One hand washes the other

Let’s stick with the old Kremlinology for the time being, because I want to discuss That Mysterious Email and matters arising. Many of you will already have heard of That Email that’s doing the rounds, the one that when you click on the attachment sets off all sorts of alarms and sternly warns you that your IP address has been logged and if you’re viewing this content without authorisation you will be liable for divers lurid punishments in this life and the next.

There are several curious things about this. One is that the email emanates from the Diocese of Westminster, not an organisation known to be overburdened with computer whizzkids. However, the email itself is advertising an upcoming seminar to be held Monday week at Eland House, the corporate headquarters of the Department of Communities and Local Government, and gives a DCLG official as the contact. This in itself is odd, in that one can understand the discussions at the seminar being held under Chatham House rules, but all this Mission Impossible stuff seems better suited to MI5 than the DCLG. It also stands in some contrast to the content itself.

This, as you’ll have guessed, is a seminar aimed at orienting officials ahead of the papal visit. Nothing remarkable about that. Government departments of course hold these sort of seminars all the time. If you work at DWP headquarters, you may well get the opportunity to hear an academic speaking about labour market trends. If there’s something interesting happening in the Bananastans, the Foreign Office and/or the Department for International Development may well ask a SOAS professor to come in and give some background briefings. And, after the Foreign Office memo affair, government departments evidently need all the background briefings they can get. If the DCLG is having a seminar, you can bet that other relevant departments – the Foreign Office, Home Office, Scotland Office etc – will be doing likewise.

In the same vein, the itinerary is sensible enough. It makes sense to have a representative from the C of E’s ecumenical division to talk about ecumenical relations. Given the centrality of the Newman beatification to the visit, it also makes sense to be giving officials some background on who Cardinal Newman was and what his significance is to both the Catholic and Anglican traditions. And there is absolutely nothing wrong with the opening talk being on the theme of “the Roman Catholic Church in Britain today”. I do note, though, that the speaker marked down for this session is none other than our old friend Catherine Pepinster.

Let me make this perfectly clear. There is nothing intrinsically wrong with Ma Pepsi talking to officials about the outlines of English Catholicism. She is, after all, a prominent lay Catholic and editor of an influential Catholic magazine. There is, however, a sense of cosmic inevitability, a feeling that it was always going to be Ma Pepsi or, failing that, Clifford. There could easily be an element of sheer laziness involved. Older readers may recall how about 25 years ago, if the BBC were covering a Catholic story and couldn’t get a quote from Cardinal Hume, they would always phone up dear old Norman St John Stevas, apparently on the grounds that dear old Norman was the only lay Catholic their religious affairs staff had ever heard of. So there’s that possibility. There are, however, other possibilities.

You’ll perhaps recall the old story about Peter Jay, and how a Times editor once remonstrated with him that his economics columns were completely incomprehensible. Jay is supposed to have responded that “my column is written for three people in this country, and you aren’t one of them”. There are somewhere between five and six million Catholics in Britain, and the Tablet sells just over 20,000 copies a week. But it’s read by the right people. If the Tablet was simply a magazine for progressive Catholics who enjoyed reading its Hello!-style interviews with Hans Küng, or Bobbie Mickens giving off about the evils of the Latin Mass, it would be of no real significance. Its significance lies in its historic status as the organ of the Catholic establishment. All those baronesses and retired diplomats on its board and trust aren’t there for no reason.

You may recognise this punter:

This is the Right Hon the Lord Patten of Barnes CH, former Tory cabinet minister, former Governor of Hong Kong, former European Commissioner, incumbent Chancellor of the University of Oxford, and all-round member of the great and the good. Chris Patten has recently been appointed by David Cameron as the government’s papal visit czar, reporting directly to Cameron himself. Chris Patten is a member of the Tablet Trust.

Unless you’re a serious politics nerd, you may not recognise this punter:

This is Sir Gus O’Donnell KCB, holder of many civil service posts over his long and distinguished career, and currently the Cabinet Secretary, making him the head of the Home Civil Service. He’s the highest-ranking and most powerful figure in the permanent Whitehall bureaucracy. Gus O’Donnell has spent several months coordinating an interdepartmental committee aimed at getting all government departments dealing with the papal visit pulling in the same direction. Gus O’Donnell is a member of the Tablet Trust.

I am not of course suggesting that either Chris or Gus have been going around actively pulling strings for their mates on the Suppository. I am simply suggesting that the connection doesn’t hurt. And the key point is, if you’re looking for Catholic establishment types, the easiest place to find them is at what the late Cardinal Franjo Šeper is supposed to have described as “that paper that used to be Catholic”.

Now, it’s true that the Catholic establishment and the Tabletista progressive tendency are not coterminous – hence the appearance around the papal visit of such figures as Neil Addison or Dan Brennan, who would be more towards the orthodox end of the spectrum. But it’s very clear which tendency is in the driving seat, and it ain’t the orthodox one.

The other noteworthy aspect of this is the involvement of the DCLG, a department created by New Labour with an eclectic set of responsibilities including council tax, housing, urban planning and the fire service. But one aspect of its powers is that, when the department was created in 2006, it took over the “integration and cohesion” brief from the Home Office, including the Preventing Violent Extremism initiative. This bit of the DCLG has taken on some of the functions of what in the old Soviet bloc would have been the Ministry of Religion.

Mostly, this has to do with Muslims, and the Prevent strategy has borne a strong resemblance to the grantocracy strategy developed by Douglas Hurd and Tom King in the north of Ireland in the 1980s, when local Catholic clergy were put in charge of community development schemes, with the aim of undermining popular support for Sinn Féin and thereby pacifying the ghetto. In a similar way, DCLG, particularly under Hazel Blears, developed a strong tendency towards using patronage to build up a compliant Muslim leadership while freezing out those who were a bit stroppy about British foreign policy. It hasn’t worked very well, and the main effect of handing over all those cheques to Ed Husain and Maajid Nawaz has been to discredit them with the people they’re supposed to be influencing, even though as “approved Muslims” they’ve built up reasonable media careers. Let’s see whether Eric Pickles fancies carrying on with this approach.

But this is a tendency of all governments, which is why when we talk about the separation of church and state we have to remember that it cuts both ways. England of course has its long history of an Established Church with the monarch as its Supreme Governor, its bishops appointed by the prime minister and much of its functioning subject to parliamentary approval. On the other side of the world we find the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association, a body that agrees with all the policies of the Chinese government, dispenses with those bits of Catholic dogma that conflict with government policy, and whose bishops are appointed by the Communist Party.

That’s the extreme end of the argument. The relatively benign end is something like the north of Ireland peace process grantocracy. We are very familiar here with a situation where a small charity or campaigning group gets a grant, suddenly isn’t working on a shoestring any more but can afford fulltime staff and an office suite, and before you know it the charity has become a quango and is consulting on government policy. This usually goes without resistance, because the outcome suits everybody concerned. And it needn’t even be cash – access will do as well.

Stonewall is an excellent example of this. Ben Summerskill and his mates have long since become so close to the centres of power that the shoutier end of gay activism has found lots of mileage in deriding them as the government’s pet gays. Yet, the trade-off for their loss of independence is an enormous amount of influence in terms of shaping government policy, and Summerskill would argue that that influence makes the sacrifice worthwhile. Sometimes, the mutual benefits of this kind of backscratching are such that the late VI Lenin’s classic question “who whom?” becomes very difficult to answer. Look at the Sun, the government’s semi-official newspaper – does the government benefit more from receiving the sunny side of Uncle Rupert’s countenance, or does the Sun benefit more from its easy access to the corridors of power? Looking back at the days when Alastair Campbell was practically dictating the paper’s political coverage, who can say?

When considering the emergent Tablet-government lash-up, the danger is not coercion but backscratching. Of course it’s never stated – it may not even be a fully formulated thought in the relevant people’s minds – but it’s entirely possible that we see the government forging an alliance with the forces of Catholicism Lite. Entirely possible, too, that the hierarchy would go along with this, since it’s at least arguable that their established MO of chumming up to ministers might outweigh their willingness to work with marginal hardline figures like, er, the Pope.

There used to be a good saying about long spoons. It might come in handy in this context.


  1. birkenstock said,

    June 25, 2010 at 7:38 am

    I spill my working-class tea every time Ma Pepsi turns up on Thought for the Day. Her briefing to government officials will be exactly that – ‘her’ briefing – and will not be representative of the vast majority of Catholics in the pews. This would be fine if the bishops could be trusted to oversee matters, but they are singing from the same Marty Haugen hymn sheet. Please assure me that the Vatican knows about this.

    • Res Miranda said,

      June 25, 2010 at 7:43 am

      Will she have the pocket-sized Catholic Voices co-ordinator concealed in the voluminous folds of her dirndl skirt?

  2. ejh said,

    June 25, 2010 at 12:33 pm

    You’ll perhaps recall the old story about Peter Jay, and how a Times editor once remonstrated with him that his economics columns were completely incomprehensible. Jay is supposed to have responded that “my column is written for three people in this country, and you aren’t one of them”

    I don’t know if, when making this point, you were aware of any other potential applications that it might possess?

