Daphne McLeod: What I would do if I were bishop for a day
Daphne McLeod has announced her retirement after four decades of fighting for solid catechesis
By Luke Coppen
In This Article
The Flock, the newsletter of Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice, announced your retirement earlier this year by saying that, at the age of 86, you had decided to hang up your boxing gloves. What have you been fighting for these past 20 years and more?
It is more like 40 years, as I started my protests when Modern Catechetics replaced the sound religious instruction which had been so successful in our schools for generations, enabling the Church in this country to grow by leaps and bounds as statistics in the national Catholic Directory show.
I have been struggling for a return to sound religious instruction in schools and parishes: instruction which is in line with the 1994 Catechism of the Catholic Church, described by Pope St John Paul II as “the norm for religious lessons”. Instead, we have Modern Catechetics, which pays lip service to the Catechism but largely ignores its teaching. As a consequence the Church in this country is dwindling fast.
Have you ever felt like giving up your struggle?
No, I do not feel I can give up this struggle while this spiritual abuse continues as it is cheating our children of their Catholic heritage.
The Flock says: “It would be fair to say that Daphne is not on the Christmas card list of most of our bishops.” How would you describe your relationship with the Bishops of England and Wales?
Most of us are “not on the Christmas card list of the bishops”. If we were, they would have time for little else. I never attack bishops as we cannot judge them. But I do attack the RE textbooks they approve, as their omissions and distortions are manifestly not true to the Faith.
Have your battles with Church officials ever shaken your faith?
No, my faith has never been shaken by this struggle. Instead, I think it has been strengthened as I have learnt just how crucial sound teaching is and why, when Our Lord commissioned His Church, He said: “Go, therefore, teach all nations … everything I have commanded”.
What do you consider your greatest triumph and greatest regret?
I think the only “triumph” I have had is that I have had some success in exposing this scandal to some faithful Catholic parents and grandparents who were trusting Catholic schools to do what they used to do. I have no authority to do more.
My greatest regret is that most of our bishops do not yet accept that there is a problem.
If everything was going so well and the Church in this country was thriving, why was religious instruction in schools and parishes changed so drastically?
It was not changed at the Second Vatican Council, as many believe. The bishops there were well satisfied with the religious knowledge most Catholics learnt at our schools. Cardinal Francis Spellman of New York said in 1964: “Never before has the Church had such a well instructed laity.” No one demurred as this was patently true. On December 8 1965 the Council ended with Mass in St Peter’s Basilica and all the bishops went home. On January 6 1966 Paul VI set up commissions to implement the Council Decrees – one on the Liturgy under Archbishop Bugnini and one on Education under Fr Johannes Hofinger SJ. Unfortunately Fr Hofinger, an Austrian priest, was a devout Modernist – the heresy described by Pope St Pius X as “the synthesis of all heresies”. So he chose fellow Modernists from each country to make up his commission on religious instruction. The English representative was Fr Hubert Richards, who went on to set up Corpus Christi College to instruct teachers of religion. Every priest and lay teacher who taught religion in Catholic schools had to attend Corpus Christi College.
I went there full of high hopes that we were going to improve our religious instruction, only to be shattered by the lectures in the first morning, which were teaching heresies – even doubting the Divinity of Christ. I was surprised no one else protested, but they said: “These are priests and nuns put here to teach us by the cardinal. We don’t argue with priests and nuns.” So they all dropped sound religious instruction and started teaching Modern Catechetics.
I protested as much as I could, but no one listened. I wrote to Cardinal Heenan to tell him what was being said and he replied with a brief note saying that no one else had complained and I just didn’t like modern methods. He advised me to wait and see what wonderful young Catholics this teaching would produce. I am still waiting.
Commercial firms like Coca Cola investigate problems, as they did some years ago when the numbers of their customers dropped. Why don’t our bishops, faced with a dwindling Church and a shortage of priests, instead of the thriving and growing Church we once had with packed seminaries, check to see what has led to this disaster?
They would discover it dates from the cataclysmic change in religious instruction given in our schools and parishes, and they would be able to bring back sound teaching in line with the Catechism of the Catholic Church and its Compendium.
What is your view of the Extraordinary Form and traditionalism?
I grew up with the Extraordinary Form and learnt to love it in my teens. I still love it and assist at it when I can. But I accept that the Novus Ordo is the Mass and I also attend a church where it is very reverently said by a good priest.
Every Catholic is a traditionalist, as we are committed to following Our Lord by teaching and obeying what He and His Church have always taught over the centuries.
What is your favourite thing about Pope Francis?
I remember how pleased I was when Francis was first made Pope and he put his pontificate under the protection of Our Blessed Lady, our Mother in heaven.
Just as a thought experiment, if you were a bishop for a day, what would you do in your diocese?
If I were a bishop for a day I would collect up all the faulty RE textbooks in my schools and parishes and replace them with sound Catholic books like the Faith and Life series from America.
Then I would find new positions for the diocesan catechetical advisers who had recommended and sometimes written them. They would still have work, but they would no longer be able to do so much harm.
Finally, I would arrange courses given by some of our excellent young priests for all my teachers of religion, so they would be introduced to their new books and learn about the Faith they would in future be teaching.
If there is one thing you wanted to say to the new generation of young Catholics, what would it be?
I would like to advise young people to be sure to pray every day and also to learn as much as they can about the glorious Faith they have the immense privilege of being baptised into. There are, DG, some wonderful young Catholics who have taught themselves about the Catholic Faith using the Catechism of the Catholic Church and its Compendium, and the internet, where there are some excellent talks which can be downloaded free. On our website, Proecclesia.com, we have more than 250 talks, including 50 by the great Archbishop Fulton Sheen. I get feedback on these talks from grateful Catholics all over the English-speaking world, including South Africa, India, Thailand and America.
Youngsters who have specific questions can visit Catholic.com [run by Catholic Answers] which is very reliable.