Thursday, 13 December 2012

What would Cardinal Heenan have done?

                       Cardinal Heenan - to him the Church meant "authority" - and so it should

Picture: A Reluctant Sinner

I mean what would Cardinal Heenan have done in the sense of action over the gay "marriage" fiasco, or the gay Masses in Soho, Catholic Adoption Agencies caving in to government legislation, Catholic schools being cesspits of ignorance regarding the Faith, the Pathway to oblivion touted by Liverpool, the general lethargy of the hierarchy when it comes to standing up for Christ, being a witness to the Church Militant.

Well, he would not have remained silent.

He was always on television fighting the good fight.

He made acute observations regarding the new Mass in the vernacular ("the men won't go you know") although I am unsure as to why he didn't think that the women also would not go.

He it was who did more than any person other than, possibly, Mother Theresa, to bring broadcaster and intellectual, Malcolm Muggeridge into the fold.

The late Cardinal Heenan was a scrapper but always in a kind way. He gave witness to the Faith straight from the shoulder; he would not have waited until the last minute to issue a letter regarding the Church's view on same-sex marriage.

And I doubt Mr Barber would be getting his knees under the desk at the Catholic Education Service if the good Cardinal was still Archbishop of Westminster.

The following conversation is between the Cardinal and Malcolm Muggeridge before he jumped into the Tiber.

It gives an excellent insight into both men, it is amusing and forthright.
 In answer to Muggeridge's question "Presumably  you want people to become Roman Catholic?" His Eminence answers: "Yes. I want everybody to" - a no nonsense response, full of Christian love both for his Faith and for others.

Extract from Muggeridge: Through the Microphone; BBC Radio and Television, Edited by Christopher Ralling.

Muggeridge: I always feel that almost the only reason that I’d like to become a Cardinal would be to be waited on by nuns.

Cardinal: I think you’d make a very good Cardinal as a matter of fact.

Muggeridge: I doubt it strongly. Not a Cardinal, perhaps a bishop.

Cardinal: Well, you’ve got to start somewhere.

Muggeridge: I always like lunching on Fridays because we don’t have meat.

Cardinal: You’re not getting any fish, by the way, you’re getting an omelette.

Muggeridge: No, no, it’s very nice. This would be part of the Catholic life that I would find least difficult. I suppose it dates from a time when eating meat was a tremendously important thing.

Cardinal: Well, you know what they say. They say that it was an example of the Jewish instinct of the twelve Apostles; they were all fishermen, and they decided that if they made a rule about fish on Fridays, it would be good business. But I don’t think that’s a theological doctrine.

Muggeridge: How powerful is a Cardinal today?

Cardinal: How powerful? It really depends on what you mean by power.

Muggeridge: But aren’t you the boss of the bishops?

Cardinal: The boss of the bishops? No, the Pope is.

Muggeridge: But he’s your boss?

Cardinal: The Pope is my boss, but he’s also the boss of all the bishops. The Pope deals directly with the bishops, not through me necessarily.

Muggeridge: He can go over your head as it were?

Cardinal: Well, yes. I wouldn’t think of it in that way.

Muggeridge: No. But the thing is that of course the Church does indulge in the sort of magnificence and outward show which one associates with worldly power.

Cardinal: When you’re taking part in ritual, as I do very often, it is burdensome rather than self-glorifying.

Muggeridge: You mean you personally don’t like it too much?

Cardinal: Well, no, and also you’ve got to wear the robes. The same as the poor Queen when she wears the crown and the royal robes. I’m sure she’s most uncomfortable but nevertheless she knows that by doing this she gives a certain satisfaction to her people.

Muggeridge: To me, at any rate, such emulation of the trappings of earthly authority would seem to have a certain danger.

Cardinal: This outward panoply and foolishness that you are thinking of, this has its uses, because even sticking a chain round a man’s neck and calling him mayor of Wigan – I don’t mean that with any disrespect to Wigan, of course – but putting a chain round a man’s neck marks him out as chief citizen. If he’s not a fool he doesn’t really think he’s the brightest and best and best and most intelligent man in that particular town. Nevertheless, that chain of office shows him to be what he is; it’s a sign – a badge of his office. Incidentally, I’ve got a chain on too, with a Cross, and I always envy a Mayor his chain, because at the end of the year he can just take it off and go off on his own, but this thing will be with me until I’m in the coffin in the Cathedral…

Muggeridge: How about your role as proselytizer?

Cardinal: I loathe that word.

Muggeridge: Presumably you want more people to become Roman Catholics?

Cardinal: Yes. I want everybody to.

Muggeridge: Therefore you are a sort of missionary.

