An insightful and hilarious
take on England’s exasperating
National Continuity Conference:
"THE KEYS TO THE FUTURE"
It had been several years since I first visited the UK, so I thought I would have a look in at the Continuity Conference just to catch up with what was going on. Though opportunities are limited in my part of the country, I attend the Old Rite whenever I possibly can in Australia and through magazines like Christian Order am aware of the growing gap between neo-conservative Catholics and us young Traditionalists. Just one morning of listening to these speakers clarified the whole situation.
The most charitable thing I can say is that these guys are trapped in the language and the mentality of 1968. They don’t look like it, they don’t always sound like it, but a close scrutiny of the tapes afterwards reveals the confused and falsely optimistic outlook of these people, who plead loyalty to the Church, yet through their public statements, support for at least one demonstrably heretical group and manifest preference for stroking rather than rebuking treacherous prelates, are seriously undermining it. The neo-con phenomenon exists Down Under, but this was something else!
Among the speakers: Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor; the Rt. Hon. John Gummer, Member of Parliament and former Conservative Party Chairman under Margaret Thatcher; Father Hugh MacKenzie, a priest from the FAITH Movement; the journalist Joanna Bogle; Father Ian Ker, advocate of the Neo-Catechumenate and Youth 2000; and Dwight Longenecker, an American convert and former Anglican vicar in England.
Breaking with the past
The thinking behind the conference was to give the impression of a new Springtime in the Church, apparently evident in the so-called New Movements. It was held under the auspices of Miles Jesu (Soldiers of Christ), an Institute of Consecrated Life founded in the USA in 1964 by the Very Rev. Fr. Alphonsus Maria Duran, whose celibate members take the three vows of poverty, chastity and obedience and live in Miles Jesu’s men’s or women’s community houses while working in their professions, evangelising society from within.
The Institute also has full-time priests who live in the men’s communities, take the three vows and receive their seminary training at a Pontifical University in Rome. Mgr. Graham Leonard joined the group in 1997. In the wake of a flurry of conversions in England, in 1998 he chaired the first "Path to Rome" conference in Chicago. These now annual conferences have been held in Birmingham, England, Rome, Avila and Vienna. At these conferences speakers are flown in to talk up the Catholic Church in expensive hotels, no questions asked.
In England, Miles Jesu distribute Continuity, a newsletter on different aspects of Catholic history designed to bolster the dwindling numbers of the Faithful with heart-warming stories of the past, but with no mention of the grave problems which beset the Catholic Church today. Any criticism of non-Catholics is tempered with tolerance, giving the impression: "We may be right, but we are not quite right. You too are not quite right, right?"
Their founder, a somewhat domineering figure called Father Duran, when asked, "What is it that the Church needs most today?" replies in the Miles Jesu publicity leaflet: "I would answer without hesitation — men and women completely and absolutely dedicated to Her service without question or pause, with a deep knowledge of their own smallness and weakness and with a great confidence in the strength of the Lord and His Virgin Mother. The Church does not need priests, nor laymen, nor any other type of people, but those for whom God and his Church are everything and their own ego and concupiscence are nothing. And they will always be willing to serve in any capacity they are asked. This is the type of renewal needed everywhere and in every epoch of history." Then comes the sentence: "It is always new and always modern."
There you have it. Meaningless buzzwords of the Sixties tacked on right at the end to reinforce Vatican II’s groovy aggiornamento and the complete break with the past it ushered in.
First up was John Gummer, who straight away described Monsignor Graham Leonard as his guru. This is just the sort of language that admirers of John Paul would all recognise and respond to. Admirers of John Paul George and Ringo, that is.
So that one word kick-started the conference. John Gummer’s got a guru and he’s called the Rt. Rev. and Rt. Hon. Mgr. Graham Leonard, KCVO. The title of Gummer’s talk was Telling It Like It Is, i.e. saying nothing in particular. I am told that as a former Government Minister who stood the test of time throughout the Thatcher and Major Governments, this is something he has been doing all his political life. And he does it very well. His pleasant manner is reassuring. This is a thoughtful politician speaking with authority about the Catholic Church, about which he obviously knows very little. And he could quite happily do this all day.
