The fight over Westminster

From Rtuh Gledhil of The Times

My emphases and comments:

March 21, 2009
Pope may impose his man as English Catholic leader
Ruth Gledhill, Religion Correspondent

The Pope has been forced to intervene in a damaging power struggle over who will become the next spiritual head of the Roman Catholic Church in England and Wales.

Pope Benedict XVI will decide next week who should succeed Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor as Archbishop of Westminster. It is possible that he will shun all five candidates vying for the post and impose a Vatican diplomat instead.

The highly unusual move is the result of his advisers’ failure to reach a consensus on the best candidate.

The Catholic Church in England and Wales is riven by splits and opponents of at least two of the candidates have lobbied the Vatican in an attempt to sabotage the candidates’ hopes.

Some senior insiders say that the Church is in crisis and the wrong choice of Archbishop could cause it severe damage. The need for decision is urgent as Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor is retiring soon and next week begins a series of farewell Masses to congregations around his diocese.

The five candidates to succeed him are the Archbishop of Birmingham, Vincent Nichols; the Archbishop of Cardiff, Peter Smith; the Bishop of Nottingham, Malcolm McMahon; the Bishop of Leeds, Arthur Roche; and Bishop Bernard Longley, an auxiliary in the Westminster diocese.

If the Pope, who is currently touring Africa, decides that none the men meets the criteria, he may chose a relative unknown for the post.

The Times has learnt that the most likely candidate in that event is Archbishop Paul Gallagher, a Vatican diplomat and priest in the Archdiocese of Liverpool.

The Pope has previously appointed Vatican diplomats to dioceses in the United States after his advisers were unable to agree on one of the original candidates.

Last month Archbishop Gallagher was appointed Nuncio in Guatemala, before which he was Nuncio in Burundi. He is known for his skilled diplomacy and courage. Last April his diplomatic residence in Burundi was bombed. He was out of the country at the time but the attack did not stop him returning to his post.

However, the Vatican may wish to keep his talent in the diplomatic service and in a part of the world where the Church is growing fastest.

The lobbying for and against the official candidates has been fierce. One bishop has written to the Nuncio to argue against Archbishop Nichols, saying that he would be a divisive choice, while it is understood that the Pope has taken telephone calls from opponents of Bishop Roche, with several lobbyists claiming that Bishop Roche would be as divisive a figure as Archbishop Nichols.

Bishop Roche emerged as one of the strongest contenders after Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor visited Rome and lobbied hard on his behalf.

He is a conservative pastor who has done his best to reorganise his diocese to cope with declining Catholic populations in Bradford and Leeds, but he has left some parishioners upset by church closures.

He had been ruled out of the running initially and was not even on the first terna, or list of names, because he had been earmarked for a senior post in liturgy at the Congregation for Divine Worship at the Holy See[AGH!]

However, his appointment to the congregation has been put on hold and the post he was supposed to have taken left open, so that he will be free to succeed Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor if the Pope chooses him.

Bishop McMahon, a conservative also supported by Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor, had been a favourite until his chances were damaged by reports of his backing for married clergy.

Bishop Longley is being touted by bloggers in Rome as the current favourite.

Archbishop Smith, who chairs the Catholic Truth Society and is an expert on the media, is another candidate from the conservative wing. He was ruled out by a majority on the Congregation for Bishops, whose job is to chose new archbishops, but his name is still going forward because it was on the original list.

The last time the Roman Catholic Church in England in Wales was thrown into such a crisis was when the Archdiocese of Westminster became vacant in 1976. The favourite, Derek Worlock, lost out to Cardinal Basil Hume after opponents lobbied hard against his appointment. Cardinal Hume was not an obvious choice for Archbishop as he had no experience running a diocese. He was also the first monk to hold the post since the restoration of the English hierarchy in 1850.

The confusion has even affected the normally suave demeanour of Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor himself. At the consecration yesterday of Bishop Canon Seamus Cunningham as new Bishop of Hexham and Newcastle, the Cardinal began his concluding remarks with the phrase: “When I became Archbishop of Canterbury . . .”

