THE HOUSE is large, comfortable. Edwardian. It's not easy to find, with no identifying marks. set back from the main Newbury Andover road at Highclere, separated from the road by a. high pinewood fence (pewly erected) and an avenue of birches.
• To the left of the front porch a small, discreet plaque depicts the overthrow of Lucifer by Michael the Archangel. It's symbolic.
This is St Michael's House, and inside its occupants claim that the epic battle is still being fought. For since October this has been the headquarters of Fr Peter Morgan and the six priests who opted out of the postConciliar Church to celebrate tfie Tridentine Mass and no other.
A Brother shows me through the spacious and newly-decorated hall to Fr Morgan's hook-lined study. I just have time to notice the line Dutch paintings on the wall, and a copy of a French integriste publication on a table, when a soutaned Fr Morgan sweeps in, biretta in hand — a youngish, large man with a voice which could make itself heard in an amphitheatre during a Roman circus, and an embonpoint that recalls Friar Tuck.
He places the biretta carefully on the table and settles down amply, lighting the first of many cigarettes. There is a glimpse of silver-buckled shoes beneath his soutane — a flamboyant touch.
The soutane is his natural dress. he comments, though he would wear a black suit if he were going out to dinner. And the collar. he adds. before I can ask. Always. Even on a holiday.
He talks about the house. At Highclere, the priests live together as the Society of St Pius X, an Order founded by Archbishop Lefebvre in 1968. the community without vows and recognised as a diocesan Institute at Fribourg, Switzerland.
Secular priests, living in a community, without vows, in the mariner of the Oratorians or Vincentians — dedicated to the preservation of tradition, the overthrow of modernism and the return of the Tridentine Mass. They eschew luxury: £4.50 a head per week sees to their modest needs.
From Highclere they radiate outwards all over the country (but mainly in the South). saying Mass in houses and halls, providing the Sacraments according to Trent, teaching the Catechism and consoling the bereft. Those who welcome them are those who once were an integral part of the Church but are so no longer.
"They're the people who a few years ago were the daily Mass-goers, the women who clean churches, ex-altar servers, choir members". He agrees that about 50 per cent of them are converts. The ones who feel bypassed by the present : the recusant few. About 2.000, claims Fr Morgan, and adds that the numbers are growing.
Is he setting up an alternative church with himself as the head? He dismisses the suggestion, asserting that he loathes power. It is simply that we are the Church. What' / believe is what the Church has always believed and taught. There is Only one Church• and outside that Church there is only darkness." His voice becomes apocalyptic.
He is. he says, an ultramontanist but not an ultra-papalist. He is scathing about the "my Pope right or wrongRight-wing Catholics. "My obediance to the Pope is absolute", he almost shouts. "Absolute".
And then he qualifies the statement : "When he speaks of faith and morals." (He cites Humanae Vitae as an example. It followed the tradition of Cavti ('onimhii and so was a good thing.) "IlLit in the matter of the Mass. Paul acted against the Church's tradition. He had no authority to do that. And he /Mit/ be oppoverr• , He considers Paul VI has sold the past. and no pictures of him adorn St Michael's. Pius X proliferates, there is a nod to Pius XI. and a large portrait of Pius XII hangs in the priests' common-room.
I comment on the absence of the present incumbent of the Throne of Peter. He smiles dismissively, underlining the omission with a reverent gesture towards Pius IX of "Syllabus of Errors" fame. Well. naturally.
The chapel, barely large enough for the 40 to 50 who attend the two Masses on Sundays, is simple, with a distracting view on to the pleasant garden. The altar is well-caparisoned, and could not be mistaken for a table. The priest's back is firmly turned to his flock.
"We do not, of course, concelebrate". booms Fr Morgan, showing me a tiny
oratory (the erstwhile boilerroom). where a second priest can say Mass.
In the refectory. the spiritual reading is currently Pius X's encyclical against Modernism. One suspects that it always is. "He knew what the dangers were. and he was proved right". What proved him right was the Second Vatican Council — responsible, in Fr. Morgan's book. for all the ills that beset the Church to-day. He refuses to admit its authenticity.
As a purely pastoral council, he says, it had no licence to overthrow dogma. to tinker with discipline. He mourns the replacement of Scholastic certainty by existentialist doubt. and believes that we are all galloping towards agnosticism.
All the changes, the laments, have been subjective ones: too much concern with what people feel and want. Too little concern with Truth. (He gives the word five capital letters). Democracy is not his line. his world being peopled with those who rule and those who are ruled.
The word "renewal". almost chokes him. "Of course change was needed. There was a bad art. bad teaching, bad liturgy. mumbled Masses. But those things weren't touched. There's
not been a renewal. .1 hey gave US another Reformation instead".
Fr Morgan rejects that Reformation. basing his stand on pure dogma. Lex orandi, lex credendi, he claims. His hand scythes the air.
The house at Highclei c is not a seminary. but it does have students — young men with a romantic vision of a triumphalist revival, a return of Christendom. Perhaps even with a taste for martyrdom.
Ten young men have studied Humanities here and have passed on to the greater• glories of Econe and Archbishop Lefebvre. One day they will return to missionise England for Trent. "Our young men", claims Fr Morgan, are being trained for the TRUE priest. hood. And hundreds of people in this country are waiting for them."
There is something rather awesome about Fr Morgan's determination. He's• unrepentantly triumphalist, claiming it as a virtue. One may detect an innocence in his arrogance, but he's no man's fool. His course is set, and no one, but no one is going to deflect him — least of all a Pope who has betrayed the Church's traditions.
Once Fr Peter Morgan was a Protestant missionary to the aborigines in Northern Australia, and he is well used to going it alone. There is a fine dramatic gusto in his final peroration (Fr Morgan doesn't really speak, he perorates): "If in the end I land up entirely on my own, then I shall be faithful to that".