Pastoral Symphony

Hark the emollient sound!
Thick yoghurt is moving slowly over fine gravel!
It must be – it is! – a pastoral letter from Cardinal Vincent Nichols.


After a two stage Synod which created sensational headlines – accusations that a book by eminent Cardinals had been posted to members and was illegally withheld from recipients by Synod officials; a thirteen-cardinal letter to the Pope complaining of mismanagement by his own appointees; and a final address by the Holy Father in the style of petulant headmaster –  Vincent concluded that all was sweetness and light.

Last Sunday I joined thousands of people in St Peter’s Square waiting to receive the blessing of Pope Francis. I was surrounded by families: babies asleep in prams, young children crawling on the cobbles, older children entertaining each other, teenagers looking studiously bored, fathers surveying the scene protectively, mothers holding up their children and pointing to the Holy Father, groups of families on holiday together, uncles and aunts, three or four generations. I looked at them with fresh eyes, having just come from the closing Mass of the Synod of Bishops on the Vocation and Mission of the Family. There we had been fashioning fresh ways of thinking about the family in the plan of God

The conclusion of the Synod, Vincent assures us, was a final document which ‘speaks often of this “pathway of accompaniment”, of that “reverential listening”, which is the first act of mercy, of the work of “discernment”, of wanting to come close to the reality of so many lives in their difficulties and trials. During the Synod discussions, many wanted us to express, humbly, a word of regret and apology that this often has not been the path we have taken. I am glad to do so now.’

No hint of a bitter tussle (‘like ferrets in a sack’, as the Catholic Herald put it); no indication of the determination of the Cologne/Vienna/Brussels Axis to change the consistent doctrine of two millennia. You would not for a moment guess, from the Cardinal’s flaccid summary, that great things were at issue. All that survives is the call for the ‘reverential listening’ which is the preferred stratagem of the quiescent liberal.

But that is no more than you would expect.

For establishment liberals, like Vincent, complacency is an occupational hazard. They sincerely believe that they are riding the white water of inevitability. If the votes do not stack up this time, the answer is to vote again. Everything will go their way in the end; and if it is not going their way, it is not the end.

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