In the race

Vincent Nichols, Archbishop of Birmingham. The 63-year-old from Liverpool, served as an auxiliary in Westminster before moving to Birmingham. He impressed Rome by successfully challenging the Government’s plans to introduce quotas for faith schools. He is diligent and regarded as ambitious

Arthur Roche, Bishop of Leeds. The 59-year-old from Batley, West Yorkshire, was destined for a top liturgy post in the Vatican until the appointment was put on ice after the present Archbishop of Westminster lobbied hard on his behalf. He is loved by many but also has some well-placed opponents

Peter Smith, Archbishop of Cardiff. The 65-year-old from Battersea, South London, is a chain-smoker whose affability disguises a steely intellect. He was once a conservative and now seems to have upset some conservatives in South Wales. He had the backing of some in Rome and Westminster, but it was not enough to get the majority he needed at the Congregation for Bishops

Bernard Longley, auxiliary bishop in Westminster. The 53-year-old from Manchester is an unusual candidate in that he appears to have no enemies. The main mark against him is his lack of experience as a diocesan and that he is simply too nice. He is urbane, conservative and popular on the dinner party circuit

Malcolm McMahon, Bishop of Nottingham. The 59-year-old serves as an auxiliary to the Cardinal in the Westminster diocese. He is left-leaning and seemed a certainty until reports appeared in a national newspaper showing that he had supported married priests. Even so, the bookmaker Paddy Power suspended its Westminster stakes last month after a rush of bets

Paul Gallagher, Apostolic Nuncio in Guatemala. The dark horse of the race is a bright Vatican diplomat. He has all the skills urgently needed in an archdiocese desperate for gentle but strong leadership. He is not on the list of candidates and has not been considered by the Congregation for Bishops, but is well known in senior circles in the Holy See. His appointment could depend on whether the Pope believes his talents would serve the Church best in Westminster or in Latin America

[Tim Finigan, His Hermeneuticalness, P.P. of Blackfen, bete noir of The Pill…]

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  1. John Enright says:

    Fr. Tim is my hope. Let’s tell the Vatican!

  2. Ben Trovato says:

    It is a sad reflection on the bishops in our country that none of them look truly promising as potential Archbishop of Westminster. An unlikely choice is our best bet…

  3. Vincent says:

    This contradicts a lot of information that has been coming out of other sources (namely Damian Thompson and Paolo Rodari). Roche has been dead in the water for a while now. The Holy Father would never promote him. The same goes for McMahon.

    One thing that hasn’t got any attention is the liturgical aspect. Isn’t Longley the one who will celebrate Mass for the LMS at Westminster soon?

  4. Henry Edwards says:

    One thing that hasn’t got any attention is the liturgical aspect.

    Bishop Roche has served as Chairman of ICEL throughout the new English translation project, which perhaps is the reason for his being “earmarked” for a senior post in Congregation for Divine Worship. I understood at the time that his address

    to the USCCB at its pivotal meeting in August 2006 may have turned the tide to approval of the new translation of the 2002 missal.

  5. Noel says:

    Paul Gallagher has a gentle, unassuming nature and a fine intellect. He is well schooled in the Curia from ordination and spent some time as Holy See representative in Strasbourg. He has also maintained connections with Liverpool.

  6. LCB says:

    Kinda funny how life works out.

    An argument could be made that English Catholicism faired better when there was no hierarchy in place. Now that Bishops have gotten into the mix once again, things have turned a bit south.

  7. Ttony says:

    Things are more dire in some respects than this might suggest. There is a significant groupuscle of Bishops in England and Wales who seem to ignore the Pope: not take him on, not fall into line (however reluctantly), but just ignore him. When a Bishop can write about less frequent Confession, or when the Episcopal Conference becomes a body (a significantly lay-run body) into which episcopal authority seems to have been pooled, or when Ordinaries seem to be unconcerned about the lack of vocations for their diocese, then the problem is serious indeed.

    We are blessed with some good, holy, Catholic, priests: they don’t seem to become Bishops.

  8. irishgirl says:

    I want to see Fr. Finigan in Westminster!

  9. Michael says:

    Ttony, you are so correct. We have the same problem in the US. Many good, holy priests, who are also good administrators, but they never make it on a list to be named a bishop.

  10. AAJD says:

    I’ve long hoped that the great Dominican Aidan Nichols would get Westminster, but that does not seem to be in the works, alas. His 1999 book *Christendom Awake* seems just the program for the revival of the Church, in England as elsewhere. And his earlier book on the liturgy shows his keenly aware of the challenges in this area also.

  11. TJM says:

    What liberals don’t realize is that their prescription for the Church will render it irrelevent and will drive it into oblivion. Unless that’s their desire of course. The Church is truly strong only when it is counter-cultural, not with the culture. Tom

  12. Andrew, UK and sometimes Canada says:

    Ttony: the good, holy, Catholic priests don’t WANT to become bishops. Who would want to govern this unruly lot of prelates?

