ONE day. there will be a minor scandal in the secular Press when people discover how many of our High Court judges happen to be Catholics. For a Catholic, however. it may be comforting to learn how our laws, enacted by a Protestant Parliament and passed by a Protestant monarch. are administered by a Bench on which Catholics are as much over represented, proportionately. as they arc underrepresented in Parliament.
No Catholic, I think I am right in saying. has ever been a Cabinet Minister in a Conservative Government —perhaps because of the sincere and profound objections which such an appointment would excite from the Ulster Unionists. Sir Peter Rawlinson is the first Catholic Attorney-General on the Tory side (the only other Catholic Attorney-General I can trace is Charles Russell, the Liberal. who became Lord Chief Justice in 1894) and he can never hope to reach the Cabinet as Lord Chancellor, because Catholics are still specifically excluded from this post.
The Lord Chancellor has to keep both the Great Seal and the Queen's Conscience —it is not felt that a Catholic could be QUITE trusted with either of these yet.
Sir Peter's pence
Yet Sir Peter Rawlinson is still the first Law Officer of the land. His total salary of £14,250 is only shillings behind that of the Lord Chancellor. when both have paid tax. In the House of Commons. it is second only to that of the Prime Minister; Chancellors of the Exchequer and Foreign Secretaries. with a mere £9,750 each. are nowhere in the race.
Sir Peter has the responsibility for giving legal advice to all government departments which request it—and legal advice has often determined the whole direction or Government policy, as with the decision to retain Concorde in 1964. He also authorises all prosecutions by the Crown—sometimes, as with the McKay murder trial. directing them himself.
Sir Peter's personal views on crime and punishment are well documented. As a politician, he has publicly aligned himself with those who favour the reintroduction of capital punishment for certain categories of murder. In this matter, his opinions are at variance with those of his political leader. Mr. Heath. As a legal expert. Sir Peter threw himself into the Tory proposals for revising the law of trespass (against stu dent sit-ins. etc.), with an enthusiasm which led political commentators to decide that his position was firmly on the side of authority in the question of maintaining law and order. Both attitudes are well rooted in Christian tradition, even if the roots may now appear a trifle withered.
But I did not come to interview Sir Peter Rawlinson in his capacity as a politician. nor even in his capacity as the first laW officer; it was in his capacity as a leading Catholic. Plainly. it would have been impossible for him to discuss specific moral issues while delicately balancing his position between that of the committed politician and that of the impartial. quasi-judicial law officer.
When I saw him in his office at the Law Courts. he had just come from prosecuting the flosein bloaters Anything he told me about his views on violence. on capital punishment even on Commonwealth immigration —would have seemed a reflection on that case. Similarly. it would have been impossible to talk—at any rate for publication — about the moral imperatives created by the crime of genocide with someone who has the sole and unique responsibility for instituting proceedings under the Genocide Act 1968, and who might be called upon to do so at any moment.
Instead. Sir Peter Rawlinson spoke about what his Catholicism means to him. and about the distress he feels over certain of the changes in the Church and over certain of the mental attitudes which seem to accompany them. When he did so, of course. he was discussing the point of origin for all opinions he might privately hold on the subject of moral guidelines.
Feelings for the Church
It is a point of origin shared by a substantial part of the judiciary. Whether his conclusions arc similarly shared is open to question. but an interesting indication that at least a few of his doubts and resentments are shared, was afforded when the Catholic judges and barristers of England. meeting for their traditional Red Mass at Westminster Cathedral on the first day of the legal year, were granted the privilege of a Latin Mass Litur gical innovation; were the starting-point of our interview and we returned to them again and again. The Attorney-Cieneral is an elegant, intelligent and witty man of 51. What surprised me in the interview was not so much the intensity of his feeling for the Church as he knew it, but the humility with which he described this feeli ng.
"My son. who is thirteen. actually enjoys the new liturgy. and so. apparently. do many smaller children. Perhaps they find they have greater understanding of what goes on. Perhaps they genuinely feel that they are participating in the renewal of the Christian tradition. Perhaps it is only for older people that a lot of the joy has been lost.
"Our religion becomes more personal. something less to do with our fellow worshippers. less to do even with membership of the Church. now that there can be no joy in the act of wor-. ship."
