Cardinal George Basil Hume, OSB
1923-1999 Died 17 June 1999
Appreciation prepared by Monsignor Ralph Brown: 18 September 1999
Abbot George Basil Hume came to Westminster as its Archbishop at a very crucial time so far as Canon Law was concerned. He came to Westminster in February 1976 and by May of that year he had already been consecrated as a Bishop, and created Cardinal by Pope Paul VI. Those who were involved in the Revision of the Code of Canon Law will remember that the previous year the Schema De Sacramentis had been published followed not long after by the Schema De Processibus.
A very great deal of work was taking place within the Society on the revision work; and in all of this Cardinal Hume took a real interest, initially from the sidelines. He prided himself on his knowledge of Canon Law, although he was the first to admit that this knowledge was limited to the law principally concerning Religious; however, he constantly surprised me with his other vignettes on the law.
At the outset the CLS had been asked by the Bishop’ Conference of England and Wales to keep a watching brief on the Revision and its Schemata, and to report to the Conference as necessary. At that time the link person between the Conference and CLS was the late Bishop Gerald Moverley, who had not long relinquished the Presidency of the Society to Monsignor Gerard Sheehy.
From 1977 onwards the CLSGBI was producing textual comments on the Schemata and these were funnelled through the Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales. When a final comment was sought by the Code Revision Commission, the CLSGBI not only managed to produce a comment on the Schemata, and produced this for the Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales, but also involved the Bishops’ Conferences of Ireland and of Scotland.
There had been an arrangement that these comments would be forwarded to the Bishops’ Conference for England and Wales and then sent on to Rome with very little intervention and probably no further comment from the Bishops. But one thing at least had been happening and this was only discovered in 1981. Cardinal Hume had not only been reading through all the comments, but some specific points about this or that Schema and the CLSGBI’s comments had remained in his memory.
He had been named as a member of the Cardinalatial Commission for the Revision of the Code in the late seventies and he was remarkably pleased about that. He had a great knowledge of written Latin; and it was discovered that he had a great facility for speaking Latin and was certainly able to change phrases “on the hoof” to make them more effective when giving his verbal submissions at meetings.
The Holy See called a Special Meeting of the Cardinalatial Code Commission in Rome between the 20 and 29 October 1981. The Cardinal had asked Monsignor Sheehy and me to accompany him to assist with his various canonical presentations to the meeting. There was a large number of Cardinals present at the meeting, together with a variety of Archbishops, and one Auxiliary Bishop, Bishop Joseph O’Connell, Auxiliary Bishop of Melbourne. The English speaking Bishops had all brought along their advisors.
The agenda involved six special questions prepared by the Commission; and thirty-five other special questions prepared by the participants.
The formula adopted for the preparation of the Cardinal’s speeches was this: he alerted Monsignor Sheehy and me that he wished to make a speech on a particular topic. After briefing, this would be prepared for the Cardinal late into the night, and delivered typed under his door in the early morning. He was then taken by the Rector of the English College to the meeting at the Vatican and collected from the morning session at the Vatican at 1 pm by Monsignor Sheehy and me. In the car and at lunch following he gave an indication of what had transpired at the meeting, what had been said; and what further he wanted to say; and the text would be prepared for him according to this formula by the next morning. It was at one of these de-briefing sessions that the Cardinal told us how “tickled pink” he was at having been complimented on his Latin, both written and spoken at the meetings by no lesser a Latinist than Cardinal Pericles Felici.
The Cardinal maintained that one of his biggest triumphs was being instrumental in doing away with the necessity of the confessional grille (craticula) for hearing nuns’ confessions. The Cardinal was strongly supported in his proposal by Archbishops Bernardin and Pimenta and Bishops O’Connell and O’Neill. The voting on the proposal won the day, and not only that but the change also appeared in the New Code itself, unlike some proposals discussed at that meeting!
The Cardinal liked to feel he had a hand in the text of the New Code, and never forgot to mention this.
At the end when he announced that he was dying, Monsignor Sheehy wrote to him sending him promises of prayers as well as reflecting on many happy memories spent together. The Cardinal replied: “Dear Gerry …. It was good to hear from you. As one who was for a short time a temporary Canon Lawyer, I like to think that I belong to that highly exclusive club of which you and Ralph are luminaries. Best wishes. Yours devotedly, Basil Hume, Archbishop of Westminster”. He died seven weeks later.
The Society owes the Cardinal a great debt for having been interested in the Society, most of all for being a steadfast support for the law in the Church. May he rest in peace.
[Edited from CLSN 119, September 1999]