    LCB might be onto something regarding the hierarchy here. Perhaps best to simply dismantle it, declare England a mission province with sound African priests to re-evangelise, and most of those who don’t like this idea probably have one foot in the C of E anyway.

  13. Jeremy says:

    What the see of E and W needs is firm, positive leadership. We haven’t had that since the great Card Heenan in the 70s. The Bishops are not a strong force here. Their occasional statements are committee-speak and not many Bishops will stand apart from the crowd. Their personal authority is often subsumed into the general pot. It would say much of what Rome thinks of them if none of the front runners were chosen. The only one I would hope for the job would be Bishop Longley because of his suppport for the old rite and tradition generally.

    The present outgoing incumbent made his name with ARCIC (Catholic-Anglican dialogue). Appalling record and a body – now thankfully dead and forgotten – which at the time did much to weaken the concept of a One, Holy and Catholic Church here, as opposed to the mish-mash of nothingness which it espoused. The last Pope suspended it in 2003 by which time it was a spent force, and like much of the C of E, going nowhere fast.

    As another writer said, there are many excellent priests who who ought to be a Bishop but never will be. Since there is only one cardinal for England and Wales, his voice is listened to by a wide audience, especially including the faithful, and it is critical that the right man gets the job.

  14. RBrown says:

    What liberals don’t realize is that their prescription for the Church will render it irrelevent and will drive it into oblivion. Unless that’s their desire of course.

    If the continuing Protestantization is what you mean by irrelevant, etc., then I think that’s their desire.

    The Church is truly strong only when it is counter-cultural, not with the culture. Tom
    Comment by TJM

    I would say trans-cultural rather than counter-cultural

  15. Bob K. says:

    I’d like to see Father Jack Hackett get Westminster.


  16. Thomas says:

    As we near a decision, I have a question. Just how serious are we when we tout someone like a Father Finigan?

    Is such a pastor even known to the Holy See, or is it just wishful thinking and an inside joke?

  17. Kevin says:

    I am trying to be on-topic here, so I will mention that I
    think Damian Thompson once suggested Cardinal Pell was an
    outside chance for Westminster.

    Now that I have said that, did anyone else notice this
    apparent quote from Cardinal Pell in last week’s “Catholic
    “I would agree that in a long-term homosexual relationship, it’s appropriate for them to be recognised in law.”

    You can read it online (I’m not responsible for
    links etc.) at:

    The quote may not be accurate. I know of
    one case where Zenit purported to quote the Holy Father but missed out the critical word “not”.

    Otherwise, the Cardinal’s (alleged?) statement
    involves asking the civil law to sanction sexual
    immorality. And yet this quote passed without apparent
    comment in the rest of the paper.

  18. Mac McLernon says:

    Thomas – sadly, it’s just wishful thinking… though he’s certainly known to some in the Vatican… but mostly it’s an inside joke.


    He’d have been excellent though!

  19. Trevor says:

    Didn’t Bishop Roche say something to the effect of “Summorum Pontificum doesn’t apply in my diocese?”

    That sounds like bad news for Westminster (even worse for the CDW).

  20. Ma Tucker says:

    Bishop Longley is a good choice. Let’s face it if a real conservative got the post many of the existing Bishops could never deal with it. Bishop Longley is a true liberal in the sense that I’m sure he’ll allow the left to be the left and the Catholics to be Catholics. He is dearly loved by protestant leaners because he’s a really nice chap. He is also supportive of Catholics attached to the traditional faith. As I say a true liberal in the best meaning of the word. Me I’d vote for Fr. Aidan Nichols. The man is papable and far too intelligent not to have a major input in the English Catholic Church. I’m afraid however, the English patient may require sweet milk for a while before he can endure the meat. For this reason I think Bishop Longley would fit the bill.

  21. Ma Tucker says:

    I do hope they do not mix him up with Clifford Longley, the preacher of heresy. Mixing up Christian names can be very mucky!

  22. Joseph says:

    Silly question, but what happened to Abbot Hugh of Pluscarden Abbey in Scotland? Did he get pulled from the list of candidates for Abp. of Westminster?

  23. trespinos says:

    Holy Father,

    Fr. Alexander Sherbourne, PP of St. Patrick’s, Soho,
    Bp. Longley.

    Per piacere.

  24. Sharon says:

    The new Archbishop of Westminster will have to have a lot more going for him than just a liking for or approval of the Extraordinary Rite. I do hope though that one of those in whose defense for the debacle they preside over is “he is personally orthodox” or “he is pastoral” code for anything goes in his diocese is not chosen. We only have to look at the Brisbane archdiocese to see the results of that.

