10 May 2010
Back to Cornwall for another Easter break, by the kindness of the Posbury sisters (the Franciscan Servants of Jesus and Mary) who lend us their holiday cottage at Porthcurno near Land's End. As we drive to look at 'our' ravens' nest to see whether they're sitting yet, we pass the First and Last Ebbsfleet church in the land, at St Just. Happy memories: it was on the notice board of that church that I first saw the news, five years ago, of the election of papa Ratzinger. Less happy memories as we pass churches which were once great Catholic shrines, back in the days when the Truro diocese had the reputation of being the most Catholic in the Church of England. Its last two bishops have put paid to that. Everywhere there are women who have been through a form of sacerdotal ordination, or their male running dogs (the latter, in my experience, often nastier than the former). And such people so often claim that they are the real successors of the the martyrs and confessors of the Catholic Movement: impertinently they hijack our fathers and apply some condescending argument to the effect that the 'papalism' of these great figures was so conditioned by the circumstances of the time that it doesn't really 'count'. So the heroic Fr Bernard Walke of St Hilary, who had to watch his church being wrecked by a protestant mob, has the heroism of his witness neutered. But his words are just as powerful and as relevant now as when he wrote them in 1935: '[I] was convinced that the Catholic movement in the Church of England, which began in the discovery of the Church as a divine institution, could have no other end but a corporate union with the Apostolic See of Rome. Outside that unity there could be no assurancce of the preservation of the faith and morals of the Christian revelation'. Notice there the words and morals. Fr Walke did indeed begin his incumbency by immediately replacing Prayer Book Mattins with the Tridentine Rite; but he was not some naively simple ritualist. Not long before he wrote, the Lambeth Conference had begun, albeit tentatively, the long but unambiguous process of unhitching Anglicanism from the common ancient tradition of historic Christendom with regard to sexual morality by admitting the possibility (of course, in the rarest and most exceptional cases: where would the liberal agenda be if wedges did not have very thin ends?), of artifical contraception. I am sure Walke had this in mind, and how right his prognosis has proved to be. It is instructive to compare his words with those of Bishop Gore, in a pamphlet which can be found on PROJECT CANTERBURY. Gore, a 'non-papal' catholic, was a good enough scholar to know that what had happened was a disaster of major proportions. But, blind to the significance in the divine dispensation of the Roman Primacy, his paper, for all its erudition, quite simply flounders. Only unambiguous papalism can reach the parts which other ecclesiologies cannot reach.