Mark Greaves and Ed West look back on 2008, the year that Benedict XVI won respect in America JANUARY
The year began with reports that Tony Blair had finally converted to Catholicism. After years of speculation he was received into full Communion with the Church by Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor. The Mass at Archbishop’s House, the Cardinal’s residence, was attended by close friends and family.
The Cardinal said he was pleased to welcome Mr Blair into the Church but pro-life groups were not so happy. They questioned the sincerity of his profession of faith given his unwavering support for abortion.
Mr Blair had attended Mass each Sunday for most of his adult life along with his wife Cherie and his four children.
Bishop Patrick O’Donoghue of Lancaster, meanwhile, was thrust into the spotlight after issuing a document on re-energising Catholic education in Britain. The document, entitled Fit for ission? Schools, said that Catholic schools could only survive if they remained fully faithful to their Catholic identity. It was praised by several Vatican officials, including Archbishop Mauro Piacenza, secretary for the Congregation for Clergy, who said it should be a model for dioceses across England and Wales. Some MPs, however, feared it was pushing a “fundamentalist” line. Barry Sheerman, chairman of the Commons education committee, said he wanted to haul Church officials in front of MPs to question them about it. He said: “It seems to me that faith education works all right as long as people are not that serious about their faith.”
Early in January Westminster Cathedral launched a £3 million appeal for urgent repair work to its domes and to its Titanic-era heating and electrical systems.
The appeal was made after surveyors inspected the building for the first time in decades and found crumbling brickwork and white stains on the ceiling left by leaks.
The then Cathedral Administrator, Mgr Mark Langham, said the Cathedral could close within a decade unless the work was carried out.
Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor said: “Westminster Cathedral has been a symbol of the Catholic presence at the heart of our nation for over 100 years. It is a Grade I listed building that is recognised as one of the finest examples of Victorian architecture and Byzantine art in the world.
“However, time has taken its toll and we now must take urgent action to ensure the future of this living house of prayer,” he said.
Shortly after the appeal was launched a New York businessman gave the Cathedral £300,000 – the largest donation it has ever received.
Scaffolding went up at Easter and work is expected to last two or three years. By the end of 2008 £1.5 million had been raised for the repairs.
January was also marked by the election of the first “black pope” for almost 25 years. Spanish missionary Fr Adolfo Nicolas, 71, was chosen by delegates to become the 30th superior general of the Society of Jesus. The decision came after four days of prayer, silence and quiet one-to-one conversation among the 200 delegates who were chosen to represent 19,000 Jesuits across the world.
Fr Nicolas, who was ordained in Tokyo and spent most of his priesthood in Japan, succeeded Fr PeterHans Kolvenbach, 79, who had asked to resign because of his age.
Soon after the election Pope Benedict XVI reminded the delegates that they needed to stay faithful to the Church. In an address he told them they had to act “in full fidelity to the original charism”. That charism, he said, was marked by an obedience to the Church and to the pope.
Meanwhile in north England, Mgr Terence Drainey, the highly respected former president of Ushaw Seminary, Durham, was installed as Bishop of Middlesbrough. He succeeded Bishop John Crowley, who retired because of ill health.
On January 30, the controversial founder of the Legionaries of Christ, Fr Marcial Maciel Degollado, died at the age of 87.
Fr Maciel, who founded the Legionaries in his native Mexico in 1941, was told in 2006 that he could no longer publicly practise his priestly ministry after the Vatican investigated claims of sexual abuse made by former seminarians of the order.
The Vatican also said it would not begin a canonical process against him because of his age and poor health, calling him to a life “reserved to prayer and penance, renouncing any public ministry”.
He had founded the Legionaries aged 20 as an underground movement before his ordination at a time when the Church was being persecuted in Mexico by an anti-clerical government. FEBRUARY
In early February after lots of speculation the Vatican finally issued a new version of the Good Friday prayer in the traditional Latin Mass.
The new wording removed references to the “blindness” of the Jews and the need to “remove the veil from their hearts”.
Most traditionalist groups were happy with the change. John Medlin, general manager of the Latin Mass Society, said: “The key idea of conversion to Christ is kept in the prayer and we regard that as very important.” The Lefebvrists, however, were upset. A report on DICI, the Society of St Pius X’s news service, said Benedict XVI had succumbed to “foreign pressures”.