  25. Bishop Roche’s address on the new translations is very interesting but I always understood that “And with Thy Spirit” referred to the Holy Spirit as received in the Sacrfanment of Holy Orders and thus no one below the rank ofdeacon can use the Dominical Salution. In the Offices, if the Officiant is not in Orders he or she substitutes “O lord hear my Prayer”.

    Of course there is always something to screw up any argument and in this case it’s the “Et cum Spiritu Tuo” in the giving of the Pax among lesser clerics

  26. Al says:

    “Tim Finigan, His Hermeneuticalness, P.P. of Blackfen, bete noir of The Pill…”

    Perche no? The Lord does work in mysterious ways. This could be 1 of them. (We can only hope & pray!)

  27. Kevin says:

    It is obviously important that the new archbishop will
    look benevolently on the SSPX, which has at least one
    parish within the archdiocese.

    With this in mind I note that a letter writer in this
    week’s “Catholic Herald” has reached the same
    understanding that I did in my earlier post regarding
    Cardinal Pell’s apparent attitude to the relationship
    between Church and state. (No one else seems to be
    discussing this.)

    See the letter headed “Warmer attitudes”, and note that
    the letter writer’s conclusion is not one I imagine the
    Cardinal would be content with (usual caveat with regard
    to links):

    In an interview in the same paper, the Cardinal mentions
    a specific teaching of Vatican II to which traditionalists
    such as the SSPX must adhere, namely that the state cannot
    compel belief. It is not my understanding that Catholic
    states every did this outside of a historical context
    in which the people’s Catholicism was as much taken for
    granted as, say, their Englishness.

    On the other hand, is the Cardinal endorsing the concept
    of separation of Church and state, and in so doing,
    allowing that the state can legislate for immorality
    according to lawmakers’ own consciences? If so, I cannot
    agree with that conclusion.

    I do not mean to focus on Cardinal Pell as an individual,
    but I think these ideas may lie at the heart of the
    “conflict” between the SSPX and their opponents within
    the Church, and I suspect that the SSPX’s position –
    presumably that legislators are not free to positively
    sanction that which the Church has infallibly declared
    to be immoral – may be more in keeping with the
    hermeneutic of continuity.

  28. schoolman says:

    Kevin, I think that Rome and the SSPX seek the same goal — that all individuals and states be united in the one true Faith and in His Church. I think the rub is in the means. This goal must be realized organically not mechanically) and freely (nor imposed by force). Christ must first reign freely in hearts and families before he can reign freely in institutions and societies or nations. We will have to re-Evangelize and re-Christianize the world — not by force or by the sword — but as it was done before. A new Christendom can’t come about by mere power-politics or even majority rule. Rather, it will be the fruit new saints by their preaching the gospel, examples of charity and self-sacrifice.

  29. joe says:

    It’s a shame the Holy See’s website doesn’t have polls in the same way WDTPRS does! :-)

    If it did, I expect Fr. Finigan would be the next Abp. of Westminster.

    Which would please me to no end.


  30. Kevin says:

    schoolman, I agree. Actually, I think if my observations
    are broadly correct then I am hopeful that this particular
    source of division within the Church may not be so
    insurmountable as the decades of apparent conflict would
    suggest. (Is that hopelessly naive?)

    My point is a narrow, though important, one. The Church
    has the responsibility to teach all nations about right
    and wrong, and just as it is wrong for anyone to commit a
    sin, so it is wrong for a person in authority such as a
    legislator to endorse it. The question of
    culpability, according to the individual’s conscience,
    for having done what is objectively the wrong thing,
    whether as a lawmaker or as a member of the public, is
    another matter.

    The Church’s role, however, should be to
    inform the individual’s conscience. It is not using force
    when it does this, it is just talking.

