no herbal remedies!
At the end of 2003 Michael Davies wrote a "Letter from London" column for the US based Catholic newspaper The Remnant. In it he reluctantly revealed that he was dying from terminal prostate cancer. This reluctance stemmed, he told us, from his "British" dislike of making a fuss and bringing personal details into his writings. But a confidence had been broken, the news was out and hundreds of concerned admirers had been besieging him on the internet so he had no choice but to reveal the facts.
The column was lively, informative, filled with faith and even laced with humour. The appeal for well wishers to resist sending him "herbal remedies" was a case in point. It revealed, as one of my sons remarked, ‘true grit from a true Brit,’ which evoked a riposte from his father, ‘Yes. But a Brit of the old school!’
The Bromley teacher, turned best selling writer, was certainly of the old school. After military service as an infantry man in the British army he devoted thirty years of his life to instructing children at Catholic primary schools in south London and still found time to embrace Catholic tradition and use his many books to carry out a staunch defence of Catholic orthodoxy. For the first time, by reading a Michael Davies expose, millions of Catholics came face to face with what he had detected soon after the end of Vatican II. The indisputable fact that the changes since the Council have been disastrous and that the Church is in a state of serious crisis.
But not every one loved him. He had to face severe, even vicious criticism. I hope his death in September 2004 sent one particular American critic who bears the sobriquet ‘Catholic writer,’ scurrying to the Confessional box. I refer to the man who, in a particularly mean, spiteful and mendacious article described Mr Davies as, ‘the Lefebvrist worm in Una Voce’ . Una Voce being the organisation set up to safeguard the Tridentine Mass and work for its extension throughout the world. Mr Davies resigned from its Presidency just before he wrote the "London Letter" mentioned above.
Of course Michael Davies must have been fully aware that as he set out to chronicle the Modernist heresy and the collapse of the Church in the West since 1960 he would upset Establishment figures who, having lost the Faith, had decided to march to the sound of another drummer: the intoxicating rhythm of relativism which leads to false ecumenism, syncretism and eventual apostasy.
It was with these thoughts in mind and an acquaintance with some of his more important books, that I decided to approach him for an interview which I wanted to include in a compendium of conversations recorded with Catholics on three continents.
The contact was made before the news of his death dealing disease and as soon as I heard I withdrew the request on the grounds of not wanting to impose on him and his family. He would not hear of it and on a hot afternoon I found myself walking up Cromwell Road in the London suburb of Bromley heading for his house.
For days since his acceptance I had been agonising over whether or not I should challenge him on a most extraordinary article which he had written and which appeared in the June/July 2004 edition of Christian Order. It was entitled, "Apologia Pro Josef Ratzinger". In it Mr Davies attempted to defend the Cardinal against charges made by a Mr James Larson, a Catholic writer from Minnesota USA. Charges that, in this humble correspondent’s opinion, are irrefutable.
Mr Larson had demonstrated in a series of brilliantly argued articles in Christian Order over a period of months that statements made by his Eminence concerning the nature of the Blessed Sacrament were often ambiguous and sometimes heretical in the sense of flying theological kites and moving away from the clear and traditional teaching of the Church on the Eucharist. Should I, I asked myself, risk causing Michael Davies further stress by quizzing him on his article. Finally I decided that I would do so on the assumption that he would accept the challenge and fight his corner. Which is what happened.
At the front door he gave me a warm welcome, introduced me to his Staffordshire bull terrier, and we settled ourselves in his living room with a recording machine between us. He looked deceptively healthy. The chemotherapy had given his face a ruddy glow. In reference to his West country connections I told him he looked like a scrumptious ripe Somerset apple. He roared with laughter and the conversation was off to a good start. It centred very largely of course on Catholicism and the crisis in the Catholic Church. But put two old soldiers together and you are bound to get some digressive anecdotage!
JOHN BISHOP: Well Michael here we are at the end of July 2004 together at last. I have been chasing you for at least nine months, maybe a year. It’s a pleasure to be here. Here in Bromley. The hometown of H.G.Wells no less.
MICHAEL DAVIES: And of Richmal Crompton.
JB: And Richmal Crompton! Creator of ‘Just William’. And Michael Davies. Well what distinguished company I am in. Now Michael this is the end of July and who knows when this will be published, but the thousands of fans you have will want to know the answer to this question. How are you?
MD: Obviously I am not too well at the moment, I have what is called , ‘Late Prostate Cancer’. I left it too late going to the doctor so it has spread into my bones. So next week I am starting some radiation treatment which I hope will improve things.
JB: How uncomfortable is it for you? Are you in pain all the time?
MD: A lot yes. I have someone coming from the Pain Unit to see me the day after tomorrow.
JB: Are you on drug therapy?
MD: Oh yes. So…
JB: Well I am not going to make this too agonising for you. Let’s talk a little bit about what I’ll call the ‘essential’ Michael Davies. Somerset is there in your history and on your voice but Wales enwraps you as a ‘Davies’ I suppose.
MD: Oh yes. The great interest in my life is Welsh rugby. Which I hope is going to improve!
JB: Well if it doesn’t there is always South African rugby. You could be become a fan of the ‘Springboks’.
MD: Well perhaps.
JB: So the origins were Welsh but Somerset born to a non-Catholic family?
MD : Oh yes to a non-Catholic family.
JB: How did the conversion take place?
MD: Well round about 1953 or 1954 when I was doing my ‘A’ level examinations at school they changed the syllabus and so the syllabus for my year included the Reformation in England. I had a very good history teacher. He was an agnostic actually but he was very objective and it just seemed obvious to me that neither King Henry the Eighth nor Elizabeth the First had any mandate from God to start a new religion, which is what happened. Most people in England think Henry the Eighth founded the Church of England. Of course he did but then it went back to Catholicism under Mary Tudor.
JB: Yes for a few years.
MD: But his daughter Elizabeth the First could be said to be the substantive founder of the Church of England.
JB: Is there any truth in the legend that she secretly practised Catholicism? Lighting the candles and telling the Rosary beads in the privacy of her apartments? That for the sake of politics she played both ends against the middle?
MD: Well she wasn’t really very religious at all. Her religion was really herself. You know she had her own liturgy in the Chapels Royal with her own vestments. Remember when she was dying she wouldn’t lie down and she wouldn’t let any Anglican minister come to her. She said they were just ‘hedge priests’.
JB: I wonder what that meant? I know the term ‘hedge priests’ applies to those valiant priests who risked arrest, torture and death to bring the sacraments to the people of Ireland during the times of persecution
MD: Yes. I have always found that a very strange expression on her part.
JB: She had heard about them then.
MD: Oh yes she knew them very well.
JB: Perhaps she not only feared them but secretly admired them. Perhaps it was a bit of conscience at the end.
MD: Well she offered to make St Edmund Campion Archbishop of Canterbury if only he would recant.
JB: I find this very interesting. Of course your love of history started for you with a famously good teacher as you say. So then you went on to become a teacher yourself after your military service. Just tell me something of that Michael. You see, in contradiction to present day ignoramuses who have never been within a mile of a Regimental Sergeant Major’s moustache and condemn defending the territory and serving one’s country in time of trouble, I uphold the military virtues.
MD: So do I.
JB: So you did your National Service.
MD: No, no. I was in the Regular army. I was in the Army Cadet force at school from the age of fourteen to eighteen which was preparing us for the Somerset Light Infantry.
JB: That’s not the British regiment know as the ‘Moonrakers’ is it? That is the Wiltshire Regiment.
MD: Yes but it doesn’t exist anymore. It was ‘amalgamated’. Just like my old regiment the Somerset Light Infantry.
JB: What was your regimental motto?
MD: We had ‘Jellalabad’ on our badge.
JB: No that was a battle honour for service in India. I am looking for the nickname. For example, you’ll love this, the Scot’s Guards, the earliest formed regiment in the British army call themselves. ‘Pontius Pilate’s Bodyguard’! My own county regiment the Worcesters were known as the ‘Ever Sworded 29th’. It seems that when the regiment was serving in North America in 1746 they were attacked in their Mess by Native Americans, who had been thought to have been loyal. From then on the officers adopted the unique custom of wearing swords at dinner in the Mess.
MD: We were the 13th regiment of foot but I don’t know if we had a nickname. I served first of all in Malaya then I was posted back to Plymouth for a while and then we were sent out to the Middle East for the Suez Crisis. The regiment was first in Malta and then in Cyprus.
I must tell you a little story about my time in Malta. I was having instruction in the Catholic Church but had not yet been received. Nevertheless I regularly attended Mass and nearly every night I used to get invited to someone’s home to have a lovely meal. I thought that this was merely because they presumed I was Catholic and they were pleased about it but when I got to Cyprus someone said, ‘You are a real idiot Davies, they all wanted you to marry one of their daughters’! They were keen to find a Catholic British soldier because in those days most of the local men had to emigrate from the island to find work. I was a very naïve nineteen year old [chuckles].
So after Middle East service we became the Demonstration Battalion at Warminster which was absolutely terrible. It was all spit and polish. I had an option to leave the army after three years and I did and ended up teaching. Which was something I said I would never do.
JB: What were you teaching?
MD: I taught in Catholic primary schools. First of all a Jesuit prep school and then in an ordinary voluntary-aided school.
JB: Teaching general subjects?
MD: Yes I was the only man in the school. I was the "Sir". It was a very cushy job because every afternoon I did all the sport. But as you imply I did general subjects. Everything except Music and Needlework. I was there for thirty years.
JB: When did the business of examining the crisis in the Catholic Church and writing about it begin?
MD: Well the first thing I did was deliver a talk. I was asked to discuss Latin in the liturgy. This was about 1964/65. There was an editorial in the British Catholic newspaper The Universe which set out the view that many adults would be sad about the change from Latin in the liturgy but that we had to make the sacrifice for the sake of the children. [At this point Mrs Maria Davies entered the room].
JB: Well, I should tell the readers, Michael, that we have been delightfully interrupted by your beloved wife.
MD: [chuckling] Yes. She has a good sense of humour. She thinks she is good looking! [Shrieks of mock protest from Maria and general laughs all round as we discussed the ‘terror’ of being under the control of our individual wives, jointly known as ‘she who must be obeyed.’ Even more laughs].
JB: So in your day the school had a Catholic ethos and the parents were in control of their children.
