Saturday, 2 January 2010


The Holy Father in his homily on Christmas Eve points out that 

"...the shepherds, the simple souls, were the first to come to Jesus in the manger and to encounter the Redeemer of the world. The wise men from the East, representing those with social standing and fame, arrived much later".

and goes on to say

"Today too there are simple and lowly souls who live very close to the Lord. They are, so to speak, his neighbours and they can easily go to see him. But most of us in the world today live far from Jesus Christ, the incarnate God who came to dwell amongst us. We live our lives by philosophies, amid worldly affairs and occupations that totally absorb us and are a great distance from the manger".

This reminded me of Evelyn Waugh's great book, 'Helena' published in 1950. At the end of the book Helena is searching for the True Cross . She is in Bethlehem at the feast of the Epiphany and makes the following prayer to the Three Wise Men:

"Like me, you were late in coming. The shepherds were here long before; even the cattle. They had joined the chorus of angels before you were on your way. For you the primordial discipline of the heavens was relaxed and a new defiant light blazed amid the disconcerted stars.

How laboriously you came, taking sights and calculating, where the shepherds had run barefoot! How odd you looked on the road, attended by what outlandish liveries, laden with such preposterous gifts! 

You came at length to the final stage of your pilgrimage and the great star stood still above you.What did you do? You stopped to call on King Herod. Deadly exchange of compliments in which began the the unended war of mobs and magistrates against the innocent! 

Yet you came and were not turned away. You too found room before the manger. Your gifts were not needed, but they were accepted and put carefully by, for they were brought with love. In that new order of charity there was room for you, too. You were not lower in the eyes of the Holy Family than the ox or the ass. 

You are ... the patrons of all late comers, of all who have a tedious journey to make to the truth, of all who are confused with knowledge and speculation, of all who through politeness make themselves partners in guilt, for all who stand in danger by reason of their talents.

Dear cousins, pray for me. Pray for the great, lest they perish utterly. For His sake, who did not reject your curious gifts, pray always for the learned, the oblique, the delicate. Let not them be quite forgotten at the Throne of God when the simple come into their kingdom".

Possibly the most inspired passage in Evelyn Waugh's work.



Thursday, 24 December 2009

Pius XII and the Nazis

I distrust and despise the zestful trendies, articulate and polemical who make a name for themselves and lots of money by writing faction – calumnies on historical figures such as Pius XII who are safely dead. Such is the nature of our society that there are plenty of people who will eagerly lap up such rubbish. They would rather believe a lie because it fits with their outlook and makes them feel smug than the boring truth. 

People say that Pope Pius XII did not speak out enough against the Nazi persecution of the Jews. This criticism sits well with today’s exhibitionist-moralists, whose idea of protest is to wear a band on their wrists to protest against slavery to show how nice they are, or to march in democratic countries dressed up as a polar bears.  Their other comfort gesture  is to apologise for something for which they had no responsibility and which happened a long time ago. They are stuffed with cant and hypocrisy. 

So what did they expect would have happened if the Pope spoke out against Nazi atrocities? An appearance on a Berlin  chat show to be interviewed by a Nazi equivalent of Jeremy Paxman? 

The Pope had to be very careful about when to speak out. He saw that every time there was a protest, the Nazis adopted even harsher measures. So what would protest achieve? Far better to work below the radar and provide practical help. 

On occasion, he did speak out. In response to the Pope’s Christmas message of December 1942, the Reich Security Main Office sent a telegram to all representatives in countries where there were Catholic populations. 

‘In a manner never known before, the Pope has repudiated the National Socialist New European Order. Here in this declaration he has virtually accused the German People of injustice to the Jews and has made himself a mouthpiece for Jewish War Criminals. 

When Pius died in 1958, many world famous Jews made their tributes: 

Golda Meir, later to become Prime Minister of Israel: “We share the grief of the world on the death of His Holiness Pope Pius XII. During the 10 years of Nazi terror, when our people passed through the horrors of martyrdom, the Pope raised his voice to condemn the persecutors and to commiserate with their victims”. 

Naham Goldman, President of World Jewish congress ‘with special gratitude we remember all he has done for the persecuted Jews during the darkest period of their history’. 

Chief Rabbi of Rome:  ‘More than anyone else, we have had the opportunity to appreciate the great kindness filled with compassion and magnanimity that the Pope displayed during those terrible years of persecution and terror. 

