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Tuesday, 10 March 2009

The Tablet: how it all started

I am not referring to the continued assault on my lovely parish: an embarrassingly obsessive campaign that has generated a reaction of incredulity and dismay from many Catholic priests and laity who have no particular view on the usus antiquior. I refer rather to the policy of dissent from Papal teaching that has characterised the Tablet for longer than the lifetime of many Catholic bloggers and readers. This policy of dissent is the root cause for the astonishing attack on Blackfen and is a much more important issue.

Founded in 1840, the Tablet has been through various different hands, being owned by the hierarchy for several decades, sold to a group of laity by Cardinal Hinsley in 1935, and taken on by "The Tablet Trust" in 1976. Its greatest period was under Douglas Woodruff who edited the paper from 1936 to 1967. Reading through some back numbers from 1967-1968, it is evident that there was increasing pressure for a change in the Church's teaching regarding the morality of contraception; but the issue of 3 August 1968 marked the definitive break.

In a front page leader entitled "Crisis in the Church", the paper essentially rejected the teaching of Humanae Vitae. The opening paragraphs are redolent of the kind of high-blown rhetoric that is still evident in the paper's polemic forty years on:
GAUDIUM ET SPES, the famous pastoral constitution of Vatican II, is more frequently cited and any other authoritative document in the Pope's encyclical on birth control, Humanae Vitae. We must honestly confess that neither joy nor hope can we derive from the Encyclical itself. It is not necessarily a criticism. This nation, in an hour of trial, was once offered "blood, sweat and tears" as the only prospect in waging war; there is not a chapter in spiritual writing from the Epistles onwards that does not offer the same for the final victory over the forces of evil. All this is accepted and endured by convinced Christians the world over. In their trials, indeed, they could find their exemplar in Pope Paul himself: his mortified, self-spending life is totally dedicated to the service of God and mankind, Every call, then, in his Encyclical for a deepening of dedication in married life will be understood and welcomed.

The Experience of Marriage
To many married people, however, there is a betrayal of their dedication precisely in indiscriminate child bearing on the one hand or the alternative of calendar-spaced love-making or total abstinence on the other. These alternatives are more repugnant to a human couple in love than artificial devices, they are less natural in the sense of being less consonant with their continuing close relationship.
The leader makes much of the Commission which had been set up to study the subject and the widespread expectation that Pope Paul would go along with its recommendations. It then observes:
All of this developing situation has now been set at nought. the known views of such senior Cardinals as those of Vienna, Utrecht and Malines, of many bishops throughout the world, of the Papal Commission, of moral theologians of the highest repute from such widely differing schools as those of the Gregorianum in Rome and Maynooth in Ireland, of the laity expressed at the lay Congress in Rome last year, have been put down as of no account.
The reference to Cardinals König, Willebrands, and Suenens puts one in mind of the words of Christ to St Peter:
Simon, Simon, behold Satan hath desired to have you, that he may sift you as wheat: but I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not: and thou, being once converted, confirm thy brethren.(Lk 22.31-32)
The "you" here refers to the apostles in the plural. Our Lord personally guarantees that in such a situation, he will confirm Peter in the faith. There could scarcely be a clearer example in history than the lonely voice of Pope Paul VI in 1968.

The Tablet leader closes with a note of defiance that was to mark its policy from then to now in relation to the teaching of the papal magisterium, especially in matters of morals:
Loyalty to the faith and to the whole principle of authority now consists in this: to speak out about this disillusion of ours, not to be silenced by fear. We who are of the household of the faith and can think of no other have the right to question, complain and protest, when conscience impels. We have the right and we have the duty - out of love for the brethren. Quis nos separabit?
(Answer: vosmetipsi)

It was this leader that first gave rise to the paper's nickname "The Pill." Sadly it remains apposite to this day. By way of illustration, I will be posting occasional articles documenting the Tablet's response, over the past forty years, to the exercise of the Petrine office and to key events in the life of the Catholic Church. This paper has no place in any Catholic home, parish Church, or Cathedral.

Tabula delenda est.
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