agree with that and that’s perfectly proper. Archbishop Rowan is one of them. He wants to raise the issue of primacy.
To go back to the lecture, I just wonder whether he was separating out first- and second-order issues too much. My understanding would be that the manner in which the unfolding of the mystery of salvation takes place is much closer to the content of it in a Catholic perspective than Archbishop Rowan is suggesting. And that’s why Newman noted in the development of doctrine that what emerges is always implicit, if not clearly present, in the original seed. So there is a very strong line of continuity in a Catholic understanding of the development of doctrine.
It’s for that reason that our understanding of the gift of the sacrament of orders is much closer to the core of the Incarnation than I think Archbishop Rowan pictures it. That’s probably something to do with the reality of the sacramental dispensation. Christ is really and sacramentally present in the Mass. So there’s a very strong link between what happens at the altar and the historical events of the life and death of Jesus. As Newman said: “The Mass is not something that is said, it is something that is done.” And the doing is more important than the words. As you go into the Anglican experience it’s a bit more symbolic. That sense of reality weakens. It becomes more of a ministry and therefore more of a service that is led. The requirements of it, figuratively and iconically, are less demanding. There are more deep-rooted issues around the question of orders than can be understood if it is just placed as a second-order issue.
So I would not expect the Catholic position to change: that priests are required to be male. I would not expect that to change. While there’s an opening for married candidates, it’s also very clear that it says “pro-regular”. If a new ordinariate comes into existence in the country, as a rule it will be a celibate priesthood. There are strong lines of continuity. The Second Vatican Council is an interesting context and Benedict is right to see it as a continuity and not as a break and a dissonance and a new start. That’s the wisdom of his office speaking. DJ: What then will be the role within the Church for women? The Church has always been very creative at finding different ways in which people can serve the Lord. Many women, certainly younger women, feel that some of the older forms have either disappeared or declined or become more marginal. Do you feel that we are entering a time when perhaps there will be new forms in which women can serve? VN: Just a bit of a historical perspective might be helpful. From the middle of the 18th century, there was a great flowering of apostolic women. The achievements of that have been quite astonishing, both in this country and abroad. Women pioneered the whole pattern of Catholic education. There’s a book called Without the Flaminian Gate—the essay on women in that volume is a revelation about the good work women from this country do in China and across Africa. In Birmingham diocese, the educational system was built up by the Sisters of Selly Park. Birmingham priests were told to obey the Bishop, but never to cross the Sisters of Selly Park. That’s power in the best sense of the word, creative initiative and taking responsibility for it. Bishop Ullathorne [1806-1889, the first Bishop of Birmingham] was very remarkable in his partnership with two sets of women: the Selly Park sisters and the Dominicans, even to the point that he chose to be buried in the Dominican church rather than the cathedral. He was laid alongside his great colleague Sister Margaret. There’s a huge heart there that can really inspire.
In those days, if a woman wanted a top-class professional career a religious order was the only way. That’s fallen right off. That leaves the ancient orders, they’re mostly enclosed. They’re the really tough challenge. They will find a real revival. People are ready for a challenge. Youngsters are less inhibited by the history of the last 60 years or so. All of those movements will find a refreshment. And then there will be new forms of apostolate. This morning, I had a meeting with those who serve as lay chaplains in secondary schools. The vast majority were women. Perhaps half the head teachers are also women. Catholic education remains a huge field of leadership for them, but so do some of these more “nurturing ministries”. In Birmingham, there are groups of women working in an unobtrusive way with prostitutes. They have an enormous impact on some of the most vulnerable women, slowly rescuing them. Women will be the pioneers in all those frontiers of brokenness that are very clear in our society. Women will lead the way in those and I welcome that. DJ: Can I move on to the question of the Church’s relations with the state? This is an area where you’ve actually got quite a lot of experience, specifically over the question of Catholic schools. You famously took on Alan Johnson, the then Education Secretary, and secured concessions from the government, though not all of the ones you wanted. Do you see any particular threats on the horizon? I imagine things of particular prominence will involve matters of sex education, which will become compulsory for all students regardless of faith and which on the face of it would seem to take away a very important freedom, a freedom of conscience that parents and indeed the Church have had up to now. How is the Church going to preserve its distinct moral position as a witness to wider society when it’s under such constant pressure? VN: I think that our position in Catholic education is reasonable. I’m still grateful, slightly surprised, at the statement that the government in 2007 called “Faith in the System”, in the teeth of public criticism of schools of a religious character (my preferred phrase, not “faith schools”). The government said in a very public way that it supported schools of a religious character—they are a crucial and lasting part of the educational system. They deliver well both academically and in terms of human and spiritual development and in terms of social cohesion. The government has not changed from that position at all. So our relationships there are satisfactory. Indeed, there is good co-operation for the most part on those issues. That’s the context in which the review of sex education was undertaken. Some of its findings were accepted, we will see how the recommendations are enfleshed.
Important in there were two or three things. The Catholic schools retained their rights through the governing body that their sex and relationships education is delivered according to Catholic ethos and teaching. Second, that whatever was put in place would be broad and general, not detailed and specific in terms of how it would cover things from relationships to more explicit matters of sexual behaviour and sexual ethics. The third thing that people have forgotten is that in this review the government has accepted that matters of sex need an ethical context, the context of relationships. This was actually a reversal of an earlier position that said: “Give them the facts, enough.” They realised that that does not help any youngster and it does not help society. So, yes, it’s an area in which we have to be very vigilant. Every school should look carefully at what’s being done. It should work with parents because they remain the first educators. When it comes to the right of withdrawal, we were keen to defend it even though we wouldn’t want parents to do it because we would want them to be working with schools as primary educators, to talk about what is being done in the classroom. This right currently ends at the end of the 15th year because of the Gillick judgment from the House of Lords a few years ago. Now it’s come back that the courts have already decided that youngsters by the age of 16 have got areas of discretion and it would be impossible then to superimpose an absolute parental right over that age. But I don’t think that any of us are particularly undermined by that because parents have to deal with their 15- or 16-year-olds in that way, they can’t rely on the law for that. Those things are not too bad. There is esteem in the government for the quality of the education that is given.
