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William Oddie FAITH Magazine September – October 2012
Towards The New Evangelisation?
When Archbishop Antonio Mennini was appointed as papal nuncio in London, observers of the affairs of the English Church had a good look at his record, for clues to what his policy would be in one of the most important areas of a nuncio's work: making recommendations to the Congregation for Bishops and the Holy Father on who to appoint to dioceses which become vacant.
We were all well aware what the explanation was of the great conundrum, for the English Church, about the reign of John Paul II: why was it, when he had appointed most of our bishops, that nearly all of them went out of their way to undermine his vision for the Church? The answer, of course, was that a succession of nuncios had "gone native", and had advised the Holy Father to appoint the men suggested to him by our own existing bishops, and especially by Cardinal Hume and then Cardinal Murphy O'Connor: in other words, nuncios had been agents for the continuing project of the English bishops endlessly to perpetuate themselves and their de-Romanising, even secularising, vision for the English Church.
On Archbishop Mennini's appointment, I hopefully speculated that an interview he had given in Russia (where he had previously been nuncio) might indicate that he was firmly behind the Pope's agenda on the fight against secularisation. It was, I said, "good and hopeful stuff, which encourages one to hope that he will be using his obvious capacity to work out what's going on in a particular secularised culture to help the Church here to begin the fightback, in the most effective way open to him - that is, by helping the Pope to appoint bishops who will do everything they can to implement rather than to undermine the Holy Father's agenda."
Well, the raising to the episcopate of Mgr Philip Egan could hardly be a more striking demonstration that that is precisely what Archbishop Mennini does intend. To Portsmouth, the diocese in England where more than in any other the subversion of everything Pope John Paul stood for has proceeded unchecked ever since the appointment of its present bishop in 1989, the Holy Father has appointed the right-hand man of Bishop Mark Davies, probably the most passionately orthodox bishop in England today. You will remember, perhaps, The Tablet's speculation (https://protectthepope.com/?p=5133) about Cardinal Cormac's dismay at Bishop Davies' appointment to Shrewsbury: "Bishop Davies' appointment has certainly delighted conservatives", said the Tablet blog; "he recently handed the running of aparish to a traditionalist group, who exclusively celebrate the old rite. It would appear that Cardinal Murphy-O'Connor was absent when the congregation [of bishops] settled on Bishop Davies for Shrewsbury. That'll teach me to miss the plane,' he is said to have quipped." However, as Fr John Zuhlsdorf commented in his welcome for Mgr Egan's appointment, speculating on the implications for the future, "Cardinal Murphy-O'Connor... turns 80 on 24 August and will no longer have a voice in the Congregation as a member."
When I reported, in my Catholic Herald blog, that Bishop Davies had agreed to the establishment of a foundation of the Institute of Christ the King, Sovereign Priest at the threatened landmark Church of Ss Peter and Paul, New Brighton, as a centre for the celebration of Holy Mass and the other Sacraments in the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite and as a centre for Eucharistic devotion and adoration, I noted that this represented another very considerable episcopal surge in a generally Ratzingerian direction, and expressed the hope that "We may now .... look forward to a series of such [episcopal] appointments from the new nuncio..." "This is, I hope and assume", I continued, "the way things are now going."
Well, it seems, fingers crossed, that I was right. The choice of Monsignor Philip Egan to succeed Bishop Crispian Hollis at Portsmouth is Archbishop Mennini's first real appointment (it is generally thought that the appointment of Mgr Peter Brignall as the new Bishop of Wrexham was probably already in the pipeline), and it is a cracker. If you want an idea of Mgr Egan's theology, you might like to look at the following video https://www.esnips.com/displayimage.php?pid=19884633 of a talk he gave in 2009, on the authority of Humanae Vitae (in which he argued that its teaching was infallible); a delighted John Smeaton, on the SPUC website welcomed the appointment and quoted Mgr Egan:
"It seems to me that there is a persuasive case for believing that the doctrine of Humanae Vitae, regardless of the pastoral difficulty it causes, regardless of the philosophical and theological arguments thrown against it, regardless of the historical conditioning of its neo-scholastic framework, has been, and is being taught infallibly, that is, irreversibly and without error, by the Church's ordinary universal magisterium."
His appointment inspired Damian Thompson to one of his splendidly irreverent Hollis-teasing posts on the Telegraph website (Mr Thompson is going to miss Bishop Hollis now he has retired). Under the headline "The new bishop is in for a treat", he reported that there was "excitement in traditional Catholic circles at the appointment of Mgr Philip Egan as bishop of the hippy-dippy diocese of Portsmouth. Mgr Egan is a Ratzinger loyalist who takes a firm line on dissent. He doesn't waffle in the 'bishopese' favoured by other prelates (eg, 'today we cherish our gathered-ness as a community').
