SIR PETER BOTTOMLEY: Worse happened to a better person

Sir Peter Bottomley with Archbishop Oscar Romero, Liberal Lord Chitnis, Labour's Dennis Canavan and Julian Filochowski
Sir Peter Bottomley with Archbishop Oscar Romero, Liberal Lord Chitnis, Labour's Dennis Canavan and Julian Filochowski

Over the years I have met many good great people. Some had titles, some were born to high position.

Others started in life without wealth or comfort; they had the goodness and the persistence to grow and to be an example to us all. There are some who may have reached a prominent role but on examination may not qualify for our total approval.

Recently, our notable parliamentary colleague Jacob Rees-Mogg has appeared in newspapers, some weeks after the publicity for the name Sixtus given to his sixth child. Classical education shows that sextus means sixth; Sixtus or Xystus had the meaning ‘polished’ or brilliant. Five Popes of the Roman Catholic Church had the name. The first was the sixth after Peter. The most recent, Sixtus V, was Pope from 1585 to 1590. He achieved much and attempted more.

From the English perspective, we might regret his renewal of the excommunication of Queen Elizabeth I and his offer of a subsidy to the Spanish Armada of Philip II.

He saved the money because he agreed to pay only on the invading fleet’s arrival here. They did not land and Cardinal Allen’s proclamation ‘An Admonition to the Nobility and Laity of England’ was not published. We know the majority of Catholics in England refused to challenge the Queen, recognising that the Armada was trying to invade for mainly political rather than religious reasons.

The Queen made the Church of England less extreme. I sympathise with the view of Prince Charles that the present day role of the monarch is to ‘Defend Faith’ rather than just to defend as well as to be the head of the Church of England.

The title ‘Fidei defensor’, defender of the faith, was granted in 1521 by Pope Leo X to our King Henry VIII for his book which defended the supremacy of the Pope, in opposition to the ideas of Martin Luther in the early stages of the Protestant Reformation. One joy of language, especially in translation, comes from the absence in Latin of a word for ‘the’, so fidei defensor is literally Defender of Faith, allowing the heir apparent to guard followers of other denominations and different religions.

These reflections are in the week of the 100th anniversary of the birth of Archbishop Oscar Romero, assassinated in 1980 the day after he called for people in the El Salvador army to obey their consciences rather than the orders of sin: stop the repression. As Monsignor Roderick Strange, professor of theology, explained in his article in The Times last Saturday, Romero was not naïve, not misguided and he was not duped by Marxist radicals. When I had seen him in 1978, hoping to delay his expected death, his answer to my question about the threats to his life was: “We can agree that worse things have happened to a better person?”

The photograph half a lifetime ago shows us with the Liberal Lord Chitnis, Labour’s Dennis Canavan and Julian Filochowski, a former VSO student (who went on to be a fellow trustee with me at Christian Aid).

The great and the good came together with 25,000 ordinary Salvadoreans for his funeral. By the end of that day, 14 of the people had been crushed to death around us. I remember and revere a gentle, shy leader who did not let fear stand between him and his duty.

Like St Peter, he recovered from an uncertain start to deserve the words of Pope Francis: “He had constructed peace out of love.”


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