It) Chronicle WHAT IS the Catholic Press for? Or, as A. P. Herbert might have put it, "Why is the Catholic Press?"
Your new Editor has generously allowed a former Editor ofThe Universe to tackle this question and, in so doing, to trample unrestricted over the extensive sovereign territory of the great and, alas, inimitable Patrick O'Donovan.
How much we wished we had him at The Universe, and how much we wish him better health and a freshly-sharpened pencil!
Having once visited Patrick and his charming wife at their cottage in Alresford, near Winchester, I can reveal that Patrick writes this column with a knobbly pencil in a large and incredibly untidy hand on lined sheets from a tear-off notepad.
One line of his uncafligraphy occupies three or four lines on each sheet and, by the time he has finished his 2.000 words, a couple of notepads have been used up.
Patrick at work is a fine illustration of the adage that effortless style demands effort.
His weekly chapter of polished, laughing. stained-glass thunder is the product of many hours of blood, toil. tears and sweat. That is why he reads so well.
Your Editor, in his affable way, has asked me to take a look at the Catholic press and its purpose.
Apart from the big two (the Universe and Herald). there is a host of small-circulation publications, nearly all of which are stocked by the excellent Catholic Central Library in Francis Street, Westminster, just behind the Cathedral, where Friendly and erudite Franciscans
will turn up any reference. however obscure, in a matter of minutes.
The Library's large publications rack is proof that no Catholic need be without reading matter. For the literati there is The Tablet. For the theologically highbrow, there are The Month, New Blackfriars, Concilium and a multitude of others.
Not being a theologian. I cannot make head or tail of most of these. but the Clergy Review has a way of tackling theological questions in a way that the interested layman can understand.
For a progressive and very well-informed view of Christian social teaching. particularly as it applies to the poorer countries of the world, Christian Order is first-class, though it is very oldfashioned on other matters.
For an official notice-board, there is the weekly English edition of Osservatore Romano, published by the Holy See. Our own Catholic Information Services, from darkest Abbots Langley, publish a regular Briefing on what the hierarchy and its commissions are up to.
And, of course, for those who like a laugh there is Not the Church Times. written by half a dozen Church of England clergymen and assembled by yours truly.
Present indications from our suppliers are that the entire run of 40,000 copies has sold out. If this is the case, our little ecumenical venture will have raised more than £2,000 for various children's charities.
But I must apologise to those regular readers of the Church Times whose newsagents, not noticing the difference, sent them Not the Church Times by mistake.
AS ST PAUL so very nearly said, "accuracy, brevity, clarity, abideth these three; and the greatest of these is clarity," The first duty of the Catholic press is to report accurately, briefly and, above all, clearly on what is happening in the Church and the world.
At The Universe I made it a rule that pseudo-theological claptrap was not allowed.
To illustrate this depressingly foggy style of gas board language, the following graffito appeared some years ago on a wall at St John's University in New York: "And Jesus said unto them, Whom do ye say that I am? They answered and said, Thou art the eschatological manifestation of the ground of our being, the kerygma of which we derive the ultimate meaning in our inter personal relationships.
"And Jesus said, What'?"
But simply reporting is not enough. In-depth examination is called for.
Poland, for instance. Since last weekend the radio and television have breathlessly reported each new development as the story has unfolded.
But the job of the Press is to enquire more deeply into those aspects of the story which are important and would otherwise be overlooked.
For example, there is the problem of Poland's foreign debts, which now amount to some $27,000 million (£14,516 million) of which $2,000m (f 1.075 million) is owed to the United Kingdom.
The British Government holds about half the debt, largely in the form of export credit guarantees, and the remainder is held by the banks as commercial debt.
The Government has recently announced that it is willing to extend the due date for repayment of that part of Poland's debts to it which fall due for repayment this year, but the banks are not prepared to reschedule their proportion of the debt because Poland has not yet paid the interest due on her loans to them.
Two considerations arise Poland in particular and the Soviet bloc in general must be regarded From now on as Third World countries. underdeveloped in all things but military technology.
In fact, the parallel between Poland and some of the poorer countries of Africa and Latin America is in some respects startlingly close.
The second consideration is that the debts which the countries of the Third World now owe to the West add up to about S500.000 million (£2,688,172 million) and, as in Poland's case, much of that debt is not recoverable in the short term and may not be so in the long.
The danger of default has now become so acute that the Government of the United States has taken powers to prevent the banking collapse that might result.
Most Western governments, including our own, now have provisions to prevent financial collapse caused by overseas default.
The effect of these provisions. in essence. is that the taxpayer picks up the tab.
That may well be poetic justice: we have been ungenerous to our starving neighbours in the past; in the future. by paying their debts to our governments. we shall have to be generous whether we like it or not. And quite right, too.
ONE OF THE many joys of the Catholic press is the sheer quantity of good news — as well as Good News — that finds its way into our columns.
To your average Fleet Street scribbler in the secular Press, good news is no news. To the Catholic Press, good news is the staple diet.