MD: Oh yes. Every year the class had three tests, Maths, English and Reading. Now we have sixty primary schools in Bromley and my class used to come miles ahead of every other school in the borough. Because we did everything that should be done. It was set up almost as it was before the war. Mine was the only class in the borough where the children sat in rows. One row for the girls and another for the boys.
JB: Oh I remember that.
MD: Yes and the children got stars if they did well. My girls’ netball team didn’t lose a game for twelve years.
JB: That’s amazing.
MD: Not really. Because I found women teachers who take sport don’t really care if their teams win or lose. They have to stay behind for an hour after school. They are quite pleased if they win. But that’s about it.
JB: If you were teaching now you could have the girls playing rugby!
MD: Oh no. I had some rebellious girls whom I wouldn’t even let have a try for the soccer team. They said I was a male chauvinist. I said I was not and that everyone in the school had an equal chance to play in the soccer team unless they were girls!
JB: So let’s get back to your first foray into Catholic journalism.
MD: Yes well as I told you earlier I challenged the editorial in the Universe which stated that Latin in the Mass had to be given up for the sake of the children. In a letter I pointed out that having the liturgy in the vernacular would not have the slightest effect on the children. They weren’t even interested and that they had lost the entire Catholic ethos.
Then soon afterwards came the disastrous new form of catechetics which began by claiming to be a more modern method of teaching the traditional religion. But it ended up teaching a completely new religion. So I refused to have anything to do with it. But the Nuns at the school wasted so much money buying new text books and catechisms. I used to tell them don’t get them for me. Just put them in my cupboard I will never even look at them. But they still went on doing it. I took the top class and I had to teach in one year what they should have learnt about the Faith over the previous five years.
JB: They knew nothing when they came to you.
MD: Well they did. They knew a lot about the Third World.
JB: But not the next world?
MD: [chuckles] That’s exactly it.
JB: What was the first book that you had published?
MD: It was called the Dossier on Cathechetics. Published by Hamish Fraser. An Approaches Study Document. He had read several things I had written. One example was when they started bringing in sex education in schools and we had a very good catechetical director for the Archdiocese of Southwark, Canon Telford. He was ordered to have a discussion on sex education because the Archbishop didn’t want to make a decision. You are familiar with this, aren’t you, with clerics opting out because they don’t want to make a decision?
JB: All the time. It happens today.
MD: Yes. Well I have friends up in the diocese of Newcastle who want to have the Tridentine Masses and the… and the Bishop received them very kindly and said he was going to have a very wide consultation. They told him that he didn’t need to have a consultation because the Pope has said they can have it. They said he was the Bishop and he didn’t have to consult anyone. But that is what they do. I call it a ‘cop out’.
JB: Yes, yes. So after your first Hamish Fraser publication what was the next book?
MD: That was Cranmer’s Godly Order. Published first in Devon and then in the United States for the Conservative Book Club. I’m just revising it for the sixth edition. Quite a few people have said it is the most devastating critique of the post-Vatican II New Mass they have read and it doesn’t mention it of course. I have just described what Cranmer did which is almost identical to the changes in the Novus Ordo.
JB: Now the scholarship which you have put into all these books came I suppose from your discipline as a teacher but you didn’t have theological training and I suppose some of these Ph.D theology buffs would have pointed the finger at you.
MD: Oh yes, yes.
JB: But isn’t it the truth that to be an orthodox believing Catholic all you need is to believe in the Creed and map your faith against all the rest of the challenges?
MD: Oh yes. [Suddenly the door opened and in walked one of Mr and Mrs Davies’ sons Edwin. Father and son had a brief discussion about some family business and Michael turned back to me] Sorry about this.
JB: Not at all. This is all ‘colour.’ What a fine upstanding young man.
MD: Thank goodness my other sons didn’t barge in.
JB: Oh really?
MD: I have one who is a Barrister and another one who was a Royal Navy Engineering Officer and now works for Renault.
JB: So how many children did you have?
MD: Three sons and a daughter. Four.
JB: Oh. Same as us. Now Michael don’t worry about all this rambling. Let’s call it ‘stream of consciousness’ which is code for it’s a heck of a mess but it’ll be alright on the night!
MD: When you mentioned ‘stream of consciousness’ you made me feel so inferior. I have never read Proust.
JB: No. Neither have I. I looked through the great tome once and retired defeated. [Great peals of laughter.].
MD: Yes, "A la recherché de temps perdu." [The title, delivered in a rich Somerset dialect, set off both interviewer and interviewee into more peals of laughter].
JB: Now Mrs Davies is from Croatia. So she speaks fluent Croatian, the language of the region where Medjugorje is located. You investigated the alleged apparitions and the whole thing is phoney is it?
MD: Oh totally phoney.
JB: Then how dare they make so much money out of this? Travel agents, including Catholic travel agents, and Catholic priests keep punting Medjugorje.
MD: Yes millions of people keep going there. I have just expanded my book on Medjugorje and the Bishop of Mostar has written an introduction but unfortunately it is four pages long so it is being translated by my son at the moment.
JB: Do people still really believe in it?
MD: Obviously the people do but I don’t think the so-called "seers" do. It is just a money-making operation. I think it is the biggest ‘con’ in the whole history of the Church. My wife speaks to the Bishop on the phone. The first Bishop who investigated the affair confirmed that the whole business is just a money-making racket.