He immediately makes the audience aware of how influential he is by saying that he has just come back from the Trade Talks in Cancujn. The experience reminded him of what he refers to as the Christian Church. "We are so determined to insist that what we think is right and what others think is wrong and above all it’s their fault. The similarity between Cancujn and the Reformation was, I thought, very striking. A lot of people determined that what they have got is right. The non-governmental organisations of the most extreme kind were cheering and dancing. And I was sick at heart."
He went on at some length to bewail the destructive nature of Schism and said with great feeling, "For if anyone can tell me now why it is more important to be a Methodist rather than an Anglican, I think it would be a very, very brave person." Heady stuff!
He swung back and forth between saying how we must not be triumphalist and yet we must celebrate, how we have become too polite for our own good and accept that we must offend, yet we must not be nasty or unpleasant. "And if we are to attract others then we do have to tell it like it is. And that sometimes is hurtful."
After again moaning on about Schism and the need for Unity, he then said: "Now it would not surprise you for me to say that not every aspect of every point that is taught by the Church do I find congenial. Some of those things are because I would find it more convenient if the teaching were different. Others are those because I do have genuinely a theological problem."
With what, John? Purgatory? Divorce? Adultery? If you don’t tell us, we shall inevitably speculate. Or would that be telling it like it is?
But then he remembered that submission to what he called ‘the mind of the Church’ is an essential part of being a Catholic, soon lamenting how sad it was that submission was such an unfashionable word. "In this world we are supposed to be independent, individual, let it all hang…"
"Leave a fairy in its place": John’s paean to love
Just to keep us up to date he then turned to Frank Sinatra. "I do think that the theme song of today and the terrible revelation of today is one of the finest modern tunes, but is also one of the most deeply depressing: I Did It My Way. The theme song of Schism."
The son of a clergyman he then switched on his quiet preachy voice to meditate on this one important fact: "If you believe that something is true, then you don’t keep it to yourself because you know that grasping that Truth changes your life. Love changes everything."
He was warming to his theme, telling us: "If My Way is the signature tune of modern life, Andrew Lloyd Webber and that remarkable lyricist Don Black wrote a song which is almost like a hymn." Mr. Gummer recommended that everyone go home and listen to Love Changes Everything and think of it "…not as a secular love song, but as a celebration of our relationship with God".
Later on I managed to track it down. So here it is. The Gospel according to Don, as recommended by the Rt. Hon. John Gummer, PC, MP. Interspersed with the repetitive refrain of "Love Love Changes Everything" are the resounding phrases:
"Hands and faces,
Earth and Sky. How you live and how you die.
Next up, Father Gelis, from Miles Jesu, who asked, "Why are all these tremendous intellectual people embracing our Faith today?" You might well ask, Father.
Father Gelis then announced that across all the Protestant denominations, Orthodox Church and Catholic Church (glad that got a look-in), are those who have opted to maintain their faith in obedience to the Gospel and that the Continuity Movement was to help England rediscover its true Christian identity, its true Christian roots.
So now we know.
Celebrating fridge magnets
Next up, Joanna Bogle. The bloke in front of me told me that her husband is an Australian. "Must be good," I said. "And he only goes to the Old Rite." "Even better," I said.
As soon as Mrs. Bogle started to speak, however, it occurred to me that this woman was in the wrong Church in the wrong decade. This woman would have been the backbone of any Anglican parish church in the 1950s and would have revelled in Sunday School. In fact I soon began to think that her agenda is to turn the Catholic Church into a universal Sunday School. "This is the way it is done, boys and girls, and you are all going to follow me."
Her theme was Celebrating Catholic Culture. Throughout her address she made no mention at all of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass as the inspiration of European civilisation: that architects, sculptors, painters and composers were directly inspired by the Mass and in turn used their talents to create churches which would be the most magnificent places possible in which to celebrate that very same Mass - creating sanctuaries which directed the souls of the Faithful towards the worship of Almighty God.
