After a difficult first year in office, Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor talks
to William Oddie about
how he sees the future for the Catholic Church in England and Wales
How has your first year been?
well, it's been pretty tough. But even with all of the problems, particularly those involving child abuse questions, I think I ought to say that I'm in good heart.
I believe that I have to trust the Lord; that he has called me to this particular ministry, this particular office. I've had a great welcome from the diocese, from the priests in particular. Even with all the difficulties and scandals there have been in the Church — I don't think fundamentally it has changed the real affection and communion that exists between the people and their priests.
Now that we are in the new millennium, with sonic new bishops, I think that the future is bright. Pm confident; but with the confidence of what I would call the gift of hope, that the Catholic community will continue to be an essential voice of institutional Christianity in this country. And for that I give thanks to God.
One of the things that came out of the scandals was the Nolan Committee. How important do you think it is that the measures to protect children should be balanced by measures to protect innocent people who may be accused? . This includes some of the most high profile cases — Archbishop Ward's and Cardinal Bernardin's, both of whom were entirely innocent. In both cases, the accusers had their own psychological problems.
Would it really have helped in either of those cases to suspend them from office? Doesn't suspension from office imply a presumption of of guilt? This is a very difficult question. I do think there is among the clergy and the bishops a genuine concern about false accusations. Allegations need to have some kind of substance before proceeding further. But the paramountcy principle. which means that the protection of children is our first priority, is vitally important. Sometimes, false accusations have been pursued unjustly. This is a serious matter of concern. The Nolan Committee is looking into this problem, to see how far it is possible — while upholding the paramountcy principle, to protect against false accusations.
The paramountcy principle could mean in practice. that you are guilty until you are proved innocent. It could mean that it would in some cases tend to discredit the new procedures and weaken what is the real object of the exercise, the protection of the young.
I think that we'll be in a better position to address this the more we have our child protection procedures in place. I think that if we concentrate now on the child protection procedures in every diocese, then I think there will be less likelihood of false accusations.
I think that the two questions should then be looked at at the same time. Therefore the fears that you quite rightly mention will be at least partly answered by the adoption of the child protection procedures.
When you were appointed, the secular press, predictably, asked what you were going to do to reverse the English Church !s numerical decline. You said that these were not gloomy times for the Church. How far do you still think that; and is the numbers game really the point? Of course I am concerned about numerical decline. But I do believe that numerical decline can't be arrested just like that. It will be arrested in ways that are quite unexpected. I think the task of a bishop is to ensure that what he does is done more effectively, more generously, more courageously. My task, with the other bishops, is to try and form the Catholic community in prayer and worship, in teaching and understanding of our faith, and in witness — when that happens, the decline is halted. I hold absolutely to my view that these arc not gloomy times for the Church. I think, curiously enough, with all our troubles and the challenges that face us, that the voice of the Catholic church in this country is very important; people want to hear the distinctive voice of the Catholic community — not just our fellow Christians, but people who arc not Christian at all. In the great questions, about life, about our eternal destiny, about God, amidst all the turmoil, the Catholic voice is listened to. So that's why I'm not gloomy.
Do you think that addressing that question about decline to you is based on a wrong assumption — that because you're the Cardinal, it's your job to work out how the Church should be renewed? If you look back at the great periods of the renewal of the Church, they very rarely start inside the diocesan structures....
That is not entirely true. At the end of the Second Vatican Council, Pope Paul VI offered to all the bishops of the world St Charles Borromeo as a shining example of how pastoral reform in the Church begins in the diocese. The diocese is the principal and most
essential unit. It cannot be
bypassed. In a special way it has the mission to hold together all the rich and varied elements which together compose the Church.
Nevertheless, the young, for instance, tend not to be attracted by some diocesan youth conunittee and its activities but by movements like Youth 2000 — large numbers of young people kneeling before the Blessed Sacrament for hours — which have originated among the faithful themselves.
