THE CATHOLIC HERALD AUGUST 19 2011
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Peer urges archbishop to make Vaughan concessions
BY ED WEST
THE ARCHDIOCESE of Westminster has come under renewed pressure over the Cardinal Vaughan Memorial School after a peer and a leading academic wrote to Archbishop Vincent Nichols calling on him to make concessions to parents.
In a letter sent last week Conservative peer Lord Lexden told the archbishop that although he was Anglican he had “long admired” the “remarkable achievements” of the Vaughan, one of the top two comprehensives in inner London for GCSE results.
The peer, formerly Alistair Cooke, and a former political researcher and lecturer at Queen’s University, Belfast, said: “The diocese now has a great opportunity to heal the wounds inflicted during the protracted dispute. It could do this by anticipating what is to come and nominating two current parents as foundation governors immediately.
“Even more effective in the healing process would be a declaration by the diocese that, during the forthcoming selection procedures to find a new head, its nominees will work to find a concensus that unites the governing body as a whole, ending this sad period of division and bitterness unworthy of a Christian institution.”
Bishop: Christ will be my top priorityBYDAVIDVBARRETT
THE NEW Bishop of Aberdeen “could not have had a better preparation than to have been the Abbot of Pluscarden Abbey”, according to Cardinal Keith O’Brien.
Dom Hugh Gilbert was ordained Bishop of Aberdeen in the cathedral of St Mary of the Assumption on Monday. He is the first abbot to join the Scottish Catholic hierarchy since its restoration.
Dom Hugh Gilbert was abbot of Pluscarden Abbey near Elgin for 19 years, and has been a contemplative monk for 37 years.
Born Edward Gilbert in 1952 in Emsworth, near Chichester, he was baptised in the Anglican Church. He was received into the Catholic Church on Christmas Eve in 1970, aged 18. After gaining a first in History at King’s College, London, he entered Pluscarden Abbey at Moray in 1974 and was ordained a priest in 1979.
Speaking to the Scottish Catholic Observer before his ordination Hugh Gilbert said he hoped to build bridges both inside and outside the Church. “I would like to help people improve their relationship with God and to build their faith,” he said, “Also to build links with the other dioceses in Scotland and the other Christian groups here as well.”
He said he hoped to take with him from the monastery into the outside world a profound awareness of Christ.
“The rule of St Benedict says ‘prefer nothing to the love of Christ,’” he said. “I would like to think I take a firm sense of that with me, a sense of Christ and a certainty of Christ.”
He is not unprepared for his new role. “I do know the diocese, having lived here for 37 years,” he said. “I know nearly all the priests and religious and many of the laity so I will not be among strangers. Though of course you have different relationships as a bishop than you do as an abbot. But everyone has been very welcoming.”
In his homily at the ordination Cardinal Keith O’Brien, Archbishop of St Andrews and Edinburgh, said: “Through his very beautiful writings, many based on the addresses to his community at Pluscarden, he has had a magnificent outreach in helping to build up the spiritual lives of others. And because of the outreach from his own monastery to other monasteries throughout the world he realises the needs of those in countries which are less prosperous than our own.
“One might say that a new bishop for the Diocese of Aberdeen could not have had a better preparation than to have been the Abbot of Pluscarden Abbey within this
Lord Lexden told the archbishop that he felt compelled to give his support to the Vaughan Parents’ Action Group, set up by parents at the school to oppose the diocese’s planned changes. In June the peer spoke in the House of Lords about the need to protect the interests of parents at schools, after which the Government said it intended to change the law to require schools to appoint foundation governors from among parents with children at the same school.
One of the Vaughan parents’ complaints is that the diocese has failed to reappoint parent-governors with children at the Vaughan, rather than children at other schools. Lord Lexden said: “I hope you will be able to respond positively to these proposals which I intend to raise in Parliament in due course.” He also sent a copy of the letter to Education Secretary Michael Gove.
Prof Luke Gormally, a bio-ethicist and a member of the Pontifical Academy for Life, also wrote to the archbishop criticising the diocese for not re-appointing parents at the school to be foundation governors and for appointing its own director of education, Paul Barber, as a school governor.
In the letter he said that “Catholic parents who are serious about encouraging their children’s growth in the knowledge of the truths of the faith and in its practice have few Catholic schools to which they can send their children with confidence.