  3. Zuzy Creamcheese said,

    June 25, 2010 at 12:46 pm

    Talking about access let us return to Mr Ivereigh for he has access coming out of all orifices. Was it not Mr Ivereigh who, through London Citizens, chaired a hustings of ll the clones? I mean, of course, all the leaders of the major political parties. Was it not Mr Ivereigh who has boasted in The Tablet, itself once a backer of the fascist Oswald Mosley, that he was prepared to do a deal with David Cameron? Although one suspects that should such a deal be arrrived at London Citizens might well downscale their work on behalf of mmigrant workers. So yes let us talk about access but let us also ask how access benefits those who have it and why do they exclude others from it?

    • Res Miranda said,

      June 25, 2010 at 1:02 pm

      Do be gentle with him – “Dr” Ivereigh is rather sensitive about his orifices. It’s the worst kept secret in Pimlico that he suffers from piles.

  4. crouchback said,

    June 25, 2010 at 1:00 pm

    When I point my “Shouty End” at my parish priest or our Bishop it’s only to ask for the return of the Traditional Mass.

    As for the Novus Ordo…..get my arse outa there…!!!!…..before the real Shouting starts.

  5. crouchback said,

    June 25, 2010 at 1:08 pm

    What ‘s all this about access anyway

    The only access that Cardinal Hume’s “New kind of Church” needs is access to the life boats as the Novus Ordo church is holed below the water line.

    Oh and maybe they might need access to the Park Keeper at Crofton Park to make sure the gates are open for the Popes visit…….I’m sure the Parkie is competent to look after things… for the Bishops….?????

  6. Paul Priest said,

    June 25, 2010 at 1:17 pm

    Splinty I’m afraid if you’re deducing this from what I’ve said elsewhere I can only heartily apologise and clarify the situation ; for although the initiative is WITHIN the diocese of Westminster [and naturally westminster diocesan professionals will be attending] ; it is solely a Government enterprise.

    Once again I am truly sorry to all if there’s any confusion..

  7. Paul Priest said,

    June 25, 2010 at 1:35 pm

    The main bone of contention is : Why is it these people [pepsi, strangey etc] who are briefing government etc ?

  8. Zuzy Creamcheese said,

    June 25, 2010 at 2:27 pm

    Cos they share a class interest with the mandarins?

  9. Phil said,

    June 25, 2010 at 2:55 pm

    Possibly like ejh, I don’t know what you’re talking about in this post – I can’t see how it hangs together at all. I mean, this:

    it’s true that the Catholic establishment and the Tabletista progressive tendency are not coterminous – hence the appearance around the papal visit of such figures as Neil Addison or Dan Brennan, who would be more towards the orthodox end of the spectrum. But it’s very clear which tendency is in the driving seat, and it ain’t the orthodox one.

    What’s this saying other than “some, but not all, of the people involved in organising the papal visit are liberal in theological and/or liturgical terms”? You could say the point is that they’re more liberal than the average member of the Church, but that doesn’t add much – when you think about it “Fred is liberal” and “Fred is more liberal than the average” are basically the same statement.

    So they’re the Catholic establishment (Papal Visit Organised By Catholic Establishment Shock); and some (although not all of them) are liberal (in some way or other); and this is a bad thing, although you seem to have skipped the part about why.

    I get that if you were (still?) a Catholic you’d sympathise with the conservatives; if I were (still?) an Anglican I’d sympathise with the liberals (mostly, although I do like Rowan). I don’t think these are political statements, though.

    when the department was created in 2006, it took over the “integration and cohesion” brief from the Home Office, including the Preventing Violent Extremism initiative.

    Yes and no. Scads of PREVENT money goes to the police & the CJ sector more broadly, although at least some of it does come through DCLG.

    • weserei said,

      June 26, 2010 at 5:43 pm

      As I grasp it, the argument is basically about alliances. First, it’s that the types who are getting to advise HM Government about this are part of a project of assimilating Catholicism to the center-right liberal capitalist consensus–and that their theological attitude toward things like church governance could/has carried over into a watering-down of Catholic social teaching. Catholic social teaching has been successfully used as a resource by socialists at various places and times, and it would be a shame to lose it. There’s also the electoral dimension, which is that the Labour Party is dependent on the Catholic vote.

