Page 10, 18th July 1997

18th July 1997
Page 10
Page 10, 18th July 1997 — Of Eminences and Excellencies

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Organisations: Catholic Church
Locations: Rome


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Of Eminences and Excellencies


s WE SAY goodbye to

Apostolic Nuncio of among and distinguished standing and prepare to welcome a new one, it is instructive to reflect on the revolution in relations between the Holy See and Great Britain that has occurred in the past 60 years.

Parallel to this revolution has been the transformation of popular British feeling (as opposed to the residual prejudice of a hard core) towards Catholicism in general. I expe rienced an example of this the other day arising from a remark overheard by the secre tary of a certain Catholic bishop. It was made on the occasion of a demonstration of Catholic piety which might once have been thought unacceptably triumphalist.

The fact that the bishop in question and his secretary are exceptionally popular figures obviously has something to do with it. But the incident, I thought, was also indicative of a very different English attitude towards a public mani festation of "Romanism" as it once would have been called as between today and 30, to say nothing of 60 years, ago.

What had happened was that a policeman regulating the large crowds (mostly not Catholic) had been overheard by the secretary warning a colleague, on his mobile, that (his exact words) "the Blessed Sacrament" would soon reach that spot, and to keep back the traffic accordingly. The occasion was a Corpus Christi procession of huge proportions in a certain southern English town, which could not have taken place in days gone by without occasioning considerable opposition.

Sixty years ago, however, a breakthrough of sorts was in the making. The Archbishop of Westminster of the day (1935-43) was that great Yorkshireman, Arthur Hinsley. When he was created a Cardinal in 1937, Winston Churchill and Lord Halifax were among the guests at his first ceremony as Cardinal. It is true that only Lord Halifax, of the two mentioned, was in favour with the establishment of the day. But the friendship of Churchill with Hinsley was to prove very important later on.

Meanwhile negoriations between Westminster and Whitehall resulted in the appointment, in May 1938, of the first Apostolic Delegate from the Holy See to Great Britain, in the person of another Yorkshireman, William Godfrey. (A Delegate, as opposed to a Nuncio, primarily represents the Holy See to the local Catholic Church rather than, in addinon, to the government of the country.) THE• APPon■rmuitsrr of an Englishman to this job was a break with Roman tradition as a gesture to British feelings, and Godfrey was immensely successful in his job. I got to know him well in the post-war years, when he was kind enough, as Cardinal Archbishop, to be the principal celebrant at my marriage. I mention this fact because it was from him, as well as from his dynamic secretary, David Cashman, that I learned a lot about the background to the whole story, and was enabled to meet various key figures in Rome in connection with contemporary history.

The war years were difficult ones in Vatican-British affairs. The feeling of growing warmth, however, which palpably arose during these troubled times is directly attributable, on many occasions to the adroit work of Godfrey. This clearly emerges in the official documents concerning the Holy See and the War, in the English version of which I worked for several years. I have in front of me as I write, the bulky volume containing these texts and I am reminded that Godfrey's name occurs frequently. He takes a robust pro-Allied line at every turn (not always benignly received in the Vatican) and is in constant and effective touch with the man who remained British minister at the Vatican throughout the War, Sir D'Arcy Osborne.

I can't help smiling, for rather different reasons, at a sentence I see occurring in a letter from Godfrey to Vatican Secretary of State Maglione, dated June 10, 1940: "The Tablet, the most important of the Catholic papers, thinks that the Government cannot be reproached for this decision; (to keep an Ambassador in the Soviet Capital) while the other Catholic papers are against it." The leading representative of the latter was, of course, the Catholic Herald, in whose views, though only a schoolboy at the time, I was already taking a keen interest.

I even wrote a letter to Douglas Woodruff, then editor of the Tablet, commending the Catholic Herald as against the Tablet view, and received a letter telling me that we were "kinsmen" and politely, but somewhat pontifically, pointing out the errors of my "perhaps somewhat naively ideological views".

What I did not realise at the time was that, while Michael de la Bedoyere, then editor of the Catholic Herald,

was writing with characteristically prophetic insight, Douglas Woodruff was confining himself as usual, for all his vast knowledge, to conventional wisdom.

AaNEW ERA HAD begun meanwhile, inaugurated by Godfrey

nd brilliantly continued, notably by Eugene Cardinale (Delegate from 1963 to 69) and successfully, if less flamboyantly, by Bruno Heim (1973 to 85).

The latter became the first Pro-Nuncio, a title which was discontinued in 1993 when the presently departing Archbishop, Luigi Barbarito, became full Apostolic Nuncio and also, as it happened Doyen of the Diplomatic Co rps to the Court of S James.

Will the ancient cliplomati network of nunciatures surviv in a changing world? Th question is often asked as balance to that which concert the future of the Britis monarchy.

No one knows the answer t either question. But as Arch bishop Cardinale once said t me_ "We have come a Ion way in ecumenical (includin diplomatic) relations. Let' hope the reactionaries don kill it all as they did in th past."

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