Maverick Bishop Williamson, one of the four Lefebvrist bishops excommunicated in 1988, claimed that Benedict XVI had shown himself to be an “anti-Semite” by not reminding Jewish people of their veil over their hearts.
The amendment also drew criticism from Jewish groups who said it did not go far enough. The controversy simmered all year, and in November Italian rabbis withdrew from an annual Day of Catholic-Jewish Dialogue, complaining that the prayer implied that Jewish people were blind to the truth.
Perhaps the most surprising story of the month was Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor sacking almost the entire board of directors at St John and St Elizabeth Hospital in north-west London.
His decision came after months of in-fighting among the directors over whether to accept a tighter code of ethics. The Cardinal had ordered a new code to be drawn up after reports that doctors on the site were providing the morning-after pill and referring patients for abortions.
The news was startling because only months before the directors had finally voted to accept the new code of ethics – and the directors who opposed it had resigned.
Insiders said the directors and staff at the private Catholic hospital had reached such an impasse over the new code that the situation had become unworkable. The Cardinal appointed Lord Guthrie, former Army Chief of Staff, as the new chairman of the board.
Meanwhile Benedict XVI’s liturgical revolution appeared to steam ahead, with the news that the Vatican wanted every Catholic seminary to teach the traditional Latin Mass.
A letter from Ecclesia Dei, the body which deals with matters concerning the 1962 missal, said the Vatican was preparing a document that would order rectors to “provide for the instruction of their candidates in both forms of the Roman Rite” – the ordinary and the extraordinary forms of the Mass.
The order was to be contained in a clarification of Summorum Pontificum, the Apostolic Letter issued last year which gave priests the freedom to celebrate the traditional Latin Mass without the permission of their bishop.
However, the clarification – greatly anticipated by tra ditionalists – had still not materialised by the end of the year.
Cardinal MurphyO’Connor made a surprising intervention in the furore over whether Britain should adopt some aspects of Sharia law – a suggestion first made in a lecture by Dr Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury.
The Cardinal said: “I don’t believe in a multicultural society.” He said efforts to create a multicultural society in Britain had led to a “lessening of the kinds of unity that a country needs”.
He argued that migrants should embrace the idea of equality under law rather than live by other legal codes. “When people come into this country they have to obey the laws of the land,” he said. “There are going to be things which might clash in the overall culture of the country.” MARCH
In the first issue of the month we drew attention to the shocking anti-Semitism of Bishop Richard Williamson, one of the four Lefebvrist bishops excommunicated by John Paul II.
Bishop Williamson told The Catholic Herald that he believed the Protocols of the Elders of Zion – a notorious anti-Semitic forgery that enjoys widespread currency in neo-Nazi circles – was authentic.
He is also on record as saying that the Jews were fighting for world domina tion to “prepare the AntiChrist’s throne in Jerusalem”.
The Simon Wiesenthal Centre, a Jewish human rights organisation, said it was planning to take action against Bishop Williamson.
But the Lefebvrist Society of St Pius X (SSPX) said it had “no policy” on the authenticity of the Protocols.
Meanwhile, Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor travelled to Poland on a sensitive diplomatic mission to mend fences with the Polish hierarchy.
During the trip he promised that Polish-language Masses would continue to be provided in Britain. He said the pastoral care of migrants must include the celebration of the sacraments in Polish “as people must have the opportunity to celebrate their faith in ways they are used to”.
A working party was established to advise on ways to accommodate Polish migrants in England and Wales. It was to be headed by bishops from both countries.
Relations between the Polish Church and the Church in England and Wales were damaged months before when the Cardinal spoke of his concern that Poles were creating “a separate Church” in Britain and should instead join English-speaking parishes.
In Rome, an art historian who works for Sotheby’s became only the second Englishman in 800 years to be elected Grand Master of the Order of Malta.
Fra’ Matthew Festing, 59, the Grand Prior of England, was chosen to lead the order’s 12,000 members by a secret ballot.
His election followed the death of Grand Master Fra’ Andrew Bertie, the first Englishman to lead the Knights since the 13th century.
