As proceedings at the inaugural Faith of Our Father's Conference wound down and he traipsed out of Westminster Hall in the late afternoon of 4 May 1996, Cardinal Hume remarked to the young man at his side: "At least they didn't bash the bishops!" He thought he had delivered his rebuke to the "divisive" orthodox troops inside and escaped unscathed - until he read my analysis of his performance in Christian Order a month later, which apparently sent his blood pressure off the chart and through the roof. But we shall return to FOOF 1996 later.
'Bishop-bashing,' of course, is a defence mechanism very dear to postconciliar prelates; a loaded term meant to instantly negate any public airing of their legendary sins no matter how politely phrased or deserved. Well, His Eminence need have no fear of such brazen candour in this servile series of mini-hagiographies penned by two dozen of his avid admirers. Effusive and fawning, it is by and large every bit as nauseating as the title suggests. Page after stomach-churning page makes a nonsense of the Editor's opening protest that she "determined to avoid flattery" and the "insincerity of undiluted praise." She herself starts the eulogistic ball rolling before we even reach page 1, paying tribute in the opening Acknowledgements to the "subtlety and brilliant imagination" of Father Michael Seed, one of the Cardinal's golden-haired boys renowned for his instruction of the chattering classes (and who recently launched his own book amidst a sea of chatterati in the Jubilee Room of the Palace of Westminster). I use the term "instruction" (very) loosely, having once encountered one of his well-heeled 'converts' only to find her still Protestant in all but name! A perfectly understandable state of affairs once you have situated the affable Father Seed, himself a convert, at the upper-end of the sliding scale of neo-Modernism: "Whether we can one day have a woman priest is not an absolute. It isn't impossible," he opined in the Independent Magazine a few years back, adding that he tells his catechumens "about faithful dissent - and that they are joining a Church where there are a variety of views on women priests, married priests, divorce, lesbianism and gays... Rome is a long way off. They're joining a very contemporary Catholic Church here in England…"
You bet! A fashionable Church dominated by Modernist clergy peddling trendy ideas like Fr Seed's perverse defence of the validity of Anglican Orders - which was the subject of his theological thesis undertaken at the Lateran University. Given the Cardinal's Modernist ecumenical obsession, his relentless push for a more autonomous 'broad Church' along Anglican lines and the recent schismatic declaration in One Bread, One Body that Anglican Orders "remain unresolved" (contrary to Ad Tuendam Fidem's Explanatory Note wherein the invalidity of Anglican Orders is "to be held definitively" by Catholics), it is little wonder that he invests such responsibility in the likes of Fr. Seed who is also described as his "ecumenical adviser."
in the Making
The Master of the Dominicans, Fr. Timothy Radcliffe (touted ominously by the liberal press as Westminster material), calls Hume "the most attractive Christian leader in the country" and, without a hint of irony, compares the part played by the original Benedictines in civilising Europe to the contribution of Benedictines like Basil to today's secular world! Cardinal Cahal Daly talks of his "mark of real greatness," how his elevation showed that the episcopal election system "has a capacity to get it perfectly, gloriously right!" and finds in him the traits of "a perfect man" as described in the Imitation of Christ! Tory Shadow Minister Ann Widdecombe absurdly refers to "liberals exasperated by his unyielding traditionalism" (disappointed British readers should understand that the pro-life Miss Widdecombe was instructed by Fr Seed). A former Archbishop of Canterbury informs us that "since he came to office Basil Hume has been increasingly respected and, indeed, loved, within his own communion…" (I guess we can take a Protestant vicar's word for our collective state of mind?). The Editor of The Tablet reveals that "his leadership of the Catholic Church in England and Wales has been… 'a class act' " (well, he owes his chief patron at least that much). While his two close mega-Modernist mates, the disgraced Archbishop Rembert Weakland, OSB, [CO Aug/Sept & Oct. 1996] and the liberal Protestant Cardinal Martini, S.J., refer to him respectively as "prophetic" and "the embodiment of the qualities a bishop should have as we approach the new millenium."
Grounded in Reality?
So, you see - our disappearing Church is not the Cardinal's fault after all! If only those strong, orthodox Catholic prelates overseas like Bishop Bruskewitz of Nebraska - with their bulging seminaries and convents, faithful burgeoning flocks and obedient clergy, religious and teachers - understood sociology and the pressures of the modern age like Basil, they too would see the need to water-down Rome's teaching documents; only then would they recognise their impotence before the world, the flesh and the devil and duly kneel before them like their faint-hearted British brothers.
