Catholicism


Catholicism
   The Second Vatican Council (1962–5) opened the Roman Catholic church to the modern world, in Britain as elsewhere. The liturgy was reformed, Latin was thrown out and the vernacular was introduced (fully from 1967). The laity was encouraged to participate in all aspects of church life, in worship and organization. Parish councils were set up and house masses introduced. (This involvement continues to increase as the number of priests and religious—friars, monks and nuns— decreases.) Of equal importance was a new openness to ecumenism, together with an evergrowing number of inter-marriages. These changes came at a time when the number of middle-class Catholics was increasing, with more of them entering higher education and the professions. As a result, British Catholics became more involved and influential in mainstream culture, and more knowledgeable and enquiring of their faith and church. The high point of these developments was the Liverpool National Pastoral Congress in 1980, which provided a model for a semi-democratic church, open to the possibility of married and women priests.
   However, nothing came of the Congress, and from the mid-1960s the Catholic church, like other denominations, was in numerical decline. The reasons for this are complex, but a defining moment was Pope Paul VI’s encyclical Humanae Vitae (1968), which extolled married life and accepted birth control, but condemned the use of artificial contraceptives. As a result of this and other social and cultural developments (increasing affluence, consumerism and the women’s liberation movement), an ever-growing number of Catholics ‘lapsed’; those that remained increasingly practised an internal dissent—in the bedroom and elsewhere. David Lodge provided the quintessential account of these changes in his novel How Far Can You Go? (1980).
   Nevertheless, British Catholicism has not suffered the divisions between episcopacy and laity evident in other European countries, especially Germany and Holland. With the appointment of the Benedictine monk Basil Hume as Archbishop of Westminster in 1976, Catholicism became increasingly respected and respectable, and in the 1990s, even fashionable. It also became a refuge for Anglo-Catholics fleeing women priests in the Anglican Church. Catholic sensibilities have been evident in politics (Norman St John Stevas, Shirley Williams), literature (Anthony Burgess, Muriel Spark) and film (Terence Davies, Ken Russell).
   Further reading
    Hastings, A. (1991) A History of English Christianity 1920-1990, London: SCM Press (a readable and judicious account that situates Catholicism in the wider Christian world).
   GERARD LOUGHLIN

Encyclopedia of contemporary British culture . . 2014.

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