Parish Priest's Page

This contains oddments from the presbytery. Not, of course, details of the parishioners or other people who turn up or who are visited, but the sort of material which affects the life of any priest in a parish: the diocese, the saints' days, but mostly the day to day trivia which can't be categorised but which affects our sanity. 


Every parish in the diocese is expected to take part in a fundraising exercise. The purpose is to finance the diocesan Caritas (what that is in detail has yet to be revealed, but it is generally about social justice work), the maintenance of the seminary and the care of sick and retired clergy. The sticking point is the question of whether individual parishioners should be approached. In this parish we came to a compromise - no individuals would be approached, but all parishioners would have the opportunity to contribute if they wishes. The introductory letter from the Cardinal and the timetable for the exercise went out on the weekend of the 11/12th October 2014.

The details of the campaign are on the weekly newsletter. The campaign finishes at the weekend of 15th/16th November. The diocese gives each parish a target, worked out from the income of the last five years. 


After spending quantities of John and Annie Harrington's legacy on repairing the front of the church, it might look like extravagance to get more scaffolding and a serious cherry-picker along to work again on anti-pigeon stuff. The spikes and netting put round the capitals simply weren't effective, so the problem of pigeon droppings was worse than before as they gathered in a far greater concentration on the more weakly protected parts. To give the workmen their due, it was always going to be a bit of a gamble and what we signed up to they managed: and the rest of their work was very good indeed. Has it worked this time round? Yes, magnificently, and we are now pigeon-proofed, God willing, for many years to come. It was worth it.  (June 2014)


As Finsbury Park gets increasingly expensive it becomes correspondingly attractive to developers. Their latest target is Rowan's Ten Pin Bowling. The full case for kicking up a fuss with Haringey Council (already notorious for their cash-cow approach to the park itself which gets trashed for weeks after gigs by on-the-way-out bands) can be found at (30.5.14)


This weekend (11th May) is Vocations Sunday. A bit of misnomer, as its main point is the Shell Out For The Seminary collection after Mass. Simply talking about vocations is a bit unnatural; you never know what people really want to know about what makes you tick. Celibacy of course (yawn), but it's a fair bet that if you set up a question and answer session, which is the best way of getting the message across but not easily do-able in a sermon, the question would come up about money. 

Certainly not to be discussed in a sermon: so this is the answer for Westminster diocese. 

The old system was that priests received Mass offerings (normally £5), stole fees (offerings for baptisms, weddings and funerals), and Christmas and Easter offerings. Plus a nominal salary - £200 a year when I was ordained. It was rather a sloppy system, as some parishes were wealthy parishes and some very poor. 

The current system, used by (I think) most clergy is that a priest says what he wants for his salary. The diocese pays him and then charges the parish for the amount - much easier for income tax, if it applies, and national insurance. There is a maximum amount which (I think) is £8,000, although it's unlikely that many priests claim the full whack. All those other things - Mass offerings, stoll fees, Christmas and Easter offerings - go straight into the parish to offset the parish payment to the diocese. 

And then there is the invisible stuff. Housekeeping expenses come out of the parish. You have a roof over your head.

Now you know. But how much exactly? Not telling - you'll have to ask directly. 


Mgr Nicholas Hudson has been appointed and will be consecrated in June. He has been parish priest of Wimbledon for the last few months, after being vice-rector and then rector of the English College in Rome for 12 years. His previous parish experience was four years as a curate in Canterbury. His subject is catechetics, which he studied for a year in Louvain. 

It is said that under the mild exterior is a critical mind. 

We have not been told to which area in the diocese he will be allocated, but we wish him well.  (3.4.14)


The following snip from Tillich was sent in by a parishioner. Brutal but illuminating. 

Fundamentalism fails to make contact with the present situation, not because it speaks from beyond every situation, but because it speaks from a situation of the past.  It elevates something finite and transitory to infinite and eternal, validity.  In this respect fundamentalism has demonic traits.  It destroys the humble honesty of the search for truth, it splits the conscience of its thoughtful adherents, and it makes them fanatical because they are forced to suppress elements of the truth of which they are dimly aware.

