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Catholic Progressives in England after Vatican II

Jay P. Corrin

Publication Year: 2013

In Catholic Progressives in England after Vatican II, Jay P. Corrin traces the evolution of Catholic social and theological thought from the end of World War II through the 1960s that culminated in Vatican Council II. He focuses on the emergence of reformist thinking as represented by the Council and the corresponding responses triggered by the Church's failure to expand the promises, or expectations, of reform to the satisfaction of Catholics on the political left, especially in Great Britain. The resistance of the Roman Curia, the clerical hierarchy, and many conservative lay men and women to reform was challenged in 1960s England by a cohort of young Catholic intellectuals for whom the Council had not gone far enough to achieve what they believed was the central message of the social gospels, namely, the creation of a community of humanistic socialism. This effort was spearheaded by members of the English Catholic New Left, who launched a path-breaking journal of ideas called Slant. What made Slant revolutionary was its success in developing a coherent philosophy of revolution based on a synthesis of the “New Theology” fueling Vatican II and the New Left’s Marxist critique of capitalism. Although the English Catholic New Left failed to meet their revolutionary objectives, their bold and imaginative efforts inspired many younger Catholics who had despaired of connecting their faith to contemporary social, political, and economic issues. Corrin’s analysis of the periodical and of such notable contributors as Terry Eagleton and Herbert McCabe explains the importance of Slant and its associated group within the context of twentieth-century English Catholic liberal thought and action.

Published by: University of Notre Dame Press


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p. 1-1

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. 2-7


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p. vii-vii

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pp. ix-x

I wish to thank the staffs at Boston College’s John J. Burns Library and Georgetown University’s Lauinger Library for their generous assistance in facilitating my use of their excellent special collections on Catholic history. Bridget J. Burke, Associate University Librarian for Special Collections, John J. Burns Library, ...

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pp. 1-6

The purpose of this study is to examine the evolution of Catholic social thinking from the end of World War II up through the 1960s. Vatican Council II signaled the victory of what can be identified as the Catholic liberal or progressive tradition, the earlier history of which was the subject of my book Catholic Intellectuals and the Challenge of Democracy (2002). ...

Part I: The English Cultural Setting

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Chapter 1: The Church in England

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pp. 9-20

British Catholicism after World War II can best be described as authoritarian and paternalistic in structure, leadership, and teaching. The old aristocratic recusant families that had dominated the Church had been obliged to give way to Vatican ultramontane power with the restoration of the hierarchy in 1850, ...

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Chapter 2: The Sources of English Catholic Radicalism

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pp. 21-41

Although English Catholicism in the post–World War II years was clearly politically and socially conformist, there had been an earlier episode of Catholic-inspired radicalism associated with the Distributist ideas of G.K. Chesterton and Hilaire Belloc that had fundamentally challenged the English ruling establishment. ...

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Chapter 3: English Catholics and the Establishment

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pp. 42-60

In contrast to the anti-establishment temperament of radical Distributism, Catholic sentiment after World War II was markedly more supportive of the prevailing cultural and political structures of the English social order. Bishop David Mathew in the third edition of his authoritative study of Catholicism in England (1955) recognized a palpably conservative, Tory inclination ...

Part II: The Reformers

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Chapter 4: Reinforcing the Citadel

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pp. 63-87

The world had altered dramatically in the two decades following World War II. Above all, it was a time of unprecedented social and political change. Europe ceased to play a dominant role in world affairs, the United States and the Soviet Union competed as superpowers to carve out their respective versions of empire, ...

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Chapter 5: The Role of John XXIII

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pp. 88-120

The last years of Pius XII’s pontificate were marked by increasing conservatism. Although his earlier commentaries had sometimes called for audacia, or daring, the 1950 encyclical Humani Generis had slammed shut the doors to that avenue, and those engaging in the New Theology were accused of “relativism” ...

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Chapter 6: The Council

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pp. 121-147

Pope John XXIII’s encyclicals revealed that he had found his own voice. They expressed his hopes and desires for further engaging the modern world by advancing the pioneering works on social justice inaugurated by Leo XIII and Pius XI. The purpose of Vatican II was to make pastoral changes within the structures of the Church ...

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Chapter 7: Vatican II Comes to Britain

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pp. 148-170

The progressive religious energy released by Vatican II arrived in Britain during a decade of unprecedented cultural change, a time of iconoclastic protests that challenged the political and intellectual contentment that grew out of the 1950s. The mood extended well beyond the British Isles. The avant-garde in this respect was American. ...

Part III: The Revolutionaries

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Chapter 8: The Catholic New Left

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pp. 173-215

Among the “wild men” to whom Father Patrick Tierney referred in his interview with the journalist George Scott and who Cardinal Heenan feared were highjacking the faith were a number of intellectuals more radical than those associated with Michael de la Bedoyere’s Search. ...

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Chapter 9: The Slant Movement

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pp. 216-250

In 1964 a group of undergraduates at Cambridge University and their clerical advisors decided to launch a journal whose purpose was a radical examination of traditional Catholic theology so as to promote the social goals of the Gospels. For them, these goals implied a socialist revolution. ...

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Chapter 10: The Quest for New Community and Culture

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pp. 251-272

A major component of the Catholic Left’s agenda for achieving what Brian Wicker called a “socialist humanism”2 was the quest for community, the framework necessary for the realization of Raymond Williams’s notions of a “common culture.” The advancement of what he called the “Long Revolution” required the expansion of democratic participation in the political process, ...

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Chapter 11: Jesus and Marx: A Christian-Marxist Convergence?

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pp. 273-301

The Catholic Left’s recognition of the need to radically transform British society drew them naturally to the ideas of Karl Marx. It was their effort to merge Catholic social thinking with Marxism that was one of the most radical and controversial parts of their socialist project. ...

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Chapter 12: Charles Davis and the McCabe Affair

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pp. 302-316

Given the Vatican’s reluctance to explore the transformative potential of a Christian-Marxist dialogue and its foot-dragging with regard to promoting the reformist possibilities of Vatican II, it was only natural that the Catholic New Left came to view the institutional Church along with its administrative structures and ecclesiastical hierarchy ...

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Chapter 13: What Must Be Done? The Catholic Left and British Politics

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pp. 317-338

The support of theological linkages with Marxists, the embrace of radical economic and social ideas to enrich Catholic teaching, and the promotion of liberation theology and its position regarding Charles Davis and the McCabe affair indicated how far the Catholic New Left was prepared to go in the support of a cultural revolution in the 1960s. ...

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Chapter 14: Legacy and Impact

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pp. 339-387

It should come as little surprise that the adherents of the Catholic New Left found no support among traditionalists of the faith.2 Douglas Woodruff, a paradigm of pre–World War II conservative Catholicism and editor of The Tablet in its most politically reactionary days, was appalled by their writings. ...


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pp. 388-474


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pp. 475-488


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pp. 489-523

E-ISBN-13: 9780268077006
E-ISBN-10: 0268077002
Print-ISBN-13: 9780268023102
Print-ISBN-10: 0268023107

Page Count: 536
Publication Year: 2013

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Catholic Church -- England -- History -- 20th century.
  • England -- Church history -- 20th century.
  • Liberalism (Religion) -- Catholic Church -- History -- 20th century.
  • New Left -- England.
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