Earlier Albert Einstein (died 1953) had said that ‘only the Catholic Church protested against the Hitlerian onslaught on liberty. Up until then I had not been interested in the Church, but today I feel a great admiration for the Church, which alone has had the courage to struggle for spiritual truth and moral truth. I am forced thus to confess that what I once despised, I now praise unreservedly’ 

Proper historians like Sir Martin Gilbert, who himself is Jewish and has has praised Pius XII’s efforts to save Jews and says that Pius personally saved more Jews in Rome (percentagewise) than was saved in any other capital city under the Nazis, except Budapest, which was also a Papal initiative. 

For example, when the Germans had occupied Rome except the Vatican, Pius was informed in the early hours of one morning that 8000 Roman Jews would be rounded up the next day and deported. He immediately arranged as many as possible to be spirited away and hidden in convents and monasteries and in the Vatican itself. Just 1000 Jews were eventually deported to the death camps. 1000 too many, but 7000 were saved. 

The Pope’s summer residence at Castel Gandolfo was turned into a sanctuary for refugees during the war, including scores of Jews. Pius’ own bedroom was converted into a makeshift nursery, and some 40 babies were born there. A June 1944 article in the Palestine Post records a group of Jews who had taken shelter in Castel Gandolfo passing on their thanks to the Pope. 

The Pope had placed his housekeeper, Sr. Pasqualina Lehnert, in charge of the Vatican storerooms during the war, and personally directed her to drive trucks with food and other supplies out to religious houses around Rome where Jews were being sheltered. 

Sir Martin Gilbert says that Nations continually rewrite history to fit in with their current fears and perspectives, but there is such a thing as true history. The interview with Sir Martin Gilbert can be accessed here. It's a long interview but worth listening to carefully. It is very rewarding to hear the measured tones of an expert in his field, without polemic. 

He also mentions the role of the Polish nation and the number of Catholics who were executed by the Nazis for trying to help their Jewish compatriots. 

New York Jewish businessman and philanthropist Gary Krupp, who says he grew up “hating” Pius XII, has emerged as a passionate defender of the pontiff once famously excoriated as “Hitler’s Pope.” 

“It’s our obligation to recognize somebody who saved more Jews than all the other world leaders and religious leaders combined,” Krupp said in an interview with NCR. “This man should be raised up as righteous among the nations, not demonized." 

American Rabbi David Dalin has proposed that Yad Vashem recognize Pius as “righteous among the nations. 

People say that the Holy Father should have waited until the archives had been opened to satisfy the critics. Would they have ever been satisfied? Probably not. Once a head of steam has been generated in a protest, it’s almost impossible to relieve the pressure.  There is too much amour propre invested in it for the supporters ever to admit they were wrong.

Friday, 16 October 2009

Pests 2 - Tickerdammerung

This evening my daughter came downstairs and announced that the cat Frankie had picked up a tick. It was attached to his neck and was already bloated like a filthy leech.

The internet provided conflicting advice, but all were agreed that it was necessary to get it off immediately. The cat wasn't too fussed about all this. He was just purring sleepily.

In the absence of the special tool to lever out the tick, the advice was to use a loop of cotton and pull steadily. While my daughter held the cat I looped the thread around the tick and pulled. There was a discernable click as the tick was released.

The tick still had all its legs (eight of them - it's of the spider family). The advice was to immerse it in alcohol. But why waste alcohol? Brainwave - use methylated spirit. That is methyl alcohol. So we dropped the tick in a thimbleful of meths.

Second brainwave. Meths is inflammable, why not immolate the creature. No sooner said than done. We found the metal top of a paint tin and put the now bedraggled tick onto the lid. Then poured some meths on top and lit up.

So surrounded by blue flames the tick had a funeral a la Brunnhilde and Siegfriede.


It struck me later that the Tick is a perfect metaphor for the Labour party. They suck your blood, become bloated and are almost impossible to destroy.

Immolation may be the only way to get these bastards out. The House last burned down in 1837 or so. Time for another conflagration?

