Opinion & Features

Letters & emails

What we can learn from ‘slum priests’

SIR – Your inspiring and insightful cover story, “A beautiful answer for ugly times” (October 26), rightly reminds us of the impressive and beautiful Catholic heritage of celebrating our faith by creating wonderful works of art and buildings.

In the headlong rush to denigrate our Christian past, it has frankly become almost acceptable to criticise the glorious works of art inspired by a love of Almighty God and embrace alternative, almost ugly, manifestations of high art and architecture.

In my former Anglo-Catholic past, we cherished a maxim which I think the Catholic Church should emulate: “Only the best is good enough for God.”

Unfortunately the high point of embracing the worst form of artistic expression proved to be the 1960s, which coincided with the Second Vatican Council. Are we surprised that modern people – rootless, with a non-Christian, secular culture – are not inspired by a Church without a dignified liturgy or decent music, and with lamentable vestments, poor art and appalling church buildings and sacred spaces?

In the same issue you published an article about Cardinal Henry Manning – well-known for his noble work on behalf of the nation’s poor. Before his conversion, Manning was a leading member of the second generation of the Anglo-Catholic Tractarian Movement (Blessed John Henry Newman led the first wave). Its clerical exponents became renowned for serving as “slum priests” in the worst parts of the East End, Portmouth’s dockyard estates and northern manufacturing towns (of course, many Catholic priests did likewise).

While always labouring to serve their fellow men, none of these slum priests forgot that they needed to provide their potential parishioners with the “noble beauty” of the Catholic Faith and accordingly beautified their churches and liturgy.
Perhaps the Catholic Church needs to do this in our generation if we are going to evangelise the nation.

Richard Eddy

Votes, lies and Remain leaflets

SIR – I find it hard to see the logic in KPE Lasok’s argument (Letter, October 26) that,because he thinks all the statements in a particular pro-Brexit leaflet he received before the referendum were incorrector misleading, therefore the referendum result is illegitimate. Even if we accept his assertion as true for that particular leaflet, that does not mean that there were no genuine reasons for over 17 million people voting to leave the European Union.

Were all the statements made in pro-Remain leaflets correct and truthful? For example, what happened to the predicted economic collapse and the expected rise of 500,000 in the number of unemployed people promised in Remain leaflets? After the vote, the economy has continued to grow and employment is at record levels – both verifiable facts.

I agree completely with Melissa Kite (Diary, October 12) that “if you hold a referendum and then reject the result, your claim to live in a civilised society where universal suffrage holds sway … has ceased to be.”

Anthony O’Neill

Pray for England

SIR – It seems to me that this is the ideal time both to rejuvenate the Church in Britain and to extend it to the whole population, to bring the faith to those millions in the so-called secular society. There does seem to be a new search for this.

We have seen many welcome initiatives: the Rosary on the Coast, the tour of the statue of Our Lady of Walsingham to the cities, Eucharistic gatherings and more.

One thing is still missing: prayer. We should all be praying to God not only for the return of absent Catholics, but for everyone to find the faith – indeed, God. In short, “Prayer for England”. This is easiest to express, within England, as a prayer for England, as once we did only a few generations ago. (Of course our fellow Catholics in Wales, Scotland and Ireland should pray for their nations to return to the faith.)

Let us therefore all pray for England every day, maybe for a short prayer or the rosary. Let it be said at the end of Mass. Let every diocese exhort to the faithful to “pray for England”.

Stuart Sexton
Sanderstead, Surrey

Descartes revisited

SIR – Fr Ronald Rolheiser (The last word, October 12) links Jordan Peterson’s perception on suffering to
René Descartes’s perception on being: “I think therefore I am.” Fr Rolheiser affirms that, “History doesn’t dispute the truth of Descartes’ dictum.” Well, I think it is about time we did.

To my mind, Descartes’ dictum isn’t even an affirmation of existence, let alone “being”. What of the foetus that isn’t thinking, but is surely an unborn person, just like you and I once were? Is Descartes’ dictum one of the reasons why abortion seems so easy for us accept, for it leads us to believe that just because the foetus can’t think for itself, it therefore doesn’t exist?

Or on the other hand, what of the clever, manipulative thinking of the heartless criminal: does that kind of thinking validate their being? I think not. Descartes’ dictum satisfied only himself. The answer for everyone else lies elsewhere, 1,500 years before Descartes. St Paul explained it thus: “If I am without charity, I am a sounding gong, or a clanging cymbal.”

God would answer Descartes: “No, it is not, ‘I think, therefore I am’; nearer the mark would be, ‘I love, therefore I am.’”

Nigel Stanbridge
Ripon, North Yorkshire

Stories of a ‘witch’

SIR – Dominic Selwood’s cover story (October 5) on the mystery of Alice Nutter interested me as I wrote a play, Thou Shalt Not Suffer, with that theme for the centenary, in 1984, of the church of Our Lady and All Saints in Parbold where I live.

It ended with the following lines from the mysterious “Stranger” now revealed to be a Catholic priest: “Mistress, when all England is again united in communion with the Holy See will Alice’s story be told. There must be a score now of men and women who have striven to bring about that day and who have died, as she did. A score, nay, two score, 40 martyrs of England and
with them will Alice’s name be blazoned on earth as it is now in heaven.”

The play’s title is from Exodus 22:18, “Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live”, and refers to the fact that her accepting the accusation of witchcraft meant not only that she would suffer a less agonising death than that experienced by St Margaret Clitherow, but also that the priest would be less likely to be discovered.

If anyone is interested, I could make it available to them.

EFA Savage
Wigan, Lancashire

SIR – My wife, a descendant of Alice Nutter (Cover story, October 5), bewitched me in my youth and nearly 50 years of marriage later, I remain in thrall.


Alastair McCallion
Baldock, Hertfordshire