Francis Phillips has written a very interesting piece on Cardinal Hume in The Catholic Herald online, or more precisely on the Anthony Howard's forward and epilogue to his biography of the Cardinal published in 2005. Phillips was most disturbed at Howard's claim that Cardinal Hume "[persuaded] a predominantly unbelieving public that it was perfectly possible to be a convinced Christian without being in any sense a crank”. Curiously, Howard's view of Hume correlated with the Tablet's obituary of the cardinal which claimed:
'That is not the way we do things in England' became a trademark of his, to ward off policies and approaches [of Rome] that were unlikely to endear themselves to the Catholic Church at home.
In her own article Phillips eventually concludes:
In his clear pursuit of Catholic respectability within the English Establishment, crowned by getting Her Majesty to attend Vespers in Westminster Cathedral, Hume was wrong. You simply cannot be true to Catholic teachings on eg the sacredness of life before birth and in sickness and old age, sexual behaviour and the nature of marriage and hope to be “respectable”.
This view rings bells with me at the moment. In my current reading, Georges Bernanos's pamphlet Le Scandale de la vérité, the desire to sacrifice truth, justice and honour to corporate interest (in Bernanos's analysis these are sacrificed to national interest) is seen as a peculiar sin of the French right wing in the interwar years. But why did the French right make such sacrifices? Solely for the sake of practical leverage. Never mind the message; feel the influence. Is this ringing bells for anybody else?
Without further study, it would be unfair of me to apply these principles to Hume's case - and I beg you not to throw Hume to the dogs in the comment box unless you do it dispassionately and with hard evidence - but the major premise of Phillips's argument is correct: sanctity and worldly popularity are rarely bed fellows. Good grief, that is an evangelical principle: If this is what they do in the green wood, what will they do in the dry? (Luke 23: 31) As St Teresa of Avila says somewhere, you cannot begin to serve God until you've lost your reputation. Other saints clearly became holy by the sacrifice of their worldly leverage. Indeed, one might even claim the path to holiness through the sacrifice of worldly success is a particularly English one: St Thomas à Becket, St Thomas More, St Edmund Campion, Blessed John Henry Newman ... need I go on?
So what is the legacy of Hume in terms of Catholic fidelity in public life? Well, I'm sure there is evidence to the contrary, but when I think now about the association of Catholics with the British Establishment, it is not hard-headed, uncompromisingly orthodox figures that spring to mind, but individuals like Tony Blair or Greg Pope. When the vote was taken at the third reading of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill in 2008, at least twenty Catholic MPs voted in favour of it, including two papal knights.
So here is the question for the Howardian view: if Hume's policy was so good, where are the persuasive Catholic voices in the public sphere who manage to be Catholic, orthodox, popular and successful? Or is this marriage of popularity and fidelity ultimately like the legendary Philosopher's Stone which turns base metal in gold?
Neither is this a dead argument. We might might need the velvet glove approach in this country, but isn't it about time we did away with the limp wrists? Our new papal nuncio, Archbishop Antonio Mennini, charged with nominating replacements for up to 38% of the bishops of England and Wales in the next three years, needs our prayers.
I haven't read Howard's biography of Cardinal Hume and maybe I should. Still, if Howard is right about Hume, and if Howard's case is that public relations are more crucial than fidelity to the Church, I say that is a difficult burden for any man's memory to carry, particularly one hoping to serve the disreputable Son of God.