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On Archbishop Mennini’s advice, Bishop Mark Davies’s right-hand man has been appointed Bishop of Portsmouth: this is the dawning of a new era

Soon, a third of the dioceses in England will have new bishops who outspokenly defend the Magisterium

By on Wednesday, 11 July 2012

Archbishop Mennini, apostolic 
nuncio to Great Britain (Photo: Mazur)

Archbishop Mennini, apostolic nuncio to Great Britain (Photo: Mazur)

When Archbishop Antonio Mennini was first appointed as papal nuncio, we all had a good look at his record, for clues as to what his policy would be in one of the the most important areas of a nuncio’s work: making recommendations to the Congregation for Bishops and the Holy Father as to 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, did nearly all of them go out of their way to undermine his vision for the Church? The answer 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, and might, therefore, be on-side when it came to the appointment of bishops here who would similarly be of the papal mind, on this and other key elements in the Ratzingerian analysis of where the Church needs to go. 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 appointment 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 about Cardinal Cormac’s dismay at his appointment as Bishop of Shrewsbury: “Bishop Davies’s appointment has certainly delighted conservatives”, said the Tablet blog; “he recently handed the running of a parish 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.”

When I reported in this column 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 Mgr 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 here at a talk he gave in 2009, on the authority of Humanae Vitae (in which he argued that its teaching was proclaimed infallibly from the ordinary Magisterium).

From his appointment, we can deduce a number of things. First, that Archbishop Mennini has considerable respect for Bishop Davies, who 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.

The Congregation for Bishops (which in Cardinal Marc Ouellet now has a firmly Ratzingerian prefect, who may well with this appointment 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. East Anglia is vacant; Plymouth, Brentwood and 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 so have new bishops. There seems now to be a reasonable hope that in 10 years’ time the 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 are looking more hopeful for the mission of the English Church than they have for many years.

  • John-of-Hayling

     Perhaps you sometimes get confused by what V2 said and what people say that it said….. the famous Spirit of Vatican Two!

  • Conor

    I smile as I read some of the comments below. I smile particularly when I read the criticism of the ‘Soho Masses’ which I believe cater to the homosexual community. Fair play to Archbishop Nichols for his caring, compassionate approach to all God’s people. Those bishops who criticize such initiatives should perhaps stop for a moment and think of the approach of Jesus Christ. Archbishop Nichols is certainly much closer to the heart of the Christian message than these so-called orthodox bishops who find fault with him. Secondly, if it weren’t for homosexual priests we would have few priests to serve us. More than 50% of our priests are homosexual and to deny such a reality is to simply bury one’s head in the sand. I’m a priest working in Ireland and I know of dozens of hardworking, committed and conscientious priests who just also happen to be gay. Those of you who spout such venom towards Archbishop Nichols and other progressive bishops need stop and think about this. Many of the so-called orthodox bishops being appointed just might also be gay!! Ouch! yes, I bet it really hurts to hear that!!!

  • Thomasmj

    well at least he teaches the catholic faith

  • Aquinatic

    Dear Mr Oddie,
    Your article can do nothing to help the cause dear to your heart: the appointment of good, orthodox and courageous priests as bishops in Britain. You seem to have no idea of the obstacles that lie in the way of those who advance the cause of such appointments. The present situation is one of great delicacy and difficulty, and the suggestion that Archbishop Mennini has a fixed agenda in this matter will only galvanise opposition to it – if it proves to be the case that he has such an agenda.

  • No More NO!

    I think it’s a mistake 
    She meant to say “God Helped us – if we have any more Bishop’s like Mark Davis”

    If it was not a case of mistype –  Perhaps she needs to read the documents of the Council of Trent – Trent was a Dogmatic Council  that outlined to a nicety what the Catholic Church was,  is and ever more MUST – by law –  be!……Everyone should know that Catholic Councils that decreed Dogmatic Pronouncements can never be altered lest we become by the very act “Anathema” by disobedience and Apostasy.

    It is obvious that BIshops like Mark Davis, Bishop Fellay of the SSPX and Our Holy Pope Benedict ARE Educated in Tradition and are aware of the Dogmatic Councils and their pronouncements and thereby HAVE a good legal understanding of what the Catholic Church truly is – It is a reverent and respectful HOLY and Saintly Church whose teachings when adhered to and lived 24/7 lead one to Sanctity and Heaven.  That austere beautiful Church, is FAR more devout and devoted to the real Jesus – than the rather sickly substitute created by the Protestant Catholic hybrids in the wake of Vatican II.  

