Bishops ought to defend God’s poor

San hugo obispo de lincoln

St. Hugh, a monk of the Grande Chartreuse, was sent to England to be Prior of a monastery recently founded by King Henry II, at Witham in Somerset. When he got there he found that its land had been provided by driving poor peasants off their holdings; these now lived in the woods, troublesome and discontented, and had already made life miserable for two former Priors. Hugh had been sent for because he had the name of being tough and shrewd, and likely to succeed where others had failed.

The first thing he did at Witham was to go to the King and tell him he had done an injustice to the peasants, and unless it was righted his monks could not keep the monastery.

To everybody’s amazement, the King listened and arranged for the dispossessed to be well compensated with other land elsewhere.

Not only so, but he took such a liking to this fearless Prior that when the See of Lincoln fell vacant he got the reluctant St. Hugh elected to fill it. The new Bishop came to his Cathedral for enthronement not riding but walking on his bare feet. Instead of the usual banquet to the nobles and clergy of the district, he insisted on inviting all the poor as well, and the keeper of Stowe Park was thunderstruck when he was told to kill three hundred deer for the feast in place of the usual thirty.

One of his first tasks at Lincoln was to rebuild the Cathedral which had fallen in an earthquake just before he came. He was not content with making the plans, but loved to roll his sleeves up and carry a few baskets of stone himself.

As Bishop he defended the poor more stoutly than ever; he denounced the cruel forest-laws and once he excommunicated the chief Royal forester for oppressing some poor labourer, nor did the King’s intercession make any difference until the forester had made amends. To the King, St. Hugh said: ‘The poor men who are tortured by your foresters will enter heaven while you and your foresters have to stay outside’ (foris stare ” a play on words).

King Richard came to the throne and demanded a tax for a war with France. St. Hugh condemned the tax and went to Normandy to see the King, who refused to speak to him or give him the kiss of peace. But St. Hugh insisted on giving the kiss, and then, with perfect good-humour and sweetness, talked to the King about his conscience.

‘Every day,’ he said, ‘I hear complaints of the oppression of poor men, the innocent wronged, and crushing taxes levied on the people. Not only that, but I hear also that you are unfaithful to your wife.’

The King was furious, and the saint, still smiling and calm, left him.

Truly,’ said the King later, ‘if all prelates were like that one, not a King in Christendom would dare to raise his head in the presence of a Bishop!’

Jordan de Turri, a rich man in the City of London, had defrauded two orphans. St. Hugh was appointed by the Pope as judge in the case. Jordan came arrogantly to the trial surrounded with his rich friends, who made a noisy demonstration to intimidate the Bishop.

‘You are powerful,’ said St. Hugh, ‘and you can get your way. But I can write to the Pope and tell him there is one man in England that disputes his jurisdiction, and his name is Jordan de Turri.’

In the end the case was settled by Jordan making full restitution.

Another interesting fact is that St. Hugh defended the Jews against persecution. Twice he faced and quelled angry mobs intent on a pogrom, and he exposed the current atrocity-stories about Jews murdering Christian children.

St. Hugh died on November 16, 1200. During his illness they wanted him to make his will.

‘All I have belongs to the Church,’ he said. ‘But to prevent disputes after my death I here solemnly bequeath all my goods to the poor of Christ.’

– Rev. F.H. Drinkwater, Catechism Stories Part III: The Commandments (1939)

Apps, the Internet, and the Future of Catechesis

Over at the Digital Catechesis network the question was asked whether, as the price of devices such as the Kindle and iPad comes down, catechetical programs will make the shift to e-books.

I’ll admit that, while I can see the benefits of such technologies, I’m skeptical about whether our parishes and schools should make a concerted drive towards adopting them. My response read, in part:

On the practical side, I fear that moving to e-books will limit access to those on the other side of the “digital divide,” at least in the short term. Do we risk further widening the gap between parishes that have the means for a robust, technologically-enhanced catechetical program and those that don’t? I think there is a social justice question there that merits some thought.

I’m even more skeptical about moving towards an app-driven environment. For background, read the debate over on Wired about who is responsible for the death of the web. Even given Rob Beschizza’s important correction to the data in the article, there doesn’t seem to be any dispute that more people are moving away from the web to access information and turning towards applications on hand-held devices.

And while apps can be good for content creators by taking out the middleman (be it the printer who prints the magazine or the cable company that carries the television program), I’m not convinced that it will be good for consumers, especially the poor, since it just compounds the cost of access.

If catechetical programs do move in this direction, who will be expected to foot the bill? Will parishes loan or give devices to students? Will such devices   just get added to the start-of-year supply list? Will this end up leaving anyone behind?