CARDINAL Basil Hume has blamed parents for the growing absence of young people from the church.
Echoing Tony Blair's emphasis on parental responsibility, the head of the Roman Catholic Church in England and Wales has sent a strong message to parents that they should set an example and impose strict discipline on their offspring.
In an interview with the Independent on Sunday, he said of declining church attendance: "I think parents don't exercise the same kinds of authority over their children. Partly it's that if parents don't go, children won't go. There's a tendency to blame schools for not teaching enough about religion, but blaming the schools is not always fair. There is more blame to be attached to the parents than schools."
Young people "jolly well should go" to church, he added. "Every week we should go to church to recognise that there is a Creator who we all have to meet after death, that there is something bigger than ourselves."
Regular attendance at Mass has nearly halved during the 22 years of Cardinal Hume's leadership, sliding to 1.1m in 1996. Part of the problem, he feels, is that going to church has become unfashionable. "In the world of young people, going to church has slipped out of their way of life. Peer pressure has been very strong. The person who goes to church has to stand out from the peer group."
Another factor is the myriad distractions on a Sunday - the shops, the cinemas and television. "When I was young very often on a Sunday evening, for instance, I would go to church having been to Mass in the morning. It sounds awful to say it, but there was nothing to do," he said, adding hastily: "I don't want to put that too cynically."
Last month Cardinal Hume was due to retire after 22 years in a post which he had never wanted in the first place.
It was his 75th birthday and, in line with regulations on age and office, he submitted his letter of resignation. However, the Pope insisted that he stay on in his post, postponing indefinitely his dream of returning to his monastery, Ampleforth, in North Yorkshire. The Pope's decision was a blow to the Cardinal.
Asked if he would have liked to retire, he replied: "The obvious answer is 'Yes'," adding philosophically, "But I'm realistic enough to know that whenever you look forward to space in your lives it never works out quite as you expect. My experience of having five days off is that I think: 'It's marvellous. I'm going to be able to read, I'm going to be able to pray.' At the end of five days, I won't say I've achieved neither, but you've done neither with any great distinction. It's because you're tired..."
It is a known fact that the Cardinal feels tired. He frequently laments the "distractions" of daily life. "I think every man would like a few years at the end of his life to prepare his soul for death. At least, I would," he said, adding: "But we're not given that option, some of us."
He does not anticipate being let off the hook in the year 2000. "I suppose they'll hope I die and that will sort it all out," he joked. "All I can say is that other cardinals in the same position as myself who have gone on after 75 have in fact retired when they are 80... it seems most people have been retired 40 or 50 years by then."
Cardinal Hume is an unerringly modest man. His video, Basil in Blunderland, which is officially launched this week, is so named because: "It is a fact that my spiritual life is more a wandering in Blunderland than a resting and relaxing in Wonderland." He made the video in the hope of reaching those people - probably the same ones who don't go to church - who don't read books. His purpose was to "communicate small, spiritual truths": broadly speaking, that everyone should pray daily.
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