Monday, 10 December 2007

Westminster again

I have to say that I am a dissenter from the clamour for a religious as the next Archbishop of Westminster. Dom Hugh of Pluscarden has had his name much mentioned — except by those who know him well, which is significant. For a job of such varied responsibilities and national (if not international) importance, mere orthodoxy and holiness are not enough. There are other gifts such as eloquence, prudence, the ability to govern and inspire others. A knowledge of how a diocese works is very important—Cardinal Hume, for all his virtues, largely left the running of the diocese to the area bishops, and was not popular with his priests.
Whoever is appointed is going to have to be a very hard worker who can really get among his priests to revivify parish life. He will need to tackle the seminaries both at Rome and in London, and he will need to do battle with the schools to make them Catholic again.
For instance, on the last topic, I would estimate that I have in my parish about six or seven admirable practising Catholics who teach in non-Catholic secondary schools. They have tried and failed to get jobs in Catholic schools, and so have given up. Meanwhile, our local Catholic secondary schools are packed with lapsed and non-Catholic teachers. I have been told bluntly by a school, when I asked, that selection is simply made on the teacher's teaching ability; their faith is, to all intents and purposes, irrelevant. I do not believe that my parish is the only one in this position. It will take a bishop, and preferably the next Archbishop of Westminster, to take a lead on this. Thank God that the Bishop of Lancaster has made a start!
Some seminaries are almost a joke. In Rome, the student body is almost to a man orthodox to traditional. And the staff are still running the place like a seventies base community, despairing to each other and to whoever will listen about how impossible the modern student is. Allen Hall, I am told, is somewhat better. At Wonersh, the staff are largely doctrinally orthodox, but the practice and life at both places still remains firmly in the seventies, which is to say, Theological College style rather than Seminary.
And then there is the morale of the clergy; hit from every side. The Bishops have shrugged off onto their priests the entire blame and responsibility for the appalling child abuse debacle, and salved their own consciences and reputations by making the priests jump through hoops that make pastoral ministry very difficult (just try talking to a child now without its mother being present). They refuse to bring priests in from Poland to ease our workload, in case they also bring Catholicism with their luggage. In my diocese, two young and active priests are employed full-time doing, it seems, very little, while I and others have to run around like headless chickens trying to administer multiple parishes. The only thing to get the bishops really worked up is preventing priests celebrating according to the Extraordinary form.

I'd better stop here, or I'm going to go on for hours………

Anyway, that's why I think that what Westminster needs is somebody entirely new, and promoted from the diocesan clergy, not a religious who has no experience of these matters. I have some good ideas about one or two who might be just ideal for the job, but I'll spare their blushes.


gemoftheocean said...

Dear Fr. J. -- I wish, too, that the pope would start looking to the guys who actually work *in the trenches* to be part of the solution.

It's a similar situation in the US - too often the "old boy network" -- Joe with Connections gets tapped to study and Rome, whiz bang becomes the bishop's secretary, and all along is sheltered from the day to day reality of priests working in parishes who have to deal pastorally with keeping their flocks on both an even course to orthodox faith AND the issues of "Mrs. Murphy lost her job, her husband and has to pay the electric bill or her kids will be in the cold and dark by Friday" and "Mr. Smith" whose son committed suicide unexpectedly, and Mr & Mrs. Jones who have 3 children and Suzie Smith whose boyfriend left her pregnant, and John Brown who shows up cold and hungry with nowhere to go, and Jan Stivec who speaks only Polish, but needs the sacraments....

God bless those in cloisters who keeps the prayers going day and night -- and the paperpushers in the chancery serve some purpose too -- but there's something special about the man who labors in the vineyard, sometimes quite without support who deals with the nitty gritty every day in a concrete way.
They're like the rifle companies in teh army. Always on the front line, with seldom a breather to the rear trenches.

These are the fellows who have a real grasp of what the church is like today.


Augustinus said...

I agree with everything you say, Father.

Just a couple of points; firstly, I can relate wholly to the situation you describe regarding sound, practicising Catholic teachers employed in non-Catholic schools. I have a friend (a convert some years after becoming a teacher) in exactly that position. Applications have been summarily re-buffed because he did not have the Catholic Teachers' Certificate. Laudable in its own way, but it doesn't really give any clue as to a person's Catholic credentials - and, indeed, cannot nowadays, since one does not even have to be a Catholic to do the Course. He didn't even reach the stage of having an application examined. His expertise is more than recognised within the non-Catholic secondary arena where he is now a very successful Head.

Secondly, have you been able to put your well-considered thoughts on the type of person needed for Westminster (and the names of suitable candidates) to the Congregation for Bishops (going via the Nuncio is a pointless exercise)? I do hope that has been possible.

Josephus Muris Saliensis said...

I must agree with Fr Justin, the trouble with Benedictines (if they are good and deemed episcopabile) is that their understanding of obedience is far away from what is needed in a diocese, this was George Basil's problem – an abbot expects to receive obedience, and understands that his priest have a given structure for their support. A diocese is different, obedience cannot be taken as read, and many priests feel desperately isolated.

There are, indeed, several suitable candidates among the parish clergy, some of whom even fulfill the canonical norm of a doctorate (unlike most of the episcopal club!) Let us hope this generation gets a chance, unlike the overlooked previous generation.

Above all, though, not yet another candidate from The Club!

Ttony said...

... but not necessarily from the Westminster diocesan clergy. The A of W is more than just a diocesan Bishop.

leutgeb said...

The Catholic Teacher thing. There are loads of Catholic teachers around not teaching in Catholic schools.

I've taught in them (12 years)and been interviewed in many. They have not been very enthusiastic about me, with the exception of the Head of my first school.

Apply for a job in a grammar school or the independent sector and suddenly people think you are great. I was educated in a Catholic Primary school and a Catholic Comprehensive and everything.

As a friend of mine said when non-Catholics were complaining about a so-called Catholic mafia. 'How do I join?' Beats me.

It's not the government we need to worry about. It is, as you say, the lapsed Catholics etc on the inside. To think of how good they could be and the efforts people made in the past to build them. Too sad.

Anonymous said...

I think ideologists on a number of Diocesan Schools' Commissions has a lot to do with it. And the title 'Fr' or 'Sr' before a member's name is no guarantee of Catholic orthodoxy.

Dr. Peter H. Wright said...

Yes, Ttony has put his finger on it.
The Archbishopric of Westminster is rather different from the "average" bishopric.

Josephus in his comment is quite right about the qualities needed in a bishop.

Indeed, it would be very nice to see more bishops with such qualities.

I hope it goes without saying that the Archbishop of Westminster too should possess these qualities.

Like it or not, however, the criteria for a good diocesan bishop are not sufficient for the Archbishop of Westminster.

We have seen prayerful and holy men appointed to Westminster who, lacking other attributes, have proved unequal to the job.

And, these days, it is a high profile and very public position.

Whoever is appointed, I don't envy him !

Josephus Muris Saliensis said...

This post brings out he point of how fragmented our Catholic life is today, people box up their faith (including bishops), and don't let it pervade their entire existence, so you can nowadays "switch-off" your faith, without thinking you are a bad Catholic, or indeed not really one at all.

Leutgeb makes this clear in schools, it is exactly the same argument as Catholic hospitals, which have recently been debated, at, among other places.

Until we learn to be Catholic in everything we do, home, office, down the pub, playing sport, as well as on Sunday, we shall never overcome this malaise. The sad thing is that this liberal spirit is so all-pervading that we get the bishops we deserve, rather than the ones we need.