|Eat your heart out, Basil. That's Archishop Malcolm McMahon of Liverpool with the FSSP|
in Warrington, about to ordain two of their men priests.
Long-term readers may recall that at that time I prepared a dossier of his jems, and I didn't keep this document to myself. Reviewing my ever-growing paper archive of his columns since then, it is clear that this had some effect. Mgr Loftus must have been given some kind of warning by person or persons of authority, whether it be bishops or the Editor of the Catholic Times in which his screeds are published. So my project was not a waste of time.
The most obvious indication is the number of times he has been attacking English, Welsh, and Scottish bishops by name, or by clear implication. In the years up to 2015, this habit was completely out of control. He attacked Bishop Hopes for pointing out the negative side of people going up to Holy Communion without thinking about it. He attacked Archbishop Mennini, the Apostolic Nuncio, for getting the Nunciature's central-heating system mended. (No, I'm not making that up.) He attacked Cardinal Nichols for versions of both crimes. He attacked Bishop (now Archbishop) Roche, then of Leeds, for getting a coat of arms. He attacked Bishop Doyle of Northampton for telling his priests not to allow teddy bears on coffins in funerals. He attacked Bishop Hugh Gilbert of Aberdeen because someone had defaced a notice on a noticeboard. On several occasions he attacked Bishop Davies of Shrewsbury and Bishop Egan of Portsmouth.
Not content with these targets, in the most appalling terms he attacked cardinals outside the UK, notably Ranjith, Müller, Bertone, and Burke.
Since then, the only negative references to British bishops that I found on my trawl through his columns (I may have missed some) have been to Bishop Keenan of Paisley on the funeral teddy bear issue, and 'Dr Egan, the Roman Catholic Bishop of Portsmouth', for saying that Amoris laetitia has not changed the Church's discipline.
It is scandalous (or ought to be) for a retired Monsignor to attack by name bishops of his former and current countries of residence, in a Catholic newspaper sold in their dioceses, for the crime of maintaining the Catholic Faith. However, in the context of his earlier columns this is astonishingly restrained.
On foreign bishops and cardinals he clearly feels less need to hold himself back, and there are ferocious assults on American bishops Morlino, Cordileone, and Chaput; on Léonard, the retired Archbishop of Brussels; on Archbishop Gänswein; on the Polish bishops; and (lots of times) on Cardinals Burke and Sarah.
Since 2015 he has become bolder in his attacks on Humanae vitae and the Church's teaching on contraception. The unlawfullness of contraception was denied in his columns on 4th Sept 2015, 10th June 2016, and again on 9th Sept 2016.
He has become bolder about the ordination of women as well, making his position unmistakable on 17th March 2017.
The issue which seems to get his goat the most (if the expression may be excused), however, is the celebration of Mass ad orientem. He can't stand the 'Reform of the Reform' and detests the Extraordinary Form, but it is ad orientem which is most consistently mentioned as a specific problem, beating even the hieratic language of the 2011 English translation of the Missal (and that's saying something). Readers were privileged to peruse the great man's rants on the subject on 27th March 2015, 8th April 2016, 28th October 2016, and this year so far on 28th July, 1st Sept, and 22nd Sept.
My conclusions from this are several.
First, it is a mistake to imagine that Loftus is immune to pressure: he has obviously felt it and responded to it.
Second, it is a great pity that the pressure didn't extend to ending his column altogether, because even from the perspective of a bishop at the liberal end of the spectrum of opinion, his columns are embarrassing, and undermining of the respect due to ecclesiastical office. For example, the bishops have decided not to reopen the Missal translation issue, and would like everyone to stop attacking it and just let it bed in, but Loftus will not shut up about it.
Third, Pope Francis has been well received by the Loftus column, but although many inches have been devoted to ramblings about 'mercy', Loftus' agenda remains his own. It is not possible to defend Loftus' remarks on women priests or contraception on the basis of Pope Francis' words, and as for celebrating Mass ad orientem, if this is a crime then Pope Francis is a criminal too.
Fourth, Loftus continues to demonstrate that mainstream liberals in the Church are far more embittered, and far ruder about bishops, than equivalently mainstream conservatives or traditional Catholics.
No doubt some will tell me Loftus is not 'mainstream', but all I mean is that he has a huge weekly column in the Catholic Times, sold in Catholic churches up and down the land, his name appearing fortnightly on the mast-head to advertise the fact. It is further adorned, and its prestige underlined, by a photograph often so vast as to leave little room for anything else on this broadsheet page. He is allowed apparently infinite space to reply to his critics in the Letters Page, and the Editor publishes the most pathetic imaginable letters of support for the old booby, suggesting he does not have many to choose from. This is supposed to be the 'serious' Catholic newspaper, read by serious people, in contrast to the more low-brow Universe. And for all this, it remains acceptable for this column to describe two Cardinals of the Roman Church, Sarah and Burke, as 'rigid reactionaries' (9th December 2016), as if it were the record of school play-ground.
But as a wise man once said: 'Being censorious of others is often a defence-mechanism to justify our narrow-mindedness.' (Mgr Basil Loftus, 12th September 2014).
Tu dicis, Basil: tu dicis.
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