To condemn or even to deplore them would be looked askance at in England, and would deal a grievous blow to our prestige: it would demonstrate not only that we are behind the times but also that our judgment is lightweight, undermining significantly the authority of the clergy which is regarded—rightly—as unlettered bondslaves to puerile literature in bad taste. The crew should not be confused with the pilot: today great writers are the real pilots of much of mankind and when the Lord, in His mercy, sends us one, even if he is a nuisance, let's not make a Jonah of him; let's not throw him to the fishes. At the right moment (for they are not bad men), they will yield place to the true pilots—i.e.: to the priests.
In the case of Graham Greene, his harsh and acerbic art touches the hearts of the least receptive and reminds them, however gloomy they be, of the awe-inspiring presence of God and the poisonous bite of sin. He addresses those who are most distant and hostile—those whom we will never reach ...
This priest in touch with contemporary culture inveighed against those in the Holy Office who were not. His arguments, however, came too late. The Holy Office had already written, on November 17, to Cardinal Griffin of Westminster. Griffin was instructed to inform Graham Greene of the Holy Office's "negative judgment," to "exhort him to lend a more constructive tone to his books, from a Catholic point of view," and to advise him not to authorize reprints or translations of The Power and the Glory without making "suitable corrections ... in light of the preceding observations."
Griffin immediately issued a pastoral letter deploring "certain trends in contemporary literature." Without mentioning Greene's name, the cardinal continued,
It is sadly true that a number of Catholic writers appear to have fallen into this error. Indeed, novels which purport to be the vehicle for Catholic doctrine frequently contain passages which, by their unrestrained portrayal of immoral conduct, prove a source of temptation to many of their readers. Though it may well be that such literature can be read in safety by the select few, so great is the danger to the virtue of the majority that its general publication is most undesirable.
Such, we may be sure, was also the tenor of Griffin's private remarks to Greene at the audience Griffin granted the novelist a few months later, in April of 1954. Greene commented on that meeting in the above-cited introduction to The Power and the Glory. In the archives of the Holy Office is an intriguing letter from Greene to Cardinal Pizzardo, written less than a month after the meeting with Griffin. It is a skillful political document, written in a tone of submission that I believe was feigned (the delicious slyness of Greene's paragraph suggesting that the Vatican take the matter up with his publishers gives the game away), and taking pains to refer to communism in a way that would be certain to register positively with both Pizzardo and his superior, Alfredo Cardinal Ottaviano.
It is not without hesitation that I presume to address Your Eminence: but, in the present delicate situation, I have grounds, it seems to me, to present you with an account of the facts.
On 9 April, during an audience which His Eminence Cardinal Griffin, Archbishop of Westminster, granted me, he handed me the copy of a letter which Your Eminence had written to him on 16 November. The delay in the communication of this document is due to my absence from London: I was in Indochina, where I was doing my utmost to make world opinion, for which my articles are intended, understand the difficulties faced by the heroic Catholics of Indochina confronted with the Communist menace.