One reason why Pope John Paul likes the movements, particularly among the young, is that he sees that here are men and women who have come together and who understand that the gift of the Spirit in the Church is for them something new and something fresh, a new way of living —so I would say that while structure is important, at the same time renewal comes from the gift of the Spirit among the whole people of God and that's what we must nourish.
There is a need for us to become truly, in an integrated way. Eucharistic communities. For this the parish is vitally important. The sense of community is vital: you can't be a Catholic alone.
The Pope has said that the new ecclesial movements are the fulfilment of Pope John's call for a new Pentecost — that is a very powerful endorsement; clearly he does haw enormous faith in them.
Do you think the point has come when they are more appreciated? There was a time when the dioceses tended to regard them with mistrust. Do you think that the point luis come when their real gifts, their charism, will be more suppa iqd by the dioceses?
My opinion is the Pope eitcourages these movements rather than endorses them. There is an important distinction here. We need to have an understanding that the whole Church, including our parishes, is not just a structure but a community. The more alive, the more welcoming, the more community-minded our parishes are, the more the movements, with their special charisms, will find their proper place in the Church and will benefit everyone. At first the movements were regarded with suspicion because they presented themselves as churches within a church.
... But that's bound to happen if they are regarded with suspicion rather than being welcomed Yes. But there have been difficulties, as with all things
in their infancy. It is the
bishop's task not only to welcome but also to discern, and to ensure that movements take their proper part and make their individual contributions for the good of the whole Church in the diocese.
We've been speaking about the Church as a Eucharistic community; that brings us on to the central importance of the liturgy. The Congregation for Divine Worship — of which you have just become a member — has just published an important document, Liturgiam authenticatn — tvhich has had a mixed reception: Bishop Maurice Taylor of Galloway, greeted it with some hostility: our experience is that the laity have welcomed it warmly. There is a widespread feeling that the English of the Mass we have isn't yet quite good enough. Do you agree that the liturgical texts currently used inside the English-speaking world need to be improved?
We must always seek good translations which reflect the doctrine of the Church, are accessible to the people and are inspiring. The Bishops' Conferences are key to this process. The bishops are charged with responsibility for these texts. There is always room, in our imperfect world, for improvement, but that does not mean change for the sake of change. With regard to the translations from the International Committee for English in the Liturgy (ICEL), I think they could be improved. I think there's no
doubt about that. I think that this is also a view shared by the bishops' conferences which established ICEL as their agency for this work.
There is a widespread feeling that the meaning of the Latin text hasn't just often been mistranslated, it's been impoverished, the poetry has been knocked out of it. Why do we always opt for the prosaic? After all. Shakespeare is widely appreciated even among people without a sophisticated grasp of English.
have a lot of sympathy with people who think that the texts could be translated in a more
imaginative and evocative way. I'm going to have a lot more to do with it now, as a member of the Congregation for Divine Worship. I have to confess that I am no expert in liturgy, but as a bishop I am concerned for the liturgy. There is an important principle: Lex orandi, lex credendi (the rule of prayer dictates the rule of belief); it is in the liturgy, when celebrated well and in a way which evokes a sense of mystery and with the reverent and proper participation of the people, that the whole the church is enriched and nourished. The liturgy provides us with the most fundamental and on-going formation and opportunity for evangelisation at every level of our being.
As a member of the Congregation for Divine Worship, you find yourself on the opposite side of the fence now; you've become a gamekeeper..
Yes and no. I am appointed as a member of the Congregation to bring to it my experience as a bishop.
How do you see the future of ICEL? Does it have a Mitre?
ICEL has been an important agency and will continue to be so for the foreseeable future. If you're going to have one liturgy for the whole of the English-speaking world, then you need something like ICEL.
But B all agencies need to be regularly reviewed if they are to deliver effectively and efficiently and not become inbred and out of touch struchues.
How much do you think that the problem is the notion that Rome is interfering with the work of the local and particular churches? Bishop Taylor said he sometimes feels like a branch manager who is expected to carry out the orders of head office. How inevitable, in fact, is it, when we are talking about translations into a world language, that there .should be some steering from the centre?