Cardinal: I object to the word proselytizer because it sounds like something very underhand, some poison, some snaky movement by which you’re trying to drag people from the truth and indoctrinate them….No, you wouldn’t call Christ a proselytizer; a preacher perhaps. We call the Apostles –

Muggeridge: Evangelists.

Cardinal: Evangelists, men who have the message, which they believe to be truth, and want to spread it everywhere. Now there’s nothing strange about that, because even if you happened to have discovered a cough cure and it really works, and you take this thing, this drug or injection, all winter, and never have a cold, you know well that you cannot stop telling your friends about it. If you’re a good man and you possess a good thing, you want to share it. There’s an old philosophical saying, Bonum est diffusivum sui. You’ll know this, of course, but for the sake of my colleagues on the bench I will translate. It means that goodness diffuses itself, spreads itself, it can’t help it, just as heat can’t help expanding, warmth glows. In this kind of way a person who possesses the faith wants to spread it, want his warmth to go out to others. Now that’s no problem to me. Is it a problem to you?

Muggeridge: No, not a problem at all.

Cardinal: But this is what you’ve got to remember. Although we don’t use the word because it’s an offensive kind of word to use, this country’s full of pagans, this country’s full of people who know as little about God as the so-called heathens that you mentioned.

Muggeridge: Since you would hold that your Church in certain respects has the message uniquely, you would presumably wish good Anglicans also to join it.

Cardinal: Well naturally; after all this country was once a completely Catholic country, as you know. It would be lovely if once again it would be a completely Catholic country, from my point of view. Whereas, as you know, others would say, ‘Oh no, just a moment, it was once a Catholic country, but the corruption of Rome spread, and it has to be cured by a complete revival and renewal, and then the old Catholic faith was restored and Romanism dissipated.’ That’s another point of view – not, as it happens, mine.

Muggeridge: I didn’t think it was. Anyway, the point is that presumably, in so far as you would in the long run hope to bring back the Anglican church into the fold, into the Roman Catholic fold, that would mean that you were a missionary in relation to them also; that even the Archbishop of Canterbury, say, is a target.

Cardinal: Well, target is hardly the word.

Muggeridge: How do you get along with him, incidentally?

Cardinal: He’s a very great friend of mine; I’m very fond of him, and of his wife too.

Muggeridge: Do you argue with him when you’re there?

Cardinal: I don’t think we argue in the sense of having controversy. It’s clear that as the Chief Bishop of the Church, the Anglican Church in this country and throughout the world, it’s hardly likely that when I go to Lambeth I would go with a whole bundle of tracts in my pocket and say, ‘Look, I must explain to you about Papal Infallibility.’ Of course not. Our conversation is on a very different level, and I don’t think he ever seriously tries to persuade me of the errors of Rome or offer me a job as his assistant or auxiliary bishop in Canterbury. No, we don’t do that. But if you ask me, I don’t want to appear in any way insincere. I do agree that my greatest desire would be to have all Englishmen Catholics again.

Muggeridge: And those little churches and cathedrals that used to be Catholic – all their bells would be ringing.

Cardinal: You’ve got to be quite mature before you realize what being a priest involves, particularly in the question of celibacy, giving up the right to a family and so on, and it’s at that time, I think that the crisis comes with most people. These young men realize, they might be 20, 19, 21, anything, but they’ll be quite mature and they will then say, ‘Now, for the first time I realize that this really does mean a lonely life.’ You’re not feeling miserable because you’re alone, but you’re a man apart.
The relationship between a Catholic priest and his people is something you’ve got to experience to understand, they call me Father and that’s a term of tremendous affection. Now that Fatherhood I find enormously attractive and uplifting, but the shouting and the kissing, that means very little indeed.
Muggeridge: What do people want from their religion?

Cardinal: It’s the unchanging teaching of the Church which answers the deepest appeal, I think, in the heart of the people.

Muggeridge: What is that unchanging teaching, in a word?

Cardinal: In a word, if you want a word – authority.

Muggeridge: Authority, whose authority?

Cardinal: The authority of the Church, made known through the Pope and through the Council.

Muggeridge: Contrasting with that, when you’re standing at the altar…?

Cardinal: Now that’s quite different. When I’m standing at the altar, I am there representing Christ. When I offer the Mass, I don’t say, ‘This is the Body of Christ,’ I say, ‘This is my Body,’ because I, John Heenan, don’t exist. That’s why the vestments are there to disguise my personality. I am standing there a mediator, as 
one representing Christ. That’s quite different; there I am the Church, so to speak.

Muggeridge: This is the difficult thing to understand.

Cardinal: Of course, of course.

Muggeridge: I mean, how do you feel, when you’re doing it?