      • magistra said,

        June 26, 2010 at 8:57 pm

        Are these types watering down Catholic social teaching as a whole, or just sexual issues? Traditional Catholic teachings on such issues as abortion, contraception, homosexuality, etc are now rejected and seen as offensive by the majority of the population of the UK, so it’s not surprising that any Catholic group that wants to have wider influence is going to downplay such matters. And it’s also a hard-sell to make an organisation demanding automatic obedience to superiors look appealing in modern British culture.

      • weserei said,

        June 26, 2010 at 9:35 pm

        Are these types watering down Catholic social teaching as a whole?

        I suppose that depends on one’s interpretation of Rerum Novarum etc. Arguably a lot of “traditionalists” fall down quite badly on this front. Then of course there’s the issue that several figures in the Liberation Theology movement were convicted of heresy by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. I can’t seem to recall who was heading the CDF at the time, but I think he’s remained prominent within the Church.

  10. Dr. X said,

    June 25, 2010 at 6:53 pm

    I like this blog better when it was Trotskyite.

  11. Martial Artist said,

    June 25, 2010 at 7:20 pm

    Please, someone, tell me it isn’t true that Catholics in England are subjected to the (alleged) music of Marty Haugen as though it were sacred music. Such news is enough to reduce this humble American convert from Episcopalianism to despair. I had thought (hoped, prayed, obviously in vain) that hte use of Haugen was largely limited to the shores of my musically benightd country.

    If true, it does at least lessen somewhat my sadness at not being able to travel there for the beatification. And, thankfully, I am now forewarned in advance of my hoped holiday to the region sometime next year.

    Pax et bonum,
    Keith Töpfer

    • birkenstock said,

      June 25, 2010 at 11:16 pm

      Oh my dear, Marty is here alive and kicking…

  12. Heavens to Betsy said,

    June 25, 2010 at 11:50 pm

    More than can be said for Napoleon.

    Ha ha.

    I don’t think that old cock does much crowing anymore.

  13. June 26, 2010 at 1:17 am

    You could put it to music: “Don’t do much crowing anymore…”

  14. June 26, 2010 at 6:18 pm

    “Catholic social teaching ” is simply , “Do unto others as you would have them to do unto you.” It is aimed at the individual’s behavior, It DOES Not call for a government to enforce it.. It is precisely that erroneous extrapolation which leads to Socialism which Catholic teaching clearly denounces.

    • shane said,

      June 26, 2010 at 7:00 pm

      If this is true, why did we once put usurers to the stake?

      • June 26, 2010 at 7:10 pm

        Did you walk to school today or did you bring your lunch.
        Your reply is a non sequitur.

      • shane said,

        June 26, 2010 at 7:21 pm

        Care to answer my question? Or would you rather cast puerile insults?

    • ejh said,

      June 27, 2010 at 5:31 pm

      Just so I know – and especially because our host would surely like to know too – how does Catholic teaching clearly denounce socialism? (It may or may not do and I don’t care much either way, but I’m curious.)

  15. June 26, 2010 at 9:26 pm

    Ask one that makes sense and I would be happy to.
    I don’t suffer fools readily.

  16. shane said,

    June 26, 2010 at 11:04 pm

    Ok, Mr Hass, seeing you apparently can’t understand my question, I’ll be happy to make it more simple – and also expand on my point.

    If Catholic Social Teaching is “aimed at the individual’s behavior” and not the competence of the government, then why have successive popes enjoined the intervention of governmental authority for the welfare of the poor? The Church’s historical treatment of usurers was hardly in accordance with free market principles, to say the least. His Holiness Pope Leo XIII, whom some people might have thought had made a marginally more important contribution to Catholic Social Teaching than yourself, wrote in Rerum Novarum that “the Church improves and betters the condition of the working man by means of numerous organizations; does her best to enlist the services of all classes in discussing and endeavoring to further in the most practical way, the interests of the working classes; and considers that for this purpose recourse should be had, in due measure and degree, to the intervention of the law and of State authority” and “through the entire scheme of laws and institutions . . . both public and individual well-being may develop spontaneously out of the very structure and administration of the State.

    He also noted: “it is within the competence of the rulers of the State that, as they benefit other groups, they also improve in particular the condition of the workers” and “among the numerous and weighty duties of rulers who would serve their people well, this is first and foremost, namely, that they protect equitably each and every class of citizens, maintaining inviolate that justice especially which is called distributive.

    Although all citizens, without exception, are obliged to contribute something to the sum-total common goods, some share of which naturally goes back to each individual, yet all can by no means contribute the same amount and in equal degree.

    [..]Equity therefore commands that public authority show proper concern for the worker so that from what he contributes to the common good he may receive what will enable him, housed, clothed, and secure, to live his life without hardship.