I think the word "steering" is the right one. There have been problems between the Congregation and the local churches. Here, I'm not just speaking of ICEL. There needs always to be better consultation, better communication, and better understanding on all sides. Now. 1 say that very generally, because I think that it's something that concerns bishops the world over. Occasionally, you know, you have people writing to Rome with their complaints. Normally, complaints should be just dealt with by the bishop in the proper way, the bishop has the authority to do that. But jumping from one level of authority to another in order to receive an answer that suits someone personally is a serious matter and shows a self-seeking that of its very nature is not Catholic.
There are matters which need improvement and further consultation and communication between the bishops and the Congregation for Divine Worship. Now that I'm a member of the Congregation, I hope I shall help in that.
But I do understand the concerns and the difficulties of the Congregation, particularly when dealing with the English-speaking world. In the last 50 years it is extraordinary how English has emerged at the consistory, at least a third of the Cardi nals spoke English English, Italian and Spanish.
So, the whole question of translation into English has now become a very important matter, which needs to be noted.
Part of the problem with ICEL has been doctrinal: the criticism is not simply that there has been inaccuracy, but a tendency — conscious or not — towards a reduction of theological meaning from the divine to the human, a general tendency towards Pelagianism....
I'ye heard that complaint before. It certainly wasn't the intention of the !CFI translators to diminish the liturgy or the language in any way. The Missal was rapidly translated in the first instance in order to provide English texts.
We are now waiting for Rome to recognise the second translation of these texts which have been approved by the English speaking bishops...
But that would justify Rome's intervention, wouldn't it, once there's a question of whether or not the full meaning of the Latin texts is being reduced or distorted — it's Rome's job to sort that out. isn't it?
Well, it's Rome's job to have a part in it. There is an important partnership here which, if diminished on either side, will inevitably lead to confusion and misunderstanding.
That brings me to a related question.
A debate, about the nature of the Church, has been unfolding over the last few months between two German Cardinals, Kasper and Ratzinger, over the question of whether the Universality of the Church or its local character, its particularity, has priority.
Cardinal Ratzinger has argued that the Church has to be more than a mere federation of particular churches: Cardinal Avery Dulles has weighed in (we published his contribution to the debate someweeks ago) on the side of the priority of the Universal nature of the Church.
Do you think that under the present Pope power has been taken away from the bishops' conferences and centralised in Rome: and if so, is that an entirely bad thing? At the recent consistory I expressed a view concerning collegiality: "never Peter without the I I , never the 11 without Peter". I think that the balance there is very important. I think that with regard to the Cardinals you
Cardinal Ratzinger, there are two opinions there, and I rather rejoice that there are. There is room in the Church for different schools of thought, different emphases. This has always been the case and such dialectical tension has been ultimately productive.
One of Cardinal Kasper's arguments was to do with concrete questions, such as whether or not divorced people should receive the sacraments, Cardinal Kasper arguing that this is a local and pastoral question, Cardinal Dulles pointing out that it may be local so far as a particular bishop is concerned, but the minute one local church adopts a particular practice, then it becomes of universal application.
Well you're quite right, particularly given the effect of modern communications. What happens in one diocese or in one country is going to affect others and the service that Rome renders in maintaming unity will be, I think, one of the important questions over the next 50 years. How does the Church become incarnate in particular cultures, in Latin America and other places, with legitimate diversity but at the same time preserving essential unity, particularly of course in faith and moral?
The Office of the Pope then becomes absolutely essential, does it not: in a world overtaken by globalisation, the global nature of the papacy becomes dramatically apparent, so that what seems to be over-centralisation becomes more and more essential, if the Church is not wily apart, as for instance the Anglican communion can be argued to be doing: Hans Kiing would love the papal office to be more like that of the Archbishop of Canterbury — but isn't what we need precisely the reverse of that kind of loose chairmanship?