This was how all Catholic churches were constructed until the huts and garages that sprung up during the ‘All You Need is Love’ years. Every Catholic church was, by its very nature, designed for the celebration of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass - a phrase not used once throughout the entire conference. Each speaker tip-toed around the crisis in the Church. The unspoken agreement was that this conference was about celebration.
Not long into her speech Mrs. Bogle introduced her audience to Sunday School religion by talking about fridge magnets. Her thinking was that children who put up their paintings on the fridge door, children who sidled out of school in a charming way with presents for their Mummy and Daddy were signs of "art and culture at work".
She went on: "So Holy Mother Church pins up our stained glass and architecture - celebrating, relishing, enjoying the work of her children." While admitting that "…we have seen some rather dreary examples of art, architecture and music in recent years, we must still remember little boys belting out the glories of music with that ferocity and enthusiasm that only a boy child can bring".
But how many Catholics live next to Westminster Cathedral?
She rapidly went on to introducing Catholic culture into the home, saying how important it was to give talks about hot cross buns, nursery rhymes and pub signs, but in doing so never to mention the word Catholic culture. As a result she notices her listeners "…switching on an internal light behind their eyes", claiming that "…people are more interested now in these things than they have ever been". More and more people are flying to Lourdes and Fatima than ever before. There has been an EXPLOSION in Catholic publishing and television apparently. Her suggestion that we give Gregorian Chant a try receives spontaneous applause, as does the suggestion: "Let’s do it, let’s celebrate it, let’s see the children in their pretty white dresses enjoying being first Communicants."
It’s Sunday School. Everything must be fun. Even joining a Corpus Christi procession in Glastonbury with Youth 2000 — "Don’t let’s pretend that we have to have some sort of nostalgia for the 1950s" - because we are reassured that "…there are good, attractive modern hymns and modern ways of doing things".
What does she mean exactly? She tells us she means handing out plastic rosaries at Corpus Christi processions, shaking hands with people "…or if we thought people needed it, giving them a hug".
Who hugs whom exactly? Does the father of a young family spontaneously hug a passing teenage girl? Does a priest hug a thug? We are not told. But it is new and modern and therefore it is good. Indeed, she earnestly tells the audience that "…the new touchy feely thing about modern Britain, the informality, the way we approach people plays into CATHOLIC hands".
Finally she mentions the M-word, Mass, saying how good it is to see all the generations coming together in a sense of common purpose because this is a religion we share with one another. There are lots of good things happening, like the success of the Tolkien films, family meals, the different coloured vestments that priests wear, modern kitchens which allow us to produce meals so quickly. "This is not a time for being defeatist. It is a time for finding out what is good and blessed and beautiful in modern life. God has given a time of prosperity and ease of travel and a range of foods to enjoy and ways we can communicate on a big scale. And instead of saying ‘Isn’t that terrible, everyone’s out enjoying themselves instead of going to Church,’ we should say: ‘Isn’t God good. Let’s use it to celebrate and revive our Catholic culture’."
Demonstrating her unshakeable optimism in the future, trying to reconcile simultaneous crisis and apparent renewal, her conclusion was that "... we’ll feel awfully stupid facing our English martyrs on Judgement Day admitting that we didn’t even try."
Try what? To do everything possible to restore the Mass for which the Martyrs died?
Next up, Cormac - or "Comic" as the English media apparently calls him. The applause which greeted the Cardinal was interrupted by his asking the unanswerable question of what we would do without Joanna.
If there is a local award for stand-up comedy, this speech, delivered with a (fake?) Irish brogue, will surely help His Eminence qualify. Beyond parody, I report it word for word (and God help England!):
New Movement Mania
Two other clergy also spoke. Father Hugh MacKenzie of the FAITH Movement bemused the audience with a meditation, which he said he hoped wouldn’t get heavy, on Fides et Ratio. One sentence leapt out right at the end, when he hurriedly said that the FAITH Movement "…does not believe that the crisis in the Church today is primarily of the Will but it is people being lazy or nasty."
