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June/July 1999
Book Review
BASIL HUME: BY HIS FRIENDS, Edited by Carolyn Butler, Fount, 1999, pp. 148, 8.99.
"A calm, sweet voice, a noble air, an expressive countenance, refined
and decorous manners, were these indications of heavenly grace?"
CALLISTA, Cardinal Newman
"...what is highly esteemed among men is an abomination in God's sight."
Luke 16:15-16

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."

Myth in the Making
Thus, the opening acknowledgement of Fr Seed's decisive contribution - "without whose help this book literally would not have been possible" - sets the scene for what is to follow. And what follows is just the latest phase in the making of yet another Modernist legend; the enshrining of George Basil Hume in English and Welsh folklore as a "great" Cardinal. A steady stream of books, pamphlets and media comment throughout the last twenty years has reinforced the demonstrable absurdity that Cardinal Hume is "the most inspiring British spiritual leader of the century" (to take merely one press quote at random) - hyperbole already reaching new sentimental heights in the wake of the Cardinal's April announcement that he has cancer. Working to the golden rule of all successful propaganda - that if you repeat something often enough people will eventually believe it - Basil Hume: By His Friends reinforces the hype - big time!

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."

Praise Grounded in Reality?
If you found that paragraph hard going, try ploughing through 148 pages of the same! It felt like 948! Irony, contradiction, inconsistency, dissembling, ignorance, horizontalism, rationalisation, hypocrisy and self-satisfaction scream off every page. Here a handful of examples putting to shame the Editor's claim that the praise is "grounded in reality":

  • Cardinal Daly praises Hume's "personal commitment to the apostolate of Catholic education" (perhaps the 'lost generations' left doctrinally and morally defenceless before a hostile world through his complicity in the Modernist educational agenda, and now suffering in the flames of Hell or Purgatory, take a different view?). Daly also recalls the Cardinal's devotion to Our Lady (how to reconcile this devotion to the Model of Purity with his disdain for the Vatican's Truth and Meaning of Human Sexuality [CO April 1998], his refusal to act on the personal pleas of mothers and grandmothers to remove corrupting sex-ed from his schools and his publicly declared affinity for AIDS education? [CO Feb. 1997]).

  • Bishop John Crowley of Middlesbrough, Hume's former private secretary, invites us to believe that the "standard of liturgy which was celebrated in many parish churches" was "a constant worry of his" - yet immediately goes on to say the Cardinal found joy even in parish Masses of a "largely disorganised character" where "a certain degree of chaos" held sway from the outset, because "something special" i.e. the priest's "pastoral warmth and prayerfulness" shone through the Mass "despite all." (This attitude reflects the Cardinal's reprehensible view that one may ascertain by "experiment" what one finds attractive and unattractive about the Sacred Liturgy! - epitomised in the "purely experimental" Tyme youth Masses he sanctioned [CO May 1997] which, despite the sacrilege and scandal they engendered, he claimed were very beneficial for the young people involved). The emptiness of Hume's words and his total lack of conviction in this vital area of the Faith can be further gauged by the fact that while he once told Cahal Daly how much he appreciated a beautiful Greek Orthodox liturgy they had attended ("We have much to learn from the Orthodox," he reflected), the priest he has teaching liturgy to his few remaining students at Allen Hall Seminary, Father Allen Morris, recently praised Diarmuid O'Murchu's utterly pagan book Reclaiming Spirituality ("an exciting book to read") which work urges a return to "the worship of Mother Earth" and a need for the Church "to shed its trappings of dogma, ritual, laws and regulations" [CO April 1999].

  • His Public Affair's Assistant states that the Cardinal "personally drafted in 1993 'A Note on the Catholic Church's Teaching Concerning Homosexual People.' This was an important and timely Note and requests for copies were received from several other Bishops' Conferences." (What he doesn't tell us is that by quoting from Hume's wholly misleading Note rather than from Cardinal Ratzinger's definitive statement, the Canadian Bishops' actually assisted their government in passing an amendment to the Canadian Human Rights Act to include "sexual orientation" as a prohibited ground for discrimination! In fact, the whole purpose of the Note - which adapted Church teaching to the homosexual idea of good and evil rather than challenging the homosexuals to conform their idea of good and evil to the teaching of the Church - was to soften the impact of the statement by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith that the homosexual inclination is objectively disordered [CO February 1997]).

  • A journalist from the arch-liberal Economist magazine even detects a "touch of Newman" while the Editor of The Tablet sees the spirit of Newman in Hume's ecumania (the sort of ludicrous comparison only liberals could make! In essential outlooks, including and especially ecumenical - Newman remained extremely sceptical about the whole notion of corporate reunion with Canterbury - have there ever been two more disparate Cardinals in recent English history?).