I think much of this phenomenon is to do with Vatican II because a lot of people who go there are mostly devout Catholics and they have no confidence in their local bishops anymore and if you believe enough you get absolute certainty. That is why my books on Medjugorje have not been very successful because they think I am writing against the Blessed Virgin!
It is just so sad. Some people go there every year and also it is the case that people who have been taken in by confidence tricksters don’t like to admit it. Especially if you spend all that time and trouble going there year after year. But I don’t want to go into it too much now but to give you one example - when the Bishop interviewed Vicka, one of the so called "seers," there was this story about the bloodied handkerchief. A taxi stopped and a lady got out and she had a bloodied handkerchief which she was going to throw into a river and a man appeared and stopped her. It turned out that the lady with the handkerchief was Our Lady and if she had thrown it into the river the whole world would have been destroyed instantly.
JB: Then there was that incident when an alleged trance was taking place and a member of the crew filming it, deliberately put his hand in front of the "seer’s" face to test the trance. The "seer’ pulled back, came out of the "trance," and immediately on being found out, refused to answer questions and went to consult with one of the renegade priests. The story she gave to the assembled press after the consultation was that she was witnessing the Blessed Virgin holding the Baby Jesus and she thought Our Lady was going to drop the Child Jesus and so the desire to help jolted her out of her trance!
MD: Yes. That renegade priest had to leave the priesthood and he is married now. But also, the "seer" moved backwards and if she had wanted to rescue the Baby Jesus from falling she would have moved forward not backwards. But the very idea of Our Blessed Mother dropping the Baby Jesus is completely ridiculous.
JB: Right, let’s talk more about your books
MD: Publication in the United States really got them moving. All of them have been re-printed again and again. I am revising Pope John’s Council because so much has happened since I first wrote it in the early 1970’s. For instance the death of Pope Paul VI, the New Mass was established and Bugnini’s Memoirs were published. They are very important.
JB: Now just to familiarise readers who may not have heard of Archbishop Annibale Bugnini, he headed up the team of Catholic and Protestant periti who devised the change from the Old Mass to the Novus Ordo Mass. Is that right?
MD: Oh yes.
JB: Is it or is it not true that finally Pope Paul VI discovered that Bugnini was a Mason and dispatched him to Iran as Apostolic delegate. Iran, where Catholics are very thin on the ground?
MD: You are quite right. When Pope John XXIII decided to call the Second Vatican Council he set up preparatory commissions to deal with each of the topics which were going to be discussed at the Council. Initially there were seventy of them but they were reduced to about twenty. Bugnini, who was a professor at the Lateran University was in almost total control of the schema, that is the draft document on the liturgy. In fact it was called the ‘Bugnini schema’. Then for some reason, just a few weeks before the Council opened, Pope John XXIII dismissed Bugnini from the preparatory commission and from his post at the Lateran University. But it was too late because the damage had been done. Bugnini’s schema was adopted completely unchanged.
JB: Can you explain to this one frustrated Catholic why these things cannot be changed? Why can’t bishops give permission for the Tridentine Mass? Why do they have to go into committee? I mean what is this unstoppable train that is called the ‘Vatican’?
MD: Yes, yes… well as I said in my book, the Council was more or less hijacked and I think the Church has been more or less hijacked. But what was very strange is that after the Council they had set up post-Conciliar commissions to implement the documents and nobody can understand why Pope Paul VI re-appointed Bugnini. To think that a man had been dismissed by the Pope’s predecessor…
JB: What was the reason given by the way?
MD: No reason at all! So Bugnini then had the chance of implementing his virtually unchanged schema on the liturgy. And as you say some years later evidence came out indicating that Bugnini could well be a Mason. The evidence was given to Pope Paul VI and the Pope was convinced.
Now, Bugnini was furious with me. He said I had accused him of being a Mason which I never did. I said what I could prove was that Pope Paul VI believed he was a Mason and that was the reason he dismissed him. Bugnini said the evidence given to the Pope was false and that it was fabricated by people who wanted to discredit his liturgical reforms. Theoretically that could be true so all that I have said in my book is that Paul VI believed him to be a Mason and dismissed him.
I got in touch with a priest who had given the evidence to a Cardinal who in turn had given it to the Pope. I said, "Could you let me see this evidence?" He said, "No. It is top secret and it always must remain top secret." But the fact that the Pope dismissed the aforesaid Bugnini should be sufficient. I tried to find out why it had to remain top secret and I have been told that is because it involved other people high up in the Vatican and it would have caused such scandal. So it might never come out.
JB: It is like an on running detective story this whole new modern Vatican business isn’t it?
MD: Oh yes. Actually what we have got in the form of liturgical reform is actually nothing remotely like what the Council Fathers thought they were voting for. Have you seen the book by Msgr Klaus Gamber, The Reform of the Roman Liturgy?
JB: No but I know you recommend that, in the Liturgical Shipwreck, one of your other books.
MD: It is highly recommended by Cardinal Ratzinger. He is coming out very, very strongly in favour of the traditional Mass. He said it is unbelievable that what was considered the most holy rite or ritual in the Catholic Church is now being treated as the most harmful and bad. He said it takes away all our credibility.
JB: How did you work the magic? Here you are a layman who has made big noises with your books about a whole variety of questions to do with the changes in the Mass. In the mid 1970’s you wrote an Apologia for Archbishop Lefebvre.
