Stuart Reid Charterhouse
One of the many things I look back on with some regret is the three months I spent editing this newspaper in 1975. It was not a happy time. I sided with Archbishop Lefebvre in a way that, as I can now see, was neither prudent nor gentlemanly. The archbishop deserved a hearing, of course, and had a case, but it was not for a Catholic newspaper to elevate him above the Pope, as I fear I may have done.
My memories of the time are hazy, but one thing I do remember is that the letters we received on the liturgy and the Second Vatican Council were vicious.
On one occasion, pressed for time, I ran a letter from a traditionalist without reading it to the end. When the paper came out, Otto Herschan, then the managing director, called me into his office and in the kindest possible way suggested that we might vet our letters a little more carefully in future.
He pointed his pipe at the last paragraph of the letter I had hurriedly chosen, and I saw immediately what he meant. The offending words went something like this: “We know who inspired the First Vatican Council – the Holy Ghost. Who inspired the Second? The Devil?” The old problems, the old enmities, seem to be with us again. The Church – the Chattering Church at any rate – is hissing with anger, and the loudest hisses, it seems to me, are coming from the traditionalists.
I do not know whether this is the view of Fr Ignatius Harrison, Provost of the Brompton Oratory, but last week, on the Third Sunday of Lent, he preached a sobering and (to me) rather shaming sermon during the 9am old rite Mass.
His text, from that day’s Gospel, was that a “kingdom divided against itself shall be brought to desolation”. Gently, almost tentatively, and taking care not to absolve priests from blame, he said that all the recent finger-pointing and name-calling had given grave scandal and risked setting back the cause of Catholicism in this country, including a wider use of the traditional form of Mass.
He asked how could we possibly hope to bring about the much-needed conversion of England if we spent so much time arguing among ourselves, and he implored us to think before we opened our mouths, and to pray before we thought – or picked up a pen or switched on our computers. What Fr Harrison was talking about might perhaps be described as the tabloidisation of the Church. The Pope touched on it in his recent apology over the mishandling of the SSPX case. “At times,” said the Holy Father, “one gets the impression that our society needs to have at least one group to which no tolerance may be shown; which one can easily attack and hate.” Actually, as the Pope will know, one group is never enough. Society has instable appetites, and it is always feeding time at the zoo. Journalists and politicians never tire of creating hate figures, people to blame, because public outrage sells newspapers and wins votes.
If it’s not dodgy Lefebvrists we are invited to hate, it’s paedophiles, and if it’s not paedophiles, it’s bankers, or social workers, or immigrants, or the “politically correct”, or neocons, or single mums, or Brussels bureaucrats, or, until the tabloids were overcome by guilt, Jade Goody (RIP).
My wife says she is suffering from “outrage fatigue”. Perhaps she has spent too much time listening to my howlings. But I do hope that I/we can listen to the Pope – and to Fr Harrison. There is much to be said for thinking before you open your mouth, and praying before you think, and for leaving moral grandstanding to the tabloids.
Alot of people have been saying in the wake of the Pope’s so-called condoms “gaffe” last week that what the Church needs above all else is a media-savvy Vatican. Oh, really? Many of us would believe that PR should be left where it belongs, with the Father of Lies.
What Benedict said about condoms was regarded by most respectable people – by one’s friends and neighbours, by workmates and drinking companions, perhaps even by people one has exchanged the sign of peace with at Mass – as being almost criminally insane.
No amount of smart PR could have changed that. You cannot get a good press if you are faithful to Catholic teaching on human sexuality. The one thing that everyone agrees on is that sex is just good clean fun. Last week, however, the Pope reminded the world that, so far as the Church is concerned, sex is not just good clean fun (even if it is fun); that it has a God-ordained, lifeand love-affirming purpose; that artificial means of contraception frustrate this purpose, and are objectively wrong; and that condoms will not anyway overcome the scourge of Aids and may even help spread it.
The last bit ought to be easy to grasp, since no sane person believes that there is, or ever was, such a thing as safe sex, but the rest of the teaching is not only hard but challenges the most deeply held beliefs of secular man. That’s why the Pope was universally denounced, and why Spain – Spain – immediately announced that it was sending a million condoms to Africa.
To much of the world the Pope is Papa Nazi; to liberal Catholics he is a dangerous obscurantist; to the fiercer traditionalists he is a borderline modernist. To the rest of us, though, he is a shepherd, the most intellectually distinguished Pope of modern times, a nuanced absolutist who makes the Faith both attractive and doable. He is the man.
Good list of 100 top films last week, but I think there were four important omissions: Scrooge (Alister Sim at his finest), The Sweet Smell of Success (Tony Curtis, Burt Lancaster and New York in grimy black and white and at the top of their games), Apocalypse Now (“Charlie don’t surf” is a cliché, but none the worse for that), and Citizen Kane (just because film buffs like it does not mean it’s all bad).