T pointed out that thc intention behind these innovations was exactly the op posite of that: by making the liturgy more comprehensible. the reformers hoped to create a greater joy in the act of worship and above all a greater sense of community. embracing not only fellowCatholics but also our separated brethren. He replied: "These innovations make me if anything less hopeful for the outcome of the ecu menical movement, less warm towards our brothers in the Church of England. The reformers are asking the ordi nary person to accept the tremendous miracle taking place on the altar. The Church had devised a tremendous ritual leading up to the moment. You were present in a mystery—something beyond your own intellect and your own experience. Now. it seems entirely separate from what has gone before. They are demanding a great deal."
Is it still acceptable to talk about the Mass as a miracle? Certainly. a large part of our reformers' zeal seems to be taken up with convincing us that there is no magic (or !limbo-jumbo, as they call it) involved in the Consecration. I mean, are meals miraculous?
I suggested that although one did not have to be as old as Sir Peter to share his sorrow at the way in which a handful of apparently overexcited clergymen had been allowed to destroy the heritage of 500 years' development, others might not agree with us.
Perhaps those who had not been to Downside. where we were both educated. or some other monastic foundation where the liturgy becomes a daily part of the boys' lives. would not feel so strongly about the old liturgy?
"Perhaps not. but I find it hard to know exactly who is supporting these changes, apart from the clergy. Nobody consulted the laity before introducing them. There seems to be an extraordinary idea among the clergy that after they have debated, something among themselves. they can impose whatever results from their debate on the laity without any consultations at all. There must surely be certain things the laity are entitled to be heard about."
The cardinal's leadership
He did not think that he. personally, as a prominent Catholic, should have been consulted more than other members of the laity; nor that his voice should have carried more authority; merely that the clergy should have taken far more trouble than they did take to discover what people thought.
He exempts. Cardinal Heenan from all these censures, emphasising what a comfort his leadership had been throughout. Indeed. from the various conversations one has, it often seems that Cardinal Heenan is the only person holding the Catholic Church together in England.
Another matter on which Sir Peter feels the laity should be consulted is the question of clerical marriages. I suggested that this might really be a matter for the clergy to decide between themselves. It was odd to hear a Conservative embrace the idea of participatory democracy so fervently. and it seemed to me that he might be seeking revenge for what the clergy had done to the liturgy. But Sir Peter was adamant: "The clergy should open their eyes to what is involved beyond their personal convenience. Their debate has been conducted without any reference as to how the laity feel. I am filled with horror by the thought. The priest is someone who is ordained —has had hands laid upon him.
"For this reason, we sit and listen reverently to sermons even while our minds tell us that they have no intellectual content whatever— because the priest is someone set apart, and his words are inspired by grace."
Loyalty of the old guard
Is there any reason why the married men should be less inspired by grace than the celibate? The arguments. of course, can be endless. What matters to Sir Peter are both the intensity of his own conviction and the feeling that an essential element in his own religious response has been so blithely disregarded. No doubt this feeling, on the same or other issues, is shared by many Catholics.
What will never cease to amaze those of us who arrived on the scene rather later is the touching loyalty of the old guard. Nurtured in absolute obedience to the Church's authority. they obey even where the Church seems to be directing the faithful to participate in her destruction. Their predicament is not so very different from the one in the old theological brain-teaser: what do we believe if the Pope uses his infallible authority to declare that he is no longer infallible?
A few years ago. such a proposition would have been regarded as either frivolous or heretical. according to taste; now it is openly canvassed. "What shocks me most." said Sir Peter. "is the manner in which these controversies are conducted." He mentioned the name of a Dominican polemicist. "Why do people who hold opinions which differ from those of Patrick Wall, for example (Conservative M.P. for Haltempricc) need to use such immoderate language? It saddens me, because it seems so unnecessary."
What he complains of is not. of course, peculiar to progressive Catholics. One meets it, too, among Conservatives. It is a product of the age of half-think and prepackaged opinions. "I don't see the need for the Church to identify with contemporary attitudes and try to be like everybody else," he said.
If there was ever a note of petulance in Sir Peter's tone. it was the petulance of one who sees very little chance of a more subtle approach being effective. In any case. it was easily outweighed by the note of genuine anxiety. by loyalty and by this unexpected humility which mentioned earlier.
For him. as for most of the Church's old guard, moral guidelines are plain and unmistakeable; laid down, perhaps. in some dimly remembered catechism class of the past. but unalterable and never to be forgotten. It remains to be seen what sort of guidelines the Church will ever again be in a position to lay down once the old guard has gone.