By John O'Keeffe
IN recent years the Newman Association, which exists for educated Catholics to harness 'their talents to the service of the Church, has not made the giant strides expected in the wake of Vatican 2 reforms; its image nationally has been a battered one.
"Talking shop, mental masturbators, theology guzzlers, neurotics," are among the politer things said about the Newman. The most frequent plaint has been, "what do they ever do?" One member claimed that the movement had been captured by a quasiheretical coterie.
In the Newman Bulletin of June, 1969, Martin Ward, a keen supporter and former national council member, could write: "Membership is declining, costs are rising, some of the more active members are drifting towards the various renewal movements. An Air of apathy and approaching doom hangs heavily over the council and some of the circles."
Smoke invariably accompanies fire on an individual level but to apply the wilder generalisations to as diverse and as loose-knit a body as the Newman Association is ridiculous as well as unjust.
The Newman Association, founded in Birmingham in 1942 when the University Catholic Federation voluntardy split into a graduate and student section, made steady progress during the first 20 years of its life. In the early Sixties membership was nearly 3,000.
The new or rediscovered emphases in the Churoh's message uncovered by the Second Vatican Council augured a rich and varied harvest for Newman members. Liturgical revival, stress on the rights of conscience, renaissance of scriptural studies, increased lay participation and the dethronement of nonhistorical orthodoxy in Catholic theology against which Cardinal Newman himself had battled so hard fulfilled the hopes of many and raised many more. Yet at the last annual general meeting membership had declined to 2,400.
There appears to be two main reasons for a public image that essentially sells the Newman Association short. Firstly the tensions generated and released by Vatican 2 have manifested themselves acutely in a Catholic body where the largely graduate membership has been trained to think and explore ideas.
Secondly, in the Catholic Church in Britain, where communication is more watchword than concrete reality, it is necessary for such a loose-knit organisation to take extraordinary measures to put across what it is and is not trying to do. Clergy and laity have a widespread suspicion. of intellectuals that is as much British almost as it is Catholic.
Some six years ago there was a power struggle for control of the Newman national council between the more avowed radicals, such as Dr. Oliver Pratt, a medical scientist. Dr. Monica Lawler, a psychology lecturer, Dr. John Bryden, an industrial chemist, and Dr. Tom Brogan, a pathologist, and the more conservative members such as Mr. Michael Penty. a solicitor, Miss Nicole Hodgson, a language lecturer, and Mr. Geoffrey Harris, a civil servant.
The conservatives felt that the approach of the radicals towards the bishops was too aggressive. Issues became entangled with personalities and hard things were said on both sides. The radicals won and one of their first steps was to extend the democratic structure of the Newman by allowing all members to vote by post at the a.g.m.
When several Newman officers became involved in their private capacities organising protests connected with the dismissal of Fr. Herbert McCabe as editor of New Blackfriars, and the Papal encyclical on birth control many members, particularly the conservatives, felt the Newman Association was being railroaded into a particular point of view.
Although the London Newman Circle received a congratulatory note from Cardinal Heenan after organising a teach-in on Humanae Vitae last year the idea of "takeover" persisted and persists.
This in spite of Fr. Brendan Soane, national ecclesiastical assistant to the Newman and supporter of the Papal line on birth control, having had his views put forward at a special national council meeting following the issue of the encyclical by Dr. Monica Lawyer, herself an opponent of Hainanae Vitae.
The one episcopal member of the Newman, Bishop Alan Clark, Auxiliary of Northampton. an upholder of Humanae Vitae. has not wen fit to resign.
The fact is that the Newman welcomes Catholics of all shades of opinion, ranging from the conservative who considers that such minutiae as a priest not wearing his clerical collar or being addressed by his Christian name is a betrayal, to middle-ofthe-roaders, to extreme Slantlityle radicals.
The intellectually exclusive, "educated ladies and-gentlemen-only" aura still clings in spite of real readiness to welcome any Catholic willing to join. Several manual workers have joined arid non-Catholic visitors are made welcome. In practice the membership groups itself into geographically-based circles.
'their composition, programmes and effectiveness vary enormously, some being frankly social, others conservative, moderate or radical dominated. Nearly all have lectures on specialised topics such as ecumenism, renewal theology. medico-legal problems and church history. In country areas with a scattered membership this is reflected in the law attendance figures.
The most successful circle, -100 strong with a hard core of 120, served by a vigorous committee, is London. It meets at the Newman national h.q. in Carlisle Street in the nonsleazy part of Soho. Lectures are held in the L-shaped council room. It contains all shades of opinion but situated in the Men opolis it is predictably more avant garde than the hulk or country circles.
Its strongest attraction is its programme of lectures although the choice of speakers reflects a theological left-wing bias unrepresentative of the membership. Opinions expressed in conversation range from the sound to the debatable to the downright heretical. One priest suggested that it was not necessary to believe in the perpetual virginity of Our Lady to be orthodox.