    Vatican II (and the strange hippy-ish mentality of some of the clergy that sought to recreate an unchangeable Church in their image by whipping up a false “spirit of Vatican II” hysteria) was only a Pastoral Council and can not lawfully ever be interpreted as being permitted to change any of the laws of the Church – hitherto declared unalterable Dogmas at Trent.    

    As we by law and truth are not able to interpret the Bible using the Protestants  “scripture alone” (sola scriptura) method – without taking into consideration Ecclesiastic aural Tradition, the writings of the Church Fathers (who knew the Apostles) and the 2000 year old  Magesterium of the Church, – neither can a faithful Catholic EVER interpret Pastoral Vatican Council II Documents without taking into consideration any of the Pronouncements of the Dogmatic Councils prior to it – Total Continuity MUST be visible – If a Vatican II Document appears to disagree with Trent (or any of the others) you are not interpreting it properly!!  The Holy Father has recently stated this!  We are seeking some of us to view the Vatican II Documents  OUTSIDE the Historic Church – as the Protestants are seeking to interpret the Bible outside Catholic 2000 year old Tradition.  THUS, we find we have thousands of interpretations of the Documents of Vatican II – as we have now 33 thousand different Protestant Denominations – all creating new Jesus’s, new Church’s new Liturgy’s…..ALL in their own image 

    Let’s LOVE and serve the Real Church shall we – the one loved and served by ALL the greatest Saints.  It made Saints of them – by it’s rules and dogmas – and it will no doubt do the same for us if we follow the example of St Padre Pio and humbly submit 100 percent to Her Disciplines – harsh though they may sometimes seem to be to us who are spiritually and morally weakened by being indoctrinated for 40 odd years with a kind of “Catholicism Lite”!.

    Our Holy Father has said that Vatican II pronouncements must not ever be interpreted in a manner that alters anything stated hitherto at Trent – he has apparently reiterated this recently, – there IS only one Catholic Church, and Modernist Protestantised dissenters are sadly existing and working outside Her beautiful spotless boundaries.

  • Domine Jesu

    I’m frankly appalled at some of the comments here regarding the appointment of Mgr Egan as our new Bishop, especially as you claim to be Catholics. Your comments suggest you hate the Church and would rather be somewhere else! The only reason you fear this appointment and curse the rest of us is that’s it’s just too inconvenient to have a Bishop that may not allow all of the watered down wishy washy ways of doing things that you are used too. Being a Catholic is not about convenience and making our own rules to fit our lives but about being instruments of Christ and living the Gospel no matter how difficult it may seem. Why can’t you accept that this appointment is Christ’s will. Jesus is Lord+

  • teigitur

    Sexuality is only part of a person. It is not the whole person. Why not have Masses for people with red hair, bald people, fat people. Any Mass must not be devisive, that is just what these “special interest group” Masses are.
     I see you work in Ireland, What a sad mess the Church is in there, the land of my antecedents. All aided and abetted my Modernist Priests and Hierarchy. Waken up and smell the coffee Father, before its too late.

  • Bob Hayes

    ‘A priest working in Ireland’? Father, I trust you made a good confession after posting, ‘And also, the two guys in the shorts are hot as hell – who are they?’ in response to an Irish Independent story? 

  • Burt

     Did that so called priest really post that comment you tried to highlight? I went to the link but could not see it. But if it’s true I think we should pray that Pope Benedict XVI can work hard to “rid the church of filth.

    Saint Michael the Archangel,

    defend us in battle;

    be our protection against the wickedness and snares of the devil.

    May God rebuke him, we humbly pray:

    and do thou, O Prince of the heavenly host,

    by the power of God,

    thrust into hell Satan and all the evil spirits

    who prowl about the world seeking the ruin of souls. Amen

    It’s about time that this prayer is reinstated at the end of Mass. The smoke of Satan is truly filling the sanctuary of Holy Mother Church.

  • Bob Hayes

    According to Conor’s Disqus activity he did indeed. I suspect you need to be registered with the Irish Independent to view all comments on its YouTube pages.

  • Pebble

    Maybe you should be appalled about the comments made about Bp Hollis too and also about Bp Noble, Bp Davies’ predecessor, who is criticised by implication by the comments said about the coming of Bp Davies. Their dedication and integrity just dismissed.
    And then you dismiss those who express a different opinion from you and question their Catholicism, say they perhaps hate the church and don’t live the Gospel because it’s too difficult. Hmmm

  • Hambone42

    Bishop Hollis and Bishop Noble are both fine men, with long histories of dedication and understanding. Tested, both, in more ways than most of us.

