Friday, 5 October 2012

Stories of the Tablet Lecture 2012

The 2012 Tablet Lecture was given earlier this evening by Robert Blair Kaiser, an author and journalist, who covered Vatican II for Time magazine and has since written books about the Council and other topics. His title was "Stories of Vatican II: The Human Side of the Council". The flyer for the lecture suggested that the lecture would describe
how the Council made the bishops more human, more real, and more loving. The Bishops turned around and made us (and the whole Church) more human, more real and more loving.
In the event, the lecture probably just included that as a concluding strap-line, and did not really develop the idea in a manner that could be recognisably related to the claims of the flyer. It was interesting to hear Robert Kaiser describing the sorts of things the journalists covering the Council got up to to gain information about the events in the Council aula, from which they were excluded. Official press briefings were not helpful - if some think that the Vatican's media strategies today leave something to be desired then those in effect during the Council appear to have only encouraged the "alternative Council" that was generated by the media coverage. I went because I was interested in hearing something of the stories of the people taking part in the Council.

The audience for the lecture were, to an extent I had not expected, a group of the like-minded, a kind of club of those adhering to Catholicism a la the Tablet, with only one or two others. I had thought that the subject matter might attract a wider interest, though the name of the speaker might have been a factor here if one was already familiar with him. And one has to realise just how far off the wall the members of this little club can be. Robert Kaiser's expression was to say that
... the Council Fathers were trending towards a people's Church (a people of God Church) and not a clerical Church.
It was clearly in his view that bishops could be elected by the people of their diocese, and then un-elected again if they did not meet with their approval, that it was quite alright just to create your own liturgy. There seemed no real sense of an ordained ministry at all. It really was a make your own Church in all but name. And he clearly did not like Pope John Paul II or Pope Benedict XVI. One questioner asked if the speaker saw any hope among young people (ie for the kind of vision being presented). It was not clear to me whether Robert Kaiser intended by his response that these Popes had turned young people away from the Church or just turned them away from the vision:
The last two Popes haven't helped. John Paul II and Benedict XVI have turned the kids away ...
And looking round:
Not many kids in the hall today ..
These are occasions when Yours Truly is inclined to bad behaviour, but I thought I was quite good this evening. I wore the Papal Visit polo shirt, and took my fleece off when I got in to the hall so that everyone could see it. Well, it just seemed the right sort of thing to wear for an occasion like this. My question was carefully worked up to reflect the lecture's title, and yet subtly make a point. If I am really honest, I ended up asking it - the last question as it turned out - more to stand up to let people see the polo shirt than anything else (I had ended up near the back of the hall).

But the question did have a somewhat hilarious unforeseen consequence. I briefly described the occasion when Frank Duff's presence among the auditors at the fourth session of the Council was introduced to the assembled bishops - who proceeded to warmly applaud him. And I then asked whether the speaker could share with us any more examples of that kind of personal/warm response on the part of the participants during Council sessions themselves. (It very quickly became apparent that he could not, his repertoire of stories seeming limited to those supporting his wanted narrative). But the amusement was caused when Robert Blair Kaiser, journalist extraordinaire whose coverage of Vatican II for Time magazine won him an award .... had to ask me who Frank Duff was, thinking he might have been some Jesuit theologian. Which gave me the opportunity to say he was founder of the Legion of Mary, whose work in the field of the lay apostolate foreshadowed much that Vatican II later taught on that subject. I expect that this will be edited out of the video (not posted yet, but I expect it will be in due course) - but if it isn't, look out for the last 5 minutes or so.

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