Charity & social welfare
Kent, Bruce (4 of 6) National Life Stories: General
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2009-08-31, 2009-09-05, 2009-09-24, 2009-10-06, 2009-10-29
Interviewee's home, London
Kent, Bruce (1929-) (speaker, male)
Brodie, Louise (speaker, female)
Part 4: [Session 3: 24 September 2009] In 1961 BK was moved to St Pius X in North Kensington. He had to spend most of his days at Archbishop’s house in Westminster as Junior Secretary, doing parochial duties in the parish evenings and weekends. Most of his work was on the financial management of schools. He made a lot of changes. Later he became secretary to Cardinal Heenan. Story of having to wind the clocks. BK brought in some fresh air. They did a lot of parish visitations. It was quite entertaining to see Heenan’s decision making. He made provision for housekeepers and retired priests. He gave people 15 minute interviews only. Story [7:20] Heenan was always a welcome visitor. People loved the visitations. BK was fired in 1964. No secretary lasted for more than 3 years with Heenan. He found a new job for BK which was chairman of the Schools Commission. BK built new schools, working with John McCoy. The Catholic population was increasing with Irish immigration. The Inner London Education Authority gave them land and money for primary schools. They also went to the orders, Catholic orders like Sacred Heart, and brought them into the system. It was very satisfactory. BK had a crusading spirit then, now he feels that secondary schools should be integrated. BK, given a problem, wants to solve it. Details. Parents have the right to their own culture for primary schools. We all have a faith of some sort, maybe a secular faith now. [18:22] The parish of St Pius was working class, it was almost a Catholic Square, Charles Square. Canon Hathway was eccentric. Story. He was kind too. Robert Gates kept a mynah bird and an alligator. BK had a lot to do with the schools. He didn’t have long there, being moved to Archbishop’s House. He got involved with Pax Christi in a peripheral way in the late 1950s. [23:24] BK became a Monsignor in 1963, on becoming Secretary. It was just a handle. He had to wear a purple cummerbund, embarrassing. Birth control was the big issue. BK had been brought up with the hierarchical view of the church and at this time it became clear that the laity would not believe in their authority, or act accordingly. Heenan could not cope. BK’s view of this authority changed too. Comment on current Archbishop’s letter and St Teresa’s bones. The church has lost its way now. [29:30] When BK went to be the university chaplain carrying the old attitudes, he changed his views. The young people were not tied up with the old baggage of the church. Story. The chaplaincy was a workshop for the future. 111 Gower Street had about 60 rooms and he got many different groups and faiths there. London University is unlike any other, with differing colleges. BK tried to get some pastoral help for the polytechnics too. He went through the 1968 riots and invited the rioters in. They had a big cross on the wall and Blackburn, communist, was filmed with this behind him. Story of his milk machine. [35:16] The question of celibacy was not a problem for BK. It is quite unfair not to have some sort of monitoring or counselling or support however. BK has had nothing, no help, no pension. In practice the church gives nothing. He had several other priests to talk to informally in Gower Street. The problem is really gay priests, if you are going to hold to celibacy. In all the time BK was with Heenan he heard nothing about problems with child abuse. It wasn’t known about. There was nothing about drugs either. Drink, yes. BK’s dog was the most racist thing, going only for Indian students. Story on the bus yesterday. [43:07] BK was completely independent. He was doing things like taking Mass in the Methodist church in Hinde Street, which would not have been approved. He gave communion to anyone, whether Anglican or Catholic. BK was friendly with Trevor Huddleston, Helder Camara, the Little Sisters. BK was brought up to be anti communist. [47:25] The great change for him was his contact with Biafra. He was invited to hitch a ride on a plane to Sao Tome, then they flew into Biafra and BK spent three weeks going round the feeding stations. People were starving to death. BK saw that it was a superpower problem. The French and the Rhodesians and South Africans supporting Biafra and UK and USA supporting the Federal republic. A million and a half people starved to death. Since then he has also been critical about aid. The agencies don’t want to take on militarism. Climate change is the topic of the day. This is very close to military activity as well as industrial activity. All these discoveries made BK very restless and he left the chaplaincy in 1974. BK was doing a lot of public appearances. The Simon Community soup run meant that you got no sleep at all for one night a week. BK was chairman of War on Want at this time too. [53:08] He had also been to Calcutta with them. There he saw the competitiveness of the overseas agencies. They started a hospital. It is now a Mother Teresa home. She was a wise old bird. A War on Want doctor was too arrogant. Story of the unexpected visitors. There, Oxfam would not help them to acquire black plastic sheeting. Development agencies are cutthroat. Anecdote about meeting with High Commissioner. [59:43] At some stage BK became chaplain for Pax Christi. He had been affected by the synod in Rome on celibacy and justice in 1971. BK latched on to the report on justice in our society, and from that point took on the chaplaincy full time. BK was still on the ladder at this stage, bishop material. In 1966 he had written to the Times about the blessing of Polaris by a Catholic. The correspondence went on for about a month. BK had national notoriety. Right now we are getting to the question of abolition with Obama. Wonderful. BK has been on television and radio in the last 48 hours. Gordon Brown is hopelessly cautious [1:07:24] BK was sort of in exile when he was with Pax Christi, working in the office and talking to schools and so on. This went on from about 1974-79. It was very hard work, very stimulating. BK loved discussing with young people. It was difficult to get the church interested. He was on the Justice and Peace Commission too, with Sean McBride They both got fired, for wanting to send a message to the Pope about Brazilian torture. Nuclear weapons were a strong issue, human rights too. Military chaplains as well. They get well paid. The church should set up structures in other organisations. Story. The pastoral role is very important however. [1:13:38] BK probably went on demonstrations for the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament in the 1960s and in management in the 1970s. The organisation was very small. He found facilities for them. John Cox and others were involved too. BK’s view became much less pro the West as time went on. Communist and capitalist empires had good and bad characteristics. In December 1979 Francis Pym said we were going to get Cruise missiles and Trident and that increased the membership of CND hugely. In 1978 there was the neutron bomb idea which got people going. And there was the United Nations special session on disarmament too. BK could deal with the media. You have to make your point quickly and simply. BK was Man of the Year in 1982 or 83. [1:21:30] Bishop Griselli showed concern for BK’s welfare. He suggested BK went to St Aloysius in Somers Town. 1977-80. He had Canon Welland staying on in the house. They got on all right. Anecdotes. Somers Town was wonderful. It had working class flats, lots of hospitals and schools and a great mixtures of nationalities. BK linked everyone up. [1:24:29] Hume became Archbishop. BK had met him with Heenan. He met him again at Ampleforth when BK was writing about peace and war. Hume was a nice, gentle, fair man, but with an upper class background favourable to the government. There was a moving moment when BK heard that Hume was dying. Hume had sent BK a cheque for £1000 when he retired, and then they never spoke again. BK felt it was unfinished business and rushed over to the hospice with a note, and got a letter back. A good thing to do.
Life story interview with Bruce Kent (1929-), Vice-president of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament.