So says the popular, prize-winning British novelist Hilary Mantel, who rejects the church of her baptism:
“I’m one of nature’s Protestants. I should never have been brought up as a Catholic. I think that nowadays the Catholic Church is not an institution for respectable people.”
Well. Catherine Pepinster remarks:
I think she’s unwittingly come up with the best line possible for a new marketing campaign: “The Catholic church – not an institution for respectable people.” It reminds me of a priest a few years ago who told me that a young woman came to him who’d got pregnant and been thrown out by her parents. He told her story to one of his parishioners, saying he didn’t think the girl could cope on her own in a flat but wasn’t sure what to do to help. Simple, said the parishioner, she comes to live with me. And it makes me think of another priest I know who was trying to help some asylum seekers living in lousy accommodation, and in the end decided they might as well move in with him. Or the young kids living on the street, often with drug problems, who have been helped by charities such as The Passage and the Cardinal Hume Centre. None of these people are exactly respectable – with complicated, chaotic lives – but Catholics and their institutions have tried to do their bit and have welcomed them in.
Mantel did admit to Barber one benefit of Catholicism: that it had been the best training ground possible for a writer. She’s said it before, too, talking about “the real cliche, the sense of guilt”. But that sort of Graham Greene Catholicism is fading away. It’s hard nowadays to be terrorised by your confessor. They’re more likely to say – and I quote verbatim from inside the box: “You’re too hard on yourself. Life’s so bloody difficult nowadays”. Perhaps if the Catholic church does go backwards, as many of us fear it is in danger of doing, it might produce another generation of novelists. But we’d be much better Christians if we stayed unrespectable.
Backwards? At the rate and in the direction our civilization is going, the Catholic Church will go “backwards” quickly if it simply holds its ground.
Anyway, I’m with Pepinster on most of this. I am not a Catholic, but I certainly hope to be thought of as a member of a church that inspires sneers and hatred by cultured despisers like Hilary Mantel and The Respectable People. Given the way of the world these days, if you are a Christian and aren’t in some way hated by The Respectable People, you are doing something wrong. I suppose it has always and everywhere been the case, but I think that in Europe and in America in the very near future, orthodox Christians of all kinds will soon have to make a stark, clear decision about whether or not to be Respectable, with all the privilege and ease of life that entails, or be truly Christian.