Paul Tillich, Systematic Theology, Chicago, ILL, 1951, vol. 1, p. 3. (19.3.14)


Pastoral letters come in a variety of media: a compact disc to be played over a church's speaker system, a hard copy for people who find that too slow or soporific (the cardinal has improved over the last few years) and now it even comes down the wires in mp format. 

We don't have the gear for that here, but joy cometh in the morning with a revised version of the mp file. What was wrong with the original? Absolutely nothing. The thing is, it included the chat between the cardinal and the people doing the recording. There were the preliminaries and then the cardinal decided he was going too fast so they started again. At the end they forgot to turn off the toy and so we got another bit of dialogue. 

 Wonderful. It wasn't exactly Jerry Springer but we did get a tiny peak at what might count as real life in Archbishop's House. You can hear it here although you may have to download or save and then play it. (The pastoral itself is good, largely based on Pope Francis). The Archbishop's communications man says the sound quality of this one isn't as good as the official version - these people have standards. 


Somebody has to elect a Pope, so cardinals do it, and that's about the whole story. The system could be changed. The clergy of Rome could (and arguably should) do it. Now that each country has its own Episcopal Conference, another approach could be for the bishops to vote through their President. Or you can work out for yourself how the system could be changed. St Ambrose was chosen as bishop of Milan by popular acclaim. The Church would survive perfectly well without cardinals, but the common sense of most people would stick to things as they are - it may not be perfect, but it works. 

The distraction comes with the other jobs of cardinals. Some time ago a pope declared cardinals to rank just below the pope himself and monarchs - that monarchs bit makes it clear that the rank of cardinal is basically a matter of human status and has nothing to do directly with the Gospel. Cardinals originated with the administration of Rome. With the growth of the curial system, what you might call the civil service of the Church, cardinals sometimes get dragged into Vatican administration.

England and Wales can have (by custom) only one cardinal under 80. After that age, by the present law of the Church, a cardinal loses his right to vote for a pope. Cardinal Murphy O'Connor has hit 80 and so Archbishop Nichols is next in line. It is unfortunate that he is currently (January 2014) often referred to as Cardinal Elect, which suggests that his role as Archbishop is less important: obviously a massive distortion in which status beats vocation. The diocese of Westminster has an interest in all this. We need a full time archbishop. 

"That's for an ideal world" might be the argument against change. But with Pope Francis, no changes of human status are off the menu. He doesn't sign himself pp (Papa) Franciscus. He calls himself simply Franciscus and expects others to reject ecclesiastical flummery. (28.1.14)

MGR RALPH BROWN, died 6.1.14
Ralph Brown (Buller, because you crossed him at your peril - he fought in the Korean war) ran the Westminster Marriage Tribunal after Mgr Edward Dunderdale. Dunderdale ("Mons") was a barrister before ordination and like Brown retained the habit of a liquid lunch from his earlier profession. The difference between them was that Brown insisted that at decision meetings all the judges present, not only the three who were discussing their case, should pay full attention. Reading that day's papers or Private Eye was no longer accepted. 
Initial resentment faded as we realized the value of the Tribunal, both for the people concerned, the petitioners and respondents, and for the other tribunals. It became normal for officials from overseas to sit in at meetings. In the discussions of cases we were aware of how our decisions might be received by the Rota, the Vatican court. The other key aspect of our work was the pastoral element. 
The astonishing part of his tribunal work came after a fall. He went through a series of painful medical disasters which affected his right hand and his mobility but left his wit and professional ability unimpaired. May he rest in peace. (7.1.14)

Since the early 70s Westminster diocese has taken 14 (year 9) as the minimum age although the national Bishops' Conference has left it undecided. The secondary school exam system has changed considerably over the last 40 years, and it's a very different world for teenagers in any case. The subject has been raised for the last two years, but no discussion, let alone decision, has been undertaken. Parents and potential candidates in year 8 should speak to Fr AW about it. (19.10.13)

So many articles have been written about this that I stopped reading them months ago. There was a built-in problem with them - the Pope has said clearly and repeatedly that the papacy is not supposed to be a substitute for the proper work and responsibilities of bishops, but here we are, still going on about him. 

