Press Column

There are more or less a billion Roman Catholics in the world, and it is difficult to imagine any two of them more different than Cardinal Winning and Archbishop Milingo, both of whom had their characters examined in the papers. Winning’s obituaries were full of tributes to his generous anger. He was an interesting character because there was no one in public life who agreed with him about everything: given his forthright character, this mean that there was no one in public who did not disagree with him violently about something, and consider his opinions as shallow and immoral on that topic as he thought ours. The nicest balancing act, I thought, was Libby Purves, in the Times: "The pleasure of Cardinal Winning was that his outbursts always made you think — even if the outcome of your thoughts was that he had definitely gone too far this time, and landed somewhere between wrong and barking-mad."

She had applauded his scheme to give girls who felt they could not afford babies the financial support to let them avoid abortion instead, "It made people think; for some young girls it offered a psychological and financial lifeline. It was brave, it was eccentric, it was out of step both with the tidy, bustling consensus of modern Britain and the equally unpleasant, censorious cruelty of the "Pro-Life" lobbies. It deserved applause. So I applauded it: and the cold, cruel, sneering tone of the critical letters helped me understand how brave it was to be Cardinal Winning."

Archbishop Milingo, on the other hand, seems to me less brave: the Archbishop, "one of the few members of the Roman curia to have been accused of being a witch doctor" according to an earlier Daily Telegraph report, was the origin of another wonderful quote in his interview with Charles Laurence in New York. "I have been chaste since I was 12, and it has been a struggle." So now, converted by Sun Myung Moon to family values, the 71-year-old Archbishop has married a Korean acupuncturist 28 years younger, and the struggle draws towards its close. It’s not clear whether the couple had actually met before their marriage, which took place at a mass ceremony: they must wait, as Moonies, for forty days after it before sleeping together. "This form of marriage is a very strong way of fighting sex", according to the archbishops, apparently unaware of the efficiency of conventional arrangements.

No, the person in this story whose courage is really remarkable is the new Mrs Milingo. "a small, well-rounded woman of 43 with a big smile and the warm, easy-going manner of a nurse … In broken English and with nervous glances for approval, she makes it clear that she believes her marriage to be a matter of divine destiny, a union ordered by God and Moon, and that she certainly plans to fulfil her vows when the 40 days of waiting are up."

The imbroglio around the Cafod director Julian Filochowski’s mass to celebrate 25 years with his partner, Martin Prendergast, never made the national press after Victoria Combe’s excellent scoop saying that it would happen. But the contrasting treatment in the Catholic papers was fascinating. The Tablet gave it eight paragraphs in the back of the paper, less interesting, apparently than "Cardinal Winning suffers heart attack" (this was before his death, when it seemed he had wholly recovered) and "New bishop appointed to Menevia", under the headline "Bishop withdraws from celebration Mass". The Catholic Herald ran it all over the front page, as "Bishop in storm over ‘Gay Thanksgiving’ Mass." The Universe was almost as excited, but gave rather greater prominence to the official harumphings and denials. Neither the Universe nor The Tablet mentioned that the Mass was finally celebrated by Jim O’Keefe, the president of Ushaw College. The whole thing is excruciatingly embarrassing to liberal Catholics; but even conservatives must be genuinely shocked to find two bishops and a seminary president turning up at a mass to celebrate the relationship between the man who runs the Roman Catholic caucus of the LGCM and his partner. Here is another prediction: those of us who feel that at least the happy couple behaved honourably will have our turn to be disgusted when their squirm-making attempts to blame everything on the press are publicised. An odd, sad little scandal, but here’s a hint, boys: when you send out invitations to a hundred people weeks in advance for a service which even the presiding bishop feels it prudent not to discuss with his archbishop, don’t be surprised if people talk about it.

Perhaps they could sign up, along with Archbishop Milingo, to a course run by a third Catholic priest in trouble with the Vatican: Fr Georges de Nantes, who, according to the Daily Express "Has been been warned he will be excommunicated is he continues to embrace women at his church. But Fr Georges, 77, who described women worshippers as his ‘spiritual wives’ said yesterday; "I have the right and the duty to seek out their lips whenever I want to. Their lips hunger for mine,. Those kisses are part of the mystical nature of the Church."

The Times discovered that the Church of England is broke. It had a remarkably log and lucid second front piece on the church’s financial difficulties, by Richard Morrison. It had two odd qualities. First, no one in it was quoted by name, even when they were saying things as resoundingly banal as "we must learn how to sing the Lord’s song in a strange land". Secondly, there was a wonderful bit in the middle where he had been talking to the communications department; "In many rural areas … the village church is the last thread holding the social fabric together. Similarly, in many inner cities, the Church Urban Funs has played a key part in countering urban deprivation … this is what constitutes the ‘hidden success story’ that the Church of England hierarchy considers the media ignores." All fair enough, until you notice, as Morrison did in the next sentence, that the CUF has run out of money just as much as the church in the countryside. The only fund-raising technique not considered, and then dismissed, in the article was to enlarge church schools, and make them profitable enough to subsidise the buildings. The experiment might be worth trying, of only to see the effect on Polly Toynbee.

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