MD: Yes, yes.
JB: Then you end up, you, as the Modernists would say, you the ‘great dissident,’ end up as President of Una Voce.
MD: [chuckles] I just got stuck with that.
JB: But you understand where I am going with this question. That means you end up in the Vatican at some stage. You meet up with Cardinal Ratzinger one of the leading princes of the Church. The man who had to, at least assist, in the so called "excommunication" of Archbishop Lefebvre. And there you are. Any embarrassment involved?
MD: No. I must point out that nobody excommunicated Archbishop Lefebvre. Not Cardinal Ratzinger. Not the Pope. He had what is called an ‘automatic excommunication’.
JB: So no one formally said, "I excommunicate thee"?
MD: No, no. If you consecrate a bishop without the authority of the Pope you are automatically excommunicated but it is not for schism. It’s for…
JB: For disobedience?
MD: No. It is what is called "usurping an ecclesiastical office" and there are very good reasons for claiming that this excommunication was invalid. I’ll just give examples. If you break some article of Canon Law because a state of emergency exists in the Church, even if you incur excommunication that excommunication is invalid. Now, even if no objective state of emergency exists, if the person who thinks it does sincerely believes it does, then he is not excommunicated.
JB: Oh… this is wonderful!
MD: Our canonical expert from Una Voce, Count Neri Capponi, said that in 1983 the Vatican brought in a new Code of Canon Law which is absolutely pathetic. It is almost impossible to be excommunicated and so he said they cannot resurrect the 1917 Code of Canon Law just to fix Archbishop Lefebvre.
JB: Just to fix a nuisance so to speak.
MD: Yes. The excommication turned out to be a total fiasco. When the excommunications took place there were a hundred and seventy priests in the Society of St Pius X. Do you know how many there are now? Four hundred and fifty in sixty different countries.
JB: That is interesting because back home in Southern Africa when the so-called excommunications took place a priest said to me without glee and without cheering, "Well that is the end of that." I responded by asking him what they had done? I said, "They are merely preserving the Mass for all time which hasn’t been cancelled." He said, "No, no it’s all about disobedience. It will die away. Don’t worry about it." Well twenty years later the Society is prospering. Did I read aright when I read on the internet that one of the leading Cardinals in the Vatican has said that we, i.e. the suffering lay people, can attend the Society of St Pius the X Masses without incurring penalty.
MD: Oh yes. The Ecclesia Dei Commission which was set up by the Vatican to help with the restoration of the 1962 Missal said you fulfil your obligation by going to Masses celebrated by priests of the Society of St Pius X and [chuckles] you can make "a modest donation." So if you were a bit parsimonious that might be a good reason for going to Mass at St Pius X!
JB: [Also chuckling] Oh… an excuse for just putting in a few cents! Now Michael Davies I have a bone to pick with you.
JB: It centres on Cardinal Ratzinger. In the June/July 2004 edition of Christian Order you engaged in a contretemps with a certain Mr James Larson.
MD: Oh my Lord yes.
JB: Now let me try to summarise, however inadequately. Readers must really read both challenge and response in Christian Order to get the full picture. Anyway, in various articles published in that very journal Mr Larson alleges not that Cardinal Ratzinger is a heretic, but that some of his public statements on the Eucharist have been heretical. You say no.
MD: They are not at all. It is obvious that Larson doesn’t know anything about authentic Catholic Eucharistic teaching. If I remember rightly Larson claims that there is a physical change in the bread and wine after the words of consecration. But the fact is that if, which God forbid should ever be done, an altar bread was subjected to a scientific examination before the consecration and after the consecration, the results would be exactly the same. There wouldn’t be flesh.
JB: Well can I argue from Mr Larson’s point. When I read your two articles I said to myself what is happening? Why are Michael and Mr Larson, let’s call him James, going at each other? So I went to the Summa Theologica of St Thomas Aquinas.
JB: This is what I discovered. I hope I am getting it right. St Thomas says that the whole is changed. It is under the appearances of bread and wine but in fact it is the True Body and Blood of Christ.
MD: Yes, yes.
JB: So what I am saying, and this is not addressed to you really, it is to the Cardinal. When you even say things like ‘physically there may not be a change,’ or whatever the quote is, I’ll add it later, be careful your Eminence because you may be giving comfort to the Protestants and the unbelievers and if you are doing it for ‘Ecumenical’ reasons, you are wrong. [The quote I was looking for, one of many used by James Larson, comes from God and the World, Believing and Living in Our Time, page 408. The Cardinal says (emphases added by Larson), "It has never been asserted, that so to say, nature in a physical sense is being changed. The transformation reaches down to a more profound level. Tradition has it that this is a metaphysical process. Christ lays hold upon what is, from a purely physical viewpoint, bread and wine, in its inmost being, so that is changed from within, and Christ truly gives himself in them."] I think that that is what James Larson is pointing to.
MD: Now Cardinal Newman had this problem before he became a Catholic. He thought Catholics actually believed they were chewing flesh when they took the Eucharist. I record in my biography of Newman that a very nice Irish priest wrote to him and said the very idea that that is what Catholics believe was absolutely horrifying and that they believe nothing of the sort. They believe there was a complete substantial change.
