AFTER BEING a member of a diocesan commission from 196978, and of a national commission from 1976-82, I cannot accept that lay people have been "at the nub of the *system" as Christopher Rails claims, Dec 10. There have been some seventeen commissions at the nub of some of which there may well have been lay people, but I think it quite misleading to suggest that lay people have been at the nub of the whole consultative system as embodied in all seventeen commissions.
Nor can I accept the necessary inference from Rails remarks that the prime purpose of the commissions has been to increase lay participation in the central and national affairs of the Church in England and Wales.
That may well be the objective of one of the more vociferous commissions, the Laity Commission, but it has not been a primary objective of other commissions. Nor should it have been.
The "nub" of the consultative system has been the episcopacy. The role of the laity serving on the commissions, as with the clergy and religious serving on them too, has been a subsidiary one, and it will clearly remain so.
We are an episcopal Church, and those who forget that will inevitably suffer from frustration and cynicism when faced with the canonical realities of episcopal jurisdiction.
So I do not accept that the role of the laity on the commissions has been turned effectively "inside out".
However in view of an increased role in the commission system envisaged for the episcopacy, I do accept that the precise role of those not members of the episcopacy, does give some cause for concern — but one that could be expressed as much by ordinary clergy, and by religious, as by laity.
And yet by having all the episcopal hierarchy involved in the work of the commissions there surely must be some merit which outweighs a certain displacement of clergy, religious, and laity to a more obviously subsidiary role.
But even though the ad hoc advisory bodies to be attached (at least notionally) to each of the episcopal commissions may be more obviously subsidiary, it will be a consultative system whereby clergy, religious, and laity participate by virtue of their expertise.
And it is expertise which is reinstated as the principal criterion of membership, hopefully regardless of whether it belongs to clergy, religious, or laity, male or female.
The belief of many of the clergy, religious, and laity involved in the National Pastoral Congress, that somehow, for the first time ever, they were being actively engaged in effecting a radical reorganisation of responsibilities in the Church in England and Wales, seems to have been born of ignorance of the work of the commissions, and of the 1971 Review Report Commissions — Aid to Pastoral Strategy.
If that strategy had been made to work as intended, then there would have been little need for the 1980 adventure to have been organisationally based on a process that could itself not be sustained for long afterwards.
In the event, the commissions were more or less ignored; they were never given what would have been, their major opportunity to realise a pastoral role, and one more closely structured on episcopal supervision than that which was pursued by the Congress.
Consequently, now that the hierarchy have implied their intention to recover a more comprehensive control over the many areas of concern to the Church, it is not surprising that the commissions should have become presented as virtually having 'taken off' as self-interested syndicates.
The review report offers little analysis as to why the grand strategy of the 1971 review was not implemented more effectively; why, for instance, recommendations 23m to 23p were never really pursued in order to prevent any selfinterestedness becoming overdeveloped in certain cases.
So despite my unequivocal
recognition of the centrality of the episcopacy in the make-up of the Church, J am left, even after so short a consideration as this, doubting whether the review has achieved anything more, or better, than was there, actually or potentially, already.
Certainly I doubt whether any agenda of the Church in England and Wales is going to be as comprehensive as it has been of late under the umbrella of the commission system. I doubt whether there is going to be a sustained application to even those concerns which the bishops identify and give priority to.
I doubt whether the General Secretariat will be able to do much more than cope with its own survival. I doubt whether consultation will ever reach further into England and Wales than the home counties, or the hinterland of Merseyside. And I doubt whether there will be a two-way liaison between dioceses and the commissions that is any more effective than now.
But even with these important doubts, I would utterly oppose any
simplistic or deliberately provocative, reduction of the issues, to one of 'How the bishops planned a kick in the teeth' for the laity.
Paul D Walker Sheffield.
Welcome to new Missal
From Sir John Biggs-Davison MP THE ARRIVAL of the New (Rite) Latin-English Missal is a blessed event. I know of no public welcome so far from our pulpits despite Pope John Paul's recognition, following that of his predecessors and the Second Vatican Council, of a "special obligation towards Latin" and the injunction of our bishops at their Low Week Meeting in 1975 "to see that the Latin Mass in the new rite is encouraged".
Never mind. It is better than the new missal should come not with triumphalist fanfares, not from "publishers to the Holy See", but from the pounds and pennies of run-of-the-pew people led by the Association of Latin Liturgy.
ALL earlier produced a LatinEnglish Ordo Missae with an English "conformable to the long tradition of English liturgical prose" andimore faithful to the Latin than is that of the International Commission on English in the Liturgy. The ALL missal (soon, I hope, to become a Catholic bestseller) reproduces the ICEL text opposite the Latin; so it is also useful for English masses.
May the time come when that bond of unity, Latin, resumes its proper place in the seminaries and the missals of the future contain a worthier English translation such as the Association for English Worship is concerned to supply, free from the theological ambiguities of the ICEL version.
John Blggs-Davison London Si'V I
The Church in China
ONE WELCOMES the interest your newspaper manifests in the situation of the Church in China.
Comparatively little has been known about mainland China during the past 30 years of Communist rule because the Bamboo Curtain has remained inpenetrably closed.
This in itself is a sign of a formidable totalitarianism. Now that China is "opening up", to use a phrase, it is important for us to know whether the information we receive is fact or fiction.
The photograph you published (Nov. 28) of Bishops and seminarians of the newly-opened "Catholic" seminary in Shanghai with the heading "New Seminaries opening in Chinese Catholic resurgence" will be misleading to most of your readers.
The average reader knows where he stands when you write about Archbishop Lefebvre's ordinations or the Church in East European Communist countries, but the situation of the Church in China is much less well known.