Just before Easter the body of kidnapped Archbishop Paulos Faraj Rahho was found in a shallow grave outside the Iraqi city of Mosul.
He had been abducted by Islamists two weeks earlier and was known to be in poor health. The kidnappers had phoned Archbishop Shlemon Warduni of Baghdad to say they had buried Archbishop Rahho and gave the location of the body.
“We still don’t know whether he died from his poor health or was killed,” Archbishop Warduni said. “The kidnappers only told us that he was dead.” Pope Benedict XVI described his death as “an act of inhuman violence that offends the dignity of the human being and seriously harms... the co-existence among the beloved Iraqi people”.
Archbishop Rahho was the highest-ranking Christian cleric to have been killed since the start of the Iraq insurgency in 2003. The year before Fr Ragheed Ganni and three deacons had been murdered in Mosul after driving home from Sunday Mass.
In the same week Chiara Lubich, the 88-year-old founder of the Focolare movement, died after what Benedict XVI said was “a long and fruitful life” marked by her love for Jesus. She founded the Focolare movement, formerly known as the Work of Mary, in the Forties with a small group of female friends.
At Westminster, Prime Minister Gordon Brown finally agreed to allow Labour MPs a free vote on controversial fertility laws after Catholic Cabinet Ministers threatened to rebel.
Mr Brown had faced fierce criticism from Britain’s senior Catholic leaders over the Easter weekend because of an earlier decision to deny his MPs a vote of conscience on the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill.
They were led by Cardinal Keith O’Brien, who said in a homily that Mr Brown was seeking to pass a law which represented a “monstrous attack on human rights, human dignity and human life”. The Bill, to be debated in the House of Commons in May, would allow the creation of human-animal hybrid embryos, so-called “saviour siblings”, and the abolition of the legal principle that IVF doctors must consider a child’s need for a father.
Meanwhile it emerged that the Vatican was negotiating with Saudi Arabia for permission to build the kingdom’s first ever church. Archbishop PaulMounged el-Hachem, one of the Pope’s most senior Middle East representatives, said discussions began a few weeks ago. The news followed the opening of the first church in Qatar for 14 centuries. The church, in the desert outside the country’s capital Doha, drew a congregation of 15,000 for its Easter Mass. PRIL
The cruellest month began with accusations that Foreign Secretary David Miliband had dragged Europe’s Catholic bishops into the EU referendum row.
Mr Miliband told Parliament that a number of charities supported the Lisbon Treaty, including “the commission of bishops” – by which he meant the Commission of the Bishops’ Conferences of the European Community.
Catholic Tory MP Edward Leigh accused Mr Miliband of compromising the bishops’ impartiality.
He said: “For a Foreign Secretary to drag the bishops into a debate about a contentious treaty is ludicrous, let alone using them to support not having a referendum. This is underhand politics.” The Conservative Party had been urging the Government to hold a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty but the Government refused to do so.
Mr Miliband was not the only Government Minister to provoke Catholic ire in April.
Schools Secretary Ed Balls was accused of conducting a “witch-hunt” after his department named 87 faith schools that he alleged were breaking Government admission rules, and questioned their credibility.
The row began after the Government tested the admissions policies of almost 600 schools in Northamptonshire, Manchester and Barnet, north London.
It came to the conclusion that more than 100 schools, 87 of them faith schools, were using illegal policies to weed out poorer children.
Conservative leader David Cameron said: “This onslaught he has launched against faith schools is crazy. He is accusing them of things often they haven’t done.” Michael Gove, Shadow Schools Secretary, described it as a “witch-hunt”.
Months later in October the Catholic Education Service said Mr Balls’s accusations had been “seriously misleading”.
Oona Stannard, head of the CES, said most of the breaches of the admissions code had been found to be administrative.
She made her comments after Sir Philip Hunter conducted an investigation into schools admissions procedures at the request of the Government.
She said there was nothing in his report “that led me to believe these schools were intentionally trying to select”.
Tony Blair, almost a year after stepping down as Prime Minister, spoke at Westminster Cathedral of his passionate belief that faith could transform humanity for the better.
