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Dear Cardinal Nichols, will you be as brave as Pope Francis?
21 February 2014 by Michael Phelan

In his book Saints, Sacrilege and Sedition of May 2012, Eamon Duffy, Professor of the History of Christianity at Cambridge University, writes about St John Fisher, the former Chancellor of Cambridge University and founder of the theology departments at both Oxford and Cambridge universities. John Fisher, Bishop of Rochester, was a man of great spirituality and a leading theologian in the Europe of his day. He ghosted writings for Henry VIII that led to him being granted the title of “Defender of the Faith” by the Pope.

As Henry moved towards his English Reformation, the Pope made Fisher a cardinal to try to warn the King off from that intention. This enraged Henry, who had John Fisher’s head, like that of Thomas More, lopped off at Tower Hill, boiled and stuck on a spike for refusing the oath of supremacy.

All cardinals wear scarlet red cassocks to demonstrate that they will die for the faith if need be, but according to Professor Duffy, Fisher is the only cardinal ever to have been martyred. The newly appointed Cardinal Vincent Nichols will know this story well – St John Fisher was the subject of his MA dissertation.

Many Catholics will have been impressed last weekend by Vincent taking on the Government and voicing his concerns about the punitive aspects of the reform of Britain’s benefits system. He has, of course, the examples of Pope Francis and his Victorian predecessor, Cardinal Henry Manning, who was an advocate for the poor and oppressed, a mediator in the London Dock Strike of 1889 and a contributor to that first great Catholic social teaching encyclical, Rerum Novarum. That said, Manning was said to be a very high-handed and political prelate, very ultramontane, and one would hope that Cardinal Nichols would not emulate him in these respects.

Having read Nichols’ interview with the editor of The Tablet, I was impressed by his wanting to be a “champion of people who have few others to speak for them”, that is, those on benefits, migrants, or the foreign spouses of residents. But I was rather concerned at the impression that Cardinal Nichols gave that he is not in favour of disclosing full the outcome of the consultation with the laity on such matters as marriage and the family and contraception, divorce, and homosexuality. Why?

Because the consultation did not come up with the right answers?

Catholics like me in England and Wales had hoped that Cardinal Vincent would show that he had the courage to listen to the laity on these matters. We still hope though that he will support some of the church reforms that the Pope wishes to make. In particular Cardinal Vincent and the rest of the bishops’ conference should open up space for dialogue within the Church in England and Wales, rather than maintaining the unreformed top-down concept of how the Church should function.

He is already a member of the Congregation for Bishops so it is hoped that he will be involved in selecting pastoral bishops who “smell the sheep”, as Francis put it. If he takes heed of his priests and many lay Catholics Cardinal Vincent will push for the jettisoning of the clumsy Latinate translation of the liturgy in favour of the previously agreed dynamic and inclusive language translation that preceded it after wide consultation, and was then suppressed by the Roman Curia.

On this Feast of the Chair of St Peter, which signifies the unity of the Church founded upon the Apostles, we should offer our prayers for Vincent Nichols as he is made a cardinal by Pope Francis.

Michael Phelan is a permanent deacon in Beaconsfield, Buckinghamshire



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Comment by: Pietro Albano
Posted: 28/02/2014 11:38:13

I agree with Michael's view and appeal to Cardinal Nichols and fellow bishops. If the Church hierarchy won't be open, then the Church's attribute as Catholic is compromised.

Comment by: Boyers
Posted: 26/02/2014 22:28:50

I doubt that VN will be brave and truly follow Francis. We are ill-served by our Bishops.

Comment by: Joseph
Posted: 23/02/2014 17:46:31

I would suggest that the Church needs to also have a longer view and be hugely more creative. For instance, we need to consider that traditional jobs - for one reason or another - are escaping our land, and there is emerging a new societal landscape, with deep implications for even what labour means.

With technological advance, there will bound to be fewer and fewer jobs. If we support sustainable globalisation, which has lifted a breathtaking number of the global population from extreme poverty, then we must admit that some jobs in the U.K. will have enormous pressure to be moved offshore. Ultimately, we must face up to the reality that there will ultimately be very few traditional jobs left in this country.

I therefore would also like the Church to start thinking about the long-term. In the short term, it is very important to make sure people have jobs, and they are paid appropriately for the work. However, what does it all mean as labour is replaced by technology? Without a strategy to think about the longer-term, it can feel as though the Church is advocating absurdities to disregard technology developments.

It is probably not the cardinal's job to forecast into the future and evaluate particular economic solutions. However, he could set up or encourage expert groups to think about this issue. The Church had been fantastic in engaging on the other long-term issue: climate change - why not on economics as well?

Comment by: CONGREGENTUR
Posted: 23/02/2014 12:42:32

QUOTE Comment by: Brendan Mooney

I like to address His Eminence, Vincent Cardinal Nichols, with these issues as rightly outlined by Brendan Mooney.

Comment by: CONGREGENTUR
Posted: 23/02/2014 12:15:35

QUOTE
"Cardinal Nichols gave that he is not in favour of disclosing full the outcome of the consultation with the laity on such matters as marriage and the family and contraception, divorce, and homosexuality. Why?"

Why?
These issues are not open for debate, Mr. Phelan. It's THAT simple.

To emphasise, do not mistake Anglican euphoria with the Gosple. That is to say, what ever the Anglican Church does for example (and very obviously) is up to them. The RCC may give gestures of peace, but it is up to the Anglican Church to follow, not the other way.

Comment by: Brendan Mooney
Posted: 21/02/2014 18:45:56

The Archbishop spoke up for the most vulnerable and needy of our society and for that I am deeply grateful. People have died because of these reforms, and this requires the authoritative voice of the all the Churches to denounce this evil. The attack on the disabled and poor is evil. It paves the way for a throw away society to become even more inclined to dispose of those deemed to be no longer 'productive'. Maybe this needs to be spelled out even more clearly to the government with the course of time, because right now, they are merely defending their grasping ways, and refuting the criticisms, not engaging in dialogue.

Comment by: Brendan Mooney
Posted: 21/02/2014 18:44:28

The Archbishop spoke up for the most vulnerable and needy of our society and for that I am deeply grateful. People have died because of these reforms, and this requires the authoritative voice of the all the Churches to denounce this evil. The attack on the disabled and poor is evil. It paves the way for a throw away society to become even more inclined to dispose of those deemed to be no longer 'productive'. Maybe this needs to be spelled out even more clearly to the government with the course of time, because right now, they are merely defending their grasping ways, and refuting the criticisms, not engaging in dialogue.

Comment by: PICTON
Posted: 21/02/2014 18:32:02

The problem Michael Phelan overlooks is that Christian sexual morality developed very quickly in a world that was as licentious as our own. This is clear from St Paul and the Didache; and from that context of licentiousness, Christian teaching was progressive. So, what has changed?
As for the previous translation of the liturgy, it was often inaccurate and unscriptural and frequently utterly banal: just compare the translation of the Collects. The present translation is not perfect, but it is better than what we have had to put up with all these years. We could of course compromise by using the texts authorised for the Anglican Ordinariate: certainly a better class of English!