Faith of our Fathers
T HE FAITH Of QUI fathers receives constant nourishment from what was once called, in a classic (but now somewhat outmoded) phrase, the "accumulated wisdom of Holy Mother Church". A reminder, in two respects, of the perennial need for this essential, but sometimes elusive, quality, occurred this month.
Mass was celebrated on Sunday October 16 by the Apostolic Nuncio to London to celebrate the 22nd anniversary of the coronation of Pope John Paul 11. This was followed during the week by the usual reception at Archbishop's House.
I first attended the latter event (1 ruefully report) no less than 48 years ago, since when it has undergone a total transformation. It is now a low-key, almost lacklustre, affair compared with its sumptuousness half a century ago; and quite rightly so. The guests nowadays are taken more from worthy Catholics than outside dignitaries.
In the 1950s it was one of the more glittering events of the London season. Ambassadors and leading politicians rubbed shoulders with "papist patricians" as some called them. VIP limousines were double banked outside in a Brook Street almost clear, in those days, of other traffic.
The best of champagne and canapes were enjoyed by all, thanks to the entertaining skills of the Delegate's livewire secretary Monsignor (as he then was) David Cashman. This would all, of course, be highly inappropriate in the post-triumphalist age.
Even more important, at various stages, has been the ingenuity shown in establishing the status and terms of
reference of representatives of the Holy See in various countries. The first such appointment to Great Britain (in 1938) was of Archbishop William Godfrey as Apostolic Delegate.
This meant that he represented the Holy See to the Catholic Church in England, Scotland and Wales rather than as virtual Ambassador to the British Government. There was an upgrading in 1983 when Archbishop Bruno Heim became Pro-Nuncio while the mission today ranks as a full Nunciature. The Nuncio to London, moreover, is invariably one of the most distinguished members of the Holy See's diplomatic corps.
His exact status as Nuncio in London, however, involves an interesting anomaly. It is the only Nunciature in the world, as far as I know, which represents the Holy See in a part only of the country to which accreditation is accorded. For he is not the Nuncio to the United Kingdom as whole but only to Great Britain (excluding Northern Ireland).
THE ANOMALY referred to has arisen because of a correspondingly anomalous situation attaching to the Apostolic Nunciature in Ireland. This, from the very beginning has represented the Holy See to the whole country, ie all 32 counties thereof.
No change, moreover, has been initiated from Rome since the abandonment by Dublin of the Irish Republic's claim to sovereignty over the six counties of the North. This situation has a curious past history.
The first Apostolic Nuncio to Ireland — then still the Irish Free State — was Dr Pascal Robinson, himself an Irishman. As Ireland was a Catholic country, it was thought that it would be Mappropriate if he did not represent the Church to the whole country. His jurisdiction thus included Northern Ireland even though this was British.
This appointment repre sented an exception to the general rule that the Holy See does not extend diplomatic recognition to any country whose exact frontiers are not internationally agreed upon. This was the pretext given when the Holy See refused to accord diplomatic recognition to Israel when that country first came into existence.
The real reason was theological, being based on the assertion, as formerly held, that the Catholic Church was the "New Israel" and that, ever since the death of Jesus, the Jewish people had for ever forfeited any right to form a nation. This assertion, of course, has now been completely abandoned and Israel enjoys full diplomatic relations with the Holy Sec. The only remaining anomaly is that although the Apostolic Nuncio to Israel resides in Jerusalem, his appointment as such had to be accompanied by the invention of a sort of accommodation address in Jaffa (Tel Aviv) as his official residence. This device was necessary so as not to offend those Arab (and other) nations who do not recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.
Such matters may seem far too technical to form part of the "accumulated wisdom of Holy Mother Church". But the smooth refining of the Holy See's diplomatic service — the oldest in the world — has always been deemed of paramount importance within the overall spiritual mission of God's earthly kingdom.
This remains as timely as ever in a general sense as well as, in particular, with regard to Israel, in view of Cardinal Ratzinger's recent remark that the Church is "still waiting when Israel will say yes to
Christ." Significantly, however, the Cardinal added "but we also know that throughout the course of history, precisely in this position of standing before the door, Israel has had a special mission that has been of significance for the world".