People criticise Cardinal Basil Hume. They tell me that he was responsible for a collapse in English Catholicism. To which I would reply that post hoc ergo propter hoc is a flawed logical assumption. As well as a massively simplistic way of doing history.
I rather admired him and certainly found him easy to respect, as well as downright lovable. But I do think it can be argued that, faced with bullies, he lacked gumption. Two examples of which I had knowledge.
One Thursday, in Archbishop's House in the 1990s (how many readers remember those Irish Country Dancing Classes?), vested in his elderly black cardigan, he revealed to the assembled Anglican clergy that the Anglican episcopate had requested that, when Anglican clergy had entered the priesthood of the English Catholic Church, they should renounce their Church of England pension entitlements. A noisy rumble of anger echoed round the room. Basil looked awkward. "You would not be prepared to do this?", he nervously enquired. There was an even louder, even angrier, rumble. "Very well", he said. He did not look to me like a man who relished carrying this negative answer back to his Ecumenical Partners in Dialogue.
Not only his Anglican episcopal 'friends', but also his fellow Catholic bishops, were prepared to bully him. His first reaction to the attempt in the mid-1990s to find a corporate solution for Anglican Catholics was to say "Perhaps this is the Conversion of England for which we have always prayed". First thoughts are so very often the best thoughts! But it wasn't long before this grace-filled openness to a movement of the Spirit was knocked out of him by some of his colleagues, and replaced by their cautious and hostile negativity. This, of course, is why Benedict XVI, when the same question arrived on his desk fifteen years later, decided to play his cards rather close to his chest. Cuius laus in aeternum manebit!
Basil Hume was kind and gentle and holy, a true Father Abbot. There must be thousands whom he helped to find their way to the Lord Jesus. May he rest in peace.
26 August 2021
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About 25 years ago, my late father, a retired Anglican minister, was seriously contemplating following me into the one true Church. However, my mother was apprehensive about the potential loss of his pension. At her request, I made enquiries of the Church of England Pensions Board. The lady to whom I spoke was highly offended that I could think that any such thing could even be contemplated! (Sadly my father died before his desire for conversion could be realised.)
The obvious goodness and holiness of Cardinal Hume was one of the factors that attracted me to Catholicism in the early 1980's. Comparing him with Robert Runcie indicated to me the depth and seriousness of Catholicism compared with Anglicanism as Cardinal Hume spoke with Authority and gravitas. The visit to Great Britain of Pope John Paul II in 1982 was another factor in drawing me to become a Catholic five years later and Cardinal Hume must have played a big part in organising the Papal visit.
In some ways Cardinal Hume has been the best Archbishop of Westminster of my lifetime, though I have very few memories of Cardinal Heenan, about whom I know little apart from the fact that it was he who, as Archbishop of Liverpool, pushed forward the building of "Paddy's Wigwam" and the final abandonment of Lutyens's magnificent design for the Metropolitan Cathedral in Liverpool.
Have you blocked me?
I always thought that it was the great work of Cardinal Hume to make Catholicism acceptable to the English. Public school and Oxford educated (Modern History), headmaster, abbot of his famous English Benedictine house, friend of the Royal family and the Anglican archbishop of Canterbury; a thoroughly English middle class life, with just enough zest on the side to be slightly different. The days of the hegemony of the Irish clergy were coming to an end, and the 'Italian Mission', as the Church was once termed, had given way to episcopal rule from the golf course and well kept lawn. Hume had yet to finish the job of Catholic rehabilitation, but it was going in the right direction.
Of course, all of this asks that great question about the nature of the Church, and so by extension at Christology and grace; is the Church to be at the centre of things, looking for the good in the world, non-confrontational politics, backroom diplomacy, etc? Or is it to be at the edge of things, declaring the sins of the people, pointing to a radically different life, and so forth? It is a question that has to be faced many times, and with different responses within the Church. Continental missionaries to England, and English missionaries to the continent of Europe, evangelised in completely opposite ways. Lots of saint in both camps. There's no right or wrong answer, I don't think.
So if you feel your blood boiling at this or that in the Church, then get stuck into Church History. You'll find that we've always 'been here before', and we muddle through in a happy way.
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