JB: But surely we must believe we are partaking of a miracle. Our Lord decided that he would present himself body and blood soul and divinity under the appearances of bread and wine. Of course he would not subject us to some cannibal gnawing but all I am saying, and defend the position if you like, when I read James Larson’s critique I believe it was well made in terms of Cardinal Ratzinger implying that there was no actual change…
MD: No, No…
JB: But the question of the physics, nature in a physical sense not being changed…
MD: Well, yes uh ….
JB: Well even saying that gives comfort to those who deny the Real Presence and who say, "You see it’s only symbol." Protestants saying, "You see the Cardinal said it is only a symbol" and ….
MD: But he has never said it was only a symbol.
JB: No but he gives the impression. The other problem I have not only with him, but with many of our leading Churchmen is, they don’t seem to be able to call a spade a spade. Now when his Eminence was on EWTN some time back that young man who does the news programme somewhat hesitatingly asked the Cardinal to comment on the Tridentine Mass. It was all translated from Italian and it came back as the Cardinal saying something like, ‘Oh the Latin Mass is a valid Mass.’ There was no vigorous follow up and the impression was left that the whole question was too delicate to pursue. Let me cut this short. Are the leading lights in the Vatican not hoisted up by their own noose over this Novus Ordo and the Real Mass as I arrogantly call it. If only the Cardinal would come out and say "We made a terrible mistake we should never have introduced this Novus Ordo …"
MD: He has said that.
JB: Has he ?
JB: Well then why the dipping and the diving?
MD: I did a review in the Latin Mass Magazine of a wonderful conference they held at Fontgombault two years ago. Well the things the Cardinal said there were absolutely devastating. In fact he said that before the Vatican Council a lot of the Catholic leading lights in the liturgical movement had given up the teaching of Trent and were in fact Protestant and their aim was to draw up a Liturgy Constitution and to put forward the Protestant doctrine and not the Catholic doctrine.
JB: Well this is all good to hear but can’t this filter down or whatever the phrase is, to the bishops and the priests to stop them doing what they are doing?
MD: No it doesn’t you see. As I pointed out in one of my books, Pope John’s Council. There is a chapter on Freemasonry and as the Masons pointed out, a big weakness in the Catholic Church is that there is no organisation that could be so easily destroyed from the top, because the idea prevalent among the clergy, is that you obey whatever order is given you from the person higher up. So if the Vatican said change the Mass, the Bishop changed it and if the Bishop gave the order the priest changed it.
JB: But now we have someone high up like Cardinal Ratzinger pointing out the errors.
MD: But he has no authority over the liturgy. That is the responsibility for the Congregation for Divine Worship. I got on very well with Cardinal Medina Estevez. He has just retired, and he says he has now investigated the right to say the Tridentine Mass very carefully and as far as he is concerned every priest already has the right to say the Tridentine Mass. So that is encouraging but even if the Pope came out tomorrow and said he would like every priest to start saying the Tridentine Mass, if the Bishops said ‘Don’t do it,’ the priests wouldn’t do it.
JB: But the bishops must stop running away with the idea that they have total power. They do not have equal collegiality with his Holiness because the Vatican papers say quite clearly that, although they are all apostles as it were, the Pope at all times and at any time can exercise supreme power. They are making out that the Pope can’t make a move without the collegiate agreement of themselves. That simply is not true.
MD: Yes. Cardinal Ratzinger has pointed out time and time again that these national Episcopal conferences have no authority over individual bishops at all. Actually there is no such thing as an established national episcopal conference in the Catholic Church. There never has been. The Episcopal College consists of all the bishops in the world headed up by the Pope.
Now for practical purposes, especially in the United States, whatever the episcopal conference comes out with all the priests obey it. In real terms three or four experts, or periti, are doing it. The liturgical commission consisting of about six American bishops do whatever the "experts" tell them.
JB: But the sinister experts and the deviant bishops get away with it.
MD: Well who is there to stop them? Write to the Apostolic Delegate? He won’t do anything.
JB: The Catholic newspaper editors are too scared to carry valid criticisms of the bishops. They have all been intimidated poor things. Youngish men and women with families and mortgages to support….
MD: I was amazed… who was the Editor who has recently been sacked from the Catholic Herald? [UK]
JB: Oh Dr William Oddie.
MD: He did a very courageous editorial against the Bishop of Middlesbrough who was coming to celebrate the Mass marking a homosexual "marriage" of twenty five years!
JB: So that was the end of William Oddie at the Herald.
MD: Yes, and this bishop said the whole thing was fabricated and that the press were to blame, meaning The Daily Telegraph, and Oddie did another editorial saying everything the Telegraph had written was true. The bishop of Middlesbrough nevertheless still went to this Mass and the Mass was celebrated by the President of Ushaw College.
Ushaw was the big seminary in the north of England and now they are down to about twenty seminarians. Someone sent me a cutting from a local newsaper headed, "Great triumph for the Catholic Church". It was thought wonderful that they had done such a good business deal and sold so much of the land! It didn’t seem to bother them that the seminary is on the point of closing down. In England we are down to two seminaries and in Ireland they are down to one seminary. The [London] Times did an investigation into the state of the Catholic Church in Britain and they said if it continues to decline at the rate that it does there won’t be a Catholic Church in the United Kingdom.