Well, here, clearly, the Pope and his authority and his jurisdiction are needed so much. But we must strike the right balance. What Vatican II did was to achieve the right balance between the jurisdiction and authority of the Pope, and the collegiality and authority of the bishops. One has got to be careful. 1 really do think that the Pope's authority is always seen in conjunction with the authority of the
bishops. The bishop is an apostle in his own right. His own diocese is the local Church in all its fullness, in the sense that everything essential is contained in the local Church and then, when you move beyond the local Church, you find that it is the authority of the Pope that binds us together.
But are there not times when the people in the pews find themselves closer to the Pope than to their own bishop, or to their own bishops' conference? The example I was thinking of was the Catechism of the Catholic Church. When the idea was first announced, I do know that one bishop said that if it comes to anything, its for us, its for the bishops: we'll read it and then we'll tell the people what they need to know. When it came out it was seen as a universal gift to the whole people, and it became one of the best sellers of all time. Is there a way in which the papal office has emerged over the last 20 years as an office for the whole people rather than just for the bishops? Yes, but I would be careful about that: there's a general truth in what you say, because the Pope is such a significant figure, and because of the way he has used the means of communication. But he himself would always say that when it comes to the government of the Church it is the Pope together with the bishops... But government isn't all the Church does....
Well, all structures of the Church, including the apostolic ministry of bishops, are for the service of the people of God, for shepherding them...
What I mean is that the Pope's teaching office, of which the Catechism is one of the great fruits, is one that has very little to do with structures, it has to do with his function as universal teacher and prophet
The Pope's teaching role is highly important, but he is not a teacher in isolation, alone. Take, for example, that wonderful encyclical, Evangelium Vitae. Our own bishops are studying this document very carefully in order to address issues within our own society and offer teaching to our people. Here is an example of how, in communion with the Pope, the bishops can teach in their own right. But I think that this is the more authentic Church. The Pope has his office which is clear and which is important, which is crucial. The bishops have theirs. Sometimes, I think, the bishops don't do enough. I think we ought to do more teaching. And I would be very concerned that in our own country we express, through proper documents, the teaching of the Church, in our own words, in our own style, but with clarity.
I wasn suggesting that the bishops and the Pope are rivals in this matter Simply that the people in the pews do see themselves as being part of a universal as well as a local Church, it makes a huge difference. Those who have been members of other Churches find that when they become Catholic, they realise that this universality is one of the massive changes that has taken place in their whole spiritual life.
I understand perfectly what you are saying. I do understand this sense of completion. All I think I would emphasise is this: Never Peter without the 11; never the 11 without Peter. Could we move on to what has been for a long time one of your main concerns, the question of our ecumenical relations with other churches. How many years was it that you were co-chairman of ARCIC?
Sixteen years A long time. And you lived through a period in which very heady hopes were being entertained hopes which seemed then dashed, particularly by the whole question of women's ordination, which put an end to some of the aspirations we had in the early '80,s, at the time of the Pope's visit, when it even seemed to many Catholic-minded Anglicans that there might be reunion in our own time. Recently we've had the Anglican bishops' response to One Bread, One Body which did scent to define how very far apart in quite essential matters the understanding of the two churches on the Eucharist actually was. Do you think that we were always further away from each other than we thought we were, did we get too optimistic?
First of all, with regard to ARCIC itself: we were dialoguing with the Anglicans who were actually there, representing as far as they were able to the Anglican communion. We therefore dialogued in good faith. To what extent the Anglicans could deliver on the documents is another matter — in a sense that's for them to determine. I think there may well have been an over-optimism in terms of the unity we aspired to, but that commitment was a necessary and real one. The whole thing comes down ultimately to the question of authority. That is the key. The Anglicans have trouble with the way the Catholic Church exercises authority. We have trouble with the question where their focus of authority lies — which is of course one of their biggest problems too. And therefore, there is a sense in which focus will only be achieved when authority becomes more in communion . What do I mean by that? When I suggested at the consistory that the Pope should hold a pan-Christian meeting it wasn't because thought they would accept his jurisdiction, but that they would accept his primacy. I remembered that when I went to see the Pope with Archbishop Runcie, the Pope said that "affective collegiality will lead us into effective collegiality". The more that we meet with each other, and the more that we care for each other, the sooner we will have effective collegiality. We can't go back on the ecumenical journey.
