Thursday, July 21, 2016

Bishop Forester on Loyalty Upwards and Downwards

7. To George Weir, Archbishop of Derby.
Thursday, January 20th, 1977.

Dear George,

    Your letter caused me no surprise.  You pride yourself on being the rudest member of the hierarchy.  It is a claim in which you rarely fail.  You accuse me of holding the New Ordo to be invalid—which I don’t; of undermining the authority of the episcopate—which I am trying to restore; of being disloyal to Pope, Council, you, my colleagues, and all and sundry—which needs examining; of using the Mass as a banner for revolt—which is nonsense, etc. . . .  It is a fairly formidable indictment, isn’t it, even for you?

    However, I am interested in your accusation of disloyalty.  I know exactly what you mean but I happen to see things exactly in reverse.  The trouble is that people always think of loyalty as being due to themselves.  You automatically think of loyalty working upwards.  This is natural as you spring from a well-to-do family, employers in business and with staff in your home.  I, on the other hand, came from an eminently respectable but very poor background—hewers of wood in Roding Forest.  I, consequently, think of loyalty as working downwards.  I don’t say that the Squire wasn’t tough—he was—but we knew he would see us through:  he was loyal to us humble folk.  Incidentally, it was he, not the diocese, who  paid for my seminary—although he was a Black Protestant and always called us “my bloody Papists with too many blasted brats.”  As for Her Ladyship, she was a deal sight better than Social Security—but I must not bore you with reminiscences.  You see the point?  You blame me for not being loyal to my superiors.  It has never crossed my mind: they are perfectly capable of defending themselves and even breaking me if they so wish—and they doubtless will if I appear to succeed.  I, on the other hand, accuse you of being disloyal to your inferiors, your flock.  It has never crossed your mind, although they are totally defenceless against you.  And your disloyalty, George, is quite irreparable:  thanks to it countless of souls are seared in this life and may be lost in the next.  My disloyalty to you can do little more than melt your collar—if, in fact, I am disloyal.
   
    Disloyalty to the Pope is a more serious consideration.  Although I  have been a bishop for practically twelve years, I have only seen him thrice and then in a gaggle with other bishops.  He did not impress me as being a particularly congenial type:  intelligent enough, but weak and consequently devious.  He knows his mind all right, but he struck me as the sort of fellow who would get his way by hook or crook because he is incapable of getting it straight.  But that is scarcely the point, is it?  We are not talking about the Pope as a person but about the divine institution of the Papacy.  It is abundantly clear that loyalty to the divine institution is quite distinct from loyalty to its temporary incumbent.  Indeed, the two can run clean contrary to each other as history illustrates on almost every page from St Paul onwards.  My favorite example is the Blessed Colomba of Rieti.  You certainly do not know the story since your reading is confined to watching television.  (You see, I can be as rude as you if I like.)

    Anyway, Colomba was a Dominican nun who lived in Perugia.  She suffered from almost every type of mystical phenomenon—ecstasy, inedia, levitation and the rest.  The Master of the Dominicans felt uncertain whether her spirit was from God or from the Devil.  This was about 1490, when people still believed in both.  In consequence he would have the girl examined by the Holy Father himself who was on a visit to his favourite son, Cesare.  This was duly arranged.  In the great hall at Perugia, which you have doubtless visited, there sat enthroned the Sovereign Pontiff, Alexander VI, with Cesare on his right, Lucrezia on his left and the Papal Court around.  Colomba was introduced.  Upon sight of the Vicar of Christ she immediately went into ecstasy, as should all good nuns.  I seem to remember that she levitated and railed at the Pope from somewhere near the ceiling.  “You who are the Vicar of Christ and act as the vicar of Satan!  You who hold the Keys of the Kingdom but only unlock the doors of brothels!  You who are captain of the Ark of Salvation and have a girl in every port!  You who. . . .”  After twenty minutes of this sort of stuff, the Papal Court felt rather anxious for poor Colomba’s safety.  How do you get girls out of ecstasy?  However, Alexander Borgia turned to the Master of the Dominicans:  “Have no fear, my son; her spirit is certainly from God since everything she says is true.”

    I sometimes wish that I were an ecstatic Dominican nun.  I could keep going for well over twenty minutes.  What I doubt whether the sixth Paul has the humility of the sixth Alexander.  Admittedly, it is far more difficult to be humble if one sins between the ears than if one sins between the sheets.  Anyway, the point is perfectly clear:  Colomba was in opposition to the person of the Pope precisely out of loyalty to the institution of the Papacy.

    What I find astonishing in our days is that the situation is exactly reversed.  People can attack the Papacy to their heart’s content provided they do not breathe a word against the person of the Pope.  Our own ecumenists see the Pope as a Constitutional Monarch with plenty of whiskers but no teeth.  Hans Küng is even against the whiskers.  Dom Bernard Bresnet thinks that the Papacy should be a committee with, possibly, a lady chairman.  Professor Delumeau would prefer the pope to be the quinquennially elected President of the World Council of Churches.  All these—and I could name others—are in keeping with the present regime, and Delumeau can even expect a lollypop in his stocking at Christmas.  On the other hand, that benign old gentleman, Archbishop Lefebvre, gets into endless trouble for maintaining that the personal administration of the present Pontiff is an unmitigated disaster.

    Enough of all that.  What I am getting at is perfectly clear.  You should think twice before you start talking about loyalty.  It is certainly you are disloyal downwards.  It is also possible that you are disloyal upwards to the divine institution of the Papacy precisely by toadying to its temporary administrator.

    I could fill another couple of pages on your accusation that I use the Mass as a banner of revolt.  The trouble is that you have the mind of a drill sergeant.  You could not care less in which direction the platoon is marching provided it keeps in step.  When, at the edge of a precipice, the troops break formation and scurry off, you accuse them of indiscipline.

    Excuse me if I appear to answer you with a bit of your own coinage, but it does not prevent me from being

    Ever devotedly in Dmno,


— Byran Houghton, Mitre and Crook, 1979, pp. 33–36.