm that they are under attack by a treacherous liberal establishment." The ongoing convergence of the hierarchy and the worldlings was never more evident than in this glowing, left-wing tribute to a Catholic prelate's censure, of his orthodox subjects.
Thus did the Cardinal Archbishop of Westminster confirm my neighbour's summation of what is now the prevailing view among his flock: namely, that he and his brothers in the episcopate are as aliens in our midst - visitors from "another planet" divorced from grass-roots reality, antagonistic towards the suffering victims of Modernism, dismissive of their own divinely appointed role to protect orthodoxy at all costs and wantonly blind to the near obliteration of the Faith in England.
2. Redefining Charity and Obedience: As the orthodox drank in the heady fighting mood that permeated the great Central Hall - typified by both the Churchillian opening lines of that unique, counter-revolutionary role-model Mother Mary Angelica: "Victory is already ours!" and the magnificent standing ovation that saluted Mrs. Daphne McLeod's demure demolition of the liberal catechetical establishment - the Cardinal was pre-occupied with more extraneous matters. If the Conference participants were absorbed, above all else, in the defence of supernatural truths under threat as never before, the Cardinal's thoughts were turned towards more natural pursuits - like civility and old friends.
Apart from a recent furore over the episcopally approved, mega-Modernist catechetical text Roman Catholic Christianity by Clare Richards, which had seen an outpouring of protest, critiques and righteous condemnation from the orthodox, fresh in his mind was the plain-speaking assessment by orthodox stalwart Alice Thomas Ellis of the many public sins and failures of his close friend and mentor, the late Archbishop Derek Worlock. It had appeared a few days earlier in the supposedly "independent" Catholic Herald and had left him, he later said, "quite outraged and appalled." Coming so soon after a death [3 months!] he felt it "a question of good manners and how one behaves. One doesn't do that." For her trouble, despite weasel-words to the contrary, Alice was summarily sacked by the Herald the day before the Conference.
The acting Editor indicated that, effectively, her uncompromising language had reduced a few wet clerics to tears and that hurt feelings and moist faces just wouldn't do. It was the dole for Alice. At the risk of causing further anguish to mawkish liberals, might one uncharitably surmise that it was actually an episcopal boot-licking exercise aimed at keeping those "independent' Herald's in the parish magazine racks? That the hierarchical temper, perhaps even exercised down a telephone line, was the motivating force behind the decision? Such beastly, hurtful orthodox queries aside, however, to say that the hierarchy were chuffed by this convenient - but "independent"! - trampling on ecclesiastically incorrect journalism, would be the understatement of the ubiquitous Millenium. The fierce irony of the situation was lost on no one at the Conference apprised of the situation, to wit:
A lay Catholic being betrayed and persecuted with the complicity of the "successors" of the disgraced 16th Century hierarchy on the eve of the Feast of the English Martyrs, for telling the truth about an Archbishop who, according to one of his former associates, had arrived in Liverpool a Catholic and departed an Anglican!
One might fairly say that the episode crystallised those flat surfaces and hard edges of orthodoxy that Conference participants had come to realign.
In any event, not content with letting this unjust and essentially uncharitable act of censorship go unchallenged, the Cardinal now seized the opportunity to lecture Thomas Ellis herself, present in the audience, together with a pavilion full of her supporters about - guess what! - the need for charity in expressing our disagreements, by avoiding "rude or insulting" language and observing civilities in public, discourse. The clear inference was that Alice among others had transgressed the bounds of civil debate and insulted a man he loved and revered. Needless to say, she was not guilty on all counts, having done no more than written a blunt, truthful and passionate piece about the unmitigated, statistically verifiable disaster of Archbishop Worlock's 20 year reign in Liverpool (see The Worlock Succession this issue). Terribly un-British, it seems, but thoroughly Catholic.
By the Cardinal's reckoning, Our Lord and Saviour together with a host of Saints and Fathers of the Church must have totally misconstrued charity! One wonders what his Eminence makes of Pope Gregory the Great's famous dictum: "It is better that scandal arise than that truth be silenced"? Or how he accounts for the fact that Christian oratory of all ages has ever employed the most personal, vigorous and emphatic rhetoric against impiety while, in the writings of the great defenders of Christianity, the use of irony and of the most crushing epithets is continual? Or how, for example, he would have reacted to the Lord's fierce condemnation of the, Pharisees - "hypocrites, whited sepulchres, a perverse and adulterous generation" - the modern equivalents of which epithets, would doubtless make the Cardinal blush and Ellis look positively genteel in comparison? And what of Christ's spontaneous show of righteous, full-blooded anger in driving the money-lenders and stall-holders from the Temple using an improvised whip? Would His Eminence have reprimanded Charity Himself about His misinterpretation of the virtue He embodied, while counselling greater civility in His future dealings with the local riff-raff? The Cardinal had, in fact, mentioned this other sterner side of Christ in passing, as a sop to the right-wingers, but instantly moved on to speak of "gentleness of touch", "words of encouragement" and sitting down "with the rejected", as if this failed 30 year-old strategy of appeasing insatiable dissidents was still the Lord's preferred model.