Another important area is that of social cohesion. This started out as a criticism but it has developed into a positive. We were able to demonstrate early on that Catholic schools have the kind of links with partner and neighbouring schools and outreach to people in need in the area and have the kind of principled approach to citizenship that is so valuable to our society. We are therefore a contributor to social cohesion, not a negator of it. What do we mean by
Catholic priests are required to be male. I would not expect that to change... Women will be the pioneers in all those frontiers of brokenness in our society
Standpoint cohesion? We don’t just mean a veneer of tolerance where everybody puts up with everybody else. We need something much deeper than that. The tolerance notion comes from the classic or extreme liberal view of society, which is that its role is to keep potential enemies at peace, so that fundamentally it is individuality which rules our lives and it is society’s role to soften or control it.
This is opposite to the Catholic position, which believes that we are fundamentally people of community. We come into life in a family, we grow through the relations and the obligations that we have towards one another. It is on that basis that you best prepare somebody to play their part in society. If we want creative citizenship as a society then we have to make space for peoples’ religious motivations to form that sense of community because that’s where their best motives come from. Pope Benedict got it right: the best way of encouraging people to work together is to work together over shared obligations rather than to work for individuals’ rights.
The biggest tensions at the moment [between Church and state] are around the Equalities Act, which seems to have almost taken the view that the public expression of religious faith is quite low down on the hierarchy of rights that are to be defended. That’s a real cause for concern. It’s a very reduced, privatised notion of the consequences of religious faith. It appears in all sorts of ways. We’re concerned about the public duties that could be put on schools or small care homes which would appear almost to be an extreme case to make it very difficult for a public body to act with integrity. What if people say it’s unreasonable to have a crucifix in a Catholic care-home because it offends someone? So you get those echoes from the European judgment in Italy. Where is the balance between individual freedom and a corporate identity which is deeply rooted and carries with it goods which society needs? Some of those balances are not right. Increasingly in our society there is a sense that we need some stronger shared foundations.
Pope John Paul II often said that democracy of itself did not create its values and did create its own foundations. Democracy is the best way of managing political power, but it needs to be based on something. It shows the need within a democracy for trust. The democratic process actually requires it, but it does not create it. So where does it come from? It’s the family, the neighbourhood, the charities, the educational system. These are things which nurture values such as trust. These are well nurtured in religious faiths and they all need to play their part, not explicitly in the political forum— we’re not looking for theocracies or direct influence of religions in the policy process—but society as a whole. This society is not secular. It is full of people with religious sentiment. That needs to be brought to the benefit of all and not pushed away. DJ: Assuming that it does go ahead, what are your hopes from the Pope’s visit? VN: When we look back to the visit of John Paul II of 1982 it can be summed up like this. Here was the Pope as the first pastor of the Catholic Church. He came and celebrated the sacraments of the Church and in doing so he confirmed the strength of the Catholic community. This is quite different. Benedict represents the project of faith and reason working together, and a witness to the contribution that faith and reason together make towards European society. I hope and pray that a voice of faith will speak for the reasonableness of faith and its ability to raise our expectation of ourselves and each other through the power of the grace of God. He will do it in a way that resonates in this English context. He has a great love of Newman and will be very sensitive to the Englishness as much as the Europeanness of our situation. So far I have sensed nothing but enthusiasm and welcome for this visit from the government and the Archbishop of Canterbury. It will convince many people of the goodness of faith and the contribution it can make to the project of faith and reason in the 21st century. DJ: Will the visit be welcomed by other faith communities in the UK? We know Archbishop Rowan is on-side, but what about the non-Christian faiths here? I’m thinking about Pope’s controversial Regensburg lecture and the consequences of that. Will there be some Muslims who will object? VN: To give him due credit, the Pope has worked quite carefully and assiduously, for example in his visit to Turkey, to find a point of dialogue with Muslims. He also, after the Regensburg lecture, established quite a detailed and high-level academic discussion with 300 Muslim scholars from around the world. The point of the lecture was to say how much can we, two great world religions, get together to discuss the reasonableness of God? That was the central point that he was making. He has worked extremely assiduously on that. His visit to the Holy Land was extremely well judged. I don’t think that there were any seriously critical comments from the state of Israel. The other night, I went to the Hindu temple at Neasden, with 4,500 Hindus, along with the heads of the other faiths in Brent, and civic leaders. What was so evident there was the depth of the respect for a holy person: somebody who stands with a commitment in their own life to the religious quest. I’m quite sure that that would be extended with enormous warmth towards the Pope.
This idea that the divisions in society lie between the faiths is not true: it’s a false dichotomy. It’s as old hat now as the idea that Muslims will be offended if you celebrate Christmas—they’re not offended in the least! What they want to see is strong religious faith—with a space for their own, with all the difficulties that that can bring. But the divisions are not there. The divisions are more between those who understand the importance of religious faith and those who don’t—those who are aggressively secularist. But my impression is that the aggressive secularist voice, even if it gets a lot of attention, does not speak for most people in this country, who understand the importance of religious faith and know the shortcomings of the practice of any faith, particularly of shortcomings in the practice of the Catholic faith, but nevertheless are still able to say that this is something that is important that we can’t afford to lose.
Archbishop Vincent Nichols: “What if people say it’s unreasonable to have a crucifix in a Catholic care-home?”