Cardinal Winning and Scottish Politics
Shortly after Archbishop O’Brien was made a cardinal, there appeared in the bookshops a biography of his predecessor Thomas Winning, by Stephen McGinty. The extracts which appeared in The Herald point to a series of problems during Winning’s reign as Archbishop of Glasgow.
When he became auxiliary bishop in that diocese in 1971, its debt stood at £484000. However, by 1988 the deficit reached £4 million, and various reasons, including high interest rates and a number of building projects, were presented to parishioners, but the largest single item was missing from the list – the £3.8 million which had been spent on the archdiocesan offices. By 1993 the deficit had reached £12.8 million and McGinty claims that the archdiocese was on “the brink of bankruptcy”. He comments on a meeting of priests called to receive an explanation of the disastrous financial position: “Had a majority or even a powerful majority displayed a lack of confidence in Winning and written to the Papal Nuncio or the Congregation of Bishops expressing such sentiments, he may have been removed”.
“As the debt rose,” McGinty tells us, “so did Winning’s plea for parishioners to dig deeper”. And many of them did; there was an elderly woman who appeared in the diocesan office with £743 in loose notes and a Clydebank woman who posted a cheque for nearly £28 000, which she had obtained from the sale of her house. Such is the foolish devotion of the Roman Catholic faithful, and it is particularly pathetic in view of the Cardinal’s unwillingness to move out of his luxurious villa in one of Glasgow’s leafy suburbs, as one of his financial advisers suggested.
It is rather surprising, in view of the large number of Scottish Roman Catholics who have been Labour Members of Parliament that Winning should have claimed: “Donald Dewar and all those fellows were bigots”. It would seem that Winning was expressing his frustration that not enough of these Roman Catholic MPs had been promoted as far as he felt he had the right to expect. And it is significant that, after a controversy with the Prime Minister out of which neither of them emerged with credit, Tony Blair described the Cardinal privately as an untrustworthy character. McGinty adds: “Winning himself was no longer the diehard Labour cheerleader that people assumed; instead, he had uncoupled himself from the party’s bandwagon and had already begun rolling towards the Scottish National Party”.
Ominously, the then SNP leader Alex Salmond is quoted as expressing to Winning “his ambition to remove all trace of anti-Catholicism from the party and to provide a natural alternative to Labour”. One fears that what is represented as the removal of “anti-Catholicism” represents in reality a move to a pro-Roman-Catholic position. No doubt it is in the light of this move that we ought to view the sycophantic remarks of the present SNP leader John Swinney following the announcement that O’Brien was to be made a cardinal: “Archbishop O’Brien’s elevation . . . marks an historic moment for our nation. He has already shown himself to be a man of true faith, working tirelessly for all the people of Scotland. His commitment to his nation is beyond doubt and as cardinal I know he will prove to be a powerful and persuasive campaigner for compassion. As we watch the ceremony in the Vatican, all of Scotland will feel pride in seeing Archbishop O’Brien become cardinal.” However, some Scots felt no pride in the matter. It has to be said that their position was not only more scriptural, it was more realistic.
When Cardinal Thomas Winning died, Archbishop Keith O’Brien described him as “a giant among church leaders and in many ways the voice of Christianity in Scotland”. After his own elevation as cardinal, Mr O’Brien declared that one of the two aims on which he wished to concentrate was the “re-Christianising of Scotland” against the rising tide of secularism. His other aim was to underline the importance of the family and married life at a time when divorce is prevalent and so many young people prefer to cohabit unwed (Stephen McGinty, The Scotsman, 23 October 2003).
Whether or not the priests of Rome in Scotland have contributed as a class to the promotion of the sanctity of marriage and of personal relationships is open to question. Certainly the Cardinal’s idea of re-Christianising Scotland is far removed from the permeation of Scottish society with the doctrines and principles and practices of the gospel of Jesus Christ, which the sixteenth-century Reformation planted firmly in the land and which gave this land its Christian character. Mr O’Brien would like to make people more aware of Scotland’s Christian history, which he traces back 1600 years to Ninian, but this will involve him in giving it a gloss favourable to the ecclesiastical system thoroughly discredited at the time of the Reformation. His intended talks with the Scottish Executive and his proposed stout defence of Roman Catholic schooling will be governed by his contention that “Roman Catholicism” is the equivalent of “authentic Christianity”.
It is a sad fact that for many secular Scots today Roman Catholic prelates are probably the public face of Christianity. Attention was drawn in the November Free Presbyterian Magazine to the present Pope’s making of “saints”. According to Stephen McGinty (The Scotsman, 16 October 2003) “among the Pope’s most striking achievements is his decision to convert the Vatican into a saint-making machine with himself cranking on the handle. During his 25 years in office he has created 474 saints, more than all his predecessors put together. Many of the candidates have been ordinary men and women who led extraordinarily holy lives. The thinking behind these decisions is to create saints to whom ordinary Catholics can relate, saints who drove cabs and did the laundry, not those distanced by centuries and mystic acts.”
How far removed such concepts are from the gospel, which makes true saints of all who are brought by the Holy Spirit to receive and rest upon Christ alone for salvation, even the worst of sinners: “And such were some of you: but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God” (1 Cor 6:11). “For the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared unto all men, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously and godly in this present world; looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ; who gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto Himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works” (Titus 2:11-14). That is the gospel which transformed the lives of many sinners and made Scotland a Christian nation – and will do so again when it is preached with the Holy Ghost sent down from heaven. The religion of Rome is one of the obstacles in the way of this work and those who truly pray for the “re-Christianising” of Scotland must pray that the eyes of many would be opened to this fact. HMC