Cardinal Heenan's ecumenism
YOUR EMINENCE, Fathers and Brethren, it is at once a great and daunting privilege to inaugurate a series of lectures in memory of John Carmel, Cardinal Heenan. He was for a great many years a much loved fricnd to me, and when we differed we differed only in opinion, as Carlyle once said on returning from a country walk with Sterling.
One of the loveliest days I remember was a day spent with him in his country refuge at Hare Street — happy, relaxed, away from his cares and worries and reminiscing about his early days as a parish priest.
I always thought of him as a priest and a pastor through and through, and I think it was the priest and pastor in him which was at the soul of his service to the ecumenical cause and determined the character of that service.
He was not, I think, very interested in the new emphases in theology which were to become prominent in ecumenical dialogue, but he cared deeply that those who belonged to Christ should be in charity, friendship and practical brotherhood.
It was a priest's devotion to Christ and a priest's compassion which led him to wish to end the chilly isolationism which had Ion g bedevilled Church relations in this country. It was indeed before his translation to Westminster, and before the Second Vatican'Council began, that Archbishop Heenan, as a vice-president of the Vatican Secretariat for Unity set out to promote his ideas amongst his fellowChristians in this country. His ecumenism was not derived from Vatican 11, nor do I think that Vatican II deeply influenced it. Perhaps this explains both its strength and its limits.
Firmly traditionalist in his devotion to the Holy See, and realistic about those divisions which were part and parcel of the English scene, he distrusted dialogue between Anglicans and Catholics on the Continent of Europe.
He felt that Catholics on the Continent most often failed to understand the Church of England and erroneously supposed that all Anglican laymen were like the second Viscount Halifax and all Anglican bishops were like Charles Gore and Walter Frere.
To the end of his life he spoke critically of what he called Continental interference, and he felt that in the Malines Conversations it had been wrong of Cardinal Mercier to bypass Cardinal Bourne of Westminster.
Indeed, he once said that the Malines Conversations had been "of no more than cautionary value." No, he said, let the initiatives in charity, in brotherhood and in dialogue be taken between Catholics and Anglicans on the soil of England.
This had, of course, been virtually impossible so long as even social hospitality between Church leaders had been frowned upon as suggesting "indifferentism."
It was in this area of practical fraternity that Heenan, from the beginning of the sixties, did so much to enable the breakthrough and to carry this along with him. And he did this with a warmth of heart and a simplicity of conviction that to be a Christian is to belong to Christ.
So it was that while he was still Archbishop of Liverpool he said to a large gathering in Northern Ireland, at which both Catholics and Protestants were present: "You are all brothers in Christ. Remember that being a Christian is more important than being a Catholic or a Protestant."
There was a storm of. protest, and a mist of incomprehension. Here was indifferentism indeed! And when Heenan came to Westminster mine was not the only heart that was touched when, at his enthronement in the Cathedral, he said that the word Pontiff meant "pontifex" and "pontifex" meant builder of bridges, and he wanted to have a bridge across to Lambeth, where, he said, "a dear friend lives."
And how the scene changed! It is hard to remember the old frustrations. We who are Anglicans and Roman Catholics come and go, we join together with, we are found in each other's pews and pulpits and lecture rooms and we enjoy one another as Christians. But how little there was of this before the sixties and how great is history's debt to John Carmel Heenan.
When the Second Vatican Council set about its work, Car dinal Heenan, as he was soon to become, rejoiced in the renewal of the Church and in the new provisien for fraternity with the separated brethren.
But I doubt whether he cared • deeply about the new trends in theological emphasis or about the implications for ecclesiology of the ecumenical recommendations.
And as time passed I suspect that in his heart of hearts he was a bit suspicious of the lines of thought which were behind the Anglican-Roman Catholic
reports on Eucharist and Ministry and he did not warm to any revival of the Malines concept of L'EgIlse Anglicaine Link, non absorbee.
He used to say that to declare some doctrines to be more im portant than others does not imply that any of them are dispensible.
As the years passed the traditionalist part of his character seemed to be tinted with his distress at times of confusion, radicalism and indiscipline in his own flock in the stormy sixties. He was saddened, contending as he was with recurring illness which he faced with wonderful courage.
In the perspective of history his lead in the earlier phase of ecumenism will not be forgotten, nor his deep devotion to the God of Righteousness and Compassion in whose service he lived and died.'