One could hear the muted groans of disbelief from distressed parents of the lost generation - lost during his tenure! - when he stated that "guidance, not condemnation, is the more effective answer to dissent." In days of yore, they would have dragged a cleric off the stage and beaten him to a pulp, red hat and all, for such smug and callous indifference towards the salvation of souls. It was all a bit like listening to Ghandi's absurd pacifist preaching during the War - about winning over Hitler by standing outside en masse and looking skywards with loving hearts as his Luftwaffe were about to offload their bombs. Insane, certainly, but no more so than this Modernist pacification stratagem proposed by the Cardinal. And yet he, like Ghandi, was deadly serious.
At base we have here another victim of that false-charity which is endemic in the Church today among liberals and orthodox alike. Rooted in human respect, it is rampant among the clergy and has quite obviously engulfed the Cardinal, ruining any chance of objectivity about the extent of the Catholic crisis in general or the complicity of his friends in particular. Thus he has redefined the Catholic understanding of true charity - in which truth is paramount and personal offence a long last - to mean anything that offends him or his close associates, especially when uttered in tones of righteous, Christ-like anger. Speak from the rooftops by all means, he would seem to say to the orthodox, but keep it to a civil British whisper, please! While, on the, other hand, if you're of dissenting liberal stock - hurtfully "rejected" and denounced by the horrid orthodox and thus in need of "tolerance", "patience" and "guidance" to ensure "unity and charity in the diocese" - you may not only raise your voice but feel free to alternate between the rooftop pulpit and exclusive, unlimited entree to the Catholic classroom and ecclesiastical purse.
But if this comfortable, undemanding, cuddly notion of charity a la Hume is at the extreme left of the progressivist spectrum, his idea of obedience then lurched to the far right! "The relationship between the Successor of St. Peter and the bishops," he stated, "is such that it is not possible to express loyalty to the Church without including loyalty to one's own bishop." The obvious, unanswered question hung heavily in the air as if about to drop at any moment and crush the speaker under the wilful weight of his own theological fudging. Everyone saw it but the Cardinal, and each asked himself the same thing: What if "one's own bishop" is not in communion with the "Successor of Peter"? What if he mouths orthodox platitudes but actually turns a blind eye to dissent against the express wishes of the Holy Father? What if he permits heterodox and heretical literature to occupy the shelves of the bookstore on his Church doorstep? What if he fails to act when dissenting, pornographic literature is dispensed to Catholic youth by his own employees? What if he tolerates the use of heretical textbooks in his Catholic schools or cossets pseudo-Catholic homosexual groups who preach "stable sodomitical relationships" on the sly? Heaven forbid! But "what if "?
The distinct impression given by the carefully chosen words in the Cardinal's preamble to making this point, is that he genuinely believes that by virtue of his episcopal consecration the local ordinary is thereby ipso facto "in communion" with the Pope. If this is a false interpretation he should issue an immediate clarification. Failing an unambiguous corrective, however, we can only assume that His Eminence therefore believes that "loyal" Catholics are those who are simply obedient to all the ordinances of the bishop and "disloyal" Catholics are those who demand their inalienable right to authentic Catholic teaching and worship and refuse to cower before destructive episcopal whim. A more high-handed, Cranmer-like, erroneous view of obedience you could not find. Von Hildebrand demolishes such specious nonsense:
"Should the faithful at the time of the Arian heresy, for instance, in which the majority of the bishops were Arians, have limited themselves to being nice, and obedient to the ordinances of these bishops, instead of battling the heresy? Is not fidelity to the true teaching of the Church to be given priority over submission to the bishop? Is it not precisely by virtue of their obedience to the revealed truths which they received from the magisterium of the Church, that the faithful offer resistance? Are the faithful not supposed to be concerned when things are preached from the pulpit which are completely incompatible with the teaching of the Church? ... The drivel of the heretics, both priest and laymen, is tolerated; the bishops tacitly acquiesce to the poisoning of the faithful. But they want to silence the faithful believers who take up the cause of orthodoxy... [who] are regarded as disturbers of the peace..."
Again, it is a fundamental question of charity. If one misunderstands the the essence of charity or distorts it by wrong emphasis, he will be all at sea when it is a question of loyalty and obedience. Just as St. Catherine of Sienna instructs us that respect for bad bishops must be preserved whatever their crimes (Dialogue, treatise no. III), so respect for the pastoral responsibility of the bishop demands that he be rebuked and disobeyed if the Faith is in danger - "even publicly" states St. Thomas Aquinas - since fraternal correction is an act of charity. And even a fierce and personal rebuke does not imply that one loves the sinner any less. On the contrary, it shows a far greater charitable concern for their eternal welfare than would be shown by one who acquiesces with error, out of fear or human respect.