Cardinal: Well, I’ve been a priest for thirty-five years, and I’ve offered Mass every day.

Muggeridge: For thirty-five years.

Cardinal: Yes, and sometimes more than once a day. Now there’s an old saying, an old Latin saw, – Ab ssuetis non fit passio – a thing you’re used to doesn’t affect you, and so, obviously, I don’t feel emotionally now as I did the day I put on vestments for the first time, and offered my first Mass as a young priest. I don’t feel the same but perhaps I treasure the Mass even more; the Mass means more to me now after thirty-five years of celebration daily, than it did then. But how to describe that and how to show that that should be so is very difficult.

Muggeridge: Does it add to your worries when you think that by and large people are falling away from the Christian religion?

Cardinal: Of course, of course. I don’t use the word worry, because I don’t worry about these things. It’s God’s business, you know. If they’re falling away from religion, they’re falling away from Him.

Muggeridge: But you wouldn’t feel that it’s because you’re being inadequate?

Cardinal: Yes, yes.

Muggeridge: Do you, when you wake up in the night, think that…

Cardinal: How do you know I wake up in the night?

Muggeridge: I’m sure you’re a fellow-insomniac. I can spot them. When you wake up, would it be a bad thing that would worry you to think to yourself, ‘Well, are we really making a great mistake’?

Cardinal: No, I don’t. On this, no. I have no doubts whatsoever.

Muggeridge: You would regard yourself as being a person who held, on the whole, for tradition?

Cardinal: Well yes, I would say that every Catholic really at heart values the tradition. You can’t be a Catholic without holding for tradition. We’re the one thing in a changing world that’s solid. We’re the thing that people can reach for.

Muggeridge: But you are going to go on being as solid as you have been?

Cardinal: I hope so. Of course we are. Rome is the centre of Christianity. This place is still the centre, and that’s not because of that material building. Because, you see, this city of Rome could be taken over by the communists tomorrow, or next year. But even if materially we abandoned Rome, the spiritual centre of the Church is the Pope, the Vicar of Christ, and, as you know, there have been Popes that have never seen Rome. At one time there were no less than three people claiming to be the Pope. There was vice in this Vatican. This was a centre of vice from time to time, the Borgia Popes and so on, and therefore we are sometimes inclined to think that this was the most wicked of all ages, but in fact, in many ways, it’s the best of all ages. And you asked some time ago where I stood, and was I against progress. The answer is no. But obviously when you get people emotionally charges and determined to broaden the view, there are going to be excesses, they’re going to exaggerate, they’re going to get it wrong, and some of us have got to stand quite firm and say, ‘Yes, I love this wide open view, but we mustn’t for a moment forget truth, we mustn’t pretend that truth doesn’t matter.


  1. He was honest AND FAITHFUL while he was a priest, but when he became a bishop something changed. When he became a cardinal much depended on to whom, or which group, he was addressing. He would try to find out where they stood on a subject and then he would proceed to tell them what they wanted to hear!

    His greatest treachery to the Church was in keeping Corpus Christi College open long after other bishops withdrew their suport. May the Lord have mercy on his soul.

  2. Interesting post Richard, thank you. I was also interested in the comment from 'EFpastor emeritus', which led me to read an article published in the May 2006 edition of Christian Order, written by Daphne Mcleod,which included considerable information on the saga of Corpus Christi College, a matter of which I was quite ignorant. A brilliantly written article in which the writer pulls no punches. A revelation!


  3. EFPE and Umblepie - Oof! Just read it and it does not make happy reading. But, without wishing to become an apologist for Cardinal Heenan, he was, as my post states, a fighter for the Faith. He was not loved by his priests, I know that much but then, strong leaders are often unpopular.But Daphne Macleod's account is chilling.

  4. Here is something interesting, the letters exchanged between Heenan and Evelyn Waugh:

    This book review from Christian Order makes fascinating reading and gives more insights into the mind of the Cardinal.

  5. He was weak when questioned by David Frost on a "prime time" programme about artificial contraception and he could have done (maybe - I cannot be certain) so much being interviewed in the wake of Humanae Vitae.He was criticised for his performance by an English Rosminian in a letter to The Times. Alan Robinson

  6. I enjoyed the talks between Archbishop Heenan and Malcolm Muggeridge on BBC TV in the late fifties or early sixties. They enjoyed each others company and wit, and I always thought that they had much to do with Malcolm Muggeridge becoming Catholic later on.

  7. Which methons do you choose to search data for your future articles, which exact search resources or techniques do you generally turn to?

  8. Rosemary, part memory and experience and part a mix of my collection of reference books and the internet.