Opinion & Features

Letters & emails

A liturgy out of Lawrence of Arabia

SIR – Jon Anderson’s cover story on the Eastern Catholic Churches (March 8) brought back memories of a holiday in Sharm El Sheikh. No Catholic Mass was available of course, but I did avail myself of the next best thing: a Coptic Orthodox Divine Liturgy in a local church. Space prevents me from doing the experience justice, but an overwhelming sense of how I was somehow joined spiritually in ancient ties of faith came over me. In the Coptic rite, I was so elated to join in the Kyrie Eleison, where East meets West.

I was not permitted to receive Communion with them, but, on making myself known beforehand, I was called up to partake of the unconsecrated bread offering. Some of the congregation looked like something from a scene out from Lawrence of Arabia, underlying the universality of the Church (the same make-up applying no doubt to a Catholic Coptic gathering).

The Catholic Truth Society has issued a booklet, The Eastern Churches by Fr Robin Gibbons, where he posits: “There has never really been any period of Church history when one Eastern Church or another was not in a relationship with Rome.” This surely needs to be better known by us Latin Rite Catholics to appreciate the full richness of our living Catholic Faith.

Brendan O’Leary
Swansea, Wales

The case for Cuomo’s excommunication

SIR – Those arguing for or against the excommunication of Governor Andrew Cuomo seem largely to be missing the point (Tim Stanley, February 15). A bishop’s duty is to safeguard the souls of his flock; he must always judge any proposed ecclesiastic discipline by this question: will the penalty make the punished more likely to make it to heaven, or less? Wider political considerations, the ‘‘message’’ an action ‘‘will send” to others, are scarcely relevant, therefore, to the grave question of whether a bishop should excommunicate someone.

There are then, I would suggest, just three questions that Cardinal Dolan needs to ask himself in this case. First, does the archbishop accept the Magisterium of the Church? If so, he must surely agree that a) abortion and the abetting thereof are gravely sinful, b) hell exists and c) those persisting in grave sin are at risk of going there.

Second, might penalties lesser than excommunication make Cuomo desist in his error? And, if not, might excommunication? Given the governor’s hitherto blatant contempt for the Magisterium, it seems likely that he will continue to hold it in contempt unless given the one punishment – excommunication – that gives one cause seriously to doubt the safety of one’s soul.

Moreover, only excommunication would show him that the Church really means what it says about abortion: other options would be unconvincing precisely because so many American prelates have been so equivocal on the issue. Even excommunication, then, is unlikely to correct Cuomo; but it would seem to be the only measure with any chance at all.

As for the third question: is excommunication a canonically legitimate sanction in this case? His Eminence seems to think not; canon lawyers, he says, claim it isn’t, since it is only the having or procuring of an abortion that is canonically an excommunication offence. But here the cardinal manifests the very worst, and by no means ubiquitous, facet of the (largely admirable) American national character: he defers slavishly to those with qualifications in the subject at hand – who themselves can’t see the wood for the trees – to the extent of forfeiting all common sense and independent thought. Cuomo hasn’t had an abortion, but he is clearly promoting serious heresy, for which excommunication is an entirely valid sanction.

The case for excommunication then, seems clear. Not to mention the life of St Ambrose; perhaps Cardinal Dolan should recall a letter recounted in Newman’s Apologia pro Vita Sua. As an Anglican, Newman had once complained to a Catholic friend that the Catholic Church had undermined Anglican-Catholic dialogue by converting Anglican delegates thereto. But as he later seemed to realise, this only showed that the Church placed the salvation of each soul above all political considerations.

Therefore, I would say to the archbishop: forget such considerations. Forget how it will look. Live up to that grave name “Bishop”. One of your sheep has strayed. Act to save him.

Peter Day-Milne
Sherborne, Dorset

Tomb raiders

SIR – I was pleased to read Michael Thorndyke’s letter (February 22) correcting the impression given in earlier correspondence that James II/VIII was the last Catholic monarch of England and Scotland. However, I was surprised to read that the tomb of that same king is to be found in St Peter’s, Rome.

While his son and two grandsons are indeed interred in the crypt of the basilica and are honoured on Canova’s Stuart memorial erected in the basilica itself in 1819, James II died at St Germain-en-Laye, Paris, in 1701 and the greater part of his remains were placed in the English Benedictine church in the Rue Saint-Jacques. Other parts of his body were distributed around various religious houses in France, chiefly those of exiled English or Scots Catholics. The French Revolution saw the king’s tomb in the Benedictine church raided, although there is, as I understand it, disagreement as to exactly how much of what was in that tomb was lost. Some scholars suggest that in 1825 what was there was placed in the parish church at St Germain-en-Laye (where another relic of the monarch – a section of his bowel – had in that same year been rediscovered).

Fr Stewart Foster
Archivist, Diocese of Brentwood, Brentwood, Essex

Puritan ‘fake news’

SIR – Archbishop Laud never entered into unity talks with Rome (Letter, March 8). His whole life and writings reflect his loyal Protestantism, on all key doctrines such as justification by faith alone, and the rejection of key Catholic doctrines such as transubstantiation, the propitiatory nature of the Mass, the intercession of the saints and prayers for the dead.

Claims that he was in negotiation with Rome or that he was offered a cardinal’s hat were merely Puritan “fake news”. The Catholics who sought Church unity at the same time, did so under their own steam and had no encouragement from Laud or the Church of England.

Indeed, Laud was most concerned that King Charles’s children should not be converted to Rome by their Catholic mother. His debate with the Jesuit Fr Fisher sets out his clear Protestant position.

Modern biographers such as Hugh Trevor-Roper show how the Puritan charges at his trial of Laud facilitating a reconciliation with Rome were false.

Ironically, 19th-century Anglo-Catholics liked the false Puritan accusations as they seemed to point to an Anglo-Catholic archbishop. So that is why there is a statue of him at the Anglican shrine in Walsingham: William Laud, who never prayed to the Virgin Mary in his whole 71 years.

Robert Ian Williams
Wrexham, Wales