  • rjt1

    I would hope not. I have read the documents
    I am particularly fond of this: “no other person (other than the Apostolic See and bishops’ conferences), not even a priest, may add, remove or change anything in the liturgy on his own authority” (SC 22)
    “the use of Latin is to be preserved” (SC 36(1))

  • moorfields

    I agree with Hambone> who sounds like he (she) knows what they are talking about. Bishop Hollis and Bishop Noble are two men who have led their Dioceses with care, pastoral sensitivity, and compassion. Both of them teach the truth that the Catholic Church teaches. They are not wishy washy liberals, but shepherds who, at great personal cost, have led their respective flocks with distinction over many years. They deserve our gratitude and respect.
    The Catholic Herald headline,’ English priest who says Humanae Vitae is infallible is named Bishop’ will not help Mgr Egan one bit. The Catholic population has made up its mind on this issue, and infallible statements require the assent of the Catholic population. In other words, the Pope declares infallible what the Catholic population believes. As a great Bishop once said:’ Virtus stat in medio’.
     Tablet 2.  Herald 0 (2 own goals)

  • Domine Jesu

    RCIA Catechists in the Diocese of Portsmouth have been allowed to teach that abortion and crontraception are acceptable and that euthanasia should be legalised. Keeping to the teaching of the Catholic Church!?! I think not!!!!! The acceptance of the massacre of the innocents and legalised murder is not what I recall being ok’d in the Catechesis of the Roman Catholic Church. For the Church liberalisation = death. Fact. Jesus is Lord+

  • Christiana Portus Magni

     We live in a wonderful part of Christ’s Body (i.e. Portsmouth Diocese) and have been been led by a wonderful, faithful and courageous Bishop, whom I have come to admire as a man of great faith and authenticity. So I share your apprehensions and as well as Solent Rambler’s disgust at the character assassination some posters indulge in with regard to +Crispian.
    But let’s give Mgr Egan the benefit of the doubt – he hasn’t even arrived yet! There is more to a (wo)man than where (s)he stands on the conservative-liberal scale, and there is no reason not to assume that he is his own man. So let’s get to know him first…
    Paul, I’m on the same side of said scale as I assume you are, and my fears are probably not much different from yours, but I wouldn’t dare judging Bishop Davis’ character on the basis of his policies.  As Jesus says, ‘The world will know that they are my disciples by the love that they have for one another.’

  • Fudge

    So Catholics shouldn’t be interested in what Jesus did?

  • marius

    Surely one with such a long history of involvement with the Roman Catholic Church should have chosen to accent another area of concern. Be honest, you cannot but  be aware of the homosexual orientation of the overwhelming majority of our priests.Manyof these priests are  in active relationships…just a little honesty please.

  • SaintGregory

    Philip Egan is a smart, thoughtful and compassionate priest. He was my Cambridge chaplain. He was always going to be episcopabile and he is faithful to the Magisterium without being intolerant or dismissive of the sincerely held beliefs of others. Thank you, Nuncio Mennini!

  • Oldstreetec1

    Find something real to be scandalized about, not about those who despite their difficult situation still seek to have a relationship with Christ and the Church. Honestly, try rediscovering Christ Mr Oddie instead of casting the first stone.

  • Burt

    The point is in what spirit are the Soho Masses being offered.
    Are they about attempting to save souls in danger of losing eternal happiness by continuing to live in a state of mortal sin?
    Poor souls steeped in a vice the Church says cries out to Heaven for vengeance?
    or are they blasphemously offered as a political statement, seeking to endorse sinful behaviour?

  • Nicolas Bellord

    The problem with the Soho masses is not about whether sinners are being admitted to communion or not but the existence and toleration of the Soho Masses Pastoral Council who claim they are authorised by the Catholic Church to organise these masses and at the same time are campaigning for homosexual sexual activity to be accepted as a “good”.  I suggest you look at queeringthechurch.com which is hosted by somebody who arranges the bidding prayers at these masses.  Amongst other horrors he seems to think that St Patrick worked as a male prostitute on a Roman ship taking him to Ireland and this was an indication of his broadmindedness.  The Archdiocese needs to take this in hand and appoint a properly constituted Parish Council in accordance with Canon Law  which will assist the Parish Priest in helping all sinners including the LGBT community to find their way to salvation.

  • Burt

    Conor who purports to being a priest made this comment on  Independent.ie website.

    “Well done to the two guys in shorts and singlets. They really know how to sort out these wasters! Unfortunately much of Dublin has become a ‘no-go’ area for ordinary people. The gardai and the judicial system is too lenient on these junkies and troublemakers so the gym guys just had to sort them out.
    And also, the two guys in the shorts are hot as hell – who are they?”

