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Page 38, 8th March 2014

8th March 2014
Page 38
Page 38, 8th March 2014 — Obituary

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Sebastian Moore

An inspirational quality characterised much in the life of Sebastian Moore OSB, who died last week aged 96. Always encouraged by his mother to be a performer, he lived out this role. Yet he was someone who functioned so much in his head that he sometimes seemed almost indifferent to his immediate human environment. His defining quest was for a deep intelligibility in Catholic faith. To this end he read voraciously, talked much to anyone prepared to listen, prayed deeply in the contemplative mode and wrote prolifically.

Born in Madras where his father was the chief inspector of police, he was baptised Charles Patrick and at the age of one was taken to England to be cared for by relatives. His parents returned home when he was seven and sent him to prep school and then to the Benedictine public school, Downside, in Somerset. After several years in the navy, he became a monk at Downside, taking the name Sebastian and duly becoming a priest.

Sebastian studied theology at St AnseImo in Rome and English literature at Cambridge. In both places he manifested his tendency to give wholehearted allegiance to a particular intellectual guru the Canadian Jesuit theologian Bernard Lonergan in Rome and F.R.

Leavis at Cambridge. Back at Downside, he taught English literature and theology to the student monks. His positive influence on a significant number of Downside boys some of whom became monks was very great. Moore had a severe nervous breakdown and underwent psychoanalysis. Thereafter it played a key role in his life and theological understanding. He took time out in Rome, obtaining a doctorate, after which he was immediately despatched to a dockside parish in Liverpool, then staffed from Downside. Liverpool was the making of him, not least as a writer. He never stopped pouring out his latest thoughts in

the form of duplicated typescripts, distributed to anyone he thought might be interested.

He was joined in Liverpool by three younger monks who had come under the electrifying influence of Dom Luke Suart, a monastic contemporary of Moore's who subsequently became mentally ill and took his own life. This sequence of events had a profound effect in deepening and broadening Moore's horizons. This was 1968, the time of Paul VI's encyclical Humanae Vitae, which prohibited the use of artificial contraception. Moore had been a member of a colloquium oflaypeople

and clergy that met around Cardinal Leo Joseph Suenens, anticipating change in the Church's approach to the issue. When this did not come he was shocked and bewildered, but as the priest in charge of his parish he had the unaccustomed role of needing to calm things down.

When soon afterwards, for extraneous reasons, the Liverpool chapter came to an end, Moore came into irreconcilable conflict with the then abbot, who insisted he must return to the monastery. He accepted exclaustration as the price for not doing so and travelled to America, where he was recruited by the Jesuits to teach theology and be part of their campus ministry, first in Milwaukee and later at Boston College. The writing continued, but took a more restrained and consciously Catholic tone as he encountered many priests who regarded Jesus as no more than "one of the avatars". When his energies eventually began to wane, he was persuaded to return to Downside, where at first he felt like Rip Van Winkle after some 30 years out. Characteristically he gradually adapted, and never again lived outside the monastery. He long outlived all his contemporaries, and though latterly frail in body, his mind

remained alert and active. He continued to write poetry and a collection of sonnets, Remembered Bliss, has just been published by Lapwing Publications. The first copies arrived at Downside on the day he died.

Not always taken fully seriously by most of his brethren, still less by church leaders, Moore was nevertheless touched with genius, and very widely appreciated as a life-enhancing person.

He never ceased to address urgent questions urgently. In the debate about homosexuality, for example, he addressed the Church's difficulties in accepting cultural change while making no secret of his own gay make-up.

To speak adequately of this remarkable life would require a history of modern Downside. In any case, Moore remains blessedly uncategorisable. Nicholas Peter Harvey

Dom Sebastian Moore OSB, theologian and spiritual writer, born Madras, India, 17 December 1917; died Fosse House Nursing Home near Downside, Strattonon-the-Fosse, Somerset, 28 February 2014.

• Nicholas Peter Harvey is a theologian and writer and a former monk of Downside.