Page 5, 3rd November 1972

3rd November 1972
Page 5
Page 5, 3rd November 1972 — Full text coming from Fr. Richards
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Full text coming from Fr. Richards

I REALLY must protest. A People keep saying, in letters sent publicly to you and privately to me, the', I have not denied the views attr:!mted to me by Frs. Dugan and Durning. And now Mr. Kennedy of the New Zealand Tablet repeats the charge across 24 inches of your letter page (October 27). How does one deny the halftruths contained in selective misquotations, especially when they are on such profound topics as the nature of God, the divinity of Christ, the Eucharist and life after death? By publishing the full text? This is precisely what I am engaged on at the moment.

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I don't mind people disagreeing with my views. What I find hard to take is the branding of these views as heretical, i.e. incompatible with the Faith of my fellow Catholics.

It was this irresponsible and mischievous language which two of the New Zealand bishops repudia.ed, each havinc' taken the trouble to sit in on all of the 15 hours of lectures and discussion which we devoted to these subjects.

My programme prevented me from offering to speak to the teachers of the other two dioceses (there are only four), so I don't know what the views of their bishops would have been. Nor does Mr. Kennedy. Is he determined to preserve the Faith for New Zealand in spite of its bishops? (Fr.) H. J. Richards St. Edmend's House,

Cambridge.

THE editor of the New Zealand Tablet informs us (October two 27) that the t priests who denounced Fr, Richards were, respectively, of noteworthy "mental powers and scholarship" and a "quiet Dominican." On the other hand, the bishops who criticised the Tablet and supported Fr. Richards were "petulant," rejected the advise of senior priests and after telling untruths about a grand catechetical design, were silenced by a challenge from the Tablet. Fortunately, its editor is able to assure us that he can also speak for the Cardinal and for Bishop Kavanagh.

An unbiassed report can surely be expected from such an unprejudiced and humble source. A. Harrison 33a Rodney Street,

Liverpool, 1.

I IMAGINE that Mr. Kennedy

would be surprised if I did not reply to his long letter of October 27 defending his policy on Fr. Richards, if only because in it he vigorously (or do I mean notoriously?) attacked me. And indeed I do reply. But I do so reluctantly, because I do not wish personalities to confuse the issue any further than Mr. Kennedy himself has already unnecessarily allowed them to do.

Mr. Kennedy (maybe somewhat ungraciously, but not unexpectedly) suggested that I was niggled because in the past I myself had tangled with Frs. Duggan and Durning. There is an element of truth and an element of falsity in this suggestion.

I have indeed had some very "costing" conflict with both priests in the pages of the New Zealand Tablet (who hasn't?); but it was precisely because of the growing sense of futility which I experienced during my last exchange with Fr. Duggan (together with a one-handed battle which I unadvisedly fought with Mr. Kennedy's own editorial policy on the Pill) that I resolved over a year ago to engage in no further public debate beyond the point where there was likelihood of personal animus.

What I say, therefore, in the remainder of this letter, I say with the greatest reluctance; and I. hope that, God willing, it may be so phrased as not to invite in terminable mud-slinging. I apologise in advance if it seems to Mr. Kennedy like just another "more in sorrow than in anger" letter!

First, let me tackle the point which was made the headline to Mr. Kennedy's reply — "No 'gunning' for Fr. Richards" — since this affects the most crucial assertion of my letter. Mr. K's reaction was a trifle thin-skinned, but perhaps reasonably so.

If my remark was taken by any readers to mean that the New Zealand Tablet itself publicly attacked Fr. Richards in advance, then I apologise for misleading them in the sense that I apologise for implying more than 1 know. (Imissed two issues of the Tablet in the course of preparing my departure and these may have contained such attacks, but I certainly do not know that they did.) Unfortunately, what I DID mean to say would apparently upset Mr. Kennedy almost as much — namely, that responsible Catholics in New Zealand (perhaps not he) were gunning for Fr. Richards before his arrival. And not surprisingly so, since there had been a bitter campaign against the new catechetics, led by Fr. Duggan, during the preceding year, which must have affected attitudes to Fr. Richards as former Principal of Corpus Christi College.

I myself became aware of this campaign from casual conversation at the time of a series of visiting lectures at Holy Cross College the week before my departure, and I was not the only one at that stage who was disquieted at the state of feeling in some quarters and apprehensive what position the Tablet would take.

Secondly, I should like to quote a comment which I received from a New Zealand priest friend at the end of August. It certainly throws an interesting light on the ambitious claims made by Mr. Kennedy for Tablet policy: "Kennedy took Delargey to task for backing him and insisted on the impeccable logic and rectitude of Durning and Duggan because `they are better educated than most of the clergy'. Ashby then took Kennedy to task — 'a bull in the china shop of the Church' he said — and now Kennedy has answered Ashby.

