Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

Catholic Progressives in England after Vatican II

Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

Catholic Progressives in England after Vatican II

Article excerpt

Catholic Progressives in England After Vatican II. By Jay P Corrin. (Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press. 2013. Pp. x, 523. $49.00 paperback. ISBN 978-0-268-02310-2.)

We English Catholics are well-trained in the art of keeping our heads down. Perhaps it is the result of a long-history of state persecution of Catholics after our home-grown Reformation in the sixteenth century. Or that most of us (a good 90 per cent) can trace our roots back to more recent immigrant families, mostly Irish, and therefore feel in some hard-to-define way that we are still outsiders, not quite as thoroughly English as our brothers and sisters in the established Church of England.

It is, granted, nowadays more of a collective memory than anything tangible, but we are still a minority faith (fewer than ten per cent of the population, even by the most optimistic estimates) and so are pleasantly surprised when anyone takes us as a subject of serious study, as Professor Jay P. Corrin of Boston University has done. He charts the troubled relationship in the 1960s among the Catholic hierarchy, the domestic Catholic press, and what he calls the "Catholic New Left," a small number of progressives, inspired by Vatican Council II to campaign to make their local Church more outward-looking and socially and politically involved.

It is a story that is still very much within living memory, and several of the key players-notably Terry Eagleton, the prominent academic and public intellectual- are quoted extensively. And, as a tale of engaged, passionate lay Catholics, inspired by gospel values, struggling against institutional apathy and clerical conservativism, it is lively and will have strong echoes in other parts of the Catholic world.

Indeed, Professor Corrin's account of a group of progressive Catholics, some left-leaning and attracted to Marxism, gathered around the Cambridge-based publication Slant in the middle and late 1960s, left me lamenting that such activism is today once more lacking in our typically cautious, heads-down English Catholic Church. For many of the leading lights of Slant ultimately either left, or found themselves pushed to the very margins.

For some-especially the priests, monks, and nuns among their number- disillusionment with the institution was mixed with a vocation to marriage. The best-known example was that of Charles Davis, arguably the only theologian on these shores at the time on a par with the great conciliar minds of continental Europe. …

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