Pl:RSONALLY I like watching eligious controversy. I do not like taking part in it. The comparison with a football hooligan will at once spring to the gentle reader's mind.
It is true that controversy among Catholics can be saddening and curiously, stubbornly dishonest. fhe correspondenec cage in the Catholic Herald is not all good, ch. an fun. But flashes of 16th and 17th cealury anger are always interesting and revealing, and evidence that Soule really do still care. That some of them seem eccentric only adds to the gaiety of God's surviving people. We have had a flash of the old fervour over the last week or so, The Prince of Wales made a graceful speech designed to please the Salvation Army, (George Orwell, who had received their charity in his time, hated them as much as he distrusted the Catholic Church.)
It was not a scholarly address. He made several points which would cause the raising of delicate theological eyebrows. He also praised the Salvation Army for their lack of dogma, which was odd since they can be very dogmatic indeed about such things as hell fire. They are also highly disciplined in their marriage Customs, and Army hiembers are meant only to marry other Army members. Unfelt tunately his praise was taken as referring to the Pope's refusal of a church wedding to his cousin, Princc Michael. And I suppose this fact must have been lurking in his subconscious. So the Archbishop of ilasgow fired a splendid old azzle-loaded cannon at him and the controversy began. Clifford Langley, of The limes, quoted someone as saying that anti-Catholicism is the iesidual religion of the English. I think he must be right, for certainly some very old opinions rose from the dead. In the columns of The Times and The Daily Telegraph there was some really virulent antiCatholicism, arid it did not come from Northern Ireland. Once again the Papacy was referred to as a foreign power, and one good Catholic lady proudly wrote in to say that she was ashamed to be a Catholic.
There were the usual attacks on the Catholic way of nullity, and ,there were wads of ecumenical cotton wool about all the Churches having to do was to stop arguing and get together. Personally I would have thought that most Catholics and many Anglicans were glad to see the known rule applied, and that there was no special privilege for royals. There have in the past been some pretty scandalous dispensations given because the people concerned were rich and of towering importance. The last Dean of the Sacred Rota, the late Cardinal Heard, who was a very Scottish Scotsman, was as dry as the best amontillado. He used to complain that Pius XII would insist on speaking to him in English, and he lived in the Venerable English College in Rome. He would have stood no nonsense at all. But then he had been at Balliol and had rowed in the college boat. the only member or the Sacred College
ever to have done this. Balliol men find no difficulty in saying "Nuto anyone. An Italian, even an American, might be inure difficult.
His red hat used to be kept in a large, round shallow hatbox that was kept in one of the parlours of the college. It looked as if it were made for a giant take-away pizza.
An evil-minded priest tempted me, and I fell. I tried it Or, and One Of the ropes of tassels came away in my hand. We only just got the thing back into its case in time before the Rector came in. I can report that there was no way of keeping these things on your head.
There is a great precedent for saying "No" about royal marriages. Pope Clement VII, who was once besieged for six months in his castle ol Sant' Angelo, and who was highly political, said "No" to Henry VIII -rightly, but probably for the wrong reasons. Perhaps this "No" was the ultimate cause of this most recent "No". If you see what I mean.
Thieves in the belfry
THE GREAT MYSTERY of the art world is where do all the stolen art treasures go? Italian farmers dig up Etruscan tombs. Iranian peasants find marvellous porcelain in graves and they usually break it in the process of extracting it.
Fringe archaeologists steal articles of gold, obsidian and jade. These objects are easily disposed of and sometimes end up in the most respectable museums of the United States, from which it is almost impossible to extract them, The old days of colonial looting are over. Most countries, with the notable exception of Britain, absolutely forbid the export of their national treasures.
Yet all the time you hear of the theft of masterpieces from French museums and Italian churches and Spanish cathedrals. Who buys these well-known works? A large number are recovered by Interpol.
Some are destroyed when the thieves find their loot too hot to handle. Some are bought innocently from spiritually dishonest dealers and disappear from public sight onto the walls of well-heeled private houses. But a huge residue of mystery remains.
In England the private houses of the noble and the rich are the obvious targets. Vast quantities of silver disappear every year. A friend of mine had a carpet stolen from his hall. Even furniture gets taken, and anyone who has been burgled will know the feel of desecration that is left behind. There has been an intolerable invasion of privacy as well as the loss of something treasured.
