Page 7, 21st February 1969

21st February 1969
Page 7
Page 7, 21st February 1969 — A muffled voice still speaks

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Organisations: University of the Air
Locations: Brussels


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Keywords: Leo Joseph Suenens


NOT long ago we saw the Cardinal Archbishop of Westminster submit to a strenuous television interview at the hands of David Frost. Last week the Cardinal Archbishop of Brussels was also interviewed on British television, The two programmes made an illuminating contrast.

Cardinal Suenens appeared not in the ballyhoo of a setting which had included such controversial figures as Kenneth Tynan and the young Winston Churchill—not to mention the notorious Dr. Petro—but in a conversation without an audience and with all the lack of extraneous pressure that prerecording provides.

Yet, in fact, the pop spot confrontation was by far the more seriously effective. And this was not only because Cardinal Heenan happened to say one or two things per

sonally affecting his listening flock, as Cardinal Suenens could not do.

Partly it was due to the questions each was faced with. David Frost asked what thousands of us wanted to know. George Scott was given a different brief to elucidate the views contained in Cardinal Suenens's new book 'Co-responsibility.' This he carried out with admirable compet• ence; he had clearly read and mastered the volume and had calculated what questions would best bring out the bones of it.

But the book (which I have not read) was plainly no direct and easy work. You have only to consider the formidable word that constitutes its title to see that much, and the Cardinal's references to the work abounded in similar semi-theological polysyllables.

So the inter view was frankly pretty sticky going. Part of the trouble was, of course, one of language. It was courageous of the Cardinal to agree to be questioned in a foreign Ianguage--I only wish I spoke French as well as he does English—and he seldom made an error in our fiendish tongue.

But he could not avoid hringing to what he said a thoroughly French approach irrespective of his national origins. Great abstractions would keep swimming into view, all luminous and hazy, and when they swam away again we were left blinking respectfully but little if any wiser. To translate these into nourishing English is a master task, if not sometimes an actual impossibility.

Added' to them were a few pitfalls such as lie in words like 'insist,' which means more in English than in French, and using which more than once gave the impression therefore that the Cardinal had had to fight against odds to achieve things he had "insisted" on when in fact all that had happened was that he had stated his views.

There was also the dampening presence throughout of such French improvements to the English language as 'universitarian,' a word which ought to exist and help us say 'in the universities world' but which we have foolishly failed to coin.

But these were as nothing to the swarm of such things as 'collegiality,"competency,"dem o c r at isation,"juridically' and, of course, 'co-responsibility.' And I would add even such words, common enough in Catholic circles but still wilfully removed from ordinary speech as 'authority' and 'communion.'

I am not saying that such words ought to be totally

blotted from the dictionaries (though I doubt if all of them have bombarded their way in yet). But I am certain they have little place on the television screen. When the University of the Air runs a course on theology `Yes,' but when the aim is to show us a man who wields immense influence its the Church 'No.' The untrained mind boggles at them. A thick blanket descends.

Just once in the whole programme Cardinal Suenens succeeded in speaking in direct and simple terms and the effect was most moving. It came when he agreed that since the °inn control encyclical theft had been "a serious crisis" in the Church. But, he said, "perhaps the sun will shine behind the clouds after a moment," and then he gave a single, sunlike smile.

Promptly challenged with being an optimist (most dreadful of crimes), he agreed that he was one "but not for human reasons. I am an optimist because I am a man of faith. .

I believe in Christ working yesterday, today and tomorrow and T believe also in the surprises of the Holy Spirit." Here is a phrase that does say something to the non-theological. Alas, it was almost the only one. Of course, none of this is to say that Cardinal Suenens ought to sink his own thoughts in favour of saying things that can be widely understood. There is no reason why men of influence should hobble themselves to terms that can

be grasped by all the people

they are seeking ultimately to influence.

Some event-causing minds are of such a mould that they cannot speak in market-place terms. But they work in the end just as effectively at second or third hand, They influence perhaps just a handful of those round them and these in turn may influence not the many but simply a wider circle still, but at last a man who cannot help casting his thought in terms of such near-incomprehensibles as 'collegiality' will come to affect the lives of people who have never so much as seen the inside of any sort of college at all.

The truth of the matter is that not every one, and certainly not every Prince of the church, is suitable for a medium like television that is popular or nothing. We should be grateful if one or two prelates possess, like Cardinal Heenan, the ability to talk to the ordinary man. But we should never make the mistake of thinking that this is a quality which is in any way essential to Bishop, to Cardinal or to Pope.

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