The bishops' conferences could soon be beginning to look very different
My last blog, about the appointment of Archbishop Antonio Mennini as papal nuncio to the UK, speculated – admittedly with not too much to go on – about whether or not we can now expect more attention to be paid to the appointment of English, Welsh and Scottish bishops more in tune with, shall we say, the papal agenda – that is, who can be relied on to defend the teachings of the Catholic Church. Edward Pentin’s latest blog (posted just after mine) talks of Archbishop Mennini as being someone who, according to one of his informants, “comes to the position with tremendous ecclesiastical and political skill and this makes it a really strong appointment”: “He has,” it seems, “a reputation of someone who’s going places.”
That in itself may be significant. There has been a history of sending men here who haven’t much of a history and are, frankly, winding down towards retirement. Now we’re being sent someone who has had some fairly tough assignments and who is on his way up: maybe he’s being sent here to do a particular job; and maybe the fact that we’re being sent someone who’s being described as a “Vatican insider” indicates that this country has become more of a priority for the powers that be in Rome than it has been in the past.
There are changes going on in Rome. As John Allen (always highly informative) has pointed out, “Benedict will [soon] have named 21 of the 25 most senior officials of the Roman Curia (a list that includes the secretary of state, prefects of nine congregations, presidents of 12 pontifical councils, and heads of three canonical courts). Benedict’s ‘new Curia’ has therefore come into focus – and since personnel is policy, these appointments say much about where he’s taking the Church.”
Most obviously, these men all share the Pope’s understanding of Catholic orthodoxy. That includes Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone (who appointed Archbishop Mennini as nuncio to this country). It also includes Cardinal Marc Ouellet, currently carrying out, so it is said, a shake-up at the Congregation for Bishops. That is also an appointment which is relevant to the future of the Church here.
Cardinal Ouellet has been on the editorial board of Communio; he has encouraged a return to Eucharistic adoration and Gregorian chant; he’s against secularisation and relativism; his stand on abortion has been robust (so robust that one “pro-choice” columnist said he wanted the cardinal to die of a long and painful illness). In other words, he’s 100 per cent the Pope’s man: and I’m hoping that that means he’s going to keep a very beady eye on episcopal appointments to this country.
For, and this is my last reason for hope, it’s now clear that the Pope has become very conscious of the special needs of the Church here, both North and South of the border. He has recently spoken of his “unforgettable journey to the United Kingdom”. And even before he arrived, episcopal appointments had begun to be made which give reasons for hope that there has already been a step change. I understand that Bishop Mark Davies, formerly co-adjutor and since October diocesan bishop of Shrewsbury, represents the kind of appointment I am talking about: and such appointments may now become the norm rather than the exception. There are quite a few episcopal retirements coming up. Both in Scotland and in England and Wales, the bishops’ conferences could soon be beginning to look very different.