THE INTERNATIONAL CATHOLIC WEEKLY FOUNDED IN 1840
WESTMINSTER’S NEXT ARCHBISHOP
FROM CLERICALISM TO PARTNERSHIP
Cardinal Vincent Nichols of Westminster now being more than two years past the retiring age for bishops, Pope Francis is said to be looking for the right man to replace him. This is an opportunity for the Pope to point the Catholic Church in England and Wales, bishops, priests and people, towards his vision of a synodal church “of and for the poor”.
Because Westminster’s territory covers the institutions of central government, the Archbishop of Westminster takes on a leadership role in the Church nationally and is usually also the President of the Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales. In a media-dominated world where Christian voices are easily drowned out, being a cardinal, which Westminster’s archbishop normally becomes, attracts attention.
In a sense, Westminster is already the Church of the poor. Caritas Westminster is doing admirable work in that respect. Cardinal Nichols has spoken out in favour of the marginalised, notably when he protested that the government’s policy of withdrawing welfare benefits from individuals who failed to keep the rules was “punitive”. Indeed, in 1850 the very first Archbishop of Westminster, Cardinal Nicholas Wiseman, described his role thus: “Close under the Abbey of Westminster there lie concealed labyrinths of lanes and courts, and alleys and slums, nests of ignorance, vice, depravity, and crime as well as of squalor, wretchedness and disease, whose atmosphere is typhus, whose ventilation is cholera, in which swarms a huge and almost countless population, in great measure, nominally at least, Catholic...
This is the part of Westminster which alone I covet.” It is a striking testament, entirely in the Pope Francis mould. Westminster needs an archbishop who can utter an updated version of the same, with similar passion. Wiseman’s successor, Cardinal Henry Edward Manning, waded into the bitter London Dock Strike in 1889 and persuaded the employers that the dockers’ claim, for sixpence an hour, was just. So the Catholic Church was present at the birth of the modern trade union movement. Manning’s only weapon was a moral one, and the same will be true of Nichols’ replacement. He will need the ability to persuade, to communicate – “preaching the Gospel at all times, using words where necessary” in the words attributed to St Francis.
The Catholic Church is undergoing a transformation in its self-understanding. It is waking up to the reserves of untapped talent in the laity, not least among women, that an over-hierarchical, over-clericalised and indeed overmasculine model of the Church has pushed to the margins. It can no longer afford such wastefulness. And the synodal process instigated by Pope Francis needs a leader who can inspire it and infuse it with purpose. Yet its success will depend not on him but on what energy he can liberate in others. A modern leader is an enabler and an animator. The laity are the true evangelisers of the modern world; they do so on their own account, by virtue of their baptism, and not as agents of the clergy. That change of culture, from benign clericalism to true partnership, is among the biggest challenges that will face a new Archbishop of Westminster.
CAN BRITAIN’S HEALTH SERVICE BE HEALED?
SEEKING A CURE FOR THE NHS
Long waits for ambulances to arrive, long waits in ambulances outside hospitals, long waits for a bed if a patient needs admission – all these paint a terrible picture of the present state of the National Health Service. Soon to be added are the threatened industrial action by nurses and doctors seeking pay rises, and the approach of winter, when demand for health services usually peaks. Many deaths will have been avoidable with improved funding. But could it be better managed?
The two are related, because in the government’s mind the NHS is inefficient and needs reform so that the money extracted from reluctant taxpayers goes further. But efficiency is impossible to measure when what people want from a health service includes the unquantifiable “tender loving care” committed to the physical and emotional needs of vulnerable people. Human flourishing requires mental as well as physical health. Nursing staff are in the frontline meeting that need.
Nevertheless, privatisation is still talked about in government circles as a panacea. Many parts of the NHS, away from its core activities, have already been hived off to private contractors. Yet no notable improvements have been discernible except that those private contractors are often less unionised and therefore less likely to go on strike. Indeed, away from the NHS, privatisation as an idea has become discredited as more and more services sold off in its name turn out to be at least as inefficient and unreliable as the publicly owned services they replaced. The railways, energy, water, prisons, postal services, have all given privatisation a bad name. Yet the government persists, and is soon expected to award a huge contract for collection and handling of medical data to a giant American corporation with close links to the US security services, owned by a Californian billionaire.
The company concerned, Palantir, has been told it will be required to comply with the core ethos of the British NHS in how it handles the medical records of virtually every person in the country. But what is that ethos, apart from confidentiality? The original ethos was twofold: that adequate health services were a human right and so free at the point of delivery; and meeting those human needs was the responsibility of all, so the necessary facilities should be publicly owned and funded.
This was an almost perfect representation of the principle at the heart of Catholic Social Teaching, the common good – that “no man is an island” (John Donne) and “all are responsible for all” (Pope John Paul II). Aquinas said the highest good is God, the ultimate common good. This puts the familiar notion that the British have turned the NHS into a religion on a higher plane. Maybe Britain is not so secular after all. But it also turns the ruination of the NHS into a kind of sacrilege.
2 | THE TABLET | 3 DECEMBER 2022
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