The "resurgence" that would normally make one rejoice, is in this case part of the "burden of the Church" and the "anxious care" of both the Pope and the faithful bishops of China.
The Government-organised Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association is not a Church — it does not even call itself a Church. It is an Association.
Furthermore, "Catholicism" is precisely what it repudiates. But while repudiating all that "Catholicism" means, it retains the title, causing the confusion, uncertainty and division of loyalties which should now be very familiar to us as the Communist technique in dealing with its opponents.
The Catholic Church in China or the Chinese Catholic Church is under persecution. The government Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association is flourishing. It is as simple as that.
Your report quotes one of the congregation saying after a Mass at a Patriotic Church, "Thank the Party! And thank God!" This sums up the situation very well.
The order of priority is the Communist Party first and God second until He can be disposed of altogether — this is their declared policy.
We owe it to the suffering members of the Church in China, under persecution and every kind of privation during the past 30 years and up to the present time, a silent Church behind the Bamboo curtain, to support them by our prayer and by doing everything possible to make their situation better known. Miss M J O'Farrell Macan via Hongkong.
Cruelty to Foxes
IN REPLY to M. E. Wilkins, Dec 17, foxhunting is a very closely controlled pursuit. Any hunt found guilty of the sort of abuses cited by Mr Wilkins — "throwing foxes live to the hounds', "cutting their paws", etc. — would be immediately expelled from the Masters of Foxhounds Association, a risk which, apart from any other consideration, none would consider worth taking.
True foxhunters abhor those who shoot and trap foxes, and who thereby often inflicting lingering deaths. The fox suffers infinitely more from farmers, pelt trappers and irresponsible gamekeepers than he does from the hunts. Those who oppose hunting fail to think the issue through. The hunts at once conserve and control. It is my personal evidence 'that in those parts of Britain, where there is no controlled hunting, the fox is almost extinct.
I wonder why it is that we hear so much from the League Against Cruel Sports about hunting with hounds, but nothing about irresponsible fishing.
J N P Watson West Sussex.
The Church and prisons
I SUPPORT your article Mr J Wilson in the issue of "What can the Church do about prisons?" Dec. 3.
It is particularly valuable to know why so many are imprisoned and why they return (underprivileged backgrounds and inadequacy, etc).
The letter brought back to my mind a visit I made to a prison some years ago, and how deeply I was struck by the resemblance of the prisoners I saw to the patients who were living in hospitals for the mentally handicapped.
Both groups would have the disability of some degree of low intelligence and the prison population had probably not been protected and helped and, being unable to cope, had turned to crime.
Hopefully, action to prevent ex-prisoners of this group from returning to prison could be effected by providing simple living conditions, training and work within their capabilities, and always someone known to them that they could turn to in difficulty.
Possibly such provisions could be offered initially within a residential colony. Could not a pilot scheme be started under the auspices of the Church or of the Churches? There should be financial and practical help forthcoming for such a work of mercy.
Dr Constance Myatt
Reorganisation of Schools
THERE IS an inaccuracy about St Thomas More School (Chelsea), in Jonathan Petre's article (Dec 3). We are not one of the three "privileged schools" under the plan, as Fr Michael Hollings is reported to have stated; instead we are one of the other four who feel that they have been discriminated against by being asked to bear 90 per cent of the reorganisation cut back.
The depth of feeling among our staff is shown by a letter signed by over sixty staff members and posted to our Chairman of Governors, with copies to the Bishops of Westminster Diocese, stating that in our view the plan is "unjust to the Catholic community — pupils, parents and staff — of Division I".
At our parents' Association AGM held this week there was unanimous indignation expressed from a crowded hall against the unfairness of the plan to our school, which has been oversubscribed at first entry by loyal and grateful parents for the last three years.
What response our school decides to take officially will be made clearer after a meeting of Staff, Head and Governors on December 13.
It is difficult to support loyally a decision that is so onesided in the sacrifices that it calls for, so weak in its commitment to comprehensive schools, and so unfair to girls' places and to mixed schools in Division one.
J O'Shea Chairman, Reorganisation Committee, St Thomas More School, Cadogan Street
WITH REGARD to your article on G K Chesterton, Oct 8, he was born in 1874 and died in 1936 at the end of an era. Bygone ages cannot be recreated. His "distributive" politics were impracticable in the 1930s and are totally irrelevant to the present scene.
The Liberal Party has always advocated the liberty of the individual and laissez-faire. The deceptively benign economy of the nineteenth century has developed into the evil monolithic selfdestructive multinational edifice of the 20th and all the Liberals can do is dream about putting the clock back.
Naturally we all like the idea of our own individual liberty but no complex society can exist in harmony without regulation.
Personal freedom is a fundamental right but not absolute — it must always be relative to the just rights and freedoms of others.
In such a society today how can a democratic government promote the greatest good of the greatest number without a planned and controlled economy? Quite evidently it cannot.
Tim Beaumont claims that freedom is the dividing line between Liberals and socialists. I say (with all due respect to the Noble Lord) that he should open his eyes and ears.
He might then learn how socialists worldwide are fighting for freedom. Two of his colleagues are prime examples.
Philip Noel-Baker, who died on October 8 and Fenner Brockway, who is still fighting-fit, have each devoted their entire very long lives, travelling all over the world, to the cause of peace and freedom of all its peoples.
In answer to J C Hearn, September 10, I have lived through two world wars, was born in a county town full of class prejucTces and earned my living in the metropolis throughout the 1930s. My intellectual activities embraced GKC and much else besides. My politics were heither inherited nor were they born and nurtured in a "quiet watering-place".
Clam Houlihan. Bournemouth