Last Saturday there was good news in abundance. 1 skidded along to Wonersh Seminary, a great. red-brick battleship of a place on a sunlit hillside not far from Guildford. for the ordination to the priesthood of Fr Bernard Longley. You must meet Bernard. I first came across him when he was reading English at Oxford and singing daily with the choir of New College, which is one of the finest Anglican choirs in the country.
Bernard went on to become treasurer and secretary of the union, when he had the habit of writing his minutes in verse and then singing them. He was renowned for being able to stand at the dispatch box and reduce the House to helpless laughter simply by making faces.
Robert Morley once visited the union and saw Bernard performing. Afterwards he asked Bernard whether he had thought of the stage as a career. "No," said Bernard, who had already decided to become a priest. "You should, my boy, you should," replied Morley.
It may be that Bernard Longley is the first former Officer of the Oxford Union since Manning to be ordained to the priesthood. Bishop Cormac Murphy O'Connor of Arundel and Brighton administered the Sacrament in the Chapel.
Afterwards, in a short speech to (he guests, Fr. Longley said: "From Manchester I have come. and from Manchester comes the Faith."
This was strictly true. A Cardinal Manning busload of 50 family, friends and fellow parishioners had left the parish of St Vincent de Paul, Openshaw. at 5.00 am, including Bernard's mother, who had been received into the Church a few weeks beforehand, and his grandmother, also a recent convert.
It may be said that ordinations to the priesthood are cornmonplace and not worthy of reporting. But it was encouraging to learn from Fr John Redford, one of the lecturers at the Seminary, who is about to start work as director of the Southwark Catechetical Centre. that the number of vocations is beginning to show a healthy increase.
Two years ago there were 40 students at Wonersh — now there are 70 and the number is still rising. Fr. Redford said that not only were more people coming forward, but also more of them were staying the course,
ANOTHER task of the Catholic Press — and one which is very difficult to perform without appearing to preach at the readers — is to encourage and inspire the Faithful to be good and do good.
During my three happy years at The Universe I found that the readers were a charming lot who needed very little encouragement or inspiration.
Charities raise enormous sums through the Catholic Press each year and. in addition, the readers often perform spontaneous acts of great kindness as a result of what they see in their Catholic newspaper.
We once appealed for a motorcycle to help a missionary priest to get around his 6,000square-mile parish. The following week a man appeared at thie front counter, handed over a helmet, a pair of gauntlets, a bunch of keys and a log-book, said, "The bike's outside," and left. The bike is still giving good service in Africa.
What I am working around to is this. Cardinal Manning once said that the Catholic layman had four duties: to hunt, to shoot. to fish and to contribute to the support of his pastors.
Personally 1 cannot afford to hunt, cannot see to shoot and do not know how to fish. Which leaves me with item four on the list.
Christmas is coming. Do you know where your parish priest will be spending his Christmas lunchtime? Will he be alone in his presbytery? Or will he be with a family in his parish who have
invited him to share their Christmas lunch with them'?
If you are unable to entertain, how about sending some Christmas cheer to the priest's house?
If your parish priest is like mine, he will probably give away anything that is not perishable, so the trick is to choose a haunch of ripe venison, a brace of well-hung pheasant or a well-smoked side of salmon, bearing Manning in mind.
Or you could try pandering to your priest's known tastes. A little bird tells me, for instance, that Cardinal Hume very much enjoys brandy-snaps when he can get them.
Or you could go the whole hog, as one sturdy Yorkshire farmer did recently.
Mgr Basil Loftus, who was parish priest of Settle. a country parish in the Pennines, answered the doorbell one day to find the farmer standing on the doorstep, twisting his flat 'at nervously in his hands'.
The farmer said: "Ah've not much cash, Father, so Ah can't put much in t' collection-plate of a Sunday — but there's a fine sheep tethered to t' drainpipe there if tha'd like it."
Basil accepted the sheep with alacrity, borrowed a friend's truck and took it to the abattoir at Skipton. The proprietor said: "Well, t' usual charge for
choppin' up a sheep for freezin' comes out at fifty pence plus t' fleece. But seein' as 'ow you're of the cloth, like, Ah'll let yer off the fifty pence. Cum back Friday."
Basil returned on Friday to find that the sheep had been chopped up and the pieces put into plastic bags for freezing, each one labelled. As he was putting them into the freezer in the presbytery, he noticed that there were only two bags labelled "Leg-.
He went back to the abattoir and demanded to know where the other two legs were. "Well, Father." said the proprietor slowly and patiently, other two's shoulders".
Sure enough, Basil found two bags labelled "shoulder" in his freezer. But he then noticed that there was no head. So he returned once more to the abattoir. " 'Eads?" said the proprietor incredulously. "You doan't want the 'cad, do you? That's offal, is t hat.
Basil explained that he was partial to sheep's head broth. With a sigh the proprietor went to a corner of the shed, reached into a sack and pulled out two heads. He thrust them at Basil and said: "Merry Christmas. 'Ere. 'ave two — an doant cum back far t' bl**dy tail!"
And a merry Christmas from me an' all.