Mr Blair, who converted to Catholicism in December 2007, said he wanted to promote the “idea of faith itself as something dynamic, modern and full of present relevance”.
He told 1,600 people gathered in the Cathedral that faith had a “major part to play in shaping the values which guide the modern world, and can and should be a force for progress”.
“But it has to be rescued on the one hand from the extremist and exclusionary tendency within religion today; and on the other from the danger that religious faith is seen as an interesting part of history and tradition but with nothing to say about the contemporary human condition,” he said. “I see faith and reason, faith and progress, as in alliance not contention.” During his speech hundreds of protestors from the Stop the War Coalition gathered outside and tried to drown out his words with a “wall of sound”. They used musical instruments, whistles, pans and alarms to make as much noise as possible.
Benedict XVI’s historic six-day trip to America was hailed as a massive success.
During the trip he addressed the UN and led prayers at Ground Zero, New York, where the World Trade Centre was destroyed on September 11 2001.
When he stepped off the papal plane he was personally greeted by George W Bush. It was the first time the President had gone to the Andrews Air Force Base to welcome a head of state.
On board his flight to Washington the Pontiff told reporters that he was “deeply ashamed” of sexual abuse by priests.
“It is more important to have good priests than many priests,” he said. “We will do everything possible to heal this wound.” In an address to America’s bishops Benedict XVI again spoke frankly about the clergy sexual abuse crisis. He said some of the abuse cases had been “very badly handled” by bishops.
He also had an unscheduled meeting with some of the victims of priestly abuse.
Meanwhile, the head of the Society of St Pius X said that full communion with the Church could not happen until Rome rejected some of the reforms of the Second Vatican Council.
Bishop Bernard Fellay, superior general of the SSPX, ruled out the reconciliation sought by Benedict XVI in a letter to his one million followers.
He said “the time for an agreement [with the Vatican] has not yet come”.
His announcement ended hopes that Benedict XVI’s liberation of the traditional Latin Mass would clear the way for reconciliation after two decades of near-schism.
But Bishop Fellay said in his letter that a change to the Church’s liturgy needed to be accompanied by a substantial reversal of its doctrine.
It was understood that Cardinal Dario Castrillon Hoyos, head of Ecclesia Dei, believed the statement was only a modest setback and was determined to bring the SSPX back into the Church.
But other Vatican officials were more pessimistic about the prospect of reconciliation. One Vatican source said he believed the society was a sect closer to Calvinism than Catholicism. MAY
One of the saddest stories of 2008 was the number of adoption agencies forced to cut their ties with the Church to comply with new gay rights laws.
In May the dioceses of both Northampton and Nottingham announced that they would be forced to pull out of adoption work.
Bishop Peter Doyle of Northampton criticised the Government for leaving his diocese with no choice but to cut ties with St Francis Children’s Society, a Catholic adoption agency which has placed children with new families for more than a century.
He said: “It is extremely sad that this has come about and it’s really the fault of neither the society nor the diocese that these regulations have been forced upon us by the Government.” His remarks echoed those made the week before by Bishop Malcolm McMahon of Nottingham, when he announced his diocese would be withdrawing from adoption.
The Catholic Children’s Society (Nottingham), founded by the Congregation of the Sisters of St Joseph of Peace 60 years ago, was to become a secular institution in October.
Bishop McMahon said: “I am not happy about it at all. The regulations have coerced the children’s society into going against the Church’s teaching and we don’t wish to do that.” A Vatican directive of 2003, signed by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger – now Pope Benedict XVI – said it was morally wrong for gay couples to adopt.
But last year the Government refused to exempt about a dozen British Catholic adoption agencies from regulations introduced under the 2006 Equality Act. Instead, the Catholic agencies were granted until the end of 2008 to comply with the regulations.
The following week Cardinal Walter Kasper, president of the Pontifical Council of Promoting Christian Unity, arrived in Britain to deliver the inaugural John Henry Newman lecture at Oxford University.
He told the Herald that the time had come for Anglican leaders to choose between Protestantism and the ancient Churches of Rome and Orthodoxy.
