FROM TIME to time I write piteously about the sort of letters that Catholics write to Catholic journalists. It has never had the slightest effect. Only the other week an old friend, Mr Douglas Woodruff, came down on me from a great height, and anyone who knows Mr Woodruff knows how squashing that can be.
On The Observer I have been sometimes reproved for answering letters too rudely or proudly. The best comback I ever found was to return the offending letter with a little memo reading: "Someone appears to be writing offensive nonsense over your name and I think you should be the first to know about it."
But in fact I find the letters pave of the Catholic Herald the best of its sort in the whole country. And people, of course. have a right even a sort of duty to make their views known to the Press.
Why should some self-appointed, unelected, responsible-to-nobody superficial pundit he allowed to pontificate in the ephemeral glory of print while the reader simply has to like it or lump it? It is maddening when people get you wrong, but it is their right to do so. Access to the media means not only the right to buy it, but to correct it and occasionally to make Your voice heard with a well-aimed kick. (I know about mixed metaphors!) And letters do have that effect.
1 still find myself writing acerb replies. The wickedest thing is to accuse a cleric of lack of charity. That one is below the cincture.
I once had a community of Irish nuns praying for me after a tart rep
ly to a tart letter from a 'Reverend
• Mother. And the other day, without apologising, a priest sent me a little book as a peace offering. I shall give up writing incivil replies for Holy Week, And I make a firm purpose of amendment. But you know how long those last.
The other St Peter's
WE ARE NOT, in this country, rich in Catholic churches which give delight to a stranger. The same graces, of course, are available in all of them, but occasionally you do come accoss one that moves the visitor in a special way.
I found a church like this the other day in a Liverpool back street. It was started, in theory, in 1788, and it is St Peter's, Seel Street.
It is now in a decayed area near the centre of the city. Once the street used to be lined with the carriages of the well-to-do at Sunday Mass time while the choir staggered through Mozart and Pergolesi to the accompaniment of organ and violins.
It used to stand among fields, and the original Mr Seel seems to have been a market gardener who made a packet selling fresh vegetables to ships in port.
It is now a "protected" building, but to a Catholic it is a solid chunk of our history. Outside it is plain and unostentatious, as if striving to avoid attention, Inside you can feel the effort of the generations to restore something of the glory of the past. It is run by Benedictines.
It is like a sound middle-class chapel inside with embellishments. The altar is classical. There are paintings! There is a gallery on three sides of it all. It has been added to from time to time. It is said that one of the parish priests ordered a railway wagonload of white marble statues from Italy and that when it arrived the parishioners went down to the station with wheelbarrows to cart it hack to the church.
In the priest's house there are portraits of some of his Benedictine predecessors bluff-looking men in black suits and high cravats, as if they were farmers off to a funeral. One of them has a memorial inside the church. He died tending the Irish during a cholera epidemic. Just one of the painted parish priests was a Franciscan. He is depicted in his habit, with a skull at his elbow and a crucifix in his hand. He looks very un-English.
Now Seel Street is a place of "clubs" which are not the sort of places where a man retires to read The Times. But there is real elegance still under the adverisements. Thc congregation has dwindled though it still has 20 Chinese members.
But the city wants to rehabilitate the area. The church is pure pleasure, and is the sort that makes even a stranger smile with affection.
Have crozier will travel
PORTSMOUTH is empty. That is to say it has no Catholic bishop. Not even within the diocese is there anything like the sort of frenzied speculation that attended Westminster. In fact the people have been encouraged from the pulpits not to over-gossip, but to write to the Apostolic Delegate and let him know whom they would like as bishop or what sort of bishop they would like.
The last is easy to answer. They would like a saint of great charm, eloquence, learning, tolerance, orthodoxy, with an infinite capacity to listen and an unwillingness to interfere with old ways while being a most eager reformer. It would also help if he had the gift of bilpcation. As a diocese, Portsmouth includes the Isle of Wight and the Channel Islands. It stretches from Bournemouth to the edge of Oxford. It has some 114 parish churches and about 75 places where Mass is said regularly.
It includes extremes of poverty and prosperity. It is a place where people like to, and expect to, see their bishop. So he must be ready to travel a great deal and have a crozier which unscrews.
Its Cathedral is unvaunting, but recently redecorated with a great corona! slung over the High Altar. The Bishop's House next door is comfortable and gleams with that special sort of polished cleanliness that suggests there are nuns in the cupboard.
There is a pub across the road which is quite unsuitable for episcopal or even junior clerical libations. The diocese is not rent with controversy. It is a pleasant if exhausting place and the field is wide open.
Fr George Walkerley, SJ, from 1964 to 1970 spiritual director of scholastics at Ileythrop, and previously Master of Novices at Rochampton, aged 76.
He entered Roehainpton in 1920 after serving in the Buffs with the Rhine Army, and became head novice. Later he taught at Stonyhurst, where he became head of the Officers: Training Corps and was instructor in boxing.
Croziers at Play
TALKING of croziers, there is a legend from the place where I went to school, many years ago, that the novices were waiting in the sacristry before a major abbatial ceremony. To pass the time, one of them tried to pole-vault over the faldstool using a brass crozier as a pole. He suceeded despite his habit. Rut the crozier bent into a right angle.
It was a brass job, and could be unscrewed into three pieces. All the efforts of all the novices could not get the thing straight again, They had remove .the central portion.
A rather nettled Abbot had to celebrate with a crozier which looked more like a walking stick than an embellished shepherd's crook. I do not really believe the story, but it was passed on for years among the anecdotes which surround High Altars like angels.
Portsmouth at work
IN A LARGE, bare hall last Saturday, grouped round tables cluttered with handouts, representatives from every parish in the Portsmouth Diocese met for the Diocesan Pastoral Conference on Adult Education. Priests, nuns, the laity old and young. All extremely serious.
The Vicar Capitular, Mgr Canon
Mullarkey, was in the chair, flanked by the two sturdy figures of Mgr Pat Murphy-O'Connor and Canon Lawrence. It was an efficient affair, with little time-wasting. But it did emerge that the title, "Adult Edtication," is an unpopular one. Surprisingly it seems there are still a great many people who feel their education was completed the day they left school, and to imply otherwise is insulting. Ilowever, the A mericansuggested alternative. "God-talk for Oldies" would probably not please either.
There were three talks, followed by debate, a concelebrated Mass, and lunch. It was a full day, but not a revolutionary one. It was agreed that the sermon provided the essential source of instruction and information.
There was doubt that basing it on the Readings for the Day was more helpful than a set course of instruction. Thc delicate problem of reaching the lapsed and disinterested went, as usual, unsolved, though in one large parish they had been bold enough to call at every door and met with some success.
From the table marked YOUTH came some of the most encouraging questions and, incidentally, the most sympathy for the problems of the parish priest. "There's been too much priest-bashing here to-day," said one young man.
At the end there were no firm conclusions. There were some new ideas and perhaps a little encouragement for all those fainthearted who won't begin anything lest it fail. But I'm not sure how many delegates came away feeling as did a man in Minnesota leaving a similar occasion "fructified and sensitised by this inter-action." But these things go on in every diocese in the country. And some parishes even have parish councils which really work. All this near-democracy must be having some effect. •
CHARTERIIOUSE, in my own humble person, is writing a memoir of the late Cardinal Heenan. There is far more material than can ever be used in a reasonably humble hook.
But if any of our readers have any anecdotes about him, accounts of acts of kindness, instances of his sometimes rather alarming use of authority, I would be most grateful.
My wife and 1, like thousands of others. regarded him as a personal friend. I would like to do him proud.