At least Ann Widdecombe M.P. chastises His Eminence for allowing "the integrity of Church teachings" to be undermined by the "political incompetence or prejudice" of his delegates involved in the legislative process. She requests that he "impose tighter methods of control over the various committees of the Bishops' Conference… to make sure that the teaching of the Church is put first and political dogma a poor second." Furthermore, she perceives the real danger posed by both a refusal to wield his authority and his penchant for avoiding arguments and confrontations. Peace at any price, she says, is never a desirable objective. But this is all on the political plane and Miss Widdecombe still gushes about the Cardinal, who assisted Fr Seed with her entry into the Church, viewing him in the same light as John Paul II and Mother Teresa while finding his cringeworthy book Basil in Blunderland not unlike Our Lord's parables! She is impressed by his statement that no Catholic is free to dissent from Evangelium Vitae, but plays down the fact that his Common Good document emasculated the pro-life cause! Like so many others she is also seduced by Cardinal Winning, erroneously suggesting at one point that he has made the sanctity of life "a defining issue in political choice" - a mistaken belief all the harder to fathom since she received a copy of my Great Defenders…or Great Pretenders? article which blew this myth about Winning to smithereens! Evidently clueless about the nuts and bolts of our present battle - commenting that only those Catholics "who have special axes to grind" are known to criticise the Cardinal(!) - hers are surely the observations of a (poorly instructed) novice Catholic. Perusal of a few works like the Dorothy Sayers' essay Creed or Chaos might convince her of the need to sort out just who is on the side of the angels in all of this, since doctrinal orthodoxy is far more important than political conservatism in the building a truly just, peaceful and harmonious society. Once sorted, however, she would be a powerful ally.
This idea of the Cardinal's innate "conservatism," repeatedly put forward in the book, is one of the great smokescreens he himself has built up and allowed others to build up around his corrosive liberalism. "You must remember," he is quoted as saying when faced with a dilemma as Abbott of Ampleforth, "that when my head is progressive, my heart is conservative." The secular humanist and arch-Modernist lobbies have subsequently pursued this line with relish, since it is in their own interests for a Modernist Prince of the Church to be viewed as a "conservative" (as I explain in the above-mentioned Great Defenders essay - available from CO in booklet form for £2). Predictably, therefore, we have liberal icons like John Wilkins of The Tablet (a fellow who recently referred to the Holy Father as "an old man" who "can't listen or follow an argument through") assuring us in his contribution that "Hume is such an effective conciliator between right and left in his Church [because] he has a bit of both conservative and progressive in him, and can therefore genuinely understand both sides." The same line is repeated by other contributors who urge the reader to see him "not as a man of the right or left but as a man of prayer" [Fr. Radcliffe], as "absolutely impartial…never drawn by one side or another" [Cardinal Martini], "he never allied himself with one set of opinions" [Fr. Dominic Milroy, OSB], and so on and so forth. All of which is not just nonsense but, as Dr Johnson once put it, nonsense on stilts!
The reality is that the liberal (i.e. radically consensual and worldly) ecclesiology which burst forth from the Vatican Council was tailor made for the naturally vacillating, ambivalent character of the Abbott of Ampleforth, who embraced it and ran with it. If, like his late mentor Archbishop Worlock, his theology had once been "pre-Vatican II," like Worlock's it quickly metamorphosed. By the late sixties, the "new" ideas of the likes of Rahner, Chenu, Congar et. al. which he doubtless encountered during his theological studies in Freibourg, had shaped and cemented his naïvely optimistic opening to the world a la John XXIII. Countless statements and incidents attest to it. In his autobiography, the notorious Dutch heretic Edward Schillebeeckx writes that several years after the Council he was in Rome being dressed down by Paul VI and as he left the Vatican: "At the door I met the Benedictine abbot Basil Hume, who was to become Archbishop of Westminster. He said to me, 'Fr Schillebeeckx, keep going on as you are'." Similarly, while Cardinal Heenan had disciplined staff at Corpus Christi College in London because they had invited dissident Hans Kung to make a speech there without his permission, some years later Hume invited Kung to tea at Archbishop's house!