Pests - Musca Autumnalis

We are fortunate to live in a country village in Dorset where the skies are very dark at night and you can actually see the Milky Way.  But there are certain disadvantages, one of the most irritating being that every Autumn, round about September cluster flies (sometimes know as loft flies) enter our loft.  The swarm is preceded by 'scout flies' which find the suitable accommodation. They then alert the main swarm, which creeps under the roof felt and hibernates for the winter. The flies that do not hibernate die and hundreds of their little bodies are strewn about the loft. In spring the remainder buzz off and spend the summer in the fields.

Our loft is boarded and has a couple of velux windows let into the roof to provide light. We use the loft for storage of things like books, but we soon found that unless these are covered with a plastic sheet, they will get contaminated by the flies. 

In the early days I found a neat way of persuading the flies to go elsewhere. I used to buy two Vapona insecticides and hang them in the loft in late August.  When it came to hiberate, the scouts would take one sniff and go elsewhere. 

Then came 1997 and New Labour and the Nanny state. It was decided that products like Vapona might (only might) be injurious to health. So they were taken off the shelves and my problems returned.

The only way to curb the flies is by constant spraying using other types of fly spray, which are probably far more injurious to my health.

Although they look like house flies, they are not and apart from their nuisance value they don't have house flies' disgusting habits. But it is not as if I could leave them be. They are very sensitive to light and their latest trick is to crawl through the holes in the ceiling plaster that need to be made to run cables for the ceiling light. This way they can get into the bedrooms.

A few nights ago, I was reading in bed when there was a loud buzzing and a fly appeared seemingly from nowhere. A few minutes later, more buzzing and another fly appeared. soon about six were buzzing round the room like a squadron of Messerschmidts. And this was 12 o'clock at night. I managed to locate some PTFE tape and wound a strip round the hole in the ceiling rose and stopped any more getting in. Then getting to work with the fly spray I dispatched the others. Luckily I had a fly spray which was odourless.  So I went to sleep to the sound of dying flies, emitting a noise as if their main engines had taken a hit and were stuttering into silence.

I told this story to a colleague. 'Only six flies?' he said. 'Last night my wife and I were sitting quietly in our lounge and up to 17 of those little devils appeared buzzing furiously'. He didn't tell me how he got rid of them. Perhaps he and his wife retreated to bed.

Thank you Tony Blair and your busybody cohorts. Unfortunately if the Tories get back, I can't imagine that they will be able to redress all the petty regulations that make life more irritating and provide so much employment to the army of anally retentive jobsworths that now pervade this country.

Wednesday, 15 April 2009

Memories of Hillsborough 1989

Today 15th April 2009 is the 20th anniversary of the Hillsborough disaster where 96 Liverpool supporters were crushed at a football ground at the start of the FA Cup semi final between Liverpool and Nottington Forest. The day has extra resonance for me as members of my own family were at the match and fortunately survived. 

1989 was a difficult year for my family. My wife was diagnosed with breast cancer and had undergone a mastectomy in the February. In early April my 80 year old mother was rushed into hospital in Liverpool with blocked circulation in the leg, which resulted in an amputation. I had taken the train up to Liverpool on the weekend of 14th April to see my mother and stayed with my sister and her family in Birkdale, near Southport.

On the morning of Saturday 15th April, my birthday, John, my brother in law was taking my niece Zoe and two others to Sheffield to the football match. I remember feeling rather envious of them going off to see such a fantastic match.

Helen and I went to Broadgreen Hospital in Liverpool to see my mother. We were round her bed when at 3:15 there were reports that the game had been stopped because there were fans on the pitch. My first thoughts were of irritation that those football hooligans were at it again but there were no details. At 3:45 my sister drove me into Liverpool were I was going to bide my time until the visiting was allowed again in the evening. Meanwhile Helen drove home to Birkdale. 

I wandered round the city centre, but on visiting the Bluecoat arts centre I heard that at least 74 were dead; I immediately rang my sister. Helen was distraught as John and Zoe had not rung in.  I decided to go back to Birkdale to be my sister should she need me. That was a dreadful journey, but when I got there, I found that they had rung to say that they were safe.

Later I went back into Liverpool to catch the local train at Lime Street for Broadgreen. People were milling around anxiously awaiting the football trains coming back from Sheffield. A British Railways notice said that all football trains were all running to time. The anxiety was palpable. By that time the full death toll was known.

After spending the evening at the hospital, my brother drove me to Seaforth station to catch the train to Birkdale. I met two young boys on the train who were returning home from Sheffield - and had lost their friend. 

