THEY say that Brussels
sprouts are all the better for a touch of frost. And so it would seem to be with the teachings of the Church.
Cardinal Heenan charmingly admitted as much during his greatly written about Frost on Friday appearance in the best and biggest of pulpits. Perhaps, he agree(I, he had been even clearer about conscience and the Pill than hitherto, and he added: " didn't have Mr. Frost to help 4atters then."
This noment of humour pointed Iirectly to the significance of the whole encounter. It showed that, difficult though the Church's message may become, repugnant in many ways to much in the spirit of the times, running all too soon into ferul complexities, it can still e put over.
What ft. needs is people able and willing to try to tell the unadorned truth.' Watching Cardinal, Heenan one might have believed that the task was not diffidult. But it is so.
The temptation to nnove into the set terms of theology, and out of the understanding of 1, the maj rity, is enormous. So t.,
is the mptation to wrap the issues iniclouds of pieties. So is the temptation to avoid offence by avoiding the use of plain terms.
Immense credit then to both parties to the interview. David Frost has a knack of asking questions that are at the same time more naive and more searching than the average interviewer's.
His opening shot was typical. No going for the obvious "There is a crisis in your Church. Where do you stand?" Instead, he asked the somewhat unaskable: "What of all the different articles of Catholic belief have you found most difficult . . . to accept?"
And Cardinal Heenan's answer matched the question: "That I personally matter to God." That was putting first things first and no mistake. How many of us. I wonder, said afterwards: "I wish I'd known earlier he was going to be on so that I could have told my agnostic friends to watch."
To let them see that the head of the mysterious and mighty Catholic Church in this country was a man of acute honesty, of unforced humour — hoping he would never become Pope, "but if so I'll be very careful about writing encyclicals"—and of plain, ungrovelling humility would be something to notch up indeed. "He's nice," said my wife. He is.
He has the great gift of never slipping out of talking the language you and I talk. It came out especially when he was asked what sort of a person the Pope is (good question). We got no plaster-saint exaggerations, nor any profilewriter's punditry.
Instead, Cardinal Heenan described Pope Paul's attitude among the poverty-marked crowds of Bombay and said: "It was quite a remarkable thing." That sort of comment one believes.
And let us complete the catalogue by citing his easy frankness. Had he missed the love of woman? But he had had it (thus neatly pointing to a common error).
"You mean," he added, "sexual intercourse, that sort of thing." There was only "if you like, the curiosity. Anyone who hasn't had an experience is always curious about it."
He was equally open about the intimate problems that the Pill inevitably brings into discussion. Nor did he buck a single one of the properly uncompromising questions Mr. Frost, who is no mean man on getting his homework done, put to him.
Only perhaps on that most difficult point, the meaning of "open to life," was he not so much evasive as unable to be as clearly explanatory as one would 'have
And when it came to the linked question of authority he was splendid. Acton's fashionable dictum about power corrupting was squashed like an, over-ripe strawberry, and more was said about what it feels like to wield power than in all the pages of C. P. Snow and all the scripts of John Wilder's progress.
"People who haven't gat authority always imagine that people enjoy the exercise of authority. This is not true. The more sensitive you are the less you like to have to exercise authority over people." And "My experience of power . , . is that it makes you more and more humble. You are ever more tentative in ordering people around. You're always putting yourself in their place."
In 40 minutes, with Mr. Frost's adroit lead, he ranged extraordinarily widely. There was a great deal of good sense on the celibacy of the clergy, forward-looking optimism over "all this marching and protesting and revolting," and acute perception in pinning down our contemporary failng of disguising the unpleasant in a criss-crOss of many-syllabled words.