THIS IS, of course, the silly season when MPs are pursuing their researches in Monte Carlo and Trades Union officials are on the Costa Brava.
So there is a dearth of news and the newspapers scrape the burntout bottoms of their professional pans and all manner of strange things emerge. Usually they are rather fun. One. this time, has been nasty.
This is the story of the wretched rector who had a sparrow shot in the roof timber of his church because its clearly furious or terrified chirping was interfering with a BBC recording of a guitar recital.
And you cannot have serious music with coughing or other animal noises attached. Ile got his son to shoot it with an air gun. Good shot!
And the mass media have turned the world black around him. He is even going to see his bishop about it. Ile has been murdered alive to make a headline and to please a minority with its priorities wrong. But the hypocricy of it all! It's oneof those odious examples of 13ritish selective compassion, one of those dreadful fits of minor morality that afflict this gently amoral nation from time to time with, of course. no inconvenience to themselves.
Our compassion does not extend to inedible fish yanked out of ponds with barbed steel in their mouths by an honest British working man. There is no feeling for the death watch beetle, a lively little fellow who taps out his indecent messages with his head in the ancient woodwork and then is exterminated at glorious expense by chemical warfare.
There is no benefit of clergy for church mice. Saints who cultivate their body vermin are thought a bit off. Now some fanatics are going to try to stop grouse shooting and the whole animal kingdom racket is becoming as bullyingly intolerable and intolerant as the anti-tobacco lobby.
And I do not smoke, not even the most expensive cigars. And I indulge in no blood sports more violent than smacking mosquitos.
All birds die, some terribly in the paws of cats. some in my water tank, some of cold and starvation, some at the round and open end of the indiscriminating guns of Italian sportsmen.
It is true that God observed the fall of a sparrow, but he jolly well does not stop it falling. And indeed there is a great mystery about where — except wpen young and into my water tank — do all the old sparrows go. Birds are not kind to other birds and it is no good being anthropocentric about it.
Sparrows persecute other sparrows, thrushes persecute sparrows (never mind what they do to snails), and robins are proper little beasts. I prefer the sound of distant lawn mowers to that of the maudlin cooing of ring doves — alas, a protected species.
But all this fuss about a sparrow which would have died a lingering death anyway of his enclosure!
No-one as far as I can recall expostulated when Queen Victoria complained about the sparrows on the trees inside the Crystal Palace before the opening of the Great Exhibition.
You couldn't shoot them, for people in glass houses cannot lire guns. The Duke of Wellington's most famous remark was, "Try' hawks, Ma'am." Much better than "Up guards and at 'em", which caused many more deaths. The publicity given to the recent shooting down of a priest at his altar in El Salvador was far, far less reported than the silly season death of this sparrow.
Of course it is good that people should mind. But it is surely wrong that they should get a sort of moral kick out of their high minded indignation.
'My compassion is all for the persecuted rector. To be at the receiving end of such publicity is a terrible thing, even if you only think that the story itself makes an amusing "good read" in the silly season.
Some local journalist with a heady eye for the soft insides of his fellow citizens must have done well out of the affair. The best things in the world in the wrong places can become evils, See Chesterton throughout.
Anglicans in Lourdes
There are many levels upon which we can build a relationship with our separated brethren. Not all of them are honest or Christian or charitable or humble.
The basic one is that we are right and they are wrong. The current one is that they arc as honest as we are and deserve every courtesy and concession that we can make within the limits of our doctrines and our honourable disagreements. Or we could loosen our faith so that it could embrace theirs. Or they could loosen some of their's — like, for example, the 39 articles.
But I think most people think that for the moment we have gone just about as far a.s we can go. Yet I had an experience in Lourdes that gave me a slightly new viewpoint. The Observer sent me there and booked me onto a largely Anglican pilgrimage and I lived with them for nearly a week.
There were a few Catholics, but they were quiet people. The others varied from a young man in a leather jacket with spikey hair, an earring and a guitar to some formidable ladies with strong and rather peculiar views about the "Church of Rome''.
The enchanting retired bishop. a former suffragan of Exeter, the various clergy who would very definitely describe themselves as Catholic. though not Roman, could not have been easier, On the very first day they had arranged a Eucharist in the Cathedral of Boulogne. The cathedral is a massive classical structure with a statute of Our Lady of Walsingham in a place of honour. Some Free French priest had brought it back from his wartime exile.
