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When I first met Father John Challenor in 1966, he was just 43 years old. He had by then been ordained twenty-one years and was a member of the Birmingham Oratory, the community founded by John Henry Cardinal Newman, and was employed by them in the next door St Philip’s Grammar School for Catholic boys. I was a student for the priesthood (until the events of 1968 opened my eyes) and Eamon Duffy was just one of John’s appreciative pupils at that time (see Duffy’s Faith of our Fathers, Continuum 2004, p4 – the other 'exceptionally gifted man' was Hamish Swanston, later professor of theology at the University of Kent who died last year). We were friends and collaborators in ministry through CRM/CCC from then until his death during the Easter Octave this year, some forty eight years.
In a review of Dawkins’ The God Delusion (RENEW 145, March 2008, p14) John said that after reading that book, ‘I am left as religious, as atheistic, as agnostic, as pantheistic as before.’ He had already explained in an autobiographical article (RENEW 134, June 2005, p2) how he answered the question ‘Am I a Catholic now?’ by saying ‘I am perhaps a former Catholic and a lapsed Anglican. I would describe myself as a Jesus Seminar/Sea of Faith type of Christian, concerned to stand in the prophetic and wisdom traditions.’ And so he did. Given his dislike of labels, it is hard to describe him.
John Challenor was my mentor – and I acknowledged this in CCC’s collection of liturgies Take, Bless, Break, Share which I edited and which Canterbury Press published in 1998. He guided my reading for those two years that I was an Oratorian philosophy student; he had worked for the difficult London BD as an external student, his first degree from Oxford being in History, and was extremely well-read in scripture studies and modern theology. It was he who inspired me to become the sort of person I am (except for my failings of course!) and whose humble but uncompromising witness to the Gospels has kept me on the rails through thick and thin ever since.
He was a priest, although he ceased to exercise a sacramental ministry soon after he left the Oratory in 1972; he was a founder member of the Catholic Renewal Movement later CCC; he was a teacher and later a faithful husband to Sara Clethero, the opera singer and teacher as well as father to a daughter Zoë (born 1976) as talented a singer as her mother. A portrait of Zoë, now a mother herself, can be seen behind John in the photograph. John and Sara honoured me by asking me to be ‘best man’ at their own wedding. Although sometimes exhibiting a gruff exterior, he was a gentle, compassionate and humble man. But he could be impatient with fools and with the incompetent and would express his anger forcefully when driven to it. Sara faithfully cared for him at home as he became more and more frail.
Above all he was a man of uncompromising principle, of commitment to the Gospel. This is the reason he left the Birmingham Oratorians and the ranks of the clergy in the aftermath of Humanae Vitae, which he did not hesitate to witness publicly against. It was the reason he abandoned the Church of England, which had been his spiritual home for thirty years since then, when in June 2003 it made the homosexual Dr Jeffrey John forgo the bishopric of Reading for the deanery of St Albans. He did not leave the Church – the Church left him, and for shameful reasons too, many would agree.
John was 17 when the Second World War broke out and 22 when it ended. His experiences as a soldier, about which I never heard him speak, led to his becoming a Catholic and ultimately being ordained after studies at Saint Sulpice. He had been an extra-mural lecturer for Michael Goulder at Birmingham University (1967-74) and was a much appreciated and respected teacher at St Philip’s Grammar School in Birmingham (Head of RE 1955-67). After two years lecturing at the City of Birmingham College of Education (1972-74), he became Head of RE in a large inner city comprehensive school also in Birmingham (1974-82). He was active in CCC on the executive for fifteen years and served as Chair for a time, as well as editor of RENEW. In recent years was unable to travel to London for executive meetings.
Some Catholics – perhaps most of his former Oratorian brethren, all now dead – would consider him a sceptic and an apostate. But those of us who knew him saw only the reflection of Jesus. Like Pete Lumsden, whom he knew, (see RENEW 143, September 2007, p9) he was uncompromising in his commitment to the Gospel, tolerant of error and alienated by bigotry. As he claimed, he stood in the tradition of the prophets and wisdom writers and was prepared to pay the price. He challenged and continues to challenge us. May he rest in peace and may we be faithful to the principles which inspired him and to which he remained uncompromisingly committed throughout his ninety-one years.
Giles Hibbert [1923-2013]
Giles Hibbert died a member of the Order of Preachers, whose motto is 'Veritas' or 'Truth' and lived a live devoted to witnessing to the truth and setting it uncompromisingly before others. This commitment to truth meant both some initial alienation from his Protestant family (his father, Major General Hugh Hibbert DSO, was the local squire and read the lesson at Matins in the local parish church) as well as some trials for his brethren in the order over the years. He came from a family of admirals and generals and was brought up in a country house in Wiltshire surrounded by servants. His grandfather on his mother's side was a grandson of the third Marquess of Bath, a fact he would be mortified to have brought to public attention, as for many years he was an active Marxist, like the notorious 'red' Dean of Canterbury, and frequently travelled to Eastern Europe under the Communists.
