Yesterday I picked up, at the back of a Church, a Form to be completed by those who wish to attend the Holy Father’s Mass for the Beatification of Cardinal Newman.
We all know by now that ‘for reasons of security’ people will only be allowed in to the Coventry Airport site if they arrive with an official Parish Party, by coach; and that individuals will not be able to make their own travel arrangements : and there has been more than a little discussion about this on the blogs.
This form, however, seems to me to be grossly unacceptable.
First, although it mentions the name of a parish, the form actually emanates from a commercial organization; and indeed has to be returned, accompanied by a payment, directly to the firm.
It also confirms explicitly what we had already heard: you will only be able to get in to the Mass on a pre-arranged coach.
When you take it all together, it means that the only way you can attend the Holy Father’s Mass is by contributing to the profits of a commercial organization.
This seems to me disgraceful. Even if there is a genuine imperative need for all those attending to do so by pre-arranged, commercially-operated, coaches – which I seriously doubt – I absolutely cannot understand why parishes cannot make their own arrangements, and retain for themselves any profit they may make. There must also be a question about what steps are to be taken to provide seats for those who deserve them, but perhaps cannot afford the (not insignificant) price being charged by the firm; they may not mind admitting this to the Parish Priest; but they may (quite reasonably) not want to advertise their penury to strangers.
The form also contains a clear note that the information provided (name, address, phone number, and email address) may be passed on to the Birmingham Oratory, and to the (unspecified) security authorities : and says that your booking can only be accepted if you sign to say that you agree to that being done.
Let me make it clear : I am as keen on maintaining the Holy Father’s security as anyone else; but I am unconvinced that this is in any way a useful step towards doing that.
If the form had to be returned to the Parish, so that the Parish Priest could confirm that he knew you before passing the information on to the authorities, then it might be meaningful : but it doesn’t – it is to be returned straight to the firm arranging the coach. Are they going to check every one of the people booking ? Will they verify the names and addresses ? I doubt it; even if only the 80,000 we have been told about are going to be allowed to attend make bookings, I find it unlikely in the extreme that they will all be checked in any meaningful way by the commercial organization – and I’m quite certain that the Birmingham Oratory won’t. Will the ‘security authorities’ ? Well, I suppose it’s not utterly inconceivable; but I’m not altogether convinced that MI5 will think it’s a good use of its resources to check on 80,000 devout Catholics – indeed, I’m not altogether convinced that the ‘security authorities’ referred to are anyone as important as MI5.
From where I’m standing, the arrangements for this Mass look shambolic – disgraceful, in fact – if only because, at a time when the largest possible public display of support for the Holy Father would be of the greatest possible value to the Church, the effect (if not the intention) of the arrangements seems to be to prevent exactly that.
If there really is some reason why all this is genuinely unavoidable, then the Bishops should explain it clearly; and if it is the fault of some officious Government Department, then that should be plainly stated : but I have to say that I do wonder whether the problem is anything like as legitimate as that.
I am, of course, well aware of the question about whether the Coventry Airport Mass will even happen - a matter to which many other bloggers have drawn attention folllowing Damian Thompson's article in The Spectator - but that seems to me not to be directly relevant to the issues about which I am concerned. There will, however, be a lot more about all this in the next few days and weeks !
F. Richard Duffield of the Birmngham Oratory has made a Comment on this Post which clarifies the situation somewhat; do please read it.