|He was pope thrice, but|
you may have missed him.
In England, however, the paradigm is entirely inverted. Conservative environs, particularly liturgical environs, are nigh impossible to divorce from homosexual clergy. Latin Masses are especially the domain of aesthetes, aficionados of theater and music who may believe in large swatches of Catholic teaching and who see the Mass as the ultimate in dramatic enactment. They teach orthodox matter that they do not particular follow and which they have difficulty convincing others to follow.
In the span of four days in England four separate individuals pointed out this shambles of an affair and I asked each of them how such came to be, especially given that Catholicism in England before the turn of the 20th century was very poor, ethnic, ill-equipped, and un-glamorous. No one had a firm answer, but two of the four conversants recommended AN Wilson's Unguarded Hours.
"Had the Dean's daughter worn a bra that afternoon, Norman Shotover might never have found out about the Church of England; still less about how to fly," begins this very secular take on right wing religion in the Anglican Church. The author, Andrew Norman Wilson, wrote this thinly disguised memoir of his time as a student at St. Stephen's House, Oxford ("Staggers") in the '70s. The story begins and develops like an early work of Evelyn Waugh: a character of interest befalls a great misfortune and finds himself navigating stranger and stranger paths to security. Norman Shotever could easily exist in Scoop or Decline and Fall.
After accepted ordination from Mr Skegg, or "Mar Sylvestrius" as he prefers, Norman is encouraged to go into the Church of England's clergy, which is presented to him as a fallback plan for men who cannot make their way in the world. The local Anglo-Catholic parson, Fr. Crisp, introduces Norman to a St. Cuthbert's College, where he will study for one year before exercising ministry in the Anglican Church, for he is a priest, but not a licensed minister.
St. Cuthbert's opens a window to a new world of Benediction services, gay nights, witch craft, cottas, and anatomical devotions. His first day at the College Norman is given the name Sheila by Thelma Thinn. The head of the College was Fr. Felicity Finn and among the other students were Dahlia Dickens and Beryl Bottomley. The students of St.
At St. Cuthbert Norman is exposed to fuss over putting emblems of the Immaculate Heart of Mary on cottas, the need for liturgical propriety and doing incensations right, and the opportunity to spend the night with a "girl"—provided she is a man. Norman never accepts this offer, preferring to go to bed with his mistress, the Dean's other daughter, instead.
The Dean, with whom Norman must often bargain during the bishop's convalescence, is a more modern, mainstream Anglican cleric: he writes books advocating agnosticism, he does not believe in any conventional religious doctrine of any kind, he wishes for revolution, and he sees no better use of seminarians' time than rallying union employees. His daughters do not believe in marriage, but they do believe in open relationships.
I will refrain from revealing any further details of Unguarded Hours. I will not tell you that Mar Sylvestrius eloped with a seminarian and returned from his honeymoon as a mufti. I will not tell you that Norman's aunt leaves the petite eglise and embraces the Dean's revolutionary agnosticism. Nor will I tell you that two or three seminarians held witchcraft rites in various stages of undress to curse the aforementioned Dean, who they view as inimical to their desires for were described as the more risible elements of Roman Catholicism. Some of this novel is fiction, but not all of it.
The novel is worth a read and a contains more than a few good laughs. One thing is missing, though, that prevents Wilson from rising to the level of a young Waugh: there is no sense of innocence or goodness in the novel which is contained within Waugh's generally clueless and innocent characters. There are no good Christians in Unguarded Hours, just good men like Fr. Crisp and Fr. "Felicity" Fogg, who are good old souls that happen to be Christians. The ending is amusing enough that I will not unwind the denouement for any who may want to read it.
Perhaps most startling, at least within the context of Unguarded Hours, is how liturgically prissy the seminarians are, discussing cottas and the sufficiency of a service's style. When Norman arrives at St. Cuthbert's he finds the seminarians immensely interested in liturgical paraphernalia, not unlike Willis from Newman's Loss and Gain. Unlike Willis—who converts, becomes a Passionist priest, and speaks to Reding about how all is grace—the characters of Unguarded Hours remain focused on the accidentals of religion with absolutely no interest in the substance of the thing.
Such is the way of Sodom, which has many descendants, but no sons.