The Agreeable World of Wallace Arnold: My spiritual odyssey to the Church of Rome

Click to follow
The Independent Online
THE DUCHESS of Kent, Frank Longford, Johnny Patten, the Duke of Norfolk, Monsignor Gilbey . . . the list of prominent Roman Catholics in these fair isles is indeed a distinguished one.

Piers Paul Read, Princess Michael of Kent, Lady Antonia Fraser and, it is widely rumoured, Mr Blobby are all devout Roman Catholics, and so too are both the editor of the Catholic Herald and the editor of the Universe, the former editor of the Times, the Pope and Mr Paul Johnson himself.

It is a rare constellation of talent and sheer good breeding that I find myself drawn so irresistibly towards as I prepare myself for my spiritual and social odyssey. May I, like the great Cardinal Newman before me, take you step by step through my journey towards the one True Faith, my very own Apologia Pro Vita Sua Forsooth?

It must have been during an intermission at the General Synod a year ago that I emerged, disillusioned and despairing, in need of spiritual solace and a glass of medium dry sherry. 'Women]' I sighed inconsolably to Monsignor Gilbey as I eased myself into an armchair at the Travellers' Club. 'They are letting women take the cloth]'

'Women? Women?' replied the Monsignor, 'Remind me, are they the little ones who run around yelling and playing with toys?'

'No, that's children,' I replied. 'Women are the ones who wear dresses, speak in high voices and are always having their hair done.'

'Ah] You mean the Anglo-Catholics?' said the Monsignor.

'Not quite,' I replied. I thought we may have reached something of an impasse, but, as luck would have it, that day's Daily Telegraph contained a vivid photograph of a group of women, and I was able to jog his memory. It was high time, he told me, that Wallace Arnold took his first tentative steps on the rocky road to Rome.

I proceeded to take instruction from a young (bearded]]) priest, much given, alas, to the wearing of sandals and rather too keen for my taste on wishy-washy quasi-liberal talk of 'loving one's neighbour', 'turning the other cheek', 'never casting the first stone' and other Sixties hippy mumbo-jumbo. 'I'm awfully sorry,' I said to him, after my first hour was up, 'but I was hoping to join the Roman Catholic Church, the church to which, I may say, the Duchess of Kent and several hereditary peers are proud to belong. I was not expecting to be harangued with all this talk of what I should or should not believe in - and why, may I ask, should one countenance what some unemployed and ill-shod Jewish carpenter and (dread word]) 'activist' may or may not have said a couple of thousand years ago]?'

I suppose every organisation is going to be burdened with the odd bad apple, and certainly this young fellow with his talk of 'God', 'truth' and 'holiness' (]]) struck me as a rum 'un. And this was not all. Leaving his little room at the back of the church, I was horrified to see a range of what one can only describe as old women, tramps, nuns, ragamuffins, Irishmen, weirdoes, foreigners and sundry other representatives of the Great Unwashed, all littering the pews, kneeling on the floor with their grubby little hands clasped before them.

'What on earth are they all doing?' I asked a priest as I stepped out into the fresh air of Mayfair.

'Praying,' he replied. 'Some of them are saying their Penances, and others are preparing to Confess.'

'Good Lord]' I replied, putting him firmly in his place. 'Surely they aren't all still taken in by that 'let it all hang out, we are all guilty' gobbledegook of the dread Sixties]' To my horror, he then impudently suggested that these were veritable cornerstones of Roman Catholicism.

'But I wish to join a church that is against women priests, for a return to taking a pride in one's appearance, against the dread EEC, for Law and Order and Mr John Patten's long-awaited education reforms, against the unstoppable march of the Welfare State, for costume drama on the BBC and against women priests - or have I already mentioned that last one?' I said. He then passed me a copy of a typical Sixties tract, intellectually unsound, designed solely for the featherbedding of the woolly thinkers. 'It's the New Testament,' he said. 'New? New?' I exploded, 'I have no wish to join a church that espouses the New]' And that put him firmly in his place, I can tell you]