    Please God tell me he lied about being a priest. He comes across as very ‘nice’ and ‘kind’ about homosexuals of course, but he doesn’t seem to have his much vaunted “compassionate approach” to drug addicts, or other possible lost souls he calls wasters.

    Still smiling Conor?

  • Ben – Portsmouth

    I would like to know what proof you have of this and where you get your info Domine Jesu?

  • Domine Jesu

    So you basically saying that we should be Catholics when it suits us and fight Rome when the the teaching of the Church becomes to difficult or inconvenient? I’ll take my lead from The Holy Father thank you very much.  

  • UAMS

    Most untrue. The Bishop is a very holy man – although to have a Bishop who is unafraid to exercise his authority after slack leadership by +Brian is of course a shock.  Vocations to the Priesthood are rising under him – must be a “bad side effect” perhaps(!)

    Let us remember that the Cure d’Ars was immensely unpopular in his Parish, but was a Saintly and Holy man, who saved souls. 

    Many years to +Mark!

  • UAMS

    “Karen”, you seem to have a vendetta online against Bishop Mark.  I suggest you return to prayer first, for him, and for yourself.  

    God’s will shall prevail, there’s nothing any of us can do about it.

  • UAMS

    I guess you are “Paul Priest” who comments so horrifically on +Mark in several other places online.

    Pray for the Bishop-elect, and yourself.  

    Rome always prevails, if we don’t follow the decrees and teachings, we are Protestants. To call oneself Catholic is similar to calling oneself “pregnant” – you either are, or you aren’t, there’s no inbetween.

  • UAMS

    Define “backwards”?

  • UAMS

    Neither +Mark nor Bishop-elect Msgr Egan have any “policies” – they both subscribe unfailingly to the full teachings and sacred traditions of the Catholic Church.  

    Trust in God!

  • UAMS

    Humanae Vitae IS infallible! Have you read it?
    Msgr Egan hasn’t made anything up.

  • UAMS

    Yes he should, as should every Pope, Cardinal, Archbishop, Bishop, Priest, Deacon, and catechist.

  • UAMS

    Positive. He has been rumoured to celebrate.

  • UAMS

    Bl JH Cardinal Newman also said “To be deep in History is to cease to be Protestant”

  • UAMS

    Yet vocations have skyrocketed. More have gone to seminary or expressed interest in +Mark’s first two to three years than in the entire “reign” of +Brian.

  • UAMS

    For what it’s worth, Bishop Mark has dealt admirably  with the cases that have come to light since he became Bishop.

    Of course, this article is about Msgr Egan, so it would be worth saying he was part of the investigation (as VG) – therefore can be trusted to sort out any filth in Portsmouth. Unfortunately he arrives just as the Diocese is about to be sued.

  • UAMS

    I love it that Damian Thompson’s phrase “the Magic Circle” has caught on!

    Let’s see what happens with the vacant Sees.  Leeds will be interesting, but Salford more so – very well known as a “springboard” Diocese to Liverpool.

  • UAMS

    “he was new to the Diocese and was not well known having recently come back from a long stint of studies. She said he hadn’t been a parish priest for very long.”

    SO? The Pope has spent most of his time as an academic, JP II wasn’t a Parish Priest for long, Pius XII wasn’t, nor was John XXIII.

    If it is deemed that a Diocese needs strong catechesis with unfailing ability, an academic is necessary.

  • hopefroreurope

    I disagree entirely.We are blessed to have a bishop who does not sacrifice morality on the altar of popularity……and a few more are following in his wake thank God.

  • hopefroreurope

    May God help you to understand the truths of the faith and the absolute need for good holy bishops.

  • ChrisFM

    I’ve looked really hard, but no where in the New Testament can I find anything that says Christianity can only exist within the Catholic Church. Perhaps, rather than sniping at each other, showing off how educated you are, and setting yourselves up as having exclusive rights to divinity, you might perhaps revert to the only authority that actually matters in the end.
    I’m a lapsed Catholic, but I haven’t lost my faith and nothing I read here would encourage me to return to such a sanctimonious community

  • Johnrhunter

    What a depressing article, and if true, what a depressing appointment for the people of Portsmouth Diocese, and more generally for Catholics in England.  What the Catholic Church in England definitely does not need is a return to older times when teaching was handed down to the meek and compliant laity by Bishops citing the Magisterium and blindly following every dictum that issues from the Curia and from the Pope.  What the Church does need is for all Bishops to act in a collegial manner with the Pope and in conjunction with the laity.  The Spirit will doubtless secure the long term future of the Church in England.  Of that I have no doubt – but it will probably be in spite of, rather than through the actions of the Bishops. 

    John Hunter
    Long Suffering Member of the Laity 
    Diocese of Shrewsbury.