Thursday, August 29, 2019

Ecclesiastical coverup

The task [Cardinal Archbishop of Westminster] Heenan gave me, however, was an embarrassing one. He had heard that the Nazis in Germany had ransacked the archives of dioceses to find papers that could be published to discredit the Church. He was anxious to prevent anything of the kind happening in England, so he asked me to go through the records and get rid of any stories of clerical misdeed that were capable of being used for propaganda purposes. I could not refuse point blank an order from my archbishop, but it seemed to me wrong for an archivist to destroy, on such a partisan basis, material of historical interest. I compromised by separating embarrassing material into a special section which could, in the unlikely event of a hostile raid on the archives by some anti-clerical group, easily be destroyed.

The Second Vatican Council was a turning point in Heenan's life. Forever loyal to successive popes, he found uncongenial the direction in which many of the Council fathers wished to take the Church. His distaste for academic theology found expression in speeches attacking the experts, or periti, who came from monasteries, seminaries or universities: he saw them as ignorant of "the real world". For him, theology consisted in an unquestioning acceptance of Vatican dictates, even if that meant–as in the case of the morality of contraception–a reversal of his own considered opinion on the topic. And for him, the worst sin was "giving scandal"–that meant doing anything that showed the Church in a bad light, even if it was a true light. A. Kenny, Brief Encounters (SPCI 2018), 30, 32.

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