My dear Wormwood,

Words are our stock in trade. As I was taught in the Jesuit seminary which prepared me for my present job, ‘a change of vocabulary is a change of perception’. So it is with some satisfaction that I view your recent successes with Francis.

‘Casuistry’ is a slippery term at the best of times. And your patient, I admit, is constitutionally given to imprecision. Let us not, however, belittle your achievement. Under your expert guidance he has managed to turn things completely on their head.

When Jesus, for example, forbids divorce, and the pharisees say the law permits it, Francis manages to make it sound as though the opposite is the case. As though they were the intransigents and JC the libertarian. And then the Pharisees are dubbed ‘casuists’ for their supposed intransigence!witches_macbeth_21

Such a masterpiece of sleight of hand can only have been your work. I thoroughly admire the virtuosity of a performance like that! ‘Fair is foul and foul is fair’, as the witches are supposed to have chanted over the cauldron.

The man Jesus, as everyone knows, was unhealthily obsessed with doing the will of the Enemy… ‘every jot and tittle’. And he was fiercely intolerant of the human hypocrisy which paid it lip service, but tried to get round it in subtle ways. Your patient on the other hand has, quite properly, been encouraged to see that Jesus’s charge to ‘be perfect’ is simply absurd. What people need nowadays is not an uptight pep talk, but a little ‘mercy’ – and a good deal more personal freedom and self-reliance. Which, with your help, is exactly what Francis will give them.

And ‘casuistry’ – which in the hands of others used to be a science – has been added (along with ‘rigid’ and ‘unbending’) to the rich vocabulary of sneers.

Well done! All things considered, it couldn’t have gone better.

Your admiring uncle,


Sheffield formula

The withdrawal of Bishop Philip North from the See of Sheffield in the Church of England marks a watershed. Here is a piece I wrote in January 2011 which has, I think, now that it is clear that the CofE will never have another diocesan bishop opposed to women’s ordination, gained an added poignancy.

‘Remind me to remind you,’ goes the old Sandy Wilson classic, ‘we said we’d never look back.’ But, of course, retrospection is one of the inevitabilities of life. If we did not ‘look back’, we would never learn. Now that the struggle is entering its final stage and the success of the proponents is assured, what is to be learned from the quarter century or so that may of us have consumed fighting the ordination of women to the priesthood and the episcopate?

My own overwhelming impression is the futility of it all. Long ago Richard Holloway wrote to me saying (in an allusion to Victor Hugo) that women’s ordination was an idea whose time had come. He was convinced that those of us who opposed it would find ourselves trying to ‘hold back the tide of God’. He would say that, wouldn’t he? But he had a point.

So much effort was expended refuting arguments which were not arguments at all! What was the point of seeking to demonstrate the absurdity of Tom Torrance’s assertions about frescoes in a Roman catacomb on which he had clearly never clapped eyes? Why did we waste ink on Richard Norris’s assertion about Gregory Nazianzen? Torrance, after all, was a Presbyterian with no Catholic understanding of priesthood; and Gregory had never drawn the conclusions from his famous aphorism that Norris claimed to be inevitable. And then there was ‘Theodora Episcopa’ and Peter Stanford’s obsession with ‘Pope Joan’.

With hindsight it all seems faintly ridiculous. And quite as spurious as the assurances which in those early days were repeatedly given that there was no such thing as a ‘liberal agenda’ and that gay lib and women’s ordination were wholly unrelated. But things have moved on. Now Richard Holloway has surrendered his belief in the God whose tide he said I was trying to hold back; and Gene Robinson has inherited the mantle of Barbara Harris.

My heroine throughout this period, a pocket titan who deserved more praise from her sisters than she got, was Daphne Hampson, whose ‘Theology and Feminism’ (1990) courageously demonstrated that most of the more serious arguments being deployed were not arguments in favour of the ordination of women, but against Christianity. She wrote:


‘Christians believe in particularity. That is to say they believe that God was in some sense differently related to particular events, or may be said in particular to have revealed God’s self through those events, in a way in which this is not true of all other events or periods in history. Above all they believe that that must be said of Christ which is to be said of no other human being…

Now I am not myself a Christian because I do not believe that there could be this particularity. I do not believe, whatever I may mean by God, that it could be said of God that God was differently related to one age or people than God is related to all ages or people …Thus I do not for example think that there could be a human person (which Christians must proclaim) who stood in a different relationship to God than do all other human beings. True, Jesus of Nazareth may have been deeply aware of God; so have others been. But he was no more than that, I believe, a person deeply in tune with God. This is not a Christian position.’

