The Portal April 2018 - Page 11

THE P RTAL April 2018 Page 11 Book Review Fr Simon Ellis on ‘Priests in Uniform’ Catholic Chaplains to the British Forces in the First World War T he current discussion over patrimony (within the Ordinariate and elsewhere) often focuses on liturgy at the expense of the pastoral.  Nevertheless, anyone wanting to posit that ex-Anglican Catholic priests somehow stand at a pastoral advantage, owing to their having operated within the established church, may end up making claims that simply do not stand up to the facts of history: for example the pastoral example of Catholic padres in the Great War.  James Hagerty’s very thorough and stimulating book ‘Priests in Uniform’ reviews the pastoral work of over 800 Catholic priests who worked in a (proto- military Ordinariate) as Military Chaplains of the army and Royal Navy in the First World War.  What sort of pastoral care did the Catholic padres - seconded from parishes, seminaries and religious orders - offer on the Western Front and elsewhere?  Garnering evidence previously undiscovered from letters, personal papers, testimonials and the Catholic press, Hagerty builds up a powerful case for the effectiveness of Catholic padres, compared to their Anglican and other free church counterparts who were “the most tragic failure in the war”.  Hagerty posits that the Catholic padres “had the ability to forgive sins and administer the sacraments; these were essential to the Catholic man before he went over the top”.   For example, one chaplain recalled that he heard nearly 3000 confessions over 9 months in a hospital.  Many who were lapsed or negligent returned to the faith.  those of us who have served in the beloved Church of England, this conclusion comes as no surprise.  The lack of agreed sacramental shorthand is as much of a problem in 2018 as it was in 1918.    This book has a very human appeal, documenting the 41 Catholic padres killed in the Great War, for example, Fr Bernard Kavanagh, a Redemptorist from Limerick, who was ordained in 1889, who served in Egypt and Palestine and died aged 53 - three years into his service - of wounds in Jerusalem in 1917 and is buried at the Mount of Olives War Cemetery in Jerusalem.      Hagerty also explores whether the war changed people’s faith.  Of course, for many who lost loved ones, trust in God did diminish, but the “Catholic priest reveals himself unshakably as the man who stands pre-eminently at once as the most human and yet as the most unflinchingly supernatural” (p.351).  Fr James Bernard Marshall, for example, could be seen wandering about the troops in the trenches, offering to Hagerty tackles Alan Wilkinson’s argument made in pray with the soldiers and bless them.  Some clutched 1978 that Catholic padres were more successful simply his hand as he passed.   because they were of the same [working] class as the soldiers. No, says Hagerty, because the Catholic priests This book will be of interest to historians and to were from all walks of life and social class, including those with interest in some unusual heroes of the faith the middle class and aristocrats who had attended – British and Irish together - who served as Catholic institutions like Stonyhurst. No, they were nearer to padres. Even those who were not Catholic wondered the soldiers because of the nature of the work.  “what this strange intimate religion might be which went with men step by step into the very valley of the In contrast, “Anglican chaplains and soldiers arrived shadow of death”.  at the front with virtually no commonly accepted ‘Priests in Uniform’ Catholic Chaplains sacramental shorthand with which to communicate, to the British Forces in the First World War either with God or each other”. Woodbine Willy was James Hagerty offering cigarettes, but the Catholic padre was offering Gracewing 2017 - 978 085244 906 6 the body of Christ and his forgiveness: no contest. For