He was one of the fifty-five priests who wrote to the The Times in August 1968 to show their disapproval of Pope Paul VI's unilateral declaration, in the face of the opposition of the papal commission, of Humanae Vitae. A battle with the Inquisition resulted in an editorial about him in The Guardian of which he was ever afterwards immensely proud. Similarly he was uncompromising about his homosexuality, playing a major public role in the founding of what was then the Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement, one of the few clergymen to do so and certainly the only RC one.
He had always supported CCC from its foundation in 1969 as the Catholic Renewal Movement and perhaps his most useful contribution to it was his taking over CCC's publications in 1998. By 2010, he had produced over fifty different booklets by writers as diverse as James Alison, Paul Collins, Eamon Duffy, Rafael Esteban, Sean Fagan, Paul Hypher, Nicholas Lash, Pat Pinsent, Elizabeth Price, Frank Regan, Cathy Scott, Joseph Seferta, Clare Short, Adrian Smith, Jack Spong, John Wijngaards and Rowan Williams. Six of his own titles featured in CCC's list and his support was greatly appreciated by the movement.
Born in 1923, Robert Hibbert was educated at Uppingham and was an officer during the war. Originally trained at Cambridge as a civil engineer, he entered the Dominicans after becoming a Catholic and abandoning his advanced engineering studies. He was sent to study at Louvain and moved on to Oxford where he completed a doctorate. By his own account (RENEW 120) he had a number of run-ins with ecclesiastical authority, all of which he survived. This was in no small part due to the support which his order gave him but also to the fact that Giles had a brilliant mind and was nobody's fool.
After some time teaching at Blackfriars Oxford and in the university, where he taught Plato and Aristotle as well as Hebrew and Biblical Studies, he was appointed chaplain to the Catholics at Sheffield university where he spent eight fulfilling and rewarding years. After two years as chaplain at York University, he ended up living alone in a small house in the Peak district which the order bought for him. He became very active as chaplain to the local Newman circle. From there he ran Blackfriars Publications, set up in 1993 under the patronage of Timothy Radcliffe, until his health forced him to return to live in community. In 2009 he moved to the Dominican House on Haverstock Hill in London and in December 2012 to Cambridge where he had a happy final year of life.
As he readily admitted, he was not a community man. Indeed, on his return to community life in London another member of the community stopped him in the corridor and said “I don't like you Giles. You have always been a bully,” to which Giles truthfully responded, “Yes, you are right. I am sorry!” He had mellowed from being a highly combative and even serious troublemaker, who deeply hurt and offended many people, to becoming more capable of demonstrating the deep humility he had, which only an attack on the truth as he saw it could allow his blazing guns to conceal. He had a wide group of friends and will be sorely missed.
Dear Archbishops Nichols and Smith,
I now have in front of me a copy of Lumen Fidei. Para 48 reads: “Since faith is one, it must be professed in all its purity and integrity. Precisely because all the articles of faith are interconnected, to deny even one of them, even of those that seem lest interconnected, is tantamount to distorting the whole. Each period of history can find this point of faith easier or harder to accept. Hence the need for vigilance in ensuring that the deposit of faith is passed on in its entirety”
I have been quoting Mt. 19 4-6 as a statement by Christ revealing the core truth of the relationship of marriage “They two shall be one flesh, therefore are they no longer two but one flesh. What God has joined together let no man put asunder”
Augustine, speaking from the experience of fornication not marriage, changed those words of Christ into “In intercourse a man becomes ALL flesh”. He then proceeded to teach that original sin had distorted human sexuality. The human habit of “being one flesh” in terms of times per week (as is known both to individual married people and documented by reports such as Kinsley and Hite), instead of being seen as living out this Gospel teaching of oneness, was seen instead as lustful seeking of the physical pleasure put in the act to ensure procreation occurred. Hence all intercourse which was not procreative in intention or form was condemned as mortal or venial sin. E.g. intercourse in pregnancy was called mortal sin till the 16th century, this because no farmer seeds a field twice. Sperm was thought to contain the whole embryo, so coitus interruptus, the most common form of birth control was seen as homicide. 1845 saw the discovery of the ovum, so nothing live was being killed.
The Pontifical Commission on Birth Control, after a few years of discussion, said contraception could not be proven to be contrary to Natural Law. Despite this Paul VI continued to condemn an act of which the guilt could not be proven. I believe this was one of the most serious miscarriages of moral justice of the 20th Century, which has come about because the teaching of Augustine usurped the teaching of Christ.
Now is the time to accuse Augustine of heresy in changing the teaching of Christ and for the Magisterium to apologise for all the accusations of sin against married people for living out the teaching of Christ in Mt. 19 4-6. Contraception enables couples to lead a full married life when in the negative times mentioned in their vow “for worse, for poorer and in sickness” they should not conceive a child. Alas because contraception is used in fornication, contraception NOT fornication is being condemned, and because it is used in fornication Paul VI is being called prophetic and the married still wrongly accused!
The above quoted text from Lumen Fidei gives urgency AND VALIDITY to the above plea.
Yours, in fidelity to the teaching of Christ, Elizabeth Price