Brave words. They cut through all the spurious machinations which church feminists find obligatory – the attempts to portray Jesus as a proto-feminist and the first centuries of Christianity as a golden age of sexual egalitarianism – and expose the naked truth: that, when all is said and done, the basic arguments in favour of women’s ordination are at best Nestorian and at worst deist.

Looking back, of course, the debate in the 80s of the last century was quaintly naïve on both sides. Opponents accorded proponents a remarkable degree of trust. They took the ‘doctrine of reception’ at face value, and welcomed assurances of provision ‘for as long as it was needed’. Both have proved impostures. On the other hand, proponents (I believe quite genuinely) did not see the wider implications of what they were doing. If all the ramifications of the doctrine of ‘full inclusion’ (as it is now called) had been apparent in 1992 many might have voted differently.

As retirement looms I have a house full of books to deal with. There are, for example, seven shelves of feminist theology and of propaganda about women’s ordination – running the whole gamut from Rosemary Radford Reuther right down to Lavinia Byrne. What to do with it? Will I ever read again Deborah Cameron on ‘Feminism and Linguistic Theory’ or Elizabeth Schussler Fiorenza’s ‘In Memory of Her’? And did I learn anything of lasting value from Brian Wrenn’s ‘What language shall I borrow?’, or from that extensive catena of fantasy works about Mary Magdalen, culminating in Margaret Starbird’s epic ‘The Woman with the Alabaster Jar’?

I had intended to leave them in the top back bedroom, where they live, as a house-warming present for my successor (whoever she may be). And then it occurred to me that they might prove useful in one of those nonresidential training courses the CofE runs for mature ordinands – where books are probably an unfamiliar resource.

Most of them, I fear, are destined for the Oxfam shop, where they will languish unbought alongside acres of Susan Howatch. I, on the other hand, will be curled up before an open fire with a glass of malt whisky and a volume of E.L. Mascall.



London Clubs are an unfailing source of useful information.

It appears from a recent visit that Cardinal George Pell (Campion Hall) is currently applying for membership. He is, as you would expect, rapidly gaining sponsors.

It is good to know that the Cardinal, though presently too indisposed to attend hearings of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse in Australia, is anticipating being well enough to be visiting London in the foreseeable future.


Poster Boy

London awoke yesterday to an unprecedented sight. On lamp posts, billboards and at bus stops, the capital had been plastered with posters defaming Justin Welby, the 105th Archbishop of Canterbury.  Speculation is rife as to what person or group is responsible.

Both Changing Attitude and the Church of England Evangelical Council have denied responsibility.

Said Arun Arora, Church House spokesperson: ‘The campaign is literally inexplicable. The Archbishop is a well-loved figure whose public statements are carefully crafted to avoid offence.’


      Oh, what a Cantuar!



We apologise unreservedly for the inexplicable editorial confusion which resulted in a picture of Anglican bishop Philip North being captioned: ‘Pope Francis celebrating Mass in the Lateran Basilica.’ (see Cri-de-Coeur below)

The  accompanying text might well have been taken to indicate that Bishop Philip is as unenthusiastic about women’s ministry as the Holy Father. We have been asked by the Church of England communications office to point out that this is not the case.

To avoid further embarrassment to the new Bishop of Sheffield they have kindly sent the photograph below.


Stop Press!


Finally available to English readers
the book they tried to keep from you!

The All-American Illustrated Edition of

Amoris Laetitia.

 Edited with additional footnotes
by  Fr Daniel P Horan, OFM
Lavishly illustrated with ‘how-to-do-it’ pictures,
this handsome volume will soon be considered
essential reading in every Catholic home.
And even if you choose not to read it
display it on your bookshelf or coffee table
to show people where you’re coming from.


A leading Anglican theologian has called for the resignation of Pope Francis.

Professor Martyn Percy, Dean of Christ Church, Oxford called for the resignation yesterday in an address to the annual assembly of Women in Ministry, a pressure group for women’s ordination.

‘Francis masquerades as a liberal,’ said Percy, ‘but he has done nothing to advance the ordination of women or gays. How can he head-up a modern, forward-looking Church in the twenty-first century? He should either appoint a quota of female cardinals immediately or go into retirement like his predecessor.’

Dr Martyn Percy has been vainly in search of notoriety for some time.

Pope Francis celebrating Mass in the Lateran Basilica.