When I got back, John and Zoe had returned. Amidst all the distress and tears and the harrowing tales, one thing that Zoe related that stands out was the support of the Police and the kindness people of Sheffield who invited strangers into their homes, comforted them, gave them tea, allowed them to use the bathroom and to phone home. 

Sunday was a day of weeping on Merseyside. Radio City was all morning retelling the story of Hilsborough. The 11 am Mass at St Marie's Church, Southport was highly emotional. The Priest pointed to the five grains of incense on the Easter candle - the five wounds of Christ - and affirmed that with the Resurrection death was not the end of life.


Tuesday, 23 September 2008

Dosteyevsky's Demons

I was inspired by A N Wilson’s critique[1] a few weeks ago of the new translation of Dostoyevsky’s book ‘The Demons’, published by Penguin, and I have bought a copy.

I had read the book in an earlier translation when was entitled ‘The Devils’ and was struck by its relevance to our times.

Dostoyevsky tells the story of how people with ‘advanced liberal views’ in an unnamed town in Russia are enchanted by a group of nihilists, and pander to them. In the end the nihilists embark on an orgy of mayhem including murder.

A. N. Wilson gives the synopsis much better than I can, but what struck me in my first reading (and other readings from Dosteyevsky and other authors) was how Russian society at that time was not as repressive as has since been painted by the communists in justification for their revolution of 1917.

Yes, the serfs had only just been freed; yes, parliamentary democracy was not yet in place; yes there were the secret police. But things were moving. By the early 1900s there was a parliament, the Duma, and after the humiliation of the 1905 Russo-Japanese war, the Tsar had to defer to it more and more. The First World War was the watershed, but even then, the Germans had to transport Lenin from his exile in Switzerland in a sealed carriage (in Winston Churchill’s words – like a plague bacillus) to Russia before it was possible for the Bolsheviks to take over.

I have only just started to read the new translation and it gives an opportunity to revisit some of the points I had missed first time round.

For example in chapter 1, we are introduced to Ivan Pavlovich Shatov, the son of a serf. He is described as sullen but intelligent, outwardly coarse, but inside very sensitive.

In this introductory chapter Stepan Verkhovensky, a pseudo intellectual, who is sustained by Varvara Stavrogin the local baroness as a sort of pet, Stepan extols the great thinkers of the time ‘who knew how to love their people, they also knew how to suffer for them and at the same time they knew how, when necessary to maintain a distance from them, knew how to avoid pandering to them when it came to certain ideas. Belinsky (one of his heroes) after all could not possibly have sought salvation in Lenten oil or in radishes with peas.’

Shatov says:

‘These men of yours never did love the people, didn’t suffer for them, and sacrificed nothing for them, no matter how they themselves might have imagined they did to make themselves feel good’

‘Are you saying that they did not love the people’ Stepan begins to shriek, ‘Oh, how they loved Russia?’

‘Neither Russia nor the people’ Shatov shrieks. ‘It is impossible to love what you don’t know, and they had no understanding of the Russian people! All of them including you have turned a blind eye to the Russian people… It’s not enough that you overlooked the people; you treated them with sickening contempt. All those who cease to understand their own people and lose their ties with them, immediately and to the same extent lose the faith of their fathers and become either atheists or indifferent…. And that’s why all of you and all of us now are either vile atheists or indifferent rubbish and nothing more’.

This passage strikes a chord. I recall reading an interview with Jean-Paul Sartre, whom I admired for his novel ‘The roads to Freedom’. But in the interview, I was irritated by his constant reference to ‘the masses’. Even then I wondered what he knew about the masses. It seemed that he suffered from a certain intellectual arrogance. Had he ever been one of the ‘masses’? Never! He falls neatly into the bucket that Shatov has created for the likes of him.

Even today, Dosteyevsky’s novel is a salutary parable for our times. Nihilists seem to be always with us. There is always a cadre who wish to destroy everything, to create a new Eden because they can’t live in present times. And those who don’t conform to the new Eden, well then they can be liquidated, in the most painless way possible, by guillotine or by bullet in the back of the neck.

The only regret that I have in reading Dostoyevsky’s novel is that I did not read it 40 years ago.

‘Demons’ should be required reading for schoolchildren. It would also make an excellent drama for BBC television.


