Thursday, April 23, 2009

Memo to Rome - Don't let Cormac Accept a Peerage

Every once in a while rare things of a snow in the Sahara type probability happen; cows fly over the moon, Labour governments raise the top rate of income tax and I find myself in agreement with secularists. This is one of those occasions.

The plan to give Cardinal Cormac Murphy O'Connor a peerage is one of the most atrocious ideas I have heard of in, ooh, years.

Where to begin with the list of objections, since there are so many of them? First, it goes against the spirit of Canon 284: "Clerics are forbidden to assume public offices which entail a participation in the exercise of civil power” .

There is much wisdom in this canon which I hope Cardinal Cormac Murphy O'Connor will bear in mind. It militates against worldliness in the clergy who ought to be primarily concerned with the salvation of souls for the hereafter, not the vanities of the present world. It also tells us something about the dignity inherent in the Catholic priesthood which emphatically should not be compromised by dabbling in politics.

The pastors of the Church have a duty to speak out, forcefully on occasion, on matters of faith and morals, this should not be confused with politicking. Politics is what the laity does. A bishop of the Church taking up a peerage confuses the distinction between clergy and laity to no good end at all.

Then there's the matter of how this would go down with the new Archbishop of Westminster. It would be entirely within reason for Vincent Nichols to object to his predecessor being ensconced in the House of Lords. It would be like a king over the water maintaining a rival court.

Has anyone at Eccleston Square thought this crazy idea through? The first complaint of secularists is of a politicised clergy interfering in democratic politics; the first argument anti-Catholics reach for in defending their indefensible bigotry is that the Church brings it on itself by involving itself in politics. Consider the ravings of Mary Honeyball, who claims that the Church "has a grip on parliament". For God's sake, sticking a cleric in the Lords adds grist to the irrational secularist mill.

Cardinal Cormac has said that he is in two minds about the proposal, for which read he's absolutely enamoured of it and is just waiting for Rome to give the go-ahead. My friend Austen Ivereigh, who as Cardinal's former director of public affairs knows his mind as much as anyone, writes:

"Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor loves the idea. A life peerage, he thinks, would give him a platform with which to combat the shrinking of the Church's voice in public life ."

This must be put plainly. If His Eminence imagines that a seat in the upper house would enable him to fight the good fight against the forces of secularism he is succumbing to delusional vanity. What does he think he would be able to say or do in the Lords which the combined forces of the Anglican Lords Spiritual, and lay Catholic, Protestant, frum Jewish and devout Moslem peers have not done already? They haven't been able to counter the crushing forces of secularism for a very good reason: they have no democratic credentials. We don't need another Catholic representative in the Lords, indeed some of us are so wedded to the notion of democratic politics that we find the very idea of an unelected second chamber quite obscene enough as it is. At best a Lord Cormac would be nothing more than an irrelevant bauble adorning British political life, at worst he could be an impediment to the cause of religious liberty.

... And he would relish the further recognition of Catholicism by the British establishment which began under his predecessor, Cardinal Hume -- something that is very important to him. (He was thrilled to be nominated to join Claridge's, one of London's more exclusive clubs.)"

At last. The real reason Cardinal Cormac Murphy O'Connor desires a peerage is less a matter of countering secularist influence in public life, even though he flatters himself that he would succeed in pressing the Catholic cause where so many others have failed and much more about him indulging himself. For if Cardinal Cormac Murphy O'Connor has any weakness it is this: rampant, inferiority complex-driven, cap-doffing, forlock-tugging snobbism of the most antiquated, obsequious kind. I imagine that as a child he enjoyed games and toys with regal themes, loved dressing up as a nursery kinglet with paper crown balanced on his head, blanket draped around his childish shoulders and holding a rolling pin in one hand and an orange in the other in imitation of sceptre and orb thrilled to the sound of his siblings addressing him as "your majesty". These are harmless pastimes for children to be sure but as Cardinal Archbishop of Westminster, such fixations with establishment pomp led him to making some screamingly bad judgments, chief among them the appointment of Sir Stephen Wall, a man so publically unsympathetic to the Church as to be actively hostile to it, as his principal adviser. This man's considerable salary was ultimately paid by ordinary Catholics but he proved to be an expensive liablity and I for one want my money back. Never were the Cardinal's political advisers' hopeless comic incompetence more evident than in the bungled campaign against the SORs, at which point excuse me while I expostulate - Cardinal, you couldn't even save the Catholic adoption agencies, what reasonable basis do you have for thinking you could face down secularism in the Lords? And even more to the point, precisely why does the Cardinal desire establishment recognition of Catholicism anyway? He's got it the the wrong way up; Catholicism is counter-cultural, a sign of contradiction in the world. Catholics don't want establishment recognition, neither do we need it.

Of course the Cardinal thinks that a peerage shows that the establishment accepts Catholicism in public life and of course he's deluding himself once again. The base political calculation behind the proposal must be obvious to everyone except him. Quite simply it's intended as a sop to Labour Catholics who are rightly disgusted by the anti-Catholicism which has been allowed to run unchecked in the party. The people who dreamt up the idea of a peerage are astute judges of character, they correctly reasoned that there's nothing like appealing to an old man's vanity for smoothing over ruffled feathers but it's a sorry thing to see the Cardinal being made such a fool of in this fashion.

Every way you look at it the idea of a Lord Cormac is cringe-inducingly awful. Please, please don't let it happen.


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