The Anglican Mass was said in a room chapel next to the sacristy. I rather think they lent the bishop a mitre and certainly the French are a good deal less
rigid than we are in such matters. They used our vernacular rite with Canon II. Only the
occasional gesture betrayed the fact that the celebrants were not of the Roman obedience. And most of the Roman Catholics — I've got myself into a proper muddle of nomenclature, but it is unavoidable — went to Communion as well.
Later I explained that I could not take part in such occasions and it felt rather an ungracious thing to have to do because the intensity of their prayer and faith was quite unmistakable.
True. they tended to be the sort of Anglican called High, but there was nothing spikey or theatrical or affected about their devotions. They sank quite naturally into Lourdes. Each day they would have their own Mass in some place appointed by an ubiquitous brother who liaises with English pilgrims and has an electric kettle in his office and a box of tea bags so that fainting island pilgrims can help themselves. They were leant a couple of confessionals. They *never pretended to be anything but Anglican, but their protests went largely unheeded. They, especially the bishop, were asked to bless medals like mad. And they did.
They attended the great international Masses in the huge underground basilica and many took the proffered Communion. They attended the blessing of the sick in the afternoon and walked in procession with candles in the evening and knelt and prayed at the grotto. One even got involved in the mass concelebration of the Mass there and there was no way out of it for him.
I confess that I was not shocked and after the first encounter in the Boulogne chapel neither sur
prised liot upset. It was all done with a sort Of gentle, uninsistent courtesy. I could not have been with a more pleasant bunch of pilgrims and I do not mix easily.
When we did talk about religion it was done with courtesy and, really, without controversy. There was so little to disagree on.
The nearest to a rudery came from me when I burst out, "Well, why don'i you join the Church?" But they believed in the validity of their mission.
It was an odd thing to bring hack from Lourdes and perhaps not a bad one — this heightened respect and affection for the Eeclesia Anglicona.
Tough nut in Canada
TORONTO is not my absolutely favourite city in the world. It is on the St Lawrence but its waterfront is a mess and its centre has a hard working protestant ethical sort of atmosphere to it.
The drinking there is deep and to the point. Its people are hospitable and independent. Its journalism, like a great deal ot Canadian journalism, is most plain and splendid and could teach some of the English showoffs (1 know, I know), a great deal about supressing their egos and getting on with the Job.
Someone, and I cannot find who, has sent me a long cutting from the Toronto Star by Tom Harpur. It tells you everything. It is about their new Cardinal who looks like the Cardinal Archbishop of Armagh which means he looks a pretty tough nut.
There are about a million Catholics in Toronto and he is their second Cardinal. In fact for the 10 million Catholics in Canada there are four Cardinals which is a generous allotment.
The new man is Gerald Emmett Cardinal Carter and he does not look as if he would be safe to mug on the London underground even though he is 67.
The other Eminences are Cardinal Flahiff of Winnipeg who is within a few months of retirement. There is Paul-Emile Cardinal Leger who was of Montreal and packed it all in for political reasons and sent off to Africa to help look after lepers. He is now in virtual retirement.
I once asked the Canadian authorities who were, for some reason, my hosts to lay on an Interview with "the Cardinal". 'they. however, sent me to Maurice Cardinal Roy of Quebec which goes to show that you must be specific about your cardinals.
Leger was a dominating figure. Roy, who is also due to retire, was not and could not imagine why I had come to interview him.
The new Cardinal is a great one with the press and young people. He has earned five university degrees. He was a bishop at 47. He is regarded as "dominant but not domineering."
In fact in the just over a year he has been in sturdy, no-nonsense Toronto, he has made over a hundred clerical moves. He sends priests from rich parishes to poor ones and vice versa.
And he has made clerical enemies. Indeed the Toronto Globe reporter wrote that "many priests dislike his intestines".
He has a flair for publicity. He once ordained three bishops at once, not in a cathedral but in a convention centre. He is conservative in dogma.
He approves of the great ceremonials of the Church for the sake of the laity. And indeed he has been accused of liking pomps and ceremonies.
It is worth recording all this because he will soon be the virtual head of the Canadian Church and he believes in the papal devolution of authority to local bishops. Remember? It used to be called collegiality.
It is worth recording because Canada, without being a great power, has developed one of the most authentic and moral voices in international relations.
She is one of the few Western voices the Third World cannot automatically reject as neocolonial or worse. She has been generous and patently on the side of peace.
And she does not seem to expect to be thanked. She does not parade her tattered morality as Britian does, nor pretend her power is unselfish as do the Americans. And her history is reasonably clean. In the past, torn between the American and the British connection, her image has been blurred. That is changing fast. This other, clearer and more convincing Carter, is going to be a part of our world life.