    […]Wherefore, since wage workers are numbered among the great mass of the needy, the State must include them under its special care and foresight.”

    Pope Pius XI (that well known Marxist revolutionary), praises Leo for “boldly breaking through the confines imposed by [economic] Liberalism” in Quadragesimo anno and discusses the legacy of his Encyclical, while commending governments for implementing its principles:

    “We, of course, do not deny that even before the Encyclical of Leo, some rulers of peoples have provided for certain of the more urgent needs of the workers and curbed more flagrant acts of injustice inflicted upon them. But after the Apostolic voice had sounded from the Chair of Peter throughout the world, rulers of nations, more fully alive at last to their duty, devoted their minds and attention to the task of promoting a more comprehensive and fruitful social policy.

    And while the principles of Liberalism were tottering, which had long prevented effective action by those governing the State, the Encyclical On the Condition of Workers in truth impelled peoples themselves to promote a social policy on truer grounds and with greater intensity, and so strongly encouraged good Catholics to furnish valuable help to heads of States in this field that they often stood forth as illustrious champions of this new policy even in legislatures. Sacred ministers of the Church, thoroughly imbued with Leo’s teaching, have, in fact, often proposed to the votes of the peoples’ representatives the very social legislation that has been enacted in recent years and have resolutely demanded and promoted its enforcement.

    A new branch of law, wholly unknown to the earlier time, has arisen from this continuous and unwearied labor to protect vigorously the sacred rights of the workers that flow from their dignity as men and as Christians. These laws undertake the protection of life, health, strength, family, homes, workshops, wages and labor hazards, in fine, everything which pertains to the condition of wage workers, with special concern for women and children. Even though these laws do not conform exactly everywhere and in all respects to Leo’s recommendations, still it is undeniable that much in them savors of the Encyclical, On the Condition of Workers, to which great credit must be given for whatever improvement has been achieved in the workers’ condition.”

  17. June 27, 2010 at 12:10 am

    When what is now the Congregation For the Doctrine Faith and was then The Supreme Sacred Congregation of the Roman and Universal Inquisition, The Pope was both the spiritual and temporal ruler of the Roman Empire. At that time the Law was promulgated and enforced by The Holy See. This included many cruelties including the burning of usurers at the stake.
    Around 1860 Pius IX lost all temporal power and after that the writing, promulgation and enforcement of law was left to individual nations.
    From that time the Popes have had no authority and have only been able urge leaders to act in accordance with Christian principles.
    And we as individuals are left with Christ’s admonition to love o one anther and to render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s.

    • weserei said,

      June 27, 2010 at 2:20 am

      Are you at all serious with this?

      The Papacy has never had meaningful temporal power outside central Italy, and even during the time of the Papal States, was often under the effective political control of another state. Following Cavour’s unification of Italy, most of the territory of the Papal States was annexed to the Kingdom of Italy, with a small area in Rome as well as several rural areas remaining under the direct rule of the Holy See.

      What significance any of this is supposed to have for Catholic ethics escapes me.

      • shane said,

        June 27, 2010 at 2:28 am

        Agreed. I’m also struggling to see the relevance.

  18. June 27, 2010 at 5:56 am

    It doesn’t.
    I had written:
    ““Catholic social teaching ” is simply , “Do unto others as you would have them to do unto you.” It is aimed at the individual’s behavior, It DOES Not call for a government to enforce it.. It is precisely that erroneous extrapolation which leads to Socialism which Catholic teaching clearly denounces.”
    To which Shane replied.,
    “If this is true, why did we once put usurers to the stake?”
    This was what prompted my response.

    • weserei said,

      June 27, 2010 at 2:06 pm

      Then what about Shane’s post @16, which yours appeared directly below?

  19. June 27, 2010 at 4:25 pm

    OK, what about Shane’s post @16 :He makes my point:.
    All he is saying is that Papal encyclicals have recommended that governments follow Christian principles I agree.

    • jp said,

      June 27, 2010 at 4:42 pm

      thereby negating your original comment about catholic social teaching. the most relevant quote from yeshua is “what you do to the least among you, you do to me.” that would include voting for/supporting governments that torture, starve, ensalve and slaughter, or are complicit in these. ‘rendering to ceasar’ the power of life/death/enslavement/bondage is clearly out. sorry…

    • weserei said,

      June 27, 2010 at 11:42 pm

      Shane’s quote says a little more than that–it says that governments, in certain cases, ought to take up the task of enforcing social justice. The Roman Catholic Church believes in theocracy. That is, it believes that our form of government ought to be rule by God’s law. The commandment to build governments that enforce God’s law goes all the way back to Noah.

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