1S H OP CASHMAN of Arundel and Brighton caused quite a stir last week when he issued a forthright state ment declaring his disapproval of the activities of a group of priests including some from his own diocese.
The priests had set themselves up as an association "to combat and refute the neo-modernism which is eating at the very vitals of the Church and destroying the faith of the people of our country."
Now why did Bishop Cashman issue that statement? Was it because he is a hot-headed radical and hd saw a reactionary plot behind the quaint language ofi the new association's m nifesto?
I doubt if His Lordship would relish that description of himself, for he is known to be happiest with a foot and a half safely inside the more conservative camp of the British hierarchy.
His action could be interpreted as one of the first signs that the free-forall that has raged since the Vatican Council is coming tO an end. Bishop CashMan has publicly acknowledged that the pressuregr o up mentality . can 4hieve only one thing: a Ties of factions all think
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ing that they are the one, true Catholic Church.
The new priests' assocition claims that it is "neither Right-wing, Leftwing or Centre of the road." In fact, the past activities of its members— including an unproved charge of heresy brought by two of them against a seminary professor — put them as far out on the Right as Slant is on the Left.
Most reasonable Catholics could readily agree with much of what the association's secting secretary, Fr. John Flanagan, says. But it is the hint of a heresy hunt that has frightened many people. Perhaps Bishop Cashman's statement is already having its effects. In a letter to the CATIIOLIC HERATD this week, Fr.
Flanagan avoids the association's previous obsession with neo-modernism —in fact. the word does not occur except in the heading to the letter—and concentrates largely on their intentions of imparting "knowledge of week to week Papal pronouncements, which seldom if ever get into the Catholic Press."
Fr. Flanagan. who denies that his association is a pressure group, does not refer to Bishop Cashman's statement, only to "criticisms of the association from certain clergy" and then misquotes one of these criticisms, turning it into a qualified approval rather than a disapproval of his association.
But where the new association does or does not stand in Church politics is not to the point. What is to the point is that this association is yet another obstruction to direct people's attention away from the work which the Vatican Council started.
Fr. Edward Thomas of the Brentwood diocese voiced the fears of many priests when he said: "I think the suggestion this group is making is an insult to normal priests and lay people. It is lamentable that in this country we have got to get a pressure group going to ginger up priests to keep their faith."
But that's it, isn't it? Nobody seems to think much of the ordinary Catholic priest or layman. whether it's a group of priests suggesting we are all losing our faith or a radical theorist thumping us over the head for not giving enough to the starving millions.
R. KEVIN O'BRIEN, Superior of the Catholic Missionary Society, gives his verdict on Catho lies today. "Far from being disturbed by all the discussion and change in the Church they are, in fact, leading better lives than ever before," he says.
Bishop Cashman agreed with that opinion when read it to him. "I just wish those who knock ordinary Catholics would come round my diocese with me," he said. "They would then see the vitality and joy of the Christian of today."
And hunt as they will the Catholic societies have failed so far to come up with the evidence that the Job's comforters need to substantiate their claims.
Mr, Philip Scott, Supreme Knight of the Knights of St. Columba, says: "In my opinion the recent changes in the Church have brought about a sense of reality and have emphasised how important and essential our Catholic faith is in our daily lives.
"Both young and old have been jolted out of the rather routine pattern. We are now compelled to be on our toes when we go to Church and to take an active part in Services. We also have the opportunity to express our views and to give full co-operation to the hierarchy and the gyai F from undermining the faith of the laity, I consider the recent changes have given Catholics in this country the opportunity to carry out personal re-assessment of their faith. Certainly in my contact with our members I have not found any evidence that their faith is being undermined."
HE first people to feel the draught of an undermining of faith would be the Catholic family. Mrs. Agnes O'Driscoll, President of the Union of Catholic Mothers, says that some of her members are puzzled and some are even worried.
"But I think the liturgy has made everyone more aware of their faith," she says, "and even those who do not approve of the changes wholeheartedly feel more personally involved."
Are young people finding it more difficult to hang on to their faith? Mgr. Bruce Kent, Chaplain to London University. says: "The dangers of generalisation are obvious, but my impression is that younger people welcome the new openness in the Church and especially the form of the present liturgy." Mgr. Kent thinks that older people are sometimes anxious. "Difficulties in faith are experienced in particular by those who have lived through the days of an exact answer to every question," he says. "But Church history should be a great solace to those so troubled."
People who see the Catholic Church in England as a maturing body of Christians claim that they are not eyeing the scene through rose coloured spectacles. Their optimism, they contend, can be backed up by some impressive evidence.
Mass attendance shows an impressive increase over the past six years, the sales of religious books have rocketed, more people are aware of their responsibility for those less fortunate and they now give more money for overseas development, stati St i c s show that the new liturgy has been widely welcomed. AND are those who think the Church has had enough of the lobbies of the Right and the Left and the Middle-of-the-Road advocating a return to the bad old days of authoritarianism? Nothing of the sort. Their point is that for the first time in centuries Catholics today have every opportunity to be heard through the ordinary ecclesiastical channels.
One bishop said to me this week.: "We have set up pastoral councils, priests' councils. parish councils and done everything possible to make communications easier yet still these people find it necessary to start their own organisations to put forward their case. Why don't they take advantage of the very machinery that exists for this purpose?" Because they are so engrossed in promoting their own cause the lobby leaders of all shades of opinion have no idea of the difficulties they create for the people concerned in the ordinary work of the parish.
"We try hard to show Christ to the world by helping people and all the time the theorists are telling us either that the Church is cracking up or that we are not real Christians because we are not demonstrating against the war in Vietnam," one young woman said to rue.
"Why on earth don't they come down here and get on with the job instead of throwing up their hands in horror all the time? My generation has fifty years' work for the Church ahead of it. If they leave us any Church to work for, that is.
"Never before has there been room for a more varied cross-section of opinion within the Church. If these opinions sometimes clash sharply the answer is not to fire defensive shots from behind one's own little barricade. The answer is to get out there in the middle and thrash it out. That's what freedom means."