Wednesday, 12 September 2012

The Pope in the Lebanon: Part One: How I First Heard of the Oriental Catholic Churches Because of Cardinal Heard


While there was much speculation in the press and broadcast media that this weekend’s Apostolic Pilgrimage of Pope Benedict to the Lebanon might be called off because of security concerns, there was never really any chance of that. There IS a thing called Heroic Virtue, it just isn’t always exhibited in otherworldly, overtly saintly ways. And Papa Ratzinger has it in spades.

Prior to his Apostolic Pilgrimage this weekend, Pope Benedict XVI has visited the Middle East on three occasions: November 28 – December 1, 2006, to Turkey; May 8 – 15, 2009, to Jordan, Israel and Palestine, and; June 4 – 6, 2010, to Cyprus. None of these voyages, to use the Vatican’s quaint descriptor, was risk free. In any sense.

But why should I, a working class guy from the West of Scotland, have any interest in the Church in the Middle East?

About twenty years ago, a bit less, I set out to write an essay on Scotland’s “unheard of Cardinal Heard” (well, that’s how it seemed at the time; it’s worse now). In late 1994, on reading the various newspaper reports and comments upon the announcement of Cardinal Winning’s elevation, I was struck by the fact that although there were the obvious references to Cardinal Gray, and in some articles references to Cardinals Beaton and Erskine, and even in one newspaper to the Cardinal Duke of York, there was a total absence of any reference whatsoever to Cardinal Heard. He seemed to have become Scotland’s “forgotten cardinal” and in my mind he soon became “the unheard of Cardinal Heard”.

A couple of years later, I received an invitation to be part of the audience at a recording of a Kirsty Wark programme for BBC Scotland. I was supposed to be a bit of an expert on the issue of Catholic Schools. In preparation, I betook myself to the very wonderful Mitchell Library in Glasgow (the biggest public reference library in Europe). I was reading some material relating to the background to the passing of, and to the subsequent operation of, the Education (Scotland) Act of 1918, when, on trawling through the 1960 issues of The Glasgow Herald, I came across an article which, although of no relevance to the matter at hand, nonetheless grabbed my attention.

(As it turned out, nothing was of any relevance to what actually happened on the TV show. I ended up speaking about Scotland’s legal system in light of the verdict handed down that day in the appeals of Thomas “T C” Campbell and Joe Steele, the two men convicted of the heinous murder of the Doyle family during the Glasgow Ice Cream Wars. That day, contrary to all expectations, they lost their appeals. They were subsequently released some time later when those occupying the very highest reaches of the Scottish legal system were finally able to accept that even policemen, even in the CID, tell lies. Even under oath.)

The article I had stumbled across was a report of the appointment of Monsignor Gerard M Rogers, Vicar General of the Diocese of Motherwell and administrator of Our Lady of Good Aid Cathedral, Motherwell, as an auditor, judge, of the Sacred Roman Rota Appeal Tribunal in Rome. I hadn’t been a reader of The Glasgow Herald when I was eight years old, and so this was new to me. But It wasn’t news to me.
I had attended Our Lady of Good Aid Cathedral Primary School in Motherwell. Mgr Rogers had been a frequent visitor in his role as Parish Priest. Six years after Mgr Rogers departed Motherwell for Rome — I’ll save you doing the arithmetic, I was 14 at the time now in question — we got a new PP in my own parish, St Luke’s, Forgewood. And he came to us all the way from Rome. This was a friend of my late father’s, a certain Fr Tam Winning.  

His later, and now sadly late, Eminence had been a junior colleague of Mgr Rogers before following him to Rome in 1961 when he was appointed Spiritual Director to the students of the Scots College. (Oor Tam was the Bishop’s secretary; and the bishop was Mgr James Donald Scanlan, later Archbishop of Glasgow, whom Oor Tam would succeed.) While in Rome, apart from fulfilling his duties in the Scots College, His Eminence studied at the Rota studuum, a sort of post-Doctoral Law School run by the judges of the Rota to train consistorial advocates. Cardinal Winning qualified as an Advocate of the Sacred Roman Rota (Adv SRR) in 1965.

One Sunday after twelve o’clock Mass, the then Fr Winning discussed with me Mgr Rogers’s work in the Vatican and a little about how he had come to be appointed. This discussion arose as a result of an article appearing that morning in one of the Sunday newspaper colour supplements (the Sunday Express, I suppose, as that was my dad’s paper of choice: he did the crossword; it was a perfectly respectable paper in those days). It quoted from an unidentified, but all-too-easily identifiable, curial priest. In ruefully ironic terms, he discussed having been taken away from his parish work and summoned to Rome having been identified by the Vatican as a particularly well-qualified lawyer. This was obviously Mgr Rogers LlB (Glas), DCL, PhD, DD (all the Greg, all summa cum laude; same as Cardinal Heard).

Although I was already aware of the existence of Cardinal Heard ― in 1960, the year after his elevation, on a visit to Our Lady of Good Aid Cathedral Primary School, Motherwell, organised by his friend Mgr Scanlan, Cardinal Heard had spoken to my class as we were the First Communion Class ― it was in the course of this conversation that I first become aware of how eminent (I know) and influential within the Vatican the Cardinal had been.

Over the years I learned a little more about Cardinal Heard, most especially from University friends who had been students at the Scots College in Rome. Among these former candidates for the priesthood, the late Cardinal enjoyed a reputation as a “bit of a character”. They recalled most especially his visits to the College on the feast day of Scotland’s patron, St Andrew. I formed a vague determination to find out, some time, more about this little-known Prince of the Church. So, on reading the various newspaper reports and comments upon the announcement of Cardinal Winning’s elevation, I decided to write an essay on him.

(I should, perhaps, note for posterity that in the course of an interview kindly granted to me by my old PP, Cardinal Winning, when I was researching my essay, it was made plain that Cardinal Heard had personally secured Mgr Rogers’s appointment to the Rota in the face of attempts by a person or persons unknown, but presumably either a member of the Scottish hierarchy or someone with great influence within it – His Eminence wouldn’t say – to block it.)

And it was in researching that essay that I first found out about the Eastern Rite churches in communion with Rome. Although that’s not quite true, but when I first heard of them I was totally unaware of what I had just heard. That was because it was a mere aside, a jocular chaplain’s obiter dicta, as it were. And before you ask, I didn’t then know what an obiter dicta was.

It was my final year at Our Lady’s High School, Motherwell, alma mater of Cardinal Winning, Billy McNeil and Bobby Murdoch (for the latter two see the European Cup 1967). We had been digging up our chaplain, Fr, later Mgr, Jack Burns about priests not being allowed to get married. After explaining about celibacy, he mentioned, en passant, that his fellow students among “the Greeks” when he was a student in Rome were allowed to go home during the summer before their last year in Rome and get married before they were ordained as deacons. We just assumed, and were perplexed by the assumption, that for some reason prospective Greek Orthodox priests were being educated in Rome. Sadly, we never had the opportunity of pursuing this with him or I might have been better advised sooner.

Eventually, let’s say 35 years later at least. His Excellency Mgr William Theodore Heard, Dean of the Sacred Roman Rota, was named Cardinal by Good Pope John on December 15, 1959. His Holiness later appointed him a member of the Sacred Congregation for the Sacraments, the Sacred Congregation for Rites, the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura and as one of three Cardinal Consultants to the Pontifical Commission for the Authentic Interpretation of the Code of Canon Law.

And Good Pope John also named him Editor of the Code of Canon Law for the Oriental Church. When I first read this, my immediate reaction was: “A different Code of Canon Law for Catholics in the Far East? Why? And, by the way, what is a Code of Canon Law?

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