Cardinal Basil Hume: “The Queen’s Cardinal”
Basil George Hume was born in 1923, the son of a heart surgeon and a pious French mother.
Throughout his life, he would have a deep affection to the North East of England, with amongst other things, an active support for Newcastle Football Club.
In 2002, the Queen journeyed to Newcastle to fulfil an engagement to unveil a statue to the memory of this monk/cardinal. I’m not sure he would have wanted such a display of vanity, but who knows.
Basil Hume was a surprise clerical choice to succeed the late cardinal Heenan. He had mainly been known in education/monastic circles when he was installed as the ninth archbishop of Westminster in 1976. Later he would express his hope that he serve only ten years in the job, then quietly retire to Ampleforth but the Vatican had other ideas about this ambition of his.
Instead, he would remain in the job for the next 22 years – turbulent times indeed in British politics, and religious change in England, and throughout the world.
Hume was of course on the liberal wing of the English Conference of Bishops, with always a strong emphasis towards ‘Justice and Peace’ (a group which I chaired for many years).
He later became in the early 1980s a supporter of the so-called ‘Birmingham Six’ and ‘the Guildford Four.’ He would later see both convictions to all eight victims quashed in the High Court.
As the serving head of the Catholic church in England and Wales, he was very instrumental in oiling the wheels of diplomacy when the pope visited England in 1982, although there were rumours of behind the scenes rows with the archbishop of Liverpool, Derek Worlock, who himself had expected to be appointed as the next archbishop of Westminster.
Worlock had been very much a hands-on-man in the day-to-day business of Vatican II. However, Hume had not been part of this input that would so change his beloved church, which the late cardinal Heenan had also loved so much and openly grieved for.
The planned visit of the Polish pope was marred by the arrival of the Falklands War. With, it is claimed, Hume taking a rather hawkish view of the illegal Argentinean invasion of this small barren group of British Islands in the South Atlantic. Basil’s views would certainly have pleased Prime Minister Thatcher!
(Both Thatcher and Blair would later offer him a life Peerage but the offer was never accepted).
In the 1990s, a much needed spiritual shot in the flagging arm of the Catholic church, due to the lack of vocations to the priesthood arrived, when 5,000+ disgruntled vicars (some married with children) refused to stomach the Church of England’s Synod decision to allow women to apply and receive ‘holy orders.’
Those who stayed then refused to serve under liberal bishops, who had supported the motion they had opposed. Instead, they demanded and were granted ‘flying bishops,’ who themselves had opposed the Synod decision but hesitated to leave Canterbury and join Rome (maybe index linked pensions and other perks?
With the Catholic priest shortage in England at such an all time low, the influx of vicars arrived just at the right time it seems. But what was the financial cost to the Catholic church, has never been revealed.
Hume also oversaw the arrival of celebrities applying to join Rome including John Gummer, the Duchess of Kent, and Ann Widdecombe, who herself delivered the 2002 ‘Cardinal Hume Memorial Lecture.’
There was also a tabloid rumour that the late Princess of Wales herself had even flirted with the idea of converting, but nothing came of it.
Hume had always been supportive of the ecumenical movement (and why wouldn’t he be) with all religious roads ‘leading to Rome.’ The popular ‘Alpha Course’ (or curse) also received his ‘spiritual blessing,’ as well as the arrival of the charismatic movement into his church.
Basil would also ‘soften’ Rome’s stern message concerning the lifestyle of homosexual catholics. Somehow both the pope and the then cardinal Ratzinger allowed him to openly contradict official church teachings. Interesting isn’t it.
In later years, he suffered from failing health and depression. But he also found time to write various books, amongst them a popular children’s book Basil In Blunderland! and Footprints of the Northern saints.
The Queen also took a personal interest in him, frequently referring to him as “my cardinal.”
And just 14 days before he died, she invited him to Buckingham Palace, to accept her own personal award of the prestigious ‘Order of Merit.’ Then on the 17th of June 1999, he died of abdominal cancer.
When asked by his secretary what he and the queen had talked about over Earl Grey tea in the palace, he replied with a exhausted wave of his hand: “Oh death, suffering, the afterlife, that sort of thing.”
His funeral was a splendid mixture of politics and pomp. I know because I was there. Live TV would beam the pictures around the world. Basil Hume had indeed become an English ‘national treasure,’ or so many of the national papers claimed.
Today he lies buried in Westminster Cathedral, where a stream of pilgrims come each day to place candles on his grave and pray. There is even a suggestion of Rome beginning canonization papers for future ‘sainthood.’
But aren’t all Bible believing Christians saints, according to Eph. 1:1, when they receive the new birth.
I have to ask in all sincerity, where resides the eternal soul of ‘the queens cardinal?’ For we read in Hebrews 9:27, “And it is appointed unto men once to die, and after this the judgment.”
I certainly remember Basil Hume as a high profile priest, seen frequently on television and in the media. However I have to say, that I do not think that he would have time for either my son or myself in what we are trying to achieve in this ministry, which is simply to get people out of organised religion and into a lasting and eternal Biblical relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ (Rom. 6:23).
About the mid 1990s, the ugly head of clerical abuse came out of the sanctuary. This caused many offending priests to be swiftly removed from parishes over night and dispatched at their bishops request to other locations, in other dioceses, both here and abroad.
Often the laity of the new parishes knew nothing about the priest’s former track record or that he may be under investigation by the police.
Certainly, Hume must have known about these shameful acts and if he didn’t, why didn’t he? And if he did why did he collude in the cover up. I believe the final chapter of the Catholic churches handling of this tragic issue in England, has yet to be written, and it will be damning reading.
As a monk who willingly took the vows of chastity, poverty, and obedience, Basil’s conscience must have kept him awake, many a night at the apparent wealth flaunted around him, both in Westminster and in Rome. Yet he continued in the job for nearly half a century!
Finally, that unique occasion of Hume’s visit to the palace, to collect his ‘order of merit,’ must have been interesting, don’t you think? But should a monk even contemplate such an honour? But, correct me if I’m wrong, but isn’t there an anathema (or several) against the church of England and her spiritual ruler, i.e. the queen?
It’s also directed upon all ex-Catholics as well, so if you’re one of them, as we are, it’s aimed at you too! And is it conceivable that her majesty was aware of this curse as she poured out the Earl Grey tea for her favourite cardinal. And did she know that he knew, that she knew…..Oh, who cares…..I know we don’t!
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