Dicebamus hesterna die that Cardinal Hume and Archbishop Worlock were facing a new threat. I have written before about the ecclesial polity they had devised for the Church in England and Wales: a collegial
The plan called for what Clifford Longley described as the sentimentalisation of the Papacy for the lumpencatholic masses while the project, dear to the editors of the Catholic press who were part of the nexus of lay people, could be established and take root without anything ruffling the surface, and forcing the Vatican to take note. The Papal Visit to England in 1982 was to cement this new view: the laity would turn out, and the Hierarchy would take the credit for being good pastors. But things became urgent, for while Hume and Worlock were at the 1980 Rome Synod they had begun to realise just how hard the Vatican was cracking down on some of the dissenting hierarchies (such as in The Netherlands or Switzerland), and they needed to ensure that the focus of the Roman dicasteries did not turn towards England and Wales.
Unfortunately, the priests hadn't yet been told that they weren't part of the plan. In the seventies, and particularly in the lead up to the Liverpool National Pastoral Congress, the National Conference of Priests had been an active and vocal participant in charting the new direction of the Church. They had noted that The Easter People, the Bishops' response to the final report of the Congress, had watered down some of its recommendations. So, on the return of the Cardinal and the Archbishop from the Synod in Rome, the Committee of the NCP asked to meet them. They did, and the Secretary of the Bishops' Conference wrote a note of the meeting to be circulated to the Bishops.
The note shows first, just how much Hume and Worlock feared that Rome might intervene in England and Wales, and second, just how much they felt they needed to control the agenda. Hume and Worlock were shown a copy of the note just before it was sent to the Bishops, at which point, to use an inappropriate secular expression, all hell broke loose.
REPORT OF MEETING WITH MEMBERS OF THE STANDING COMMITTEE OF THE NATIONAL CONFERENCE OF PRIESTS
When Hume and Worlock saw the draft they determined immediately that it must be suppressed: not just the front page, copied here, but the entire document even though the rest was uncontentious. If it got to the Bishops, it would get to Rome, and if it got to Rome, then Rome might want to look more closely at what was going on.
(It is worth noting too that Mgr Norris' minute is probably a lot more temperate than what was actually said: notes of meetings usually reflect light rather than heat.)
Worlock wrote to Norris on receipt of the draft:
I hope you will understand when I say that I think it would be disastrous if this report were circulated to the Bishops. Indeed I must confess I am most unhappy about the whole of the first page and I doubt very much whether the cardinal would want his remarks reported. The reference to the attacks upon himself and myself could throw our meeting of the Conference later this month into all kinds of chaos ...
He copied his letter to Norris to the Cardinal, with a covering note:
I enclose a copy of a letter I have written to David Norris on the subject of his report of the meeting with the standing committee of the NCP. I think the report would be disastrous if it goes to the NCP. It would be even more disastrous if it is sent out with the papers for the Bishops' meeting. It will probably be best if I prepare a single sheet.
To which the Cardinal replied:
I am in full agreement with what you say about the report concerning the NCP.
So the report was suppressed.
The final part of the jigsaw, the Pope's visit, was played well: the English Hierarchy convinced the Vatican that it should play a major role in drafting the Pope's public statements if he were not to trample all over national, ecumenical and historical sensitivities. In truth, they didn't want a visit of a Pope who would focus on issues like contraception and abortion, but curial diplomats, aware of the importance and sensitivity of this visit, simply accepted the offer of help at face value, and the visit was a tremendous success, the Pope saying what the CBCEW wanted the laity to hear.
Anybody who has been paying attention will have noted an interesting line in the note of the NCP meeting: "the Bishops appeared to give up their right as a local Church and to be too willing to give way to the Roman Curia". The ultimate end of the plans adopted by Hume and Worlock aimed at turning the Church in England and Wales into a semi-detached federal unit of the Catholic Church: like one of the Greek Catholic Churches though less insistent on orthodoxy or loyalty to the Pope. It would be hard to argue that over 30 years later, things were on a better course.
There is one footnote which doesn't reflect fantastically well on anyone, but which is a moment to raise the heart slightly at the end of such a depressing story. During the Papal visit it was agreed that there would be one day in the North West of England with one Mass. The Mass would be at Heaton Park in North Manchester, in the diocese of Salford, so there would be no Mass in Liverpool, which the Pope would visit after Manchester. It was common knowledge at the time that Archbishop Worlock had informed Bishop Holland that, as Metropolitan, he would be the principal co-concelebrant with the Pope. Bishop Holland, who had won a DSC as a naval chaplain during the Normandy Campaign, Bishop Holland who was privy to what Hume and Worlock were trying to do, Bishop Holland who would confound his successor, Bishop Kelly, by receiving Chief Constable James Anderton into the Church behind Kelly's back and against his wishes, was having none of it. "Bugger off!" he said to Worlock.