Monday, 28 January 2008


The first thing to explain is what is all this ultramontanity? Ultramontane is 'beyond the (alpine) mountains' and describes someone whose stance is favourable to the authority of the Pope in matters of faith and discipline.

It is based on respect for tradition and is more than an emotional attachment. As an example, we have all seen how this government (I can't award it a capital letter) is in the process of traducing all the traditions of this country (the United Kingdom) and we all see how society is reaping the whirlwind. Tradition demands that changes are carried out gradually - evolution not revolution. There is a so called law of unexpected consequences which comes into play when zestful and trendy decisions are made, for the applause of some pressure group, to receive the transient accolades of the BBC (you see that my slip is already beginning to show!), or the bien pensants in Hampstead or Islington.

The deleterious effects may not be felt for some time down the line, when the perpetrators have been promoted to the Lords, have become elder statesmen, so called 'National Treasures' . And it's left to society to pick up the pieces.

One particular change which I to my shame cheered on when it was happening in the 1960's was Vatican II. When John XXIII died, we were relieved when Montini became Pope and as Paul VI vowed to continue V2. I distinctly remember reading with shock horror about a certain Cardinal Guiseppe Siri (the bogeyman of the right) who had (apparently) said that it would take 100 years to heal the wounds to the church made by John. Cardinal Siri was a strong candidate in the conclave of 1963, and again in the two conclaves of 1978.

We thought it was a very good idea to have the Mass in the local languages, yet the first time I attended the new Mass, I remember coming out of Church wondering what had we done. It all sounded so banal. And this was before the more radical changes had taken place.

I lapsed in the 70's and 80's came back in the late 80's early 90's, lapsed again and returned again, this time for good I trust about 3 years ago.

The Church I have come back to is so much depleted from the one I left. In the sixties, on Ascension Day and other Holy Days of Obligation, so many Catholics attended Mass, that it was usually mentioned at 6 o'clock as a BBC news item. But no chance today.

Was there a cause and effect? Did the falling away of attendances at Mass, have anything to do with V2 or would it have happened anyway? It is hard to say. We note that other Christian churches have had falling attendances with the prevalence of secularism. As a scientist, it would be interesting to view the yearly statistics of Church attendance for the various denominations in England since WW2. I would look for changes in the slope of the curve after Vatican 2, or the pill controversy, or the scandal of paedophile priests. We could compare the graph with similar statistics from other Churches who have not had the same traumas.

I believe that post V2, Roman Catholic services became too trendy. There is no rigour, no sense of the Eternal. Cardinal Arinze, was told by a Moslem friend that if he believed that God himself came down on the Altar in the form of the Bread and Wine, he would be approaching the Altar in fear and on his knees'. Quite so. There used to be pin-drop silence during the canon of the Mass. But not today.

The pre-Vatican 2 liturgy was like a Swiss watch, beautifully balanced, fulfilling all its functions completely satisfactorily, the culmination of centuries of watch making. The liturgists thought that they should simplify this Swiss watch, taking it apart so that the faithful can relate more to the process. Unfortunately, once they took the watch apart they found it didn't work so well. But instead of putting it back together, (which could be done) they try to put it back in a different way, and cobble on extra parts. The kindest thing that can be said is that the new liturgy is still work in progress and will be so for a few more centuries. Perhaps Cardinal Siri was right.

And what did they do with Gregorian chant? They threw that away too. Sure it's still around in Monasteries and a few other places, but rarely is it heard on yer local Sunday mass. If you want to hear Gregorian chant go to Classic FM or Radio 3. Just as the Church ditched this pearl of great price, the secular world found it and cherishes it.

Also, to all intents and purposes the Church ditched Latin in services (OK Pope Benedict quite rightly says Latin Masses were never abolished but the Bishops went enthusiastically into the full monty of the trendy mass in English in this country, and similarly around the world. So at the stroke the Church has lost its universality of worship. Now we have Poles working in this country (and very welcome they are too). But they have to have their own Polish mass. In London, its a veritable tower of babel.

But there people in the Church who regret the changes and pray and work for a renaissance. We all welcomed the election of Joseph Ratzinger as Benedict XVI and we pray that God preserves him long enough to turn around the barque of Peter before she is driven onto the rocks.

So Viva Benedict XVI. Ad multos annos, Sancte Papa!