RELIGION: Can someone with deep religious convictions ever lead a culturally diverse political party?

On Tuesday Christopher Lamb reported in The Tablet that Pope Francis had confirmed that only the Holy See can give dispensations for the pre-Vatican II form of the Mass to be said in parish churches.

There is a certain brutal logic to the position taken by Paul VI and John Paul II, suspended by Benedict, and now restored by Francis.

There is one Roman Rite, and it bears within it the understanding of revelation and of the Church expressed by the Second Vatican Council.

In interviews with The Tablet magazine last year, Cardinal Arthur Roche, the prefect of the Dicastery for Divine Worship, stressed that the Council itself is at stake: in his firmness to restore liturgical unity he is simply seeking to implement the conciliar reforms.

Even those sympathetic to Francis’ bold reform agenda might see this determination to tidy up some messiness in the Church’s liturgical life as running counter to the narrative that this papacy is loosening central control, empowering the local church, and trusting bishops to gauge the pastoral needs of their people.

Demand for these liturgies is small, and not increasing.

Perhaps this squeezing of any wriggle room for bishops to allow pre-1962 liturgies to linger would not have been necessary if all that was happening was wise bishops quietly allowing the celebration of the older form of the rite in one or two centres within their diocese, at times when they were not elbowing the ordinary celebration of the Mass in a parish out of the way.

But some in Rome might have been needled by the brazen refusal of some bishops to implement Traditionis Custodes.

If this tightening up of the rules was simply designed to rein in a dozen or so US bishops, it might have underestimated the collateral damage.

In The Tablet’s opinion column, we consider the case of Kate Forbes – the conservative evangelical who is hoping to succeed Nicola Sturgeon as Scotland’s first minister and the leader of the Scottish National Party.

The decisive question this raises is not whether someone with deep religious convictions can ever lead a culturally diverse political party, but whether today such convictions will make the growth of a rapport with the electorate that any leader must have to be successful impossible.


The Cistercian nuns of the monastery Fons Pacis arrived in Syria from Italy in 2005, intending to continue the legacy of the Trappist monks of Tibhirine, assassinated in Algeria. Their monastery is in Azeir, a small Maronite Christian village surrounded by Alawite and Sunni villages.

When civil war broke out in 2011, all the sisters decided to stay, sharing their daily lives with their Syrian neighbours. Azeir is close to the epicentre of the earthquake on 6 February, and as their superior, Marta Luisa Fagnani, tells us this week, the monastery has become not only home for families seeking shelter after their homes were destroyed, but a place of prayer and hope amid the devastation.

A fresh earthquake struck on Monday, raising the death toll to more than 45,000. Papal aid supplies were rushed to Turkey after the Pope had met with the country’s ambassador to ascertain the greatest needs. Cardinal Konrad Krajewski, the papal almoner, said volunteers had collected tinned food, sanitary products and warm clothing in the Vatican car park.

“Immediately,” he said, “everyone in the Vatican got busy preparing, in a single day, ten pallets of foodstuffs loaded onto a truck and destined for Fiumicino airport.”

The Cathedral of St John the Baptist in St John’s, the largest church in North America when it was completed in 1855, is the mother church and symbol of Catholicism in Newfoundland. The archdiocese’s decision to put it up for sale has galvanised local Catholics.

Pope Francis challenged Africa’s leaders, heard the stories of victims of atrocities, listened to the hopes of its young people, and was reinvigorated by its exuberant faith. But, Bishop Matthew Hassan Kukah asks, will his visit to DR Congo and South Sudan in the Company of Dr Iain Cruikshanks, Moderator of the Church of Scotland, and Archbishop Welby of the Church of England, make any difference?

Until the Lima-based political and social elite listen to the voices of the rural population and the urban poor, Francis McDonagh argues that the violent street protests in Peru will continue and the death toll will continue to rise.

Our experience of the season of penitence and conversion in preparation for Easter changes over time. Lavinia Byrne, the first of six contributors to our Lent series, looks back on her eager embrace of austerity as a young nun. He is only one of a rich tradition of Welsh holy men and women, but Myfanwy Alexander argues that David – whose feast day we celebrate next week – remains the saint whose message best resonates for the modern age.

In View from Rome, Christopher Lamb goes behind the Pope’s remarks to a group of Jesuits in Kinshasa – transcripts of these meetings with his confreres often supply the most unbuttoned copy from his overseas trips – assuring them that the papal ministry is “for life”.

Francis knows he has enemies who would love to see the back of him: but “this Pope survived the Argentine ‘Dirty War’ and will not be swayed by conspirators and plotters”. Last summer, he was talking openly about the possibility of resignation. He’ll keep us guessing.

Brendan Walsh

Brendan Walsh is editor of The Tablet religion magazine

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