Monday, December 10, 2012

Battle of the Egans

Bishop Egan
Bishop Philip Egan got a dressing down a couple of weeks ago on the letters page of the Catholic Herald, from a certain Br Edward Egan, who appears to be a Christian Brother. Bro wrote, in part:

'Bishop Egan seems to be nostalgic for a society where the Christian Church was central - I hope not one like Franco's Spain, Galtieri's Argentina or Pinochet's Chile! Is not modern liberal society more fertile ground for John's Last Supper model of a servant Church than many 'Constantinian church' models since?'

Now there's a man who's learnt some long words but doesn't really understand them.

Bishop Egan hardly needs me to rush to his defence, but I found this letter more than usually irritating. Is military dictatorship the only alternative to a supine surrender of the Church to her enemies? Is everyone who doesn't embrace liberalism a Fascist? So I replied, as published in this week's edition:


Br Edward Egan (Letters, Nov 23) appears to be accusing Bishop Egan of Portsmouth of hankering after military dictatorships, on the basis that he opposes anti-Christian secularism. This association of ideas seems a little extravagant. 

Galtieri: lookalike?
By contrast, Br Egan appeals to 'John's Last Supper model of a servant Church.' This is a bit strange, as St John's Gospel contains no account of the Last Supper. Perhaps Br Edward should spend less time attacking people who defend the Church, and more time reading the Gospels. 

Yours faithfully, 
Joseph Shaw Chairman, The Latin Mass Society 

Brother Egan has form. Googling him brings this unsavoury letter to the Catholic Herald up, attacking the late, great Alice Thomas Ellis, from 16th July 2004:

She criticises religious sisters for dressing in a modern and sensible way that signifies that they are truly sisters to their fellow men and women. Many people were alienated by the old medieval garb that could signify sanctimonious separateness and superiority.

The Belgrano: sinking like Br Egan
Her criticism of Creation spirituality and her regressive championing of Original Sin theology is wrong. Many people are liberated by the concept of Original Blessing and the Creator’s wonderful gifts...

The “tawdry baubles of paganism” were there aeons before Christianity in all continents, providing a more feminine,peaceful and eco-friendly world until the arrival of the more patriarchal, war-mongering and exploitative last two millennia of so-called Christendom.

I suggest that Alice Thomas Ellis might benefit from reading modern theology and Scripture studies (and also The Tablet), instead of dragging us back to the dark ages of “the fortress Church”.

(Unfortunately the page in the Catholic Herald archive jumbles his letter up with another one; online subscribers can chase it down in full via Exact Editions.)

It is interesting how the debate has moved on. Back in 2004 Br Egan's long letter in the Herald defended a succession of heretical, disobedient, or just plain lunatic ideas which were really widespread: they were the basis of many religious communities and parish groups and appeared to have full official encouragement. Alice Thomas Ellis, though well known and feisty, was very much at the far conservative end of the spectrum of printable opinion, and died early the following year at the age of 72. Now Br Egan has for an opponent a newly appointed bishop of 57, and has got printed a letter which is just as bonkers as the last one, but seems a little forlorn. Calling people you don't agree with 'Fascists' always comes across as pretty pathetic.

You may need to get them second hand, but I recommend Alice Thomas Ellis' interesting commentary on the Church, the Serpent on the Rock, slightly less so the collection of her articles, God Has not Changed, (the Herald article (link for subscribers) to which Br Egan was responding was an extract from that book), and above all her great novel, The Sin Eater. And say a prayer for a great Catholic. Alice, you've won.


  1. You've got the wrong ship there, Joseph - the picture is of HMS Sheffield, having been hit by one of Galtieri's Exocets.

  2. Oops! So much for Google image search. Replaced.

  3. Well done Joe, brilliant letter.

  4. Yes well done Dr Shaw

    Perhaps we should also ask does Br Egan understand Christianity? He clearly doesn’t read his Bible nor does he like the traditions of the Church.

  5. Anonymous2:40 pm

    Without the account of the Institution, but still the Last Supper: John 13:2-34.

  6. Brother Egan was obviously referring to the washing of the disciples' feet by our Lord: I wonder if the inference he wished to draw was that the Church should lick the feet of the government. One archbishop who is not prepared to do such a thing (I am glad to say) is His Grace the Archbishop of Southwark, who ably defended the Catholic Church's teaching on marriage last teusday on PM [Radio 4]. Since a member of the higher clergy rarely makes such a stand in these times, I think he deserves congratulations.

  7. Bishop Egan washed the feet of a bunch of trouser wearing women at Portsmouth Cathedral on Maundy Thursday. Edward Morton published pictures of it, probably it will be in Portsmouth People soon. This was after Bishop egan washed the feet of 6 inmates in Wichester Prison on spy Wednesday. many many clean feet, catholic or not, male or female....who am I to judge