[Mr Davies has put together a formidable set of statistics from good sources confirming the decline and fall of priestly vocations, Catholic marriages and baptisms, and the general practise of the Faith. Very sad.]
JB: Would you place much of this decline and fall at the doorstep of the individual Catholic cleric who just simply doesn’t believe anymore and is dancing to another tune?
MD: I think in some cases that is true but I think mostly they don’t want to upset their parishioners. But when did you last hear a priest remind his congregation about the teaching of Humane Vitae? That the use of contraceptives is intrinsically evil. When they had the anniversary of the Encyclical a couple of years ago I don’t think one bishop in this country sent out a pastoral letter. They are crazy, because as my statistics of the Catholic birth rate show, the Catholic Church here is going to vanish. I suppose the bishops think that if it is going to vanish in twenty years they won’t be around.
JB: Now you have been well received in the United States. Your books have done very well over there. You have this connection with The Remnant.
MD: Yes and the Latin Mass Society Magazine.
JB: Right. You have been rock fast in your views. You have been a thorn in the side of the Modernist clerics who would rather not have your books read by anybody…
MD: Yes, yes.
JB: But to get back to Cardinal Ratzinger again, you have been able to meet him, to get on well with him, and you have even defended him in the June/July edition of Christian Order as we have discussed earlier. So to dwell on that again for a moment, do you at all concede that James Larson has got any points well made.
MD: No not at all.
JB: He would say he has, by his arguments has proved them to you.
MD: I am sure he would say that!
JB: What about the intemperate language then?
MD: What intemperate language?
JB: You called him arrogant and you never want to hear his name again. You don’t mean that do you?
MD: Oh yes well I didn’t say I never want to hear his name again. I said I would never use it again. I did that as a piece of light relaxation really. A bit of fun.
JB: I’ll be quite honest with you Michael, I thought, ‘I wonder if Michael has been seduced by lure of the Vatican?’
MD: Yes well a lot of people are always saying that.
JB: You know, I thought I wonder what they do in there? Is it the captivating smell of fine cigars and lovely meals…
MD: [chuckles] Oh that’ll be the day!
JB: Oh really? Is the food as bad as clerical food elsewhere?
MD: No. But they don’t give you luxuries. The simple thing is, which is exactly what Cardinal Ratzinger would say, and I have about five books of his on the liturgy, is what the priest takes into his hands before the consecration is bread and what the priest has in his hands after the consecration is the Body of Christ. It is better for laymen like Larson and probably for laymen like me not to get into those difficulties. [At this point I took Michael down the same road vis á vis his dispute with Mr Larson we had covered earlier in the interview and we very amicably agreed to differ. But the Eucharist was still central to our discussion. Mr Davies brought up the name, "Cardinal Kasper."]
I’ll tell you a good little story that Count Capponi told us at our general assembly of Una Voce. Cardinal Kasper went on an ecumenical mission to Athens last year.
JB: Cardinal Kasper? Oh he is the German.
MD: Yes. He and his fellow German, Lehmann, were made Cardinals. You see there is no chance of Cardinal Ratzinger being made Pope. The job of Kasper and Lehmann is to go to the conclave and stop anyone Ratzinger supports from being made Pope. It is interesting, Pope John Paul II wouldn’t appoint Kasper and Lehmann at first and a week later he did.
JB: Yes. Their appointment came as a shock to a lot of orthodox Catholics.
MD: Well do you know where the pressure came from? The Polish hierarchy. Because they get so much money from the Germans. So Kasper and Lehmann said, ‘You scratch our backs and we’ll scratch yours.’
JB: Is that genuine? An inside story?
MD: Oh yes definitely. The Polish hierarchy put the pressure on. But anyway Kasper went on this ecumenical mission to Athens, attended the Greek Orthodox liturgy in the morning and in the afternoon he was having lunch. Then the Greek Orthodox Archbishop of Athens, who is a good friend of Count Capponi and Una Voce, asked his Eminence how he had enjoyed the liturgy in the morning. "Oh wonderful, wonderful," said the Cardinal, "I thought I was in heaven." Then the Archbishop said that he thought perhaps that they should make some changes to the Greek liturgy because, perhaps for modern people today, some of it is too mystifying. Kasper said, "No that would be a mortal sin. You mustn’t change a thing. Keep it exactly as it is." And the Archbishop said, "Then why did you destroy your liturgy which was the equivalent of ours?"
JB: What is going on here? Saying what they think people want to hear. Now you see them now you don’t. This is perfidy.
MD: Oh yes. Well the policy of the Vatican, largely due to this Pope, a lot of people practically worship this Pope, and think he is inspired, but his ideas on ecumenism are just totally disastrous. He really knows nothing at all about Protestant Churches and he hasn’t achieved anything at all and nor did Paul VI. The Catholic Church in its practice has become more and more Protestant and the Protestants haven’t budged an inch.
[We then moved over some well worn ground concerning the apparent terminal decline of the Church in the West and touched on the state of the Church in the United States.]
MD: I gave a talk in the States earlier this year and I said that the future of the traditional Catholic faith lies in America because whereas we are declining all the time they get this huge Hispanic immigration all the time.
JB: That is right. And they care about the traditional faith.