“The Vaughan School has proved to be exemplary in meeting their need. I contrasted my own local Catholic comprehensive school in which the present head of RE is a non-Catholic, and her immediate predecessor was an atheist. It is that kind of school that requires the close attention of Mr Paul Barber if the WDES [diocesan education service] is to be regarded as serious about providing an authentic Catholic education for the children of the diocese and not just accumulating accolades from Ofsted.” He said the exclusion of parents from the governing body “bids fair to destroy what was hitherto a key element in the success of the school: its close collaboration with parents which inspired great confidence in them and consequently in their children. The Vaughan Parents’Action Group is not an unrepresentative body – it has very substantial support among parents. The recently reported refusal of the current chairman of the governing body to meet them, allegedly on the orders of Bishop [George] Stack, merely reinforces the message that parents are to be marginalised.”
He also argued that parents had canon law on their side, quoting canon, 793, §1: “Catholic parents have also the duty and the right to choose those means and institutes which, in their local circumstances, can best promote the Catholic education of their children.”
“Catholic parents who take that duty seriously are now excluded by diocesan policy from exercising the right to at least seek admission to the Vaughan for their children,” he wrote.
A spokeswoman for Archbishop Nichols, who is out of the country, said that the archbishop was aware of the letters and would respond in full upon his return.
Bishop Hugh Gilbert with his brother and family on the day os his episcopal ordination Photo: Paul McSherry diocese, for such a period of time, before his call by Pope Benedict XVI to be the bishop.”
The new bishop spoke for a few minutes after his ordination. “It is thanks to Pluscarden that I am what
I am, the good bits anyway,” he said. Responding to people who have asked him if it is strange to be leaving the monastery after 37 years, Bishop Gilbert said that it was like “being on land and all of a sudden finding yourself on the sea”.
He said that he had not yet finalised his pastoral priorities but that his years in the monastery had given him one simple answer: Christ. “To put it liturgically, it is the discovery of Easter, when Christ passed over from death to life,” he said.
“Everything that we as Christians are springs from that moment. He is the one the Holy Spirit is working to bring alive in our hearts. So what other priority could we have?”
Bishop Gilbert is replaced as Abbot of Pluscarden by Dom Anselm Atkinson.
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Muggeridge clash over Life of Brian to be dramatised
BY DAVID V BARRETT
THE FAMOUS television debate in which Malcolm Muggeridge severely criticised the Monty Python film Life of Brian will be recreated in a BBC Four comedy drama this autumn.
The 1979 film, satirising both organised religion and 1970s politics, created a furore when it appeared, and was banned by some local councils.
The 90-minute drama Holy Flying Circus is described by production company Hillbilly Television as “a fantastical re-imagining of the controversy surrounding the release of Monty Python’s comedy classic Life of Brian”.
The debate on the BBC Two programme Friday Night, Saturday Morning in November 1979 featured Mr Muggeridge, a regular contributor to The Catholic Herald, and Mervyn Stockwood, Anglican Bishop of Southwark, against Monty Python actors John Cleese and Michael Palin.
Having arrived 15 minutes into the screening of the film before the debate – after “a good lunch”, according to Python Terry Jones – the two critics missed the introductory scenes that established that the unwilling messiah Brian was not a parody of Jesus.
Mr Muggeridge referred to the “squalid humour of a
10th-rate film”, while Bishop Stockwood dismissed Life of Brian as “undergraduate humour”.
John Cleese responded that “400 years ago we would have been burnt for this film... may I suggest that we’ve come a long way since then”.
The script of the debate, which comes at the end of the new drama, will be verbatim, according to director Owen Harris.
“Holy Flying Circus takes a moment from our recent past to shed light on the present,” said co-producer Kate Norrish. “When Palin and Cleese were called to defend Life of Brian, they were fighting not just for the future of their film but for their artistic credibility. It was a moment when freedom of speech was pitted against religious belief and is a debate that is just as precariously balanced today.”
The actors, who had respected Mr Muggeridge as a satirist, expressed their disappointment in his response to Life of Brian. Mr Cleese said his reputation had “plummeted” in his eyes but Mr Palin said: “He was just being Muggeridge, preferring to have a very strong contrary opinion as opposed to none at all.”
In the BBC Four drama Mr Muggeridge is played by Michael Cochrane, who specialises in upper-class characters.
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