Critical Whitewash
On and on it goes. Doubtless to be expected from a book written by the Modernist Establishment about a quintessentially Establishment Cardinal for the delectation of the same Establishment. All the same, the lack of genuine critical analysis of Hume's leading role in the spiritual and statistical degradation of the Church in England and Wales is no less chilling in its clinical disregard for the overriding issue of eternal life. Especially since some contributors admit his hard-headed influence over the hierarchy, at one point quoting an English Bishop as saying: "If you think he is a naïve innocent, an other-worldly holy man, you had better watch out." On the odd occasion harsh reality is raised, however, it is immediately rationalised. Thus his Public Affair's Assistant, the one who saw nothing wrong with the Note on homosexuality, claims that "It is an occupational hazard of diocesan bishops to be blamed for [Church decline] by some people… critics sometimes appear to lose sight of how the moral climate in the world around them has changed over the last 30 years… [which] can militate against achievements of the ideals the Church sets." Similarly, after stating that "Catholic congregations… have suffered a greater fall than those of any other Church," John Wilkins of The Tablet explains it away as a "sociological" problem; a mere "transition from societies where churchgoing has been the norm to one where it is not." And he quotes Cardinal Hume's own rationalisation: that for the younger generation, adult membership of the Church was now "a matter of conscious and deliberate commitment."

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.

"Conservative" Cardinal?
So, wee matters like the salvation of English and Welsh souls and the rapidly approaching melt-down of the local Church barely get a look in amidst passages like this from one of his favourite Ampleforth students (who, one notes, married outside the Church): "In interpreting the rules of the Church, nobody is more uncompromising. Combining an ingrained conservatism, perhaps traditionalism, with compassion and a sense of moral and social justice, he is entirely untrendy in his application of the Church's teachings."

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:

  • "Dialogue… is demanded by the pluralism of society and by the maturity man has reached in this day and age. Be he religious or not, his secular education has enabled him to think and speak and conduct a dialogue with dignity;"

  • "There is no reason to believe that over the last 25 years the human race has significantly regressed;"

  • "Dialogue is not aimed at conversion to the true faith but is none the less a first step to show the richness of God's revelation."

  • "We do not, as yet, possess the whole truth - all Christian history is a gradual exploration of it under the inspiration of the Spirit… Only in this context can we… offer hope and the Good News of the Gospel to Europe today."

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."

Style Trumps Substance
This, then, is the real pattern of Basil Hume's life: not being "absolutely impartial" or the conciliator in the middle ("the General of both sides" as he famously labelled himself in 1996), but a committed liberal whose equivocal nature was drawn to the Modernist agenda and its proponents from postconciliar day one. Despite the 'all things to all men' posturing, in practice it is a one-sided argument; an orthodox shut out - perhaps exemplified in Hume's encouragement of the hierarchy to "vigorously and successfully resist the attempt from outside to foist an Opus Dei priest on the diocese of Northhampton as its new bishop," as the egregious arch-liberal Clifford Longley puts it in his contribution to the book. The myth about his 'basically conservative' leanings rooted in apparent 'monkish austerity' flies in the face of what I have reported above as well as all the radical proposals he has championed in Rome over the years, some of which Longley (admiringly) lists: "such as approval for general absolution, a relaxation of the strict rules regarding the entitlement of divorced and remarried Catholic's to receive communion, and even a rethinking of the Church's position on contraception."

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!

Much more could be added for the public record in response to the rampant dissembling in these laughable eulogies, but space is short. Just a few parting shots.

  • We are led to believe that the Pope refused to sanction the Cardinal's retirement last March at the age of 75 because he wants his best men in place for the Millennium. On the contrary, I expect that Hilaire Belloc's rhyme was more in keeping with John Paul's line of thought: "Always keep a hold of nurse, for fear of finding something worse."

  • As one would expect, much ink is spent and praise lavished on the Cardinal's ecumenical and social justice ventures. On the subject of his works of corporal mercy, doubtless plentiful and to be commended, I simply repeat what I've said many times before: What credibility (or future) a Church that prefers to treat the sickness of the world before healing Herself? What integrity churchmen who call incessantly for justice and peace yet fail to uphold either within their own household? And as for ecumenism, I can only reflect on the prophetic headline that greeted Catholic Herald readers at the time of his elevation: Abbot Hume Appointed to Canterbury. Says it all really.

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.'

A Sequel?
As it happens, both Clifford Longley and John Wilkins delight in recalling how the Cardinal rebuked the "ultra-conservative", "disgruntled" traditionalists at Faith of Our Father's 1996, thus "nipping in the bud an incipient campaign to suggest that there was a choice to be made between 'following the English bishops' and 'following Peter'." There's no need to respond here to their jaundiced recollections of what transpired on that momentous day since I have already documented at length what really happened. Any readers who missed Via Media in a Red Hat will find it under 'Features 1999' on this site. In the meantime, I'm pondering an updated and expanded version of Via Media in a compilation of essays by the likes of Daphne McLeod, Michael Davies, Pat McKeever, Alice Thomas Ellis, John Bishop, Paul Johnson, Malachi Martin, Jim Gallagher et. al. - titled, "Basil Hume: By His Real Friends!"

[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].

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