  31. Adam says:

    Here we go again and The Times journo thinks she has it all right with the latest gossip. We have even had Cardinal Pell and Bishop Elliott of melbourne, a conservative convert, as other names thrown into the ring. Why not just name a few more and now we even have a UK diplomat as well named. Will this succession of name ever stop?
    Now let’s get it clear, there ARE NO CANDIDATES for the position. The Church does not and never does have candidates for episcopal office. This is not an election by the people. There will be three names submitted to Rome and then they or others may be put to the Pope by the Congregation of Bishops. No doubt the pope will or will have looked at this very closely and been advised by cardinals and bishops he may have spoken to. But let’s get one thing clear, the current speculation about a divided Church in Britain and all other trivia are just media driven and that’s all. Voices are being raised to try to stop one or more candidates and we have even had an Abbot supposedly being offered the job and then refusing it. Now how true is that? Has anyone ever got the Abbot in Scotland to confirm that rumour?
    I think now that the sooner the Pope makes a choice and the people and priests and bishops of Westminster accept that appointment, the better for all and then the gossips ought keep quiet. one thing is sure, it will be a bishop, not a priest. But I think the time for idle gossip ought stop and personal preferences ought be laid aside.
    As for the Times and Telegraph journos, they would be best advised to keep their opinions to themselves, since to date they have just been mouthing froth and bubble.
    Just watch the vatican for a surprise announcement.

  32. Gedsmk says:

    The whole pre-Vatican II rite issue doesn’t really apply because there is sufficient provision already in Westminster; none of the likely candiates would, it seems to me, push back against what’s already there. My money is still on +Patrick of Liverpool, and has been for a long time.

  33. Catherine says:

    Please God the post goes to none of the existing members of the English and Welsh bishops’ conference. Whatever the merits of some of them, we desperately need a change – fresh blood, a fearless leader and teacher of Catholic truth.

    In respect of Bishop Roche, I’m sure he has many good qualities and his leadership of ICEL has been good. However, he has washed the feet of females in his cathedral on Holy Thursday (there used to be photos on the diocesan website, but no longer) – so clearly he cannot translate ‘viri selecti’ accurately, never mind put it into practice. Moreover, as others have pointed out, he has been robust in his opposition to the Holy Father on Summorum Pontificum. Robust, too, on parish closures.

    As for Bishop Longley – he, too, no doubt is a good man – but, if appointed, he’d more than likely remain assistant bishop to the retired Cardinal, hardly having the leadership skills needed to lead the diocese un-obstructed. The diocese would probably be run from Chiswick rather than Westminster. And he’s not about to celebrate the Old Mass in the cathedral – that’s going to be his fellow auxiliary, Bishop Arnold.

    No – please, Holy Father, give us one of our good sound priets, to uphold, preach and teach as you do.

  34. James says:

    Archbishop Kelly is very unlikely to move from Liverpool. He was given an impossible job when we was transferred from Salford to take over from Archbishop Worlock in Liverpool.

    The Archdiocese of Liverpool has been in steep decline for many years. The Diocesan Year Book hasn’t published the Pastoral Statistics (eg weekly Mass attendance) for many years now – perhaps out of embarrassment.

    Archbishop Kelly was on sick leave a few years ago and could well take early retirement.

    There are a number of very able and experienced priests in Westminster – and there is a very good precedent for looking among them for the next Archbishop.

    When Cardinal Wiseman, the first Archbishop of Westminster, died Henry Edward Manning was appointed rather than Cardinal Wiseman’s auxiliary or any other of the Bishops of England and Wales.

    Manning was an Oxford graduate and a convert. He had the education, intelligence and inner resources not to be either flattered or bullied by the anti-Catholic establishment of his time.

    He was his own man and a bit of an outsider – being neither a member of the old English recusant families (who often expressed their distain towards Wiseman’s enthusiasm for all things Roman and who were Cisalpine in outlook) nor a member of the Irish Catholic influx.

    Few now remember Manning or know much about him. But he was, in my view, the greatest of all the Archbishops of Westminster.

    We need such a man today.

  35. Adam says:

    Just a little aside… +Cormac’s successor: to be or not to be.
    The diary of the cardinal archbishop as seen on the website for His Eminence has not placed any entries after March 30, next Monday. This is highly unusual for the diary not to be regularly updated and I have been watching it for some weeks now. Not even any mention of Easter ceremonies for the cardinal.
    No entries after March 30, which may be a clue that the announcement for a successor could well be about to happen at the end of this week.After all, you can’t have the new man coming in and then all the appiointments having to change or be altered. So, best to keep a clean slate.
    Look for an announcement on Saturday next or Monday March 30.
    Well, every one else has been making predictions, so let’s see if this one eventuates.
    Only difference is, this observer does not say who it will be.

  36. Tom says:

    Adam – even if an announcement was made as soon as that, the suuccessor would not be in place in practice to fulfil April obligations.

  37. irishgirl says:

    Archbishop Kelly of Liverpool for Westminster? Naaah….

    My money’s still on His Hermeneuticalness!

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