1968 – The Church in the Seventies

The Church of the ‘Seventies

THE DANGER of living in a Church of the future, as maladjusted members of the present parishes, cannot be ignored. But to be unconscious of the trend of the times is inexcusable. Perhaps it was with this in mind that Mr. Patrick Keegan, that amiable public relations officer between laymen and bishop, organised the springtime conference of Family and Social Action, of which he is now full-time secretary, at St. Mary’s, Strawberry Hill, from 15 to 19 April. From among his wide circle he can draw a high-powered selection of speakers, as he had proved at Hoddesdon in 1965.

This time the ” cast ” included Professor Ruiz Jiminez of the Lay Council at the Vatican, Dr. Kevin McDonnell, chairman of the National Commission of the Lay Apostolate, and Bishop Worlock, fresh from his pioneering in Portsmouth of the first Diocesan Pastoral Council. The ninety delegates were received on Easter Monday evening by Maurice Foley, M.P., Minister with responsibility for the Royal Navy, and an FSA member, who spoke commending family groups.

As its title suggests, the conference did not concern itself with domestic structure or technique, but attempted to situate its members in the social, religious, economic, and pastoral landscape. Even the tendencies in Church architecture ancillary to the growth of a popular liturgy found expression (and a film-strip illustration) in Mr. Austin Winkley’s talk. Professor Ruiz Jiminez, whose personality endeared him to his audience, referred to the emergence of new social organisms from the ashes of State Communism in Czechoslovakia. Could these be embryonic of an order with a greater distribution of responsibility than has been achieved under capitalism? Dr. McDonnell, of London University, surveyed the social development of the country as background to the growth of the Catholic community. He insisted that the present Church is still massively working-class, but suffers great losses in this category because it has settled down in adjustment to the rising middle class. Fully alive to the importance of the under-privileged immigrant, he advocated a practical concern for the disparaged immigrant in our midst.

Bishop Worlock, in somewhat similar vein, insisted that lay spirituality must of its nature be realistically aware of the needs of the neighbourhood. To avoid frenzied activism it must cultivate a balance of withdrawal and attention to the voice of God, and communal relevance.

The economist and author, Ronald Brech, set out to provide provocation and stimulation. He welcomed interruption and controversy. Too long had the laity done What they were told, as though choice, decision, and integrity of motive were not the basic stuff of religion. He devoted much attention to the computer, more capable of decision in complex situations than the human mind, simply by reason of its voracious appetite for selevent data, and powers of digestion. The Church, perhaps, had preferred doctrinal nicety to enlightened decision, and allowed itself to languish in a dead language. This made a suitable introduction to the symposium on the national commissions in process of formation, and clearly necessary to provide the expert information which the hierarchy now needs in such Reids as television, publicity, education, and missionary enterprise at home and abroad. Parish priests severely critical of yet another fund-absorbing initiative could have listened to Fr. Agnellus, Mr. Bob Walsh, and Mr. Kevin Muir, with great advantage.

Another symposium dealt with Catholic schools. The indefatigable Mr. Cunningham, of the Catholic Education Council, found some of the mothers present aggrieved at the way they were apparently disregarded over the control of schools and policy. Mgr. Buckley wound up the conference on a theological note when dealing with future pastoral methods. Speaking perhaps to priests more than to parents, he stressed the importance of faith in the risen Christ as the mainspring of parochial life.

The atmosphere of the conference can best be described as one of good-natured criticism, from which a genuine love of the Church was never absent.



The Tablet, 18 May 1968