CATI\IANS may have their critics, but if nothing else were said of them. here are 11.000 business and professional men who in an increasingly pagan age have stood tip to be counted as Catholics.
But the question sometimes asked is what precisely they do? The late Archbishop Downey or Liverpool once answered for them by saying that Catenians minded their own business — and he admired them for it, because they did it quietly and with panache. Catenians themselves say somewhat archly in their pamphlets that they love one another, which after all is what impressed onlookers about the early Christians. They see themselves in line with that tradition.
Certainly their social functions are marked by an unusual warmth and friendliness. At their meetings are .found professional and business men and their like clearly enjoying one another's company; yet you have only to know them to appreciate that this is no mere wining and dining society.
Their friendship is not selfishly pursued. for designedly it is orientated towards concern for others.
Within the congenial atmosphere they create Catenians go quietly about their business of making friends and influencing people. Although not a sodality, they are thoroughly Catholic in all they do, opening their meetings with prayer and frequently centring their celebrations and jubilees on the Mass. So while religious observance is not obtrusive, it is always subtly there.
So, too, is the example they offer one another, Many of them are prominent in their parishes and in organisations dedicated to specific good works, but when they meet as Catenians they come together to relax.
Yet newcomers have only to look and listen to find themselves being quietly influenced into increasing their own commitment to the Church and civic community. There is no overt pressure because that is not how the thing works, though one suspects that under all that informality there is an awareness that even good habits can he catching.
Their relationship with the clergy is intriguing. There is the evident pleasure they find in the company of their priests; yet they remain determined to preserve the exclusively lay character of their association which has neither priest members nor chaplains.
It was Bishop Casartelli, who had so much to do with their foundation, who encoaraged them to act confidently on their own as mature laymen. That was more than 70 years ago, so when the Second Vatican Council published its decree on the laity, it inust have seemed familiar reading to Catenians.
Indeed, it is not untrue to say that with the Decree on the Laity, Rome, in its thinking, at last caught up with Casartelli and the Caternans.
But let us take it a lals. further. because you dig deep, you sense an ambivalence in their attitude when they conic to thebishops. Again there are the warm personal relationships — but with the hierarchy, the corporate "bench of bishops" as such, it is something different. With them, Catenians tend to be a little leery.
Perhaps it goes back to the 1920s when they were inveigled into launching a joint appeal with the bishops on behalf of the Beda College in Rome — and then left holding the baby.
Or. again, in the .1960s. when they agreed to sponsor a scheme which ultimately would have involved the expenditure of £2,000,000 in providing chaplaincies for the universities of England and Wales. only for the hierarchy to renege at the very moment the project was to be launched.
Or perhaps Catenians still remember how the excellent report they prepared on the then provisional Ecclesiastical Cornmissions was studiously ignored by the bishops, although much praised elsewhere in ecclesiastical
ell-, I L.s. Ma) be they have reason to be sceptical of the reality behind the facade of consultation which the commissions represent.
And today, what are the issues facing the association? As ever there is tension between those who would develop the association's public role and those who are more concerned to preserve their fellowship as a haven where active Catholic men can relax in the compaoy of their fellows.
For some members the deterioration in the moral standards of the country constitutes a challenge 'v,.hich they feel demands a positive and public reaction from a responsible body of Catholic men. Others would view with alarm any move to force the association as such into the public arena.
The issue is not down for discussion at their Eastbourne conference, but when it is faced, and no matter which way the decision goes, Catenians will be united in their resolve to preserve the social character of their fellowship. Even when they are serious, Catenians are very relaxed people.