The Reverend Dr. Ian Ker, world expert on Newman, somehow imagined that the Second Vatican Council was the equivalent to that of the Council of Nicea or the Council of Ephesus. "Ecumenism, Justice and Peace and Collegiality are all part of the life of the Church now," he claimed.
His address was an advertisement for the New Movements: the Neo-Cathechumenate, Communion and Liberation and Youth 2000. Since Christian Order has comprehensively exposed the Neo-Cats as Neo-Lutheran heretics [see April 1995, February 2000 and October 2002 - Ed.], I was immediately wary of the other two. But little information was forthcoming and so I remained uncertain about what they are trying to achieve. I did glean that Youth 2000, founded in 1989, seems to have revived Eucharistic Adoration. They put a monstrance on a tripod, sit in a circle around the Blessed Sacrament and listen to bad music (reminiscent of Australia’s "Antioch" youth movement, a popular, freewheeling Charismatic outfit renowned for ‘creative liturgies’).
Father Ker said: "I am glad the Archbishop of Westminster has gone because I was going to cross this out of my talk because I didn’t know he would be here because when I was a Seminarian at the English College when he was Rector I can’t imagine Eucharistic Adoration — that was in the bad old days of the Seventies. Eucharistic Adoration would have been quite impossible. It was unheard-of in seminaries. Indeed the rosary would never have been said either. Benediction would have been thrown out."
I guess if the Cardinal had still been there, this aside would have been ‘telling it like it is’. Yet Youth 2000, in their innovative way have adapted Benediction according to Father Ker. They have turned it into a Healing Service. How reassuring.
To my relief, there was just one more speaker, Mr Dwight Longenecker.
Claiming that we are in desperate need of a new apologetic to go along with the new evangelisation, this American convert and former Anglican clergyman took the opportunity to advertise the five Catholic Truth Society booklets he has brought out called Christianity Pure and Simple. "I hope that the content matches the beauty of the covers," he said. Right, Dwight. I hate to have to tell you this, but having since had a good look through them they are more like Christianity Muddied and Muddled, published by what can now only be described as the Catholic Compromise Society. [See Daphne McLeod’s review in this issue]
Distortion and Desperation
Apart from Paula de Frankopan’s excellent scholarly address about Our Lady of Walsingham, having sat through these talks and as an extra penitential exercise listened to the tapes, I was struck by the amount of false and twisted information conveyed by the speakers.
We were told by the conference organiser that people were coming back to the Faith in droves. "And we have to acknowledge that. It’s a great sin against Hope if we don’t acknowledge the good things that Jesus Christ is doing in the Church today. Amen. Amen."
This was greeted by muted applause. What might be true in West Africa is certainly not true in West Australia or Westminster.
I was left with the disturbing image of John Gummer sitting in an armchair in his house in London, singing along to Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Love Changes Everything; of Cormac searching for ointments in a department store; of Mrs. Bogle hugging passers-by in Glastonbury; of Youth 2000 sitting around a monstrance on a tripod; and Dwight Longenecker leaving advertisements for his Christianity Muddied and Muddled in restaurants.
They were all hoping with some desperation that what other people were doing was somehow deeply worthwhile. To them this is Catholicism which is modern, relevant and, above all, like the New Mass, NEW.
Would it ever occur to these grey-haired children of the Sixties, who are passing on this mixture of pap, falsehood and corrosive ‘novus ordoism’ to young Catholics who have never experienced anything else, that ancient Catholic traditions are ancient because they are good? And would they even suspect that a Traditional exercise like, say, the Chartres pilgrimage might be a good start in that regard: the beginning of awareness and wisdom for neo-cons young and old?
Like John Gummer, I came away from this conference ‘sick at heart,’ worrying about the remnant Church in Blighty, and thanking God for CO!