I thought it was worthwhile revisiting this now infamous interview with BBC's HARDtalk in the light of the survey on how Humanae Vitae has been received by the laity, since Bishops decided to stop teaching it in 1968.
S. And yet you and the Pope are sticking to a deeply traditional, small "conservative" line. Therefore the disconnect between the general population and the Roman Catholic church appears to be getting wider. Does that not worry you?
N. Well no, what would worry me more frankly is to try and refashion a message simply to suit a time. I think there is if you like a critical distance to be held between how the church struggles to understand a revealed truth and how a society is moving. If they're too close there's no light. If they're too far apart there's no light.
S. There's no church. If they're too far apart frankly there's no church.
N. There might be no church. That's true.
S. There'll be nobody in the pews.
N. That's true.
S. And let me first just quote [to] you, sorry to interupt but it is important, the Pope in his letter to Irish Catholics in which he expressed great remorse for what happened in Ireland going back to the child sex abuse scandals. He said and I'm quoting his words now: "Fast-paced social change has occurred often affecting peoples' traditional adherence to Catholic teaching and values." The Pope himself surely recognises there is a problem here and is the Chruch not going to have to respond to it?
N. Well let me quote the Pope back to you in 1986, I think it was, as a theologian he said he could foresee the day when the church in some parts of the world had shrunk so much that it would become a small flock.
S. He used the word "remnant".
N. Yes he probably did. That's a very biblical expression. So he's not ... afraid of that. He would put fidelity over success so the criteria we're here for is not success.
S. You say he's not afraid of becoming "a remnant" he would put orthodoxy, loyalty, purity.
N. No, no a search for truth.
S. OK so maybe purity of theology before ...
N. (interrupting) That is the experience of every Christian. That's the experience of everybody who loses their security loses their status in a society loses their life in martyrdom. It's the whole pathway of fidelity to Christ. It's just the way it is.
S. The Church of England for example in this country is taking a rather different view. They believe there has to be some flexibility. The church has to be a reflection of society's values to a certain extent and therefore we see women priests, women vicars, and there's obviously in some parts of the Anglican Communion, women bishops.
S. Some of their vicars are also prepared to sanction gay unions. That church is showing flexibility. Is the Catholic church not going to have to do the same eventually?
N. I don't know. Who knows what's down the road?
S. Well I'm just asking you. You're rather an important player in the Catholic church. What do you believe it should be?
N. No no. There's no doubt in my mind that our first call is to faithfulness and not to success. And if faithfulness involves that kind of shrinking then so be it. But it's not as if the church has policies and then focus groups, then tries to re-shape so that it captures the mood of the day or the wind and therefore gets momentum behind it. That's not simply the way the Catholic Church understands itself.
And then, suddenly, from out of nowhere, comes the survey. Of course, the whole Church is praying that this survey isn't used for purposes that in any sense water down the holy Teachings of Our Lord, but it just goes to show how wise was Archbishop Vincent Nichols, despite widespread misunderstanding of his words in that interview, because, as His Grace indicated, you just never can tell what is down the road...Ah, how prudent is this Shepherd, how wise!