he Pope has said it time and time again. Do we close the doors? Or do we do what we can? Even in matters of doctrine, which are so crucial, we've got to keep at it, even though we' ve had these setbacks, particularly with regard to the ordination of women and other matters. So I do think the key ecumenical question is that: both the exercise and the focus of authority. And this is where I think that our gift to other Christians is our experience and our understanding of what it means to be Church. We gain from other Christian communities, yes. But that is our gift. I suppose that's why we say that the Church of Christ subsists in the Catholic Church. As Newman said, the Catholic Church will never fail because it has been tried through the ages. It's that guarantee that comes with what we believe is the gift of God to his Church, the main elements being the petrine ministry, the apostolicity of the Church, and her sacramentality.
Could you say something about your idea for a synod of the Christian churches? How would that work? For instance, could one of the ways forward for the Christian churches be to look at how they all separately and together relate to a secular culture?
There are two key things. First of all, we don't want the separation of the churches to get in the way. I think that such a meeting would say, look, we have come so far along our path towards full communion, let's make sure that we maintain what we have achieved in terms of an understanding of the real
degree of communion that already exists because of
our common baptism, our love of scripture, and all the other things that unite us — otherwise then._ call be a danger that we can get further apart. The second essential is precisely live in a world where we have to dialogue not only with each other but with other faiths. I was talking with the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Chief Rabbi the other day. concerning the family, and all those issues which are basic to good living and I think that the more we can, together, with a united voice speak up, for what is true in social ethics and sexual ethics, the better.
What do you think is the single most important moral question facing this country?
I think the health of the family. The way in which the culture of today encourages a promiscuous view of sexuality and its meaning all undermines the health and the stability of family life. And I think that the evils which come about — much of the behaviour of the children —because of the inability of many to have a stable marriage — results in more and more children who are disorientated. They grow up so and then themselves find it more difficult to have a stable relationship, which is the greatest gift a person can have. This is in no way to refuse help to those who — often through no fault of their own — are single parents. But that's not the point. It's not just the Government: it is parents, it is teachers, it is the whole of society who have to face this problem; and I think that the Catholic Church, together with other Christians, must keep on and on about the dangers of the disintegration or fragmentation of family life and encourage all those things which increase its health and its stability.
Do you think that the destabilisation of family life has a lot to do with the loss of understanding of how important marriage is as the guarantor of a relationship?
h yes, I'm sure of
that: that marriage itself is the solemn union of two people who say 'we will stay together, we will exercise our rights as husband and wife' with the children who then grow up with confidence because they have a father and a mother. So yes, marriage is an essential part of that. Cohabitation just isn't the same. I regret that there are many people who do cohabit. All I'm saying is that the norm and the ideal to strive after is marriage and that sexual relationship should find its fulfilment exclusively within the married state.
Do you think that the withdrawal of support for marriage by successive governments has had a lot to do with this, the withdrawal of fiscal support, for instance?
I think that that has happened in the past but I do think that all political parties now have suddenly realised that they do want to help the family because the consequences of not supporting family life and the married state are damaging — damaging not only in terms of the health of the country and the community but also damaging in terms of the costs that are involved. That is why this government is beginning to try to help. In the last budget they increased allowances for children.
...But that wasn't specially for marriage; marriage as such is not non, at all helped by the fiscal system, that all came to an end with the end of the marriage tax allowance.
I think we need to look at that more closely. I have spoken to the Prime Minister and the leader of the Opposition about this very matter and told them it was one of my gravest concerns, and they did try to convince me that they were also concerned about it.