Apredecessor of Bishop Cormac Murphy-O’Connor at Arundel and Brighton, Bishop David Cashman, reminds me of a choice story. Kevin Mayhew, a Catholic Herald journalist, interviewed the bishop, who enjoyed shooting with one of his parishioners, Marmaduke, the then Duke of Norfolk. The interview included the bishop’s sporting activity. Desmond Albrow, the editor, with his unerring sense of humour, headlined the interview: “I’m never happier than when I have a bird in my sights!” The Catholic Herald appeared on Friday. For Saturday, the Daily Mirror was probably short of a better story and featured Bishop Cashman on its front page. It was sensational and was picked up by many other media. The anti-bloodsport lobby was the most vocal. Be it said to his credit the bishop did not try to wriggle out of it. “Mind you,” Kevin Mayhew maintained, “he couldn’t. It was on tape.” In the late 1960s I invited the bestselling novelist Morris West to a Fleet Street meeting of the Keys, the Guild of St Francis de Sales. At it I discovered that Morris’s son Paul and my son Patrick both went to school at Belmont, Hereford. So from then on we took turns driving the boys to and from school at term beginnings and ends. Morris was good company so Patrick rather enjoyed going with him, but the Rolls Royce might have been an added attraction. Morris was born in Melbourne, where in his early life he had been a Christian Brother. When during the 1970s Morris had returned to live in Australia I managed to persuade him to write occasional articles for The Catholic Herald.
In later years we met periodically whenever Morris visited London. On one occasion my first wife Mary and I invited him to lunch at the RAC Club. Mary was about as outspoken as Morris was and told him she didn’t want to meet him again. “You undermine my faith!” Morris was always very radical in his views on the Church. My second wife, Marie, enjoyed his company in subsequent years.
In 1989 I received a letter with family news, including the fact that he had had a by-pass operation. Since he was well again I asked him to write a short story for a series we proposed to publish in The Catholic Herald and then produce as a book: The Seven Deadly Sins. In my devious way I thought that if we could persuade the best-selling novelist Morris to agree, it would be a good way of getting others. It was. It resulted in other authors such as Fr Andrew Greeley, who had also written best-selling novels such as The Cardinal Sins, William Douglas Home, Rachel Billington and H R F Keating, the award-winning crime writer. The last was not difficult: for a time he had been literary editor of the CH.
Later that year Morris had written Lazarus and sent me a proof copy of the book. He wrote to tell me how he had been influenced by his encounter with death at the bypass operation. He suggested that Peter Hebblethwaite would be a good reviewer of the novel.
In 1990 we met again in Dublin and had an interesting and entertaining meal at the St Stephen’s Green Club to which Marie, my second wife, and I had invited Pat Kenny, who headed a very popular Irish television chat show, and the lady who was later to be his wife, and two friends of Pat’s and us, Maire and Donal Mangan and the two of us. Pat said he was sorry that the dinner had not been televised. It was a pity. Morris was on Pat Kenny’s show a day or two later and it was dull in comparison.
In 1992 I emailed Morris to ask him to write about the worldwide media attention for the Bishop Eamonn Casey affair. He wrote, adding: “If you don’t like it, ignore it.” The Catholic Herald published it. The next year he wrote two forthright, as I would have expected, articles on ecumenism.
In 1998 one of his last novels, Eminence, which had moved me to tears, was published. It is one of many of Morris’s novels, like The Shoes of the Fisherman and Children of the Son, many signed, that grace my bookcase.
Gordon Reece was another excellent communicator. When he was a producer on ABC Television he became television critic of The Catholic Herald under the pseudonym of Charles Graham. He told me of an amusing encounter as a producer with the then Prime Minister Harold Wilson. In the warm-up for a television interview, the commentator asked him what book had most influenced him. “Marx” was the answer. A little later in the programme the commentator repeated the question, and without hesitation the reply was “the Bible”. I wish I had thought of asking Wilson about it, when we were both at Archbishop’s House, Westminster, awaiting the arrival of Pope John Paul II on his visit to London. I saw him fingering his pipe and I suggested that if he would, I would. We both started to smoke.
Gordon Reece pioneered the first general election victory of Margaret Thatcher in 1979, for which he was knighted. In the early 1950s I had invited him to address the Keys. He gave an example of bad and good television in relation to the Church. He cited as an example two personalities appearing in a discussion programme on television, one a priest, the other a lady attacking the Church. After the programme, viewer X would say that he liked the priest but thought the lady hopeless. Viewer Y would remember the lady, but disliked the priest. Fr Jo Christie, the chaplain of the Keys, boasted that he had been in a debate on Harlech Television with Marie Stopes and they had a great viewing audience. Gordon Reece, to the consternation of Fr Christie, said it would have been a perfect example of what he had just proposed. Neither would remember the content of their discussion. “Television,” he said, “is a visual medium.” It is radio, not television, to which you listen.
