24 FEBRUARY 2001, Page 30

Cormac's real friends

From Mr Austen Ivereigh Sir: It is not daring for Damian Thompson, in the course of taking many low swipes at Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor ('Red hat, red face', 17 February), to describe Tablet readers as 'whingeing'. Some of his meaner criticisms he attributes to shadowy 'Oratory gossips'. But if they are 'unfair', why repeat them?

Thompson is disappointed that Cormac — in one year — has failed to restore the 'mystery and magic' of the pre-Vatican Council era and to turn his aging clergy into fine preachers and liturgists. He raises the terrifying spectacle of ex-Anglicans 'thinking of complaining' about the sermons in Westminster Cathedral, where the cardinal — gasp! — wants to bring forward the granite altar to the middle of the baldacchino. If we detect a whiff of tweed and incense here, our nostrils are overwhelmed by what follows: the drop in vocations and Mass-going is due to 'amateurish' preaching and a 'feeble' clergy; decline has been 'allowed' by a 'timorous' national Church leadership, and so on. Readers unfamiliar with the Catholic Church may not spot the schizophrenia here — it afflicts a number of its self-professed traditionalists, who glory in strong leaders

and deplore 'whingeing; then, when those leaders prove unable to turn back the secular tide, the traditionalists are the first to condemn them.

The cardinal appears to understand this. He has rightly spent his settling-in period concentrating on his diocese, and impressing his priests as a warm, wise leader who listens. Thompson dismisses this as a 'wasted year' that would have been better spent in media workshops. He is entitled to his view. But in the week Cormac received his red hat and ring, it would have been good for him to hear a better class of criticism — and to be spared faint praise for his 'twinkling eyes'.

Austen Ivereigh Assistant editor, the Tablet, London W8