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Posted 01 August 2016 - 12:50 AM
"Gerard Noel, who has died aged 89, was editor of the Catholic Herald and one of the few laymen who was listened to with equal respect by traditionalist and progressive Roman Catholics during a turbulent and troubled era for their church in the 1960s and 1970s.
As Catholicism attempted far-reaching reforms in its teachings and structure in the wake of the landmark Second Vatican Council (1962-65), Noel was both commentator and counsellor in rapidly changing times, writing a string of books that gave the historical context to contemporary church disputes, and acting informally as a trusted advisor to cardinals, bishops and Vatican officials.
His stints at the helm of the Herald were from 1971 to 1976, when he was editor, and from 1982 to 1984, when was editor-in-chief, having stepped in to steady the ship after a short-lived editor had departed suddenly. These coincided with divisive and sometimes bitter battles within the Church over contraception, married priests and closer working ties with other faiths.
Pope Paul VI’s 1968 encyclical, Humanae vitae, had dashed hopes raised by the Second Vatican Council of extending reform into the area of sexual ethics. It reaffirmed the traditional ban on “artificial” means of birth control, causing widespread disillusionment among many Catholics and a rejection by some of the Church’s teaching authority.
Noel steered a reasoned middle line, balancing his own instinctive support for modernisation with a historian’s realisation that the Catholic Church moves slowly and cautiously
On such contentious matters, Noel steered a reasoned middle line, balancing his own instinctive support for modernisation with a historian’s realisation that the Catholic Church moves slowly and cautiously in such matters, and needed gentle coaxing rather than confrontation.
His efforts at conciliation were greatly helped by his abundant personal charm and keen sense of humour. A superb mimic – his Oxford contemporary Tony Benn being one of the finest – Gerry (as he was always known to his many friends) was a clubbable sort and was in demand on many committees. These ranged from long service as a vice-president of the Council of Christians and Jews and on the board of the pro-Zionist organisation, Britain and Israel, to an ad hoc appointment to the group of (male) Garrick members charged with refurbishing the ladies’ loos at the club (which admitted women only as guests).
The Honourable Gerard Eyre Wriothesley Noel was born on November 20 1926, the second son of the fourth Earl of Gainsborough. His father was an unusual figure in his day – an English aristocrat who was also a devout Catholic, and served as a Privy Chamberlain to two popes, Benedict XV and Pius XI. After the outbreak of the Second World War, Noel was sent to school at Georgetown in the United States, returning in 1943 to work as an interpreter and translator in the Psychological Warfare Bureau."
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