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Recollections of Malines
by Walter Frere, C.R.

[London: The Centenary Press, 1935 119pp]


THIS meeting proved to be the last of the set of Conversations held under the presidency of the Cardinal. It was hoped by us all that there would be a speedy resumption of the conferences, either for taking up some subjects afresh, or, at any rate, with the object of bringing out some Report for publication, which would summarize what had been done. Much correspondence ensued on all sides, as well as a considerable amount of conference between the English representatives. All was arranged ultimately for a resumption of the Conversations on January 25, 1926; but, with the New Year, came the news of the Cardinal's illness; and the meeting was necessarily postponed.

Then came, as all will know, the touching end of the Cardinal. This has been described by Lord Halifax himself,1 writing with special insight and intimacy in regard to their own intimate relations. The closing scenes have been related also in the Press and in biography with reference to their more public aspect. In all this I had no part; nor was I able to go over to Belgium for the funeral with Lord Halifax and Dr. Kidd. In the end it was not till October n, 1926, that we Conferrers took again the road to Malines. Our members were reduced, Mgr. Van Roey, who had now become Archbishop, and was soon to be Cardinal, presided in place of Cardinal Mercier; MM. Batiffol and Hemmer both were there: three on their side; and similarly three on our side: Halifax the indefatigable, Dr. Kidd, who had taken a prominent part latterly in all the correspondence as well as in the conferences, and myself. It was an added grief and loss that Portal's place was vacant as well as the Cardinal's. On our side we were without the Dean of Wells and Bishop Gore. It was obvious that what it was possible to do at this gathering would not be the taking up of any new line, or the making of any fresh attempt or further development; but it was hoped that progress on the lines of the Conversations would be continued later on. What was feasible at the moment was the plan, that had already been formulated, of producing a publication designed to serve as an Interim Report of what had been done so far.

The Dean had drafted a description on our behalf. Pere Hemmer had made a more general account, which he meant to serve for both sides.

It was thought better, however, to have two summaries, one from each point of view. Some modification was made in each of the accounts in order to meet the suggestions offered by the other party in scanning the drafts.

This close and careful work occupied two days; and there was further an agreement reached about questions of publication and the like.

The result was the issue of the pamphlet called The Conversations at Malines.

The first half of the pamphlet contains the Anglican account of the Conversations presented to the Archbishop of Canterbury in July, 1927; the second half contains three Appendixes—I, a list of documents, II, the Convocation speech of the Archbishop of Canterbury, February 6,1924, and, III, a very characteristic Letter of the Cardinal to the Archbishop, October 25, 1925, sketching out the programme for the next stage of conference which it was then expected to hold in the ensuing January.

After presentation to the Archbishop the publication of the Official Report thus prepared was, however, delayed on various grounds of a practical kind. Lord Halifax, still indefatigable, in spite of his advanced years visited both Rome and Malines to forward the cause to which he had so long devoted himself: and ill tolerating the delays, he published in 1928 some Notes on the Conversations at Malines (Mowbray, January 6, 1928), and subsequently in 1930 the set of confidential documents concerning the Conversations to which, with the annexes, frequent reference has been made here.

It was still hoped that the Conversations would continue; and this hope was encouraged by the appointment of Mgr. Van Roey to succeed the Cardinal as Archbishop of Malines, as well as by his having so graciously presided over the Fifth Gathering. But this was not to be. Owing apparently to various causes, the policy of Rome altered; and what had once been encouraged was now to be discouraged. The day has not come for the door to open again either at Malines or elsewhere. Nevertheless, the necessity and the demand for a reorganization of the Christian Front grows steadily. E pur si muove.

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