20 February 2022

S Stephen's House, Vatican II, and the Cappa Magna

 Spare a prayer today for the Rt Revd (William) Gordon Wheeler, quondam Bishop of Theudalis in partibus infidelium and then of Leeds. Today, 20 February, is the obit of his death (aetatis 87) in 1998.

I feel comfortably disposed towards his Lordship. Like me, he had his priesthood 'formed' at "Staggers". Like me, he was at one point Assistant Chaplain at Lancing College. He was a product of the fine, robust, triumphalist Anglo-Catholicism of the 1930s; if you desire to verify that observation, go and look ... first, at the belle epoque glories of S Bartholomew's Church in Brighton not far from the Railway Station, where he served as a curate ... then at the high gothic glory of Lancing Chapel perched on its South Downs hilltop.

After entering into full communion, he was ordained by Cardinal Hinsley on 31 March 1940 in the Crypt of Westminster Cathedral "for fear of the bombs", as Fr Brian Houghton, one of the four other ordinands, recalls. [Have you acquired and read Unwanted Priest, the autobiography of Fr Bryan Houghton, a priest who refused to say the New Mass and led a diverting and diverse life ... just published by Angelico Press in its Catholic Traditionalist Classics series.]

[Fr Houghton records that, at the Beda, where he and the future Bishop Wheeler studied together, about a dozen of the seminarians had been Anglican clergymen, and "the Anglican clergy saw to it that the liturgy was performed precisely according to the rubrics ... it gave a very good training".]

Wheeler had "Anglican Previous" and a Staggers training: so it's not surprising that he was the last English Catholic Bishop to wear the cappa magna; and that throughout his life, his personal liturgical preference was for the 'Tridentine Rite'. [Fr Houghton summarised him as "a good bishop".] If vernacular had to be used, he favoured English of the "Thou/Thee" variety ... which must make him a sort of Forerunner of the Ordinariate Liturgy! 

Not all Catholic Bishops of Leeds have had such sound instincts! Wheeler was one of the Fathers of Vatican II; so he knew it from the inside ... from the inside of the Bar-Jonah as well as the inside of the Conciliar aula. He was in favour of the Council but strongly opposed to the misappropriation of the Council in later years.

Should you ever hear talk of any later Bishop of Leeds who was not a Father of the Council, but who blathers on about Vatican II, beware. As far as Liturgy is concerned, the conciliar decree Sacrosanctum Concilium did, indeed, allow some (mainly optional) modifications, but its cautious and sensible suggestions bore no connexion with the wholesale slaughter that followed when, after the Council, gangs of crooks got their hands on 'implementation' and treated this as a carte blanche to make whatever faddish liturgical alterations appealed to them.

Cardinal Heenan was to be terribly embarrassed by the fact that the reassurances he had given about the Council were made to seem untruthful. Archbishop McQuaid, Primas Hiberniae, was never more wrong than when he guaranteed to his people that "No change will worry the tranquillity of your Christian lives".

Decent men deceived. An episcopate manipulated.

"Only four bishops voted against Sacrosanctum Concilium". Dishonest commentators glibly use this fact to imply that all the changes which were introduced after the Council were enthusiastically mandated by the Council. Not in a million years. The point is that the vote for SC would not have been anything like so overwhelming if the Fathers had realised that, as far as the radicals were concerned, they were being dishonestly tricked into signing a blank cheque. 

Do you really, seriously, think that in any known world Marcel Lefebvre would have contentedly signed SC if he had known that, within a decade, the Canon Romanus would be almost entirely and universally discarded?

This is a good moment to remind you of Dom Hugh Knapman's edition of the limericks composed at the Council by the English Bishops, including a number by Wheeler himself, and comments about Wheeler by other bishops. Bishop Wall translated them into Latin. A Limerickal Commentary on the Second Vatican Council * (Arouca Press) provides an amusing sidelight on the Council. And a revealing one. When the Barbarians shouted Ottaviani down, it was not in the name of the Anglophone Bishops ... or, indeed, of many of the un-Rhineish prelates.

*"Of Rahner and Congar and Kung /The praises are everywhere sung; /But one bello domani /Lord Ottaviani /Will see the three of 'em hung."

O utinam ...

From Heenan downwards, the Anglophone hierarchies were generally dubious about the unscrupulous tricks being played upon them. But, like the rest of us, they did not foresee the half of it.


*"What John Carmel, Westminster's Archbish, /Dislikes most intensely is fish. /He's not slow in declaring /He can't stand red Haerring, /It just simply isn't his dish."

Fish, indeed! They come in so many shapes and sizes!! 153 or perhaps even more!!!


Andrew said...

"he was the last English Catholic Bishop to wear the cappa magna"

Not quite: Abp Malcolm McMahon of Liverpool wore the cappa magna at the Warrington ordinations in June 2017. (Sadly, since then, he's gone all Traditionis Custodes on us.)


Mick Jagger Gathers No Mosque said...

Dear Father. When you have lived through the reigns of Pope Saints and seen how they have refused to actualise the Great Commission (They will not teach what Jesus commanded them to teach) one gets inured to the decline and fall of this roman enterprise - because it is seen as their enterprise, a humanistic endeavor which they are in complete control of.

