Wednesday Jan 10th
Cycled through pouring rain to a library to use the Internet....yes, still problems at home.....
It is curious how alienated one can feel in a modern public library, or indeed other official public facility such as a doctor's waiting room, simply because of the material that is presented all around one.
This is a library building I have known all my adult life: I was a Borough councillor here for many years in the 70s and early 80s, and our Council meetings were in the big Europa Gallery on the ground floor, where the walls frequently echoed to my speeches. But now? It's a fine library and the computer section is superb: beautiful machines, a businesslike silence and sense of order. Once logged on, there is the possibility of extending time as required. Downstairs, there is a pleasant coffee-shop where I relaxed with a book and hoped my soaking jacket and gloves would dry before the journey home. But......in the Religion section, row after row of rubbish-books on witchcraft and the occult.....a reasonable range of books on Christianity but the ONLY one about Pope Benedict is a gross, silly and (thank God) largely unknown one which takes the form of an attack by Edward Stourton of the BBC who opposes central Church moral teachings.....why not some of the books by Peter Sewald, or Ratzinger's own memoirs ("Milestones" - a very good read, available from Ignatius Press USA or Family Publications, Oxford). And, heck, at least a couple of the 40-odd books written by this world-famous theologian who has ended up at Pope......Oh, meanwhile of course there were two copies of John Cornwell's book attacking Pius X11 (no other book about him).
Oh, and elsewhere, publications with headlines screaming that anyone not accepting the new Govt plans on Sexual Oreintation must be a bigot...and horrible novels blatantly sexy.....
However, in the History section I found a new and extremely interesting book, which is relevant to this week's headlines about events in Poland....the book is "To Kill a Priest" (by Kevin Ruane, published by Gibson Square), and is about Fr Jerzy Popieluszko, who was killed by the State secret police. It is extremely detailed, and sometimes reads rather like a police file, but it does set out the facts and conveys a fascinating background to the Poland of the 1980s......the complexity involving the web of deception that was routinely woven, to set priest against Bishop, layman against clergy, youth against teacher, worker against worker....no wonder the general policy in Rome has been to assume that nothing in the Polish situation is simple, and that one should treat with caution anything seen in any official folder. This does not excuse, but it does explain, the events surrounding the apppointment and then sudden resignation of the proposed Archbishop of Warsaw this past weekend.....
We are now all going to see a wave of cyncism among younger Catholics in Poland - those brought up on the legends of heroic Catholic opposition to Communist rule. There was heroic opposition, and Fr Jerzy was part of it. So was the great Cardinal Wyzinski, and of course our dear Holy Father John Paul. But there was also compromise, acceptance of what should have been unacceptable, bad decision-making as well as good, and shoddy behaviour under conditions where shoddiness became blurred with simple realism. Those of us who haven't had to live in a police-state should hesitate to make bland judgements.
To London to collect mail for the Christian Projects Schools Bible venture for 2007 ( involves pupils writing essays on Bible themes - open to all UK secondary schools - send SAE if you want your school to take part: Christian Projects, PO Box 44741 London SW1P 2XA) and to visit pro-life office in St Matthew Street. This is near the Cathedral so I dropped in - there is a very attractive Christmas crib which of course has just had the three Wise men added. They have a camel which is rather too small! But it's a lovely Crib, and well worth a visit. Picked up a copy of the Catholic Herald - very sound comments von the back page in the "Charterhouse" section for Holy Days. I am not going to let up on this: our Bishops have made a silly mistake in transferring some of these to Sundays, and it is something that will have to be rectified.
Interesting story, too, about beleagured Govt minister Ruth Kelly - she has refused to meet a representative of our Bishops to talk about the new horrible Sexual Oreintation Regulations......this is particularly offensive and wrong as she is a Catholic and must recognise that the Church has grave questions to discuss on this matter.
Miss Kelly is currently at the centre of a controversy about having chosen a private independent school for one of her sons. But the problem is not that this is wrong - she comes from a well-to-do family and herself went to Sutton High School (which I passed today on my bike - fairly expensive local school, with excellent academic record) and to Westminster (top London school, exclusive and justifiably famed).....it is entirely right that she offers her children the same sort of opprtunities. What is wrong is that she is part of a Government which is making it EXTREMELY difficult for anyone but the rich to make use of these schools - all the Assisted Places schemes and publicly-funded scholarships have been abolished....so she is getting for herself what she is actively denying others.
However, he stance on the SExual Oreintation Regulations is a far more serious matter and it's very, very worrying that there has been no one at all in the Government prepared to meet our Catholic spokesmen and even discuss things properly.
And please, if you are an American reader, don't write in and say "But isn't Tony Blair practically a Catholic?"
Finally: while on the Internet, looked up some of the delightful pix of the Holy Father baptising babies in the glorious surroundings of the Sistine Chapel. These are beautiful scenes: gentle pastor with silvery hair, awed but happy parents proffering small bundle of baby for baptism, the Holy Father's hands pouring water from a delicate shell over a noble and ancient font. And the H. Father's talk to the families - breaking from prepared script, speaking with wisdom and commonsense in a setting so rich in history and tradition - are well worth reading.
Golly, this beats any official "naming ceremony" offered by a local authority, as seen in modern Britain.