Such a clumsy misrepresentation of the Catholic position both smacked of panic and dripped with irony: a befuddled bishop exaggerating obedience to placate his most obedient subjects! You couldn't make it up!
3. Disgraceful Declaration: Sounding more like a senior civil servant covering his tracks than a Chief Shepherd of a Church facing an unprecedented spiritual calamity, His Eminence then disassociated himself from the following four resolutions - later carried unanimously by participants:
We humbly implore......
"…. the introduction of resolutions at a meeting such as this changes its nature," declared the Cardinal at the end of his talk. "It becomes a campaign rather than a celebration of our Faith... I must dissociate myself from this aspect of today's gathering. As the bishop of the Diocese, and President of the Bishop's Conference, I could never be identified with any campaign touching on Church doctrine, discipline and pastoral care, nor indeed could any of the bishops."
I pray the Lord that in the hereafter I might be privy to a Joan of Arc or a Charles Borromeo schooling His Eminence in the synonomous meaning of the terms "campaign" and "celebration" when applied to Catholics defending the Faith. As for his retreat to a kind of executive fiat to escape personal commitment to specific remedial action, it evoked that pharisaical attitude condemned by the Lord for placing ecclesiastical legalisms above mercy and commonsense, especially in emergencies [Mk 2: 23-27; Matt 12: 10-13]. Put another way, words fail to describe an episcopal mentality which, in the midst of the greatest crisis in the history of the Church and on the most spurious pretext, chose to distance itself from these fundamental, reasonable, practical, urgent pleas; to seek refuge behind a technicality called forth to protect it from - heaven forbid! - an orthodox "campaign"!
One cannot let this matter pass without also rectifying what might at very best be called a convenient forgetfulness on the part of His Eminence. Justice demands this clarification since his public statement casts a shadow across the competence and honesty of the magnificent Organising Committee members who deserve nothing but the highest praise for their remarkable achievement. The gist of this corrective is that while it is true that due to a simple oversight the Cardinal was not forwarded a copy of the resolutions, it is totally untrue that he was, as he claimed in his statement, unaware of the precise nature of the event. Apart from proclaiming faith in the Mass, the Real Presence and the importance of devotion to Our Lady, the purpose was to treat the crisis of dissent in specific areas such as catechetics. This was explained to the Cardinal personally and at length. Readers may draw their own conclusions as to why he chose to infer otherwise. In any event, his overreaction to the resolutions, which merely encapsulated the nature and purpose of the Conference already made known to him, seemed disingenuous.
To the Committee's eternal credit, when given an ultimatum by the Cardinal to withdraw the resolutions or make do without him, they unanimously and quite properly chose the latter option. His Eminence, who had never been invited to speak but had in fact requested to address the Conference, then changed his mind at the twelfth hour and the Committee, magnanimously in the opinion of many, again re-arranged their plans to grant him a forum. Yet it was, of course, much more than that. What the Committee offered was an unprecedented opportunity for Basil Hume to prove his knockers wrong and show the substance and leadership they say he lacks. He turned it, instead, into an altogether different sort of defining moment in his life - a low-point in which he snatched defeat from the jaws of victory, with a performance that not one of the 2,000 convinced, Catechism-thumping Catholics in attendance should ever forget or excuse.
4. Personification of Crisis: As elsewhere, the now very public Catholic crisis in England - blown wide-open since the Conference and the Ellis/Worlock affair - is a crisis of faith and authority. "The Cardinal is a pious man," wrote Paul Johnson commenting recently on the "abyss" that has opened up between the ruling Catholic elite and the rank and file faithful under Hume's tutelage....... but he is no leader." Granted. This is the crux of the problem. But it is still deeper than that. We might take as given that leadership qualities are not part of the Cardinal's make-up, yet the same could be said about most of his peers and of humanity in general. Such character deficiency in an authority figure is hardly a sin in itself, though always potentially disastrous for the secular mob or Catholic faithful as the case may be. It only becomes positively and inevitably catastrophic when it rests upon the kind of deeper, erroneous conviction which crystallised during the Cardinal's inglorious 4 May performance, the nub of which is that he genuinely believes there is no crisis - stating on national radio recently: "I personally think that the Catholic, Church is in a very satisfactory state". He may be one of only several dozen people in a country of 60 million (the others being his brother bishops) to hold this remarkable view. To account for such a stupefying anomaly, I proffer the following.