To paint an effective picture of the Church you need to use the visual impact. He suggested you should invite a television team to visit a monastery, interviewing the abbot, the novice master, a monk and maybe a novice, illustrating the programme with the cameras going around the abbey. Viewers would not remember the discussions, but they would absorb the atmosphere of an abbey. Nearly 50 years later, in 2006, the BBC followed that general advice. Four hour-long programmes from the Benedictine Worth Abbey resulted in some 6,000 inquiries.
In 1963 the International Catholic Union of the Press organised a conference in Berlin which I attended. It, not necessarily the discussions, was an education. The Iron Curtain existed at the time and the “Four Powers”, the US, Britain, France and Russia, controlled Berlin. Our conference was held in the western section where a West German Minister gave a talk to us. He lamented the absence in the East section of western newspapers. “I would like to get an East Berlin newspaper,” I requested. The Minister volunteered to get me one. But my point was that I could not have bought one at the newsstand outside the hotel. It needed to be put in perspective. Why criticise the other side when they were doing the same?
We were taken through the famous Checkpoint Charlie, where the Berlin Wall divided the West from the East, and which was not removed until 1989, when at last the Iron Curtain came down and fences and walls were replaced by bridges. On my visit we were going to the Russian sector of East Berlin to meet Bishop Bengsch, later to be made a cardinal.
He talked informally, but asked for his remarks not to be attributed to him. “Don’t worry, I will not be deported or imprisoned, but the next time I look for some permission on building, or whatever, it will simply be delayed.
“But,” the bishop added, “I suffer not only at the hands of the Russians. My very own people are critical of me. I have been described as being a Communist because I have re-organised the diocesan deaneries, so that half a deanery is not in the West and the other half in the East. So some of my people say I have recognised the Iron Curtain. You have just been through it. Could you ignore it?” I had the good fortune of going to the theatre in Berlin to see Der Stellvertreter by Rolf Hochhuth. In the setting of the tensions that existed in Berlin then it was far more disturbing than when I saw it again as The Representative with John Gielgud as Pope Pius XII in London. The play, condemning Pius XII, ended up as representing factual history, rather than what it was: just a powerful play.
Pre-Vatican II, during the prophetic editorship of Michael Bedoyérè, The Catholic Herald had campaigned for a change to the vernacular Mass. Some readers were critical of the idea, including one Prince of the Church, who shall remain nameless, as he was a good friend. He wrote to me to say that The Catholic Herald was, I think he used the word, heretical. Many years later when the vernacular Mass, in the language of each country, had become normal practice, Richard Dowden, a young editor of The Catholic Herald at the time, wrote a leader suggesting that the Latin Tridentine Mass should be allowed for those, by then a minority, who could not cope with the vernacular Mass. I had another letter from the same Prince of the Church accusing us of being heretical. My secretary, Doris Mahoney, a non-conformist who, despite being with the Herald for 40 years, never became a Catholic, pointed out to me that many years before he had written the opposite. She had the letter on file. No, I explained to Doris. You still don’t understand the Catholic Church. He is quite consistent. He is merely saying you must do what you are told.
John Carmel Heenan, the Archbishop of Liverpool, became Archbishop of Westminster in September 1963, where he succeeded Cardinal Godfrey. However, before his appointment to Liverpool he was Bishop of Leeds and as such came for a modest lunch in London in the offices of The Catholic Herald in Whitefriars Street/Fleet Street. After lunch the chairman of The Catholic Herald, Vernor Miles, suggested to Bishop Heenan that he take with him back to Leeds the two unopened bottles of wine, from the lunch. Heenan refused, saying that all it then needed was for him to give a lift to a lady and have a crash in his car! He was, as always, shrewd.
When Heenan, the Bishop of Leeds, was moved to Liverpool as archbishop it was said that the purveyors of suitcases also moved to Liverpool. The Bishop of Leeds had earned a reputation in his diocese for moving priests from one to another parish. Jesters described the Diocese of Leeds as “the Cruel See”, while in the time of Heenan’s predecessor, Cardinal Godfrey of Westminster, it was known as “the Dead See”. In the summer of 1966, when John Carmel Heenan was Archbishop of Westminster, The Catholic Herald had published an article by the Anglican Canon Paul Oestreicher on the need for industrial chaplains. From 1985 to 1997 he was to be cathedral capitular at Coventry Cathedral, which was destroyed by bombs during the Second World War. He himself came from a Jewish German family and later in 2007 wrote an article in the Guardian on the beatification of the Austrian Franz Jägerstätter, who was born in St Radegund, not far from Hitler’s birthplace.
Since we had published an article by Canon Oestreicher on industrial chaplains, I thought we should practise what we preached, so I asked the Archbishop of Westminster if we could invite the very popular Dominican friar, a former Anglican priest, Fr John Dominic Cheales, to say Mass in my office in Fleet Street on the next Holy Day of Obligation, inviting our staff and other Fleet Street journalists. Of course you may, said Heenan.