And he will be the only English Catholic bishop with a PhD - a real one, as opposed to the Dolly Parton/Richard Chartres honorary variety." "I wonder", he continued, "how the new bishop will get on with Paul Inwood, Portsmouth's venerable but groovy 'director of liturgy'. Inwood is a composer belonging to the Birkenstock school of aural torture. He once wrote a piece called Alleluia Ch-Ch, the 'Ch-Ch' representing clapping. Mgr Egan, you have been warned."
Well, we may be fairly sure that the message on the liturgy in Portsmouth diocese will now be very different. But the appointment of Mgr Egan has a relevance well beyond that diocese. From it, we can deduce a number of things. First, that Archbishop Mennini has considerable respect for Bishop Davies, whom he clearly sees as the kind of bishop we need more of in this country: he almost certainly found out about Mgr Egan, who has so far maintained a fairly low profile, from Bishop Davies: the fact that he has followed his advice shows what kind of bishop he is now looking to appoint. Fr Zuhlsdorf ("Father Z" [pronounced Zee]) commented that "since the Nuncio ... is still pretty young he is not likely to 'go native'. He surely doesn't want this to be his last job." This is a point worthmaking: we have been used to being given Nuncios who have been sent here as their last appointment before their retirement; they had nothing to lose by comfortably fitting in with the local bishops: this one does.
Damian Thompson had already perceptively noted, from the text of an address given to the Bishops of England and Wales by Archbishop Mennini soon after his arrival in England, that there seemed to have been "a shift of authority back in the direction of Rome" - and, he added, "not before time". Like others, he surmised that this could have implications for the way in which bishops would now be appointed: "According to a highly placed Vatican source", he went on, "the previous Nuncio, Archbishop Sainz, did not impress everyone with his nominations for bishops. This Nuncio seems to have a very clear agenda, and it is that of the Holy Father, which makes a nice change."
Things are now moving on. The Congregation for Bishops (which in Cardinal Marc Ouellet has a firmly Ratzingerian prefect, who may well with the appointment of Mgr Egan be confirming that England's problems have at last been noticed in Rome) will soon be making a good number of other episcopal appointments in England, and they will be relying on Archbishop Mennini's advice; it has been surmised (though as far as I know, unsupported speculation is all it is) that Cardinal Ouellet is waiting for the retirement of Cardinal Murphy O'Connor from his Congregation before he moves ahead with these appointments, though he wasn't deterred from appointing Mgr Egan before this event. East Anglia and Leeds (Bishop Roche, lucky old thing, is off to Rome to become Secretary of the Congregation ofDivine Worship and Discipline of the Sacraments) are waiting for new bishops. The bishops of Plymouth, Hallam and Brentwood are over 75; the Bishop of Salford and the Archbishop of Liverpool are nearly 74 (already there is speculation that in this new dispensation Bishop Davies will be the obvious appointment for Liverpool). There are two other diocesans in their seventies: Lancaster and Hexham & Newcastle. Quite a few other dioceses will soon likewise be sede vacante; a good third of the dioceses of England will over the next year or two have new bishops.
An interesting piece, by Father Raymond J de Souza, on the way Cardinal Ouellet, since arriving in Rome, has already "reconfigured" the Church in his native Quebec was published on The Catholic Register ("Canada's Catholic News source") in March:
"How do you reform an episcopate and provide new leadership for the Church
in a particular nation? Canada is now the model for the Church universal on how it can be done.
"The dramatic appointment of Christian Lepine as the new archbishop of Montreal, only six months after he was ordained an auxiliary bishop of the same diocese, has drawn attention to Canada as the exemplar of how an episcopate can be reconfigured for the challenges of the new evangelisation.
"...The safe way to appoint bishops is to select archbishops from long-serving bishops, and bishops from long-serving auxiliaries, and auxiliaries from long-serving officials in chancery offices. Ouellet, sensing that a new direction was needed for the Church in Quebec, did not advise the Holy
Father to take the safe option.....
[Instead he appointed] young bishops, novice bishops, bishops from outside of Quebec - all this is a significant departure from the norm. Ouellet evidently decided that the norm in Quebec needed changing, and so has advised the Holy Father to change it - emphatically."
One swallow, they say, doesn't make a summer. All the same, there seems to be a reasonable hope that Cardinal Ouellet will now, having noticed (probably with the Holy Father's direct involvement) this country's needs, set himself to showing "how an episcopate can be reconfigured for the challenges of the new evangelisation" here, too; so it could be that in 10 years' time our Bishops' Conference will have a very different look about it.
We all know (and most of us could come up with a longish list) of good, faithful priests worthy to be appointed bishop, who in the bad old days would never even have been considered for "promotion" to episcopal rank, precisely because of their known fidelity to the authority of the Magisterium. Now, it seems, there has been a most wondrous change; things as I write are looking more hopeful for the mission of the English Church than they have for many years.