But there is a book which he has almost certainly read - almost certainly, because the author is Spanish and every page is in tune with the Pope's utterances. The author, Jose Pagola, is a Spanish academic who also functions as a senior cleric in his diocese, and the book is Jesus: an historical approximation. That "historical approximation" bit may sound off-putting, but it's written very simply and clearly, almost from the point of view of an intelligent and well-informed contemporary observer: a first century Jewish journalist, you might say, providing more commentary than dogma. The theology is there, certainly, but the key principle is "keep it simple." Which is pure Jorge Mario Bergoglio. (12.10.13)

A statistical study by Peter Brierley shows that more Pentecostals attend a church on Sundays than any other denomination. Catholics used to be in the front, says Brierley, but no longer. But talk about this to African and Congolese Catholics, and it is blazingly clear that many of these Pentecostals have a Catholic background. They say that some of the pastors themselves were originally Catholic. 
During the week I discussed this with Archbishop Nichols who appeared to take the subject seriously. 

Watch this space. (5.10.13)

The feast of the Blessed Franz Jaegerstaetter. Beatifications and canonisations aren't what they were when the sensible rules of Benedict XIV were followed. These days Blesseds and Saints are declared in bulk. Which is a shame, because Franz J is the real McCoy. Even his feast day has been messed up by having it on his birthday rather than the day of his martyrdom, August 9th. Only Our Lady and St John the Baptist are honoured on their supposed birthdays. Pax Christi organised a pilgrimage to St Radegund at the time of his beatification in Linz in 2007. His widow Franzisca brought up relics of him at the Mass in the cathedral. She died in March this year, aged 100. If they had held back JF's beatification, they could have beatified the two of them together. (21.5.13)

The most instantly memorable feature of St Bernadino of Siena, today's feast, is that he was toothless. Pictures of this 15th century Franciscan who preached often al fresco in Central Italy show him with the sickle-shape mouth, down at each corner, that comes with empty gums. Apparently he didn't have a great voice either. It was the message that delivered the goods - homosexuality and usury were his favourite targets, while his positive detonator was the Holy Name of Jesus. Iris Origo produced a very readable life of him.

Our Jesuit Pope is keen on the Franciscan line. How far he will go for the very strict Bernadino version remains to be seen. 

Two visits from potential victims of the immigration authorities. One Albanian, arranging the baptism of her second child - her partner (they're not allowed to marry as she hasn't leave to remain even after 10 years in limbo) has British nationality. The second was a Congolese, baptised here a few months ago, has leave to remain but can't afford the huge fees for naturalisation. She would be scuppered anyway because although she understands English well she's lousy at speaking it and has had bad experiences of language classes. She doesn't have Lingala or French and spends too much time with people who speak her minority mother tongue. 

A visit to the primary school, a class who will be coming here for Mass on Wednesday. A bright and chatty 7 year old girl to be prepared for baptism. Another couple for the baptism of their two very small children. 

A quick visit to CARIS, the people who rent tiny rooms for bereavement counselling, are being visited tomorrow by someone from the diocesan property office. The official should have known that leasing matters should be discussed with the parish priest or his finance committee. This was pointed out last week but the official is still coming. The ultra vires argument counts for little these days, whatever canon law or the parish administration manual says. During the visit the fire alarm went off, triggered by burning toast. Will the official be toast before she leaves?

Parishes take responsibility for covering the days off of the hospital chaplain, a 24 hour stint. Usually this entails no more than staying available for emergency calls; as the priest chaplain and the sister chaplain are both ahead of the game, calls are rare. Today there was a call to ITU where the patient was unconscious. 

The Justice and Peace group met this evening. We ended with a reflection of the Blessed Franz Jaegerstaetter whose feast is tomorrow. A hard clear line on the corrupting power of Nazism - Bernadino would approve. (20.5.13)