It is a a religious form of La Costra Nostra (Our - their - thing) not a holy Res publica (A public - our- thing).

The observations of Romano Amerio are useful to revisit from time to time to remind one's own self who is or isn't heretical or schismatic:


wolfruno said...

I remember a pastoral letter from Archbishop Gordon Wheeler some time before the outbreak of the second Vatican Council which was read out in my parish church, Saint William of York in Sheffield. The Bishop very astutely put his finger on two issues and assured his congregations that there would not be any change in respect of either of them.
The first issue was concerning marriage and divorce. There was to be no change expected from the council on the Church's traditional teaching. Men hoping for a get-out clause enabling them to marry their mistresses were in for a disappointment. He was largely correct in this prediction as far as the future up until the 2000s is concerned.
The second issue concerned the claim of the holy Roman Catholic and Apostolic Church to be the only true church established by Christ. There was to be no change in this teaching said Bishop Gordon Wheeler back in 1960/1961. Of course he was wrong. The document Dignitatis Humanae completely contradicts the traditional teaching of the Church on this matter. If an erudite treatment of the question is to your taste then I recommend to you the article written by John S. Daly which you can access, cost free, here.

For more lively but less intellectual treatment you could do worse than watch this short YouTube video. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L5AowgCvi90

Full disclosure: I remember the letter being read out and I remember the points being made but it was my mother who told me, some years afterwards, that it was Archbishop Wheeler who was the author.
I understand it if you don't wish to allow this comment to appear on your blog; that is your prerogative. I just thought you might be interested in an actual first person reminiscence going as far back as the 1960s.

Expeditus said...

This is surely the place to record that Bishop Wheeler was the first of his episcopal brethren to introduce the permanent diaconate in England. Not for adventurous theological reasons but to ensure that he was appropriately accompanied for his pontifical masses. His sense of what was appropriate led him to transfer his residence from suburban Roundhay to a country manor at Thorner. For all that, he used the modest throne at the side of the choir and would surely never have coveted Arthur's Seat!

Expeditus said...

Two more cappae magnae in post-Conciliar England though not worn by English bishops: Cardinal Keith O'Brien in the London Oratory and Archbishop Bruno Heim, the Nuncio, at the Oratory's centenary celebration. On that occasion, Heim was mortified because he had been inveigled into wearing said garment thus upstaging Cardinal Hume who was more modestly apparelled.
Wheeler was not, of course, an 'archbishop' but not for want of trying. The division of the Leeds diocese into Hallam and Leeds was intended as a preliminary step in the creation of a north eastern province over which he hoped to preside. The scheme fell through but with one advantage for Leeds. Before the division Wheeler is siad to have moved all the goats down to Hallam and broguht the sheep up to Leeds!

Stephen said...

Indeed, the sainted Lefebrve saw what was coming regarding the intent of the innovators, and mounted with a very few other bishops (no more than 12, if memory serves) a counter-attach, too little too late. But other than that very small group, what other bishops put up a fuss? Dear Fr. H, you paint a picture of a handful of scheming theologians, sinister periti and conniving German bishops (Aryans still, sadly) duping the thousands of other bishops, tens of thousands of lower clergy and millions of lay faithful to enact liturgical changes that were embraced and enacted with a speed and enthusiasm that points less to duping and more to encouragement and enabling. It is to you, me and many of your readers beyond belief that they all jettisoned so readily and easily the liturgy of their youth, the office of their formation, and the practices of their cult - but that is what happened. A very, very small fraction of bishops and lay put up a fight or fuss; but the vast overwhelming majority clearly thought the changes were either needed and welcomed, or at least not be rejected (the Pope himself authorized it, the Rite has his name attached to it, after all). To place the onus so exclusively on the active progressives of the council is to focus on the symptoms, and ignore what the underlying diseases might be.

PM said...

I think you have your answer already, Stephen. 'The Pope himself authorized it.' In hindsight, one suspects, the liturgical changes will turn out to be the high-water mark of a certain kind of ultramontane authoritarianism.

The right understanding, as taught by Benedict XVI, is that the Pope is 'not an absolute monarch' but the servant and guardian of revealed truth. He is under an obligation to be obedient to the Truth just as much as - indeed even more than - the rest of us are.

Greyman 82 said...

Expeditus: For 29 years, the greater part of the diocese's existence, in fact, I was a parishioner of a parish in the Diocese of Hallam. It always seemed to be one of the "Second Division" dioceses, a veritable beacon of mediocrity. I still live in the diocese, but for over two years have been a member of the Ordinariate. I can scarcely believe I put up with the banality of Norvus Ordo liturgy for so long!
A priest of my acquaintance knew Bishop Wheeler, spoke highly of him and was encouraged in his vocation by him. Not until I read this blog did I learn that Bishop Wheeler was a convert from Anglicanism. We could do with a few more bishops like him.

Unknown said...

Are there any records to show who were the 4 bishops who voted against Sacrosanctum Concilium?