But now I read that thefts from churches here have reached an unprecedented level. Not only has the present tribeof vandals taken to using these places as adventure playgrounds, but men on the make find them push-overs for robbery.
Of course the wise priest empties his unattended collecting boxes as often as he can in the course even of a day. But some small churches possess the most desirable treasures and most of these are now put away to pray to themselves in bank vaults.
When there is some lovely portable thing, the conscientious journalist hesitates to write about it lest his words act like the kiss of recognition in the Garden of Gethsemane.
Lead from the roof, brass crosses, memorial brasses, medieval helmets, wood grave effigies, pine frontals, even details froni stained glass windows, linen, candlesticks — they all attract a new sort of thieving.
Some weeks ago I complained that at the start of the lyburn Walk, the church opposite the Old Bailey was locked on a Sunday afternoon. St Sepulchre's is an interesting church, and I had expected to spend half an hour looking at it again. 1 wrote that I said, "Bloody Protestants" in my Catholic frustration.
Someone later wrote to me that not only had I used bad language but that with the growth of vandalism and theft to lock an unattended church is now the only prudent thing to do. She was right on both counts.
The Catholic church in Chelsea has had to build a screen across the back of the church, making a sort of secure narthex from which the Sacrament can be visited and which Stops "high-spirited" youngsters pilfering the side chapels. Canon law has long laid down that tabernacles must be both thief and fireproof. Now a company called the Ecclesiastical Insurance Office suggests that parish priests should urgently review their security arrangements. They seem to see no chance of the problem going a Way. They say the best thing is to get expert advice from the police. And they give it free.
New syllabus of errors
THE CLERGY REVIEW is a Catholic trade paper. It is an admirable monthly edited by Fr Michael Richards. He writes good strong leaders from a confident conservative viewpoint.
Last month he lamented three errors common among Catholics. "Three glaring errors of theory and practice are at present fouling up the works of the Church," he wrote.
The first he finds in the idea that Vatican II was an Hegelian antithesis to all that went before, that it was a sort of radical contradiction out of which a new Church will grow. tic sees it as part of the perpetual process of correcting the balance of the Church and that it was the voice of the Church of all time.
The second error he finds is that too many regard the Church as a sect, that it is one limiting tradition among many others and that this view minimises its universality. It offers, in fact, all that the soul can want, not merely a cultural or theological interpretation.
The third he finds in the cornmon mistrust of the clergy. This surprised me, since with Cardinal Heenan I would have said there was no anti-clericalism in this country.
Fr Richards finds the worst of modern anti-clericalism among clerics. But he goes on: "Whether it is revealed in the tediously repetitive giggling of The Catholic Herald or in the damning with faint patronage of The Tablet, anti-clericalism of a silly, snobbish kind certainly exists at the present time.
"I have never met such rudeness anywhere as I have among Catholic claimants to gentlemanship, commenting on one's dress (Roman collar or tie, both equally wrong) or blankly refusing a drink at the bar. (`Not with you, I'm an anticlerical).
"But if it begins to be believed that the Church can only be effective if the clergy are relegated Lu cerena;nial status and kept below stairs, then we shall indeed have lost our grip in priorities.
"Nothing must be put before the service of the Word of God, and those who have been chosen for that service must be given the hearing that will con. tinually challenge them to. speak."
That's telling them. I wonder who was unkind or so rude. And the only giggling in the Catholic Herald is on this page. would prefer to call it an occasional lightheartedness. And I'll certainty buy Fr Richards a drink anywhere. After all, I have done this in the past and hope to do it in the future.
Challenge from the pulpit
THE BEST SORT of religious controversy must'
be learned as well as lusty. A reader sent me a sad and evocative story that must have delighted the Senior Common Rooms of the thirties.
It seems that an undergraduate hiking in a remote part of Oxfordshire went, as Was customary then, to look inside the parish church. He found Evensong in progress and listened to the sermon.
He recognised the preacher as a retired theological don. He was deep in a dialectical challenge to his bucolic congregation. He made his point and went on: "But of course", rang the academic tones, "you will retort with lrenaeus,