The LNC also runs theological study groups, 'an experimental liturgy group, a poverty workshop to study the root causes of world underdevelopment, a Dutch Catechism study group and CLANG (Catholic Lay Apostolate for New Graduates) which meets on Fridays with social and formally religious and intellectual activities in about equal proportions. It also has a monthly Mass.
Nationally the Newman Association is run by its council which delegates control to an executive council. Although
circles are autonomous, consultation is carried out through national circle officers' meetings and circle reports to the national council. In practice much of the association's affairs is in the 'hands of the president, secretary and treasurer.
The President is Philip Daniel, '50, an ebullient senior civil servant who appears to enjoy universal confidence within and without the Newman movement. The Secretary is Peter Warden, 35, an oil company executive, who is from an old Lancashire English Catholic family and spent five years teaching in the Ghana missions. He has recently taken over from his wife Patricia, an arrangement with obvious practical 'advantages.
Ruefully, he admits that it will take him a year to learn the intricacies of the job, circumscribed by company and trust law as it is plus the sempiternal paper work.
The Treasurer is Michael Vadon, an engineer turned accountant, who also spends several evenings a week on
administrative work. Philip Daniel specialises in getting to as many country circles as he can. All officers are unpaid and in recent years rigid economies have been effected to offset financial troubles.
The 64,000 dollar question of what do Newman people ever do is impossible to answer though the likely reply would be not nearly enough but much more than critics think. In trying to thread one's way through the tangled skein of circles and committees in a movement whose spokesmen proclaimed recently its raison d'elre as being thought, its sphere of action the intellect and its principal currency words, the tempting and erroneous conclusion is little or nothing.
In the September Newman Bulletin Dr. Lawler suggested that a systematic attempt be made over a four-year period to find out how far Newman members are involved in other Catholic organisations. Implementation of this plan would do much to counteriaat the canard of "just a talking shop."
That cross-fertilisation exists with other spheres of lay action is readily apparent; it is the extent that is hidden. The current chairman of the National Council for the Lay Apostolate is Dr. Kevin MacDonnell, a history scholar, who has a Newman background. Newman members were also prominent among the British delegates to the 1967 Rome Lay Congress.
The Newman International Committee railses funds for causes ranging from aid for underdeveloped countries, fostering of overseas contacts, to providing Cardinal Wyszinski with a Number car. Besides liaison with numerous international agencies, the International Committee applies pressure on countries stifling academic freedom. For obvious reasons much of the work occurs behind the scenes.
With its strong liturgical tradition the Newman Association is one of the few sections of British Catholicism which has got beyond the "we-do-thisbecause-its-been-ordered" approach to liturgical renewal, with experiment, discussion and conferences making up what is so badly wanting in many other Church quarters.
Ecumenism is in a strong tradition of the Newman Association which collaborates with its Anglican counterpart the William Temple Association. The Newman Family Apostolate Committee arose originally to cater for Newman members who were married and prevented by family commitments from playing their full part in normal activities.
Apart from its ecumenically orientated family conferences which also looked after the children. its biggest contribution has been the creation of a travelling hook exhibition aimed at religious training in the home and family group movements.
The Newman Legal Studies Group, founded in 1960, seceded amicably from the Newman proper in March for administrative reasons as well as its high degree of specialisation. Besides scrutinising all prospective legislation in the light of Catholic interests it has been attempting to clarify whether a Catholic can he Lord Chancellor.
Reincorporated as the Plowden Trust and Plowden Society it is no longer confined to Catholics. Its magazine Quis C'ustocliet has a wide circulation in the academic legal world. The Philosophy of Science Group, having pioneered the field in this country folded up this year, its work having been taken up by ordinary educational bodies.
The Newman Catholic Psychology Group has produced work on the psychological aspects of religious vocations and teacher-pupil relations. Newman members, in response to Humanae Vitae, have set up philosophic and theological groups to explore further the problems raised.
Many members engage in other vocational activities, specifically Catholic or otherwise. The Newman Association publishes a quarterly bulletin whose nut and bolt approach to international affairs is more readable than the Newman Journal published by the Newman Trust with its heavy radical monotone which caters only for the really intellectually voracious.
Through its publications the Newman presents a far more monolithic brand of left-wing theology than the mixcd membership warrants. In fairness it should be added that many of the radicals are far more open than the conservative type critics who snipe from the sidelines. They are also usually
ready to buckle down to work.
Its main failure is public relations. There is considerable talent, dedication and, stare one say it, love for the Church's mission. Yet the Newman Association remains virtually unknown to the general British Catholic body. Despite the generous co-operation I received from all Newman members I approached, particularly the national officers, T found that, as in so many other walks of Catholic life, public and press relations has better intentions than technique.
This is not to say that the officers are complacent.'By its nature the Newman cannot be a grass-roots organisation but this is no reason for not making an extended effort to put its work across to the parish organisations and other structures, to cross fertilise with them, disposing once and for patrician The Newman's experience in adult education could yet do so much to get the aggiornamento moving in the parishes where, in the present state of the Church's history, it will be made or broken. There is no evidence that the Newman is necessarily -in more need of saints than any other section of the Church. It could do with some salesmanship.
Norman St. John-Stevas is on holiday.