Speaking a few weeks before the 10-yearly Lambeth Conference, he said “fundamental questions” would have to be clarified at the conference for dialogue to be possible. He said: “Ultimately, it is a question of the identity of the Anglican Church. Where does it belong? Does it be
long more to the Churches of the first millennium – Catholic and Orthodox – or does it belong more to the Protestant churches of the 16th century? “At the moment it is somewhere in between, but it must clarify its identity now and that will not be possible without certain difficult decisions.”
In the House of Commons, the pro-life movement suffered a devastating series of defeats during the passage of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill.
MPs approved the creation of animal-human embryos and so-called “saviour siblings” and removed the requirement for fertility clinics to consider a child’s “need for a father”. They also overwhelmingly rejected attempts to reduce the time-limit for abortion.
The votes were a major setback for the Church in England and Wales, which had campaigned vigorously against the Government Bill.
Three Catholic Cabinet ministers risked their careers by repeatedly voting against it. Ruth Kelly, the Transport Secretary, Des Browne, the Defence Secretary and Paul Murphy, the Welsh Secretary, voted to halve the abortion limit to 12 weeks.
Despite giving Labour MPs a free vote Prime Minister Gordon Brown had insisted the Bill was a vital part of his legislative programme and backed the existing 24-week limit on abortion.
Four amendments were tabled to reduce the upper limit to 12, 16, 20 or 22 weeks. The amendment to shorten the limit to 12 weeks, tabled by senior Tory backbencher Edward Leigh, was rejected by 393 votes to 71, a majority of 322 votes. MPs also rejected all other attempts to reduce the timelimit.
MPs rejected an attempt to ban the creation of “saviour siblings” – children created to aid a sick brother or sister – by 342 votes to 163.
An amendment that would have banned the creation of “human admixed embryos” – where human DNA is put into animal egg cells – for medical research was defeated in a free vote by a majority of 160.
Attempts to preserve “a child’s need for a father” in cases of IVF treatment were defeated, paving the way for two-mother families being enshrined in law.
Many pro-lifers also feared that pro-abortion MPs would hijack the Bill at a later stage to try to deregulate Britain’s abortion legislation. JUNE
In June a Catholic adoption agency headed by Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor became the first in Britain to defy the Government over its gay rights laws.
The Catholic Children’s Society (Westminster) aimed to stay open in spite of the new rules – and to continue its policy of placing children solely with married heterosexuals and single people.
Church lawyers believed the charity could comply with the Sexual Orientation Regulations (SORs) and remain loyal to Catholic teaching opposed to adoption by gay couples. They hoped that by amending its constitution to refer directly to “married heterosexual couples”, rather than the present reference to “couples who wish to adopt”, they would fulfil the demands of the legislation. The agency, based in North Kensington, west London, was to begin a legal process to amend its constitution before the law comes into force on New Year’s Day.
Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor, the president of the CCS, said: “I fully support the decision of the trustees in their endeavours to continue the valuable work of the society.” The announcement followed a decision by a Manchester-based adoption agency to stop assessing potential adopters because of the new laws. The Catholic Children’s Rescue Society of the Diocese of Salford said it would halt a service it has provided since it was founded in 1886. However, the agency will still provide post-adoption services even if it no longer assesses applicants for adoption.
Another agency, also called the Catholic Children’s Society, but covering the dioceses of Arundel and Brighton, Portsmouth and Southwark, confirmed days earlier that it would cut ties with the Church to stay open.
Excitement over the Pope’s liberation of the traditional Latin Mass has perhaps never been quite so high as when Cardinal Dario Castrillon Hoyos celebrated the older form of the Mass at Westminster Cathedral.
He was the first cardinal to celebrate the older High Mass at the Cathedral for 39 years.
Cardinal Castrillon told journalists that Benedict XVI wanted the traditional Latin Mass offered in every parish in the world.
He also said that seminarians everywhere should be trained to say Mass in the extraordinary form of the Roman Rite, also called the Tridentine Rite. When asked if the Pope wanted ordinary parishes to make provision for the traditional form, the cardinal said: “All the parishioners. Not many – all the parishioners, because this is a gift of God. He [the Pope] offers these riches, and it is very important for new generations to know the past of the Church. This kind of worship is so noble, so beautiful – the deepest theologians’ way to express our faith.”