On the next Holy Day I phoned Heenan again, only to be told not to bother again, but simply proceed, adding that he presumed we would invite validly ordained priests. On one occasion I thought we nearly had problems. We had asked the Mill Hill Fathers to send a priest, who turned out to be a Dutchman. I explained, or thought I had done, that for Communion he should proceed from behind my desk to the front of it and those who would wish to receive Communion would come forward. In fact, the priest nearly chased everyone round the room with the Host.
My files of correspondence between Cardinal Heenan and me are numerous and, as in the case of Archbishop McQuaid of Dublin, many are hand-written. In the 12 years that he was Archbishop of Westminster I came to know him well. We did not always agree, but my candid letters were readily accepted and sometimes even elicited an apology.
Like many of an older generation, I remember where I was on the day President Kennedy was assassinated. At the time, during the Second Vatican Council, I was in Rome and Cardinal Heenan had invited me to dinner at the English College. On arrival Mgr David Norris, the cardinal’s secretary, escorted me to a lift, where a gentleman with a towel round his midriff was obviously returning from a swim. “Archbishop, may I introduce Otto Herschan?” said the good monsignor. To which I added: “I don’t think this is the time to kiss your ring!” It was still customary to kneel to bishops and kiss their ring. My remark was greeted with a hail of laughter from Archbishop John Murphy of Cardiff. In later years we happily recalled the occasion.
Some years later Desmond Albrow, the editor of The Catholic Herald, at Christmas time invited some bishops to write a short piece on the profession they would have chosen had they not become a priest. Archbishop Murphy, without hesitation, said he would have chosen journalism. His pastoral letters illustrated the appropriateness of his alternative choice.
After some pre-dinner drinks at the English College on 22nd November 1963 we, with a bevy of bishops, proceeded to the refectory for dinner. The BBC’s Rome correspondent (I think his name was Nichols) sat to the right of Cardinal Heenan and I was on his left. Near the end of dinner someone called the BBC man to the telephone. When he returned he whispered to the cardinal to excuse him. The cardinal rang the bell on the table in front of him and announced that President Kennedy had been shot. It was not known whether he was alive or dead. The cardinal then led us to the chapel to pray for Kennedy. After prayers we congregated around television sets for the rest of the evening.
Bearing in mind the “conversion” of Paul Johnson from his early radical years I am amused to recall a letter from Heenan expressing his disapproval of an article by him in The Catholic Herald in 1966. Norman St John Stevas’s weekly column had not appeared, as he was on holiday. So we had invited various writers to stand in for him, which included the then radical Paul Johnson. Heenan wondered what demon lurked in the offices of The Catholic Herald. As it was just when Desmond Albrow was taking over the editorship of the paper, I identified myself as the demon.
In the late 1960s, during Desmond’s editorship, Fr Charles Davis, who had been Cardinal Heenan’s peritus (adviser) during Vatican II, left the Catholic Church. It caused a great stir in the secular media, just before Christmas. At Heenan’s instigation his auxiliary bishop, Pat Casey, wrote asking The Catholic Herald not to publish letters on the subject. I wrote a long letter to the cardinal expressing the difficulties the situation had created, which had now been added to by his attempt to censor, which we could not accept. A hasty meeting between the cardinal, Desmond Albrow and myself was arranged and we were able to come to an amicable solution.
One Monday morning Desmond had asked my advice on his weekly column in The Catholic Herald. It was critical of Cardinal Heenan. The religious correspondent of the London Times (in those days journalists on the Times were not given names) had incurred the displeasure of the cardinal, who wrote a letter to the editor, which was published. Desmond was critical of the cardinal because the man in question, being anonymous (though anyone in the know knew it was Clifford Longley) could not reply, as letters required to be signed. I agreed with Desmond’s criticism, but wished it had appeared at another time. I had fixed an appointment to see Heenan that Friday, the day that he would see Desmond’s criticism. I did not relish my forthcoming encounter. The first words from the cardinal were: “Desmond Albrow is quite right. I have written another letter to the editor of the Times to apologise!” I heard later that Heenan had invited Clifford Longley to come and see him. He told him that by canon law Clifford could not take him to court without the permission of the Ordinary (his bishop). “I hereby give you permission to do so,” said Heenan. How disarming can you be? But then Heenan was always astute and nimble on his feet. Maybe he got that from a namesake, the good boxer John Heenan.
Otto Herschan was managing director of The Catholic Herald from 1953 to 1998. This is an extract from his memoir Holy Smoke?, available from TAF Publishing, 52 Cardiffsbridge Avenue, Finglas, Dublin 11, Republic of Ireland, for £11.50 plus pp £5.50. We will publish a second extract in next week’s issue