Recently BBC4 showed a three-part series on Catholic life in England with the simple title `Catholics`. The BBC is often accused of having an anti-Christian and specifically an anti-Catholic bias so it was going o be interesting to see what this series would bring.
The first episode was about the life of the seminarians at Allen Hall in London. Any worries that this was going to be a programme with an axe to grind soon faded as the interviewer spoke to seminarians at various stages of preparation for the priesthood. I must say I was rather impressed by the life at Allen Hall and the attitude of the men and their teachers to the priesthood.
I was interested to see practical advice in pastoral classes, clerical dress, Latin lessons the Ordinary Form of Mass celebrated well and people who were comfortable with the primary role of the priest being a sacramental one. It was good to hear a couple of the students speak about their path to seminary.
The second of the series focused on three children from St Mary's Roman Catholic Primary School in Chipping, Lancashire preparing for their First Holy Communion. Here was an idyllic view of Catholic life. Fr Grimshaw (who many will remember as director of the English College summer villa at Palazzola), is a caring pastor, a grandfather figure who read Winnie the Pooh stories to the school children and was wholly clear in his presentation of Catholic doctrine. I was somewhat alarmed by the low attendance at the Good Friday service but otherwise all looked good: the parish appeared to be a model of sanity.
Non-Catholic viewers may have been worried that the only subject the children studied in school was RE but as this was a programme about preparing for their first Holy Communion it was reasonable to focus on their religious education. And I know one of the teachers spoke about receiving the bread and the wine which always makes me cringe when I hear it but from what she said at other times it was clear she was not a heretic but had maybe fallen into that way of speaking which many use which can be confusing to the outsider who may well only think the Eucharist is only bread and wine.
The last episode focused on Westminster cathedral and interviewed women who worship or work there. I thought it gave a fair reflection of the opinions found among lay people today. The few young women interviewed seemed happy with being Catholics. The older ones were less so although there were exceptions: Rose, the sacristan, seemed very comfortable with her Catholic life. Some of the older ones complained about the Church`s teaching on marriage and contraception. However particularly sad was the lady who won`t go to Communion because she married again eight years after her husband left her and when her second husband died is now free to go to Communion but won`t as she would need to go to confession and confess her second marriage as a sin which is something she won`t do. Moving was the lady who had had a stroke and had come back to Mass after sixty years of being a lapsed Catholic during which time she had even managed to live in Rome for four years and never go to Mass.
Westminster cathedral is hardly a typical Catholic parish. I`ve heard similar remarks being made about the rural parish in the second episode too. It`s not even at every Catholic cathedral in the land let alone a parish church where putting out the reliquaries on the altar for a major feast would be regarded as normal! We also saw a priest setting off to say Mass alone in the crypt which again is not a common sight in most churches. However while this was the most challenging of the series as it was the only programme where signs of discontent within the Church came to the surface it wasn`t done in a sensationalist way.
Overall I thought this was a good series which looked at the Catholic Church in a sympathetic light and, apart from the unusual locations for the last two programmes, gave a fair insight into Catholic life in England today and some of the challenges the Church faces.