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'Loyalty in difficult times"

By Diogenes ( articles ) | Nov 07, 2003

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Sorry -- my mistake! It wasn't Fr. Fessio who was given a papal honor, it was the editor of The Tablet, John Wilkins. You might have thought that The Tablet's unflagging support for contraception, women's ordination, and liberalization of Church teaching on homosexual acts would be looked on askance by the papal nuncio, but you'd be wrong:

"It hurts me when people say The Tablet is not really orthodox", John Wilkins said after receiving a papal knighthood, "because it has always seemed to me that orthodoxy is the most daring and exciting thing there is. The Tablet under both my editorship and that of my predecessor, Tom Burns, has been engaged in the search for true orthodoxy." That is why, he added, "it is so encouraging to have this recognition from the Holy See".

Regular Tablet contributors such as John Cornwell, Clifford Longley and Margaret Hebblethwaite may call their project "true orthodoxy" -- in the same spirit with which Ann Coulter might dub herself the Democratic National Committee's best friend. But it would be odd if Terry McAuliffe were to agree, much less give Coulter the Sid Blumenthal Award for Ideological Purity.

According to the scroll he was handed -- Joannem Wilkins, it begins -- the editor is now a Knight of the Equestrian Order of Pope Saint Sylvester I, an honorary title created by Pope Gregory XVI in 1841 conferred in recognition of special service rendered to the Church. It was bestowed on John Wilkins for "loyalty in difficult times" by Archbishop Pablo Puente, the apostolic nuncio to Great Britain, in a warm ceremony in London on Tuesday night that was also attended by the Archbishop of Westminster, Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor.

Archbishop Puente is a double benefactor of the universal Church, having recently gifted the Holy See with the name of Keith Patrick O'Brien to be made a cardinal, and now commending The Tablet. Perhaps -- like the medal given the Cowardly Lion in The Wizard of Oz -- Wilkins's knighthood, and O'Brien's red hat as well, were awarded proleptically, i.e., in order to effect what they signify:

"A living laboratory of the marvellous reality that is the prophetic mission of the laity in the Church", was how Archbishop Puente described The Tablet. "Dear Mr Wilkins", he went on, "thank you for your work. Thank you for your search for ideas and new paths. Thank you for presenting us with new aspects of old themes. Thank you for encouraging us to deepen our thinking, not to be afraid of what is new, and to be culturally honest."

Remarkable. The business of hawking condoms and canonesses has come a long way from the bad old days of 1969. Ultramontanists (and diabetics) may wish to skip the following tribute paid by the Archbishop of Westminster.

"What shall I say about John Wilkins?" asked Cardinal Murphy-O'Connor with a beaming smile. He praised the "critical loyalty" of The Tablet under his editorship, as well as his sense of vocation and love of the Church which, the cardinal said, The Tablet had always represented.

Couldn't have said it better myself.

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