"He pointed out some rather interesting non sequiturs and contradictions in episcopal attitudes: the ban on the Tablet in Auckland a year ago for being too radical and now opposition because it was too reactionary; more interesting, why was it that Fr. Richards did not speak in Wellington and Dunedin if he was invited by the hierarchy to implement the programme for catechetical education and where do the other two bishops stand on the matter? "All of this debate has not filtered through to the correspondence column: I am not sure what Kennedy has in mind. The issue is a serious one. More important, two bishops have come out strongly in favour of the new theology."

Since my correspondent is not himself avant garde and is, by any standards, one of the "better educated" priests in New Zealand, it is very instructive to see his off-the-cuff reaction to Mr. Kennedy's St. George-andthe-Dragon campaign.

More recently — within the last few days in fact — my friend has written again to say: "The

Richards has died down although it is not forgotten. Fr. — was telling us the other night that it caused so much concern to the Apostolic Delegate that he was forced to write to the Tablet under the pseudonym 'Anxious, of Wellington.' Mind you, I would not find this beyond the realm of possibility ..." So, despite Mr. Kennedy's proud hopes, does the affair end a "not with a bang but whim "not with a bang but whim per?" It may well do so for Mr. Kennedy and the better informed and better educated clergy, but I shudder to think of the effect on the man-in-the-pew.

It hardly seems worth while, and might indeed be dangerous, to say much about Mr. Kennedy's personal implications about my attitude to Frs. Duggan and Durning; but they do raise one point which may be instructive for the British reader.

Mr. Kennedy takes exception to my use of the expression "notorious controversialist" — unworthy, he says, of an academic. Actually, I did not use the word "notorious" in any malicious or rancorous sense. In this age of communications exposition, "notorious" becoMes relative term -relative, that is, to the density of communication stimuli in a particular society.

There are priests like Fr. Duggan in every country, but Fr. Duggan stands out in a special way because New Zealand is thinly populated and therefore "provincial" in character and yet has a communications system designed for more metropolitan societies.

When, therefore, Fr. Duggan writes an average of one controversial letter per week to the editor of the Tablet. not to mention the occasional article which may or may not have been commissioned in the strict sense, the effect is one which may appropriately evoke the term "notorious."

I would even say this of Fr Durning, albeit he writes far less and his notoriety is chiefly in Dominican and university circles. In a society like New Zealand, saturation point comes much more quickly than elsewhere. Which is an additional reason why I decided to ease off my own contribution to Catholic controversy.

Let me end with a few positive points by way of summary and record: — I have no quarrel with Mr. .I. Kennedy — far from it and 1 recognise that he is in an extremely delicate position. (No innuendo here, I hope.)

The New Zealand Tablet Le generally does a good, balanced job in a difficult situation, though it often, in my opinion, misjudges its impact.

3—i intended no personal or academic disrespect to either 'Fr. Duggan (whom, alas, I have never met) or Fr. Durning (whom

know and admire). But both priests are, I repeat, very well

known as invariable champions of defensive conservative theology — and not merely in the matter of Humanae Vitae. Their attitude throughout to the New Catechetics bears this out.

It may be that the usual polemical sparkle was absent from Fr. Duggan's comments on Fr. Richards and that he confined himself largely to reporting. But the very fact that Fr. Duggan is involved would, alas, be a Pavlovian signal to New Zealand Catholics, inviting them to react on one "side" or the other irrespective of the state of information.

4 -I do not — despite Mr. Kennedy's closing remarks — personally sympathise with Fr. Richards in any more specific sense than I sympathise with any human being under pressure. If, indeed, he said half of what he has been reported as saying, I say again as I did in my first letter that I am ctuite out of sympathy with him.

I stand on this, as I have always tried to stand in New Zealand and hope to stand in the British Isles, between Duggan-Durning position and "radical Christianity"; and, please God, in so doing I will do no violence to "the integrity of the Faith."

C — I welcome Mr. Kennedy's a/ further documentation and only wish it had appeared in the original report, which was sadly indistinct. And I agree with him that the affair has had some value.

One value which perhaps he overlooks as a journalist is that it highlights the distorting effect of mass media communication when it floods public consciousness with a mass of highly-charged material without adequate context, without adequate safeguards against the sort of Pavlovian reflex actions to which I referred earlier and without sustaining an intelligent interest in the public beyond a certain critical point.

The Church needs badly to face up to this problem, whatever the fate of Fr. Richards may prove to be.

(Dr.) J. E. Pinnington Dublin, 6.




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