As the years rolled on his absorption of process theology and the whole Modernist purview was there in his talks and public statements for anyone with a mind to listen. For instance, in an address at All Hallows College, Dublin on 20 September, 1986, about the mission of the Church necessarily involving dialogue with the world, he stated that: "We who have inherited the traditions of a Christian Europe must beware of the temptation to long nostalgically for the restoration of Christendom, even locally, or to harbour the delusion that anything less is an evil to be condemned." As Father Michael Clifton noted in Vox Sacerdotalis at the time, these words "stand in direct contrast to those of Pope St. Pius X whose motto it was to 'Restore all things in Christ.' It is only when Christendom is properly restored that the world will be converted." During the same talk, ignoring the appalling decline in moral standards in Western society during the preceding years, and the massive loss of believers and non-believers alike to pleasure loving materialism rooted in sin, His Eminence revealed his dangerously optimistic view of 'modern man' and a Modernist mindset par excellence:
Contrary to the astounding ideas proposed in the last two points, Father Clifton emphatically pointed out that: "Conversion to the true Faith IS our objective with the World and all our endeavours MUST be directed to this one end, [while] surely we DO possess the whole truth? The development of doctrine draws out more and more of the treasures of revelation but the Truth of Our Faith is there for us in its wholeness and we have the duty to preach this to all."
Of course the Cardinal has also been very equivocal on the question of married clergy (needlessly confessing: "we are losing excellent and very good people because they would wish to be married priests") while forever pursuing his call for decentralisation of decision-making, suggesting that judgements involving delicate pastoral issues be left to local bishops "who know the situation with all its sensitivities" (as if any Head Office would ever vest more power in failed Line-Managers!). Little wonder, as I am personally aware and as John Wilkins rightly points out, that Rome find him one of the most difficult prelates to deal with: "strident" in pushing his pet liberal subjects. He relates that Hume told "one top [Vatican] official that one reason for the insufficiency in vocations was the refusal to consider ordaining married men," while on another occasion demanding to know why "an instruction on the limits of co-operation between laity and priests had been issued without his being consulted" (the answer to which, I presume, is that they knew he would only disown and disobey it anyway - which he did!).
That His Eminence has got away with all this and so much more and worse, as reported in Christian Order over many years, is a tribute to that triumph of style over substance which defines the modern world. In other words, he has been able to carry it off because he looks the part. Even his admirer Clifford Longley states that: "It was clear from the day of his appointment that a major part of Basil Hume's significance… was to be at the level of public image and perception." Thus, on cue, all the contributors comment on his "prayerfulness," "holiness," "Englishness," "subtlety"… . Impressed by his appearance at Mass, the book's Editor is dazzled: "Hume," she fawns, "his authority embodied in his physical height, personified monastic discipline." And it is not just his liberal lackeys who fall under the spell of this exterior reserve more English than the English. Catholics who trot out the "by their fruits" yardstick in response to every other issue magically exempt the Cardinal from similar scrutiny.
I can only proffer that the 'Basil phenomenon' is not unlike that extraordinary mawkishness often found among London's East End classes, described as "a mixed salve of sentimentality, family values and religious symbolism anointing acts of sometimes outrageous criminal violence." Which is to say that a superficial 'feel-good factor' attached to the Cardinal is enough for many to turn a blind eye to the endless scandals, spiritual corruption and loss of souls which have occurred under him. The attitude underlying this phenomenon is not unlike that adopted towards Reggie and Ronnie Kray, the infamous twin brothers whose murderous brutality was the stuff of East London legend. "Say what you like about the twins," an investigative reporter was once repeatedly told by the East Enders, "they adore their mum." I'm sure they did. And I'll bet Martin Luther kissed his wife goodnight. And Basil Hume looks the monastic part. Well, that's alright then!
At the end of the day, this obsequious offering reminds one of the old saying that 'once a man becomes a bishop he'll always get the best seat in the house, he'll always be served the best food - and he'll never be told the truth again.' It is a sadly misnamed work. If sycophancy = friendship, I'm a banana! Through it all there's not a whiff of concern about either the Cardinal's eternal salvation or that charity grounded in truth which is the basis of genuine Christian friendship. With 'friends' like these I can better understand why the Cardinal went ballistic over my critique Via Media in a Red Hat: Anglicanism by Osmosis (CO, June/July 1996), which laid bare his disgraceful yet defining performance at Faith of Our Fathers 1996. Father Radcliffe suggests that Basil Hume possesses the humility "of someone who has looked into the mirror and seen himself as he is." Pulleeeze! When I held up the mirror - reminding him that one cannot be a "general of both sides" in a Catholic civil war since the charity of Christ is not soft; that it wields a sword which at once divides and saves [Matt 10 34-37] - his vaunted humility evaporated. Apoplectic, the Cardinal apparently sent a copy of the article to Mother Angelica, the guest speaker at the conference, looking for sympathy. I am told that her typically pointed response was: 'What's his problem? It's all true.'
[The other two books reviewed in the June/July edition under "Three Cardinals: One Defender" are Steps on My Pilgrim Journey by Cardinal Daly and Saint John Fisher by Michael Davies].