If the assembled multitude felt an inexplicable yet tangible transformation in proceedings between 2.30-3.00pm, it was that an orthodox Catholic "celebration"-cum-"campaign" momentarily became a Low-Church Anglican gathering addressed by an Anglican prelate masquerading as a Catholic bishop. It suddenly descended, in other words, to the sort of classic posturing in which an Anglican Primate might indulge before one of the multiple factions at an Anglican Synod. And just as there are never real crises in the Anglican world - merely bickering about where next to move the goal posts to accommodate yet another game-plan - so too in the brave new church of Basil Hume there is never a Catholic crisis. Hence his continuing best efforts to dismiss burgeoning talk of crises, maladies and wars at every opportunity. During an interview on Radio 4, for example, in which the Catholic "civil war" was broached, he replied on cue: "I don't think there is one and if there is one then I like to think of myself as the General of both sides." George Carey could not have straddled a fence with more ridiculous aplomb. The throng of believers before him in the Westminster Hall were not, therefore, champions of truth to be commended for launching a counter-attack against error and the proponents of error who have reduced the Catholic faith in England to doctrinal, moral and liturgical penury. They were simply one faction of opinionated believers among many - part of a new, all-embracing, anglo-Catholic synodical system whose family "discussions" he intends to oversight with as little unpleasantness as possible, treading that seductive but calamitous via media - "middle way" - of Anglican legend, while contributing to world Christianity through a graceful handling of profound disagreements.
So there you have it. What the Conference participants saw and experienced during that sad, telling half-hour was simply this: via media in a red hat. Through the ARCIC years right on up to his active participation in the heretical "installation" service of the latest pretender to the vacant See of Canterbury, the Cardinal has absorbed the spirit of Anglicanism through his impeccably English pores as if by osmosis. Hardly an unprecedented or surprising turn of events considering the chequered history of English hierarchies. And after all, perhaps the uncontentious, genteel character of High Church Anglicanism is, generally speaking, the native homeland of a reticent, non-confrontational English disposition barely attuned to notions of Catholic Militancy and spiritual "wars" of attrition? Perhaps the life of many an English Catholic is just that - a heroic, daily struggle to resist the ever present, natural allure of Anglican-style via media? Does this, in fact, explain the reflexively deferential applause that greeted the Cardinal's rebuke - like harp seals clapping their clubber? Is it the source of the unseemly angst that gripped certain Establishment Catholics and career-clerics upon hearing that the Committee preferred four critical resolutions to the taste of episcopal footwear? Has Anglican persona outgrown Catholic character? "Stiff upper lip" stoicism replaced Christian hope? Are Oasis really the new Beatles? For an outsider, it's all so difficult to tell. But be that as it may, to read the text of the Cardinal's Conference speech, especially in light of recent scandals like the aforementioned Clare Richards debacle, is to see the Anglicanisation of Westminster in bold relief. Any number of other examples, sufficient to fill a telephone book, serve to underscore the fact. These range from the more evasive, commonplace variety such as the Cardinal's Conference discourse itself, to dead giveaways like his public embrace of the tragic Protestantisation of Liverpool - declaring in his homily at Archbishop Worlock's Funeral Mass: "You in Liverpool have shown us the way. " Which is to say, the "middle way" which saw his late friend compromise all, including pro-life leadership, for false-ecumenism; the via media that once enticed but ultimately sickened Newman, who would surely have hastened to remind the Cardinal that in Revealed religion there is no "middle way". Never was. Never will be. Derek Worlock got it wrong. And no amount of absurd posturing to implicate the Holy Father in the corrosive Merseyside experiment can ever undo the disarming Ellis Intervention: "Emperor Worlock had no clothes"!
If, then, the Cardinal embodied in his performance the very crisis he so vehemently denies, it was not only due to the innate weakness pointed out by Johnson. It is because that weakness is compounded by a subconsciously acquired, essentially equivocal Anglican spirit instinctively hostile to resolute, convinced, orthodox Catholicism. In the Catholic world, to sit astride the fence - to prefer General Populist to the Grand Old Duke of York - is not a declaration of fair-minded neutrality as the Anglicans suppose. On the contrary, it is ipso facto to choose sides; to oppose the spirit of Christ; to declare oneself a liberal, if only a tawdry, ambivalent one. For, as Pope St. Pius X forcefully declared, there is no middle ground between Modernist error and Catholic truth; between, say, the understanding of a Clare Richards and that of a Daphne McLeod. The Cardinal, therefore, must choose sides. He must, after the fashion of Our Lord and Saviour, choose to wield that sword which at once divides and saves [Matt 10: 34-37]. And since he has intimated a desire for early flight into monastic obscurity, he best choose and act now because even one remedial, penitential action today will be of greater succour to him at Judgement than all his prayerful meditations in the years to come. And so, to this end, let us pray that with God's grace he might find courage to enter into himself and slay the whispering serpents; to abandon his illusory "middle way" and reconsider those four resolutions. Because time is running short, both for himself and the Roman Catholic Faith in England.