WE COMMENTED last week on a recent analysis of the Catholic Church in England. Hierarchically speaking, England and Wales are taken as a single entity. But because of the special importance of Catholicism in Wales, and its own history in that country, it has been made the subject of a further report in its own right as part of the overall survey conducted by MARC Europe.
It makes heartening, indeed fascinating reading when one recalls the stories told by priests and nuns who first worked in Wales forty to fifty years ago. Catholicism was then highly suspect in almost all rural areas. Nuns were thought to be witches and it was not unusual to find obscene slogans daubed on the walls of convents.
Not all the prejudice has gone and sometimes indifference has replaced intolerance. But to most people the Church is no longer a "foreign" intruder and Welsh — very much including Welsh-speaking Catholicism is today flourishing more than ever.
It must be remembered, moreover, that Catholicism in Wales suffered an even greater eclipse after the Reformation than it did in England. It was all but wiped out after the Titus Oates scare at the end of the seventeenth century and saw few signs of life until the early nineteenth century when a trickle of immigrants began arriving from Ireland.
When the hierarchy was restored in 1850, less than half of Wales was given a diocese of its own. It was not until 1898 that the whole of Wales became hierarchically separate , from England, becoming a province of its own only in 1916.
Though the fight has always been an uphill one, and priests and religious invariably stretched to the utmost, tremendous progress has been made in this century, particularly since the second world war. To speak of one part of Wales alone. the tenure by Archbishop Murphy of the See of Cardiff has seen spectacular strides forward.
Furthermore, whereas Catholicism has no "established" rival in Wales, as with Anglicanism in England, the very fact that Methodism began to take so strong a hold on Wales after the middle of the eighteenth century has left so strong a tradition of nonconformity in the country that both Anglicanism and Catholicism have always been at a serious disadvantage.
Such talk' sounds unecumenical and to be putting too strong an accent on rivalry between the churches. But comparisons are necessary as much for ecumenical as for other purposes and the raising of Catholic prestige enables its voice to be heard with greater respect than in the days of often negligible minority status in some areas. Co-operation between the churches, moreover, is now an accepted reality.
As for the recent report, it shows that whereas church membership of all communions is down by 3 per cent on four years ago, Catholic church membership is up by 3 per cent.
Dr Ben Rees, in his introduction to the report, points out that the Catholic Church "has in 60 years established itself as an integral part of the Welsh religious scene. Powys is the only exception to this, but even so, in the county there are indicators of growth in membership and attendance."
The Catholic Church in Wales, in fact, is one of the few to have shown an increase in this century and Dr Rees points out that in 1930 "there were large geographical districts in Wales where there was no Catholic church or priest to be found."
This refleets more credit than can adequately be expressed by mere words for the exceptional zeal shown by those who have laboured so faithfully in the Welsh vineyard over the years. The new Archbishop of Cardiff is a great loss to Menevia, but none could be a worthier successor to Archbishop Murphy. Archbishop Ward, moreover, is following in the footsteps of the great Archbishop McGrath who not only provided over both Mencvia and Cardiff, but was also a noted scholar and speaker of Welsh.
It is thus that English and Welsh Catholics are enabled to take a better informed look at themselves and each other and say ()remits pro invicem.