MD: But you have also got the other kind of Catholic. People like this revolting John Kerry who openly says abortion is OK, divorce is OK. If I was an American I would have to vote for Bush because he is a lot more Catholic than Kerry. I mean how the Vatican can take seriously a man like Edward Kennedy who has lead a scandalous life and I mean it was disgusting when Jacqueline Kennedy died and all those Kennedys who were divorced were there and they all went to Communion. There is no protest at all from any of the big Church authorities.
[After spending some time talking in confidence about reports that some priests of a Traditional Order were being forced by local bishops to say the Novus Ordo Mass we agreed to keep the information confidential in the interests of the Order until it could be verified. I then put the following question to Mr Davies.]
JB: When will the priests and bishops who are "Modernist" realise that the faithful need the traditional Mass, the ‘Mass for all time.’ It is not just the need to hear Latin sung well or badly. It is about something special that happens when one attends the Tridentine Mass. Don’t they understand that grown men with years of cynicism are broken down into an innocence of youth by this special gift? Don’t they understand that Our Lord makes Himself felt in a very special way inside that Mass?
MD: I am sure that they don’t understand it now.
JB: Michael let’s update. Where does the Society of St Pius X stand today?
MD: Well as I have said they are in sixty different countries, all over the world.
JB: Are we any closer to seeing the resistance to them in the Vatican broken down?
MD: Well Cardinal de los Hoyos who is the head of the Congregation for the Clergy who is responsible for trying to get a reconciliation, has said they would be welcome with open arms at any time they wanted to gain recognition. Just like the priests in Campos under Bishop Rifan. They were welcomed back and gained recognition by the Holy See without making a single concession. I say it was a great victory for tradition.
JB: But I think the Society have serious misgivings. Sensing the possibility of treachery on the part of the Vatican.
MD: Yes which I find very disappointing. The Society of Pius X think everyone should follow whatever lead they give and nobody should be reconciled to the Vatican until they are willing to do so themselves. There are, I think, some people inside the Society who don’t really want to be reconciled. I think Bishop Fellay does but he is afraid that it would cause a schism within the Society. Some people have said once you have been a Chief you don’t want to become an Indian.
JB: But would there not be the real danger that once they are all in, subject to the Vatican and subject to that control again, they would start to be squeezed and squeezed.
MD: That is what some of their supporters say but the thing is that if the Vatican for instance tried to order them to say the New Mass they could all just break way again.
JB: But in very large measure they would have surrendered their autonomy, and their churches, and their funds. They would be fundless. They would have no financial resources. That would be the ultimate. In other words if you are going to join the central Church again you have to surrender your property and that fixes you.
MD: They didn’t do that in Campos as far as I know.
JB: But they still might have to in the future. Sorry, I tend to think in this way. Blame it on the Jesuits! Michael as we go out of this interview I want to get some personal thoughts of Michael Davis. Let me offload some of my occasional demons on you for a moment. Have you ever thought that what we believe might all be untrue?
MD: No, no, that’s something that has never bothered me. I have always taken it for granted.
JB: You are wonderful. My wife is the same. Full of faith. Is your wife the same?
MD: Oh yes, oh yes.
JB: Save me Michael. What is wrong with me?
MD: Well look, if the Catholic religion isn’t true there is just no point to life. You might as well eat, drink and be merry.
JB: Well that is what they are doing.
M.D: Well that’s what the young people are doing. The young people in Europe today have no belief in anything at all. They have no purpose. But I was in Nigeria a couple of years ago where Una Voce was helping to start up the Latin Mass there and the African bishop of the diocese I was in was very, very, sympathetic. He invited me to dinner and thanked me for assisting in setting up the traditional Mass.
JB: That is terrific to hear. That there is some hope in Africa at least.
MD: They have a wonderful system there with all the Catholic girls. They have to join a particular association and they go to a special Mass every week and when the girls marry, the friends bring them presents. They all have to keep up to the highest embarrassing, [chuckles], they have a special Church ceremony. They have to go up to the altar and kneel down and swear repentance. I asked the Bishop about the Catholic boys and he just roared with laughter. I said what happens if one of these girls who has lead this wonderful virtuous life marries a boy who has AIDS. He said that could never happen because before they marry they both have to have an AIDS test. The African people are so warm hearted and friendly.
JB: Michael, the tape is running out. Before you shuffle off this mortal coil, and apart from finishing the written work you are engaged in, what do you want to do?
MD: I want to see Wales win the Six Nations once more. They say with cancer motivation is the big thing. And that motivates me. [Laughter from both of us].
After handing me a few of his booklets he and Mrs Davies accompanied me to the door. We shook hands and I said I wished I had got to know him sooner. He was good enough to respond in kind.
By the end of September 2004 my wife and I had returned to our home in Africa and a phone call from a traditional priest gave us the news that Michael was dead. It was almost exactly eighteen months since his announcement in The Remnant that he was terminally ill. He had hoped for eighteen months to complete his writings.
So he has passed on. His works remain. A tribute to Our Blessed Lord and His Holy Mother, a great comfort to the believing Catholic, and a scourge to the enemies within the Church. No mean achievement. Not a bad epitaph.
© J. Bishop, October 2004, Johannesburg, South Africa.
John Bishop's absorbing book length interview with Father Benedict Groeschel - There are No Accidents: In All Things Trust in God - can be ordered online at www.osv.com.