By Peter Nolan 1
WE WILL be members of an uncomfortable Church for at least the next 25 years until we have found the right shape for evangelising the world. This is the opinion of Bishop Alan Clark, Auxiliary of Northampton, who will be installed as Bishop of the new diocese of East Anglia in the Cathedral of St John the Baptist, Norwich, by Cardinal Hume of Westminster and Bishop Grant of Northampton next Wednesday.
Bishop Clark will have pastoral care of 61,000 Catholics in the counties of Norfolk, Suffolk and Cambridgeshire, with five scattered main population centres, from industrial Peterborough and academic Cambridge to Norwich, Ipswich and Bury St Edmunds. He sees his main function as acting as a "link" to make them all part of the one community.
While this is also the task of his priests — "I don't want a priest who can't drive a car," he declared — it is especially the role of the bishop as a visible sign of unity. "The Holy Spirit inspires and energises the life of a diocese: you coordinate it," he said.
He would like to see "a host of activities" at the local community level, helping out not only with local needs but those of the less well-off in other parts of the world, But it was important that such activities should he within the ecclesial structure of the Church.
Need for openness
Asked how the Institutional Church, which has come under criticism in an age which has rejected formal organisations and structures, could be made acceptable, he said it needed to be made more open.
"The institution needs to be exposed . . needs to be opened to the criticism of the Catholic community," he said.
There existed differences of opinion among Catholics about many subjects, and even the way bishops exercised their teaching functions could be looked at and people needed to be consulted. There was within the teaching function an important element of listening he added.
This helped the process of deciding whether initiatives and developments, were "of God or not of God." "But," he said, "of course the bishop can sometimes be wrong." Overall, the Church as an institution needed to cultivate openness and approachability and be less inclined to make peonle fearful.
Bishop Clark, aged 56, was born in Kent, and spent many years in Rome, gaining a Doctorate in Theology and becoming Vice-Rector of the English College. He told me he had found himself kindly received by East Anglians when he first began administering the area of his new diocese in 1969 as auxiliary bishop when it was still part of Northampton.
East Anglians, he said, were generous and good people but not openly religious, even showing a vein of hostility towards organised religion, the subject of many city feuds in the past.
The Domesday Book of 1086 records the growing merchant city as possessing 25 churches, and their jurisdiction over territory was the source of many arguments with local authorities.
The thinly spread Catholic population means many children cannot attend Catholic schools. Bishop Clark said the diocese organis
ed regular "Youth Days" at weekends young people coming together to share in a special liturgy, with talks and discussions on such subjects as "Being a Christian Today" the topic of a recent meeting.
The diocese shares with Northampton a "catechetics team" with specially trained nuns who meet parents and help them organise themselves into groups to instruct their children, while one of the area's three married deacons is a specialist in adult education.
Bishop Clark, a theologian,. sees the liturgical reforms as "part and parcel of Vatican II — word and sacrament should not be divided." With the changes "we have lost something, there is no doubt about that," he said, "but it's time to get over our distress."
"If we are going to evangelise the world but spend too much time in recalling with nostalgia forms of the past, I think we would only put off the evil day of coming to a decision if we allowed both the old and new rites together."
Fr Oswald Baker, who last week opened a Tridentine Mass centre in Downham Market, Norfolk, was earlier relieved of parish duties by the Bishop of Northampton. The town is part of the new diocese of East Anglia, and Bishop Clark's diplomatic handling of the situation has been generally praised.
It has been reported that priests who insist on celebrating the Tridentine Rite, for which special permission is required, have told people that the new Mass is heretical.
Bishop Clark said: "The so-called tradionalists are the true radicals: they have decided for themselves what the future of the Church shall be." By assuming authority to themselves, they cut themselves off from communion with the Universal Church.
"What are those people going to do who support the leaders of this group when they defy even more explicit directives from bishops?" he asked, In today's "uncomfortable Church," finding the right shape in which to preach Christ's message to the world, serious mistakes were bound to be made, he said, hut yet today's Church was a wonderful and challenging one from which to evangelise.
Matters of authority
Bishop Clark was the first Catholic bishop to address the Synod of the Church of England, and is one of the Church's leading ecumenical spokesmen as co-chairman of the Anglican Roman Catholic International Commission which produced Agreed Statements on Eucharist and Ministry.
The commission is at present discussing Authority, and Bishop Clark said talks had "moved to the threshold of big, sensitive, distinctly Catholic problems, of what we mean by primacy and infallibility." The question "by whose authority?" could no longer be avoided, by any Christian Church claiming to preach the gospel of Christ, he said.
Ecumenical relations in East Anglia were very good. Catholics being allowed the use of Anglican churches as Mass centres, and there is much co-operation.
The four Anglican Bishops whose Sees cover the new Catholic diocese would all be present at the installation ceremony, as would representatives of the Free churches, and the Anglican secretary of A RCIC would be among those bringing gifts at the offertory symbolic of the diocese's activities.
1 he new Bishop's Palace, The White House, at Poringland, a little way outside Norwich, is a magnificent Georgian mansion left to the Church, and from French windows, the lawns and statuary offer an oasis of mace.
Bishop Clark said it had become one of the country's best-known ecumenical meeting places, as working parties came there to prepare Agreed Statements,
The new Cathedral of St John the Baptist is a fitting setting for the installation ceremony, part of which is being televised by Anglia Television. It was built at the end of the last century at the expense of the 15th Duke of Norfolk in thanksgiving for a happy marriage.
Bishop Clark, highly articulate and easily approachable, has a manner which immediately sets one at ease. He confessed that his feelings about his new task resembled those of cl bride on the night before her wedding. Was it all going to be right?
The fine early English Gothic structure of his Cathedral dominates the town from one of its highest points — an obvious heritage of past triumphalism.
But it has today become the optimistic symbol of a new diocese which expects to serve a growing number of Catholics in an area of increasing industrial development.