Letter: Maintaining a Catholic identity

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The Independent Online
Sir: Andrew Brown's article ("This man's death could lead to a Catholic civil war", 11 May) presents a semi-informed political assessment of the Catholic Church in England today. As he says, there are disagreements. The ecumenism which has brought a wider acceptance of Catholics can threaten a loss of Catholic identity. The national decline in religious practice has sharply affected the Catholic Church.

But Andrew Brown's thesis, by which he strangely combines suggestions of Catholic triumphalism with "A Catholic civil war" is tenuous. "A cheering latitude to individual conscience" allowed by the English bishops through "coded language"? Vatican II spoke of the rights of conscience. "Largely Catholic commentators pointing out the decline of the Church of England"? Some, perhaps. And rather a lot of others too. As a Catholic, I see nothing to rejoice in the decline of any Christian communion. Veritatis Splendor a great blast against dissident intellectuals? I thought it was above all an ecumenical, positive and hopeful renewed appeal to the truth which is to be found in Christ. Anyone who reads what the Pope actually says will appreciate his ecumenical concern, expressed even more strongly in the more recent Evangelium Vitae and Ut Unum Sint.

The almost exclusive focus on ecclesiastical politics is the trouble with the article. Of course, and necessarily, there are politics in all human affairs, but the life of the Church is more profound. If Christians have learnt one thing over these last years, it is that Christ willed that we should be one. This, and not any diplomatic facade, is the reason for Catholic efforts for unity and charity within the Church. Cardinal Hume recently spoke of a "culture opaque as far as the things of God are concerned". The maintenance of Catholic identity, integrity and unity is critical in confronting the sad and sometimes vicious materialism of our time and to any fruitful ecumenism in relations with others.

The Rev Leo Chamberlain OSB


Ampleforth College