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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.

  • nytor

    I hardly dare ask: do we know his attitude to the EF?

  • Gregory

    It is positive.

  • Fintan1944

    There are plenty of EF Masses in Portsmouth and Bishop Hollis erected an FSSP house in the diocese.  There are more EF Masses in Portsmouth than in Shrewsbury where he comes from

  • http://www.catholicyouthwork.com Catholic Youth Work

    Having worked up North, I have heard really good things about Mgr. Egan. Seems like a good appointment. We should keep him in our prayers.

    On another matter, in the interest of accuracy and balance, it’s worth noting that the quip attributed to Cardinal Cormac caused some controversy. He made a point of writing to the Tablet to deny it and to essentially criticise them for having written it.

    As I say though, glad Mgr. Egan has been appointed. They are finally getting around to those vacant dioceses!!

  • Claudia

    Oh, to be a fly on the wall of the Tablet offices today.

  • awkwardcustomer

    Sorry to be a party-pooper, but try reading this link.  Is there anything in what they are saying, anything at all.  If there is, it would explain a lot about the current state of things.

    http://www.sspxasia.com/Documents/SiSiNoNo/1994_June/They_Think_Theyve_Won_PartVI.htm 

  • http://www.catholicyouthwork.com Catholic Youth Work

    It seems to me that whenever there is a big appointment or important move these days, there is somebody waiting to say “A-ha… this’ll show ‘em!”

    It was the same when +Vincent was appointed, only the other way round. 

    My suggestion now, as then, was let’s actually wait to see how people react rather than assuming. Sometimes people’s reactions surprise us.

    It seems fairly clear that we are in store for a run of more conservative Bishops. If that’s done right – and we should pray it is – then it will have a unifying effect, rather than an “our side wins” effect. After all, if we’re really in this to see God’s will done then we should ultimately want those who disagree with us to get on board rather than to feel defeated and dejected.

  • JabbaPapa

    Even a cursory glance at that text is sufficient to see that it’s arrant nonsense.

  • http://www.catholicyouthwork.com Catholic Youth Work

    Indeed. Two things you can bet your mortgage on are that there will always be extremists and they will always have websites!!

  • awkwardcustomer

    Please explain.  A cursory glance is hardly sufficient.

  • http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uB1D9wWxd2w GI Joe

    The SSPX are like Monsters Inc.

    They scare because they care.

    I suppose.

  • awkwardcustomer

    Is there any possibility of the arguments being considered without resorting to name calling?

  • Fr Gerard

    Archbishop Mennini joined the Catholic Prison Chaplains at their annual conference last week and presented himself as  thoughtful, interested, humorous and warm. His main concerns seemed to be pastoral and I am more interested in the pastoral nature of those appointed as Bishop than the often wafer-thin differences on theology (expanded to cavernous proportions by those for whom even a slightly different way of expressing the same truth calls out for the thumbscrews).
    Bishop Davies is a great bishop not because of his supposed position on the political spectrum of the Church but because he has a common touch that comes from a well-grounded pastoral background and a good working-class Catholic family.
    I am guessing that the new Bishop-elect Egan is similar in his outlook, otherwise Bishop Davies would not have appointed him as Vicar-General.
    Interesting to see the spread of the flat vowels of Greater Manchester continuing to fill the Bishops’ Conference. All to the good as far as I am concerned.

  • Claudia

     I agree. It would be nice to see the Tablet “get on board” with Catholicism.

  • W Oddie

    You ask if there is anything in this. Answer: no, no, no, no; it is simply pathetic, and would certainly be rejected by Bishop Fellayand all other rational SSPX members.

  • W Oddie

    Hee, hee

  • W Oddie

    Oh, come on, just look at it and use your common sense.

  • Sigfridii

    If only the poor old CofE could do likewise!

  • Len Edwards

    What a load of poppycock! You obviously don’t live in Diocese.!
    I thoroughly disagree that Portsmouth have been ‘ subversive’.
    We have a Living our Faith campaign that is evidence as to just how much
    We have progressed. I fear we may be going backwards if there is any
    Truth in what you state!?

    Len Edwards
    Southsea

  • gabriel_syme

    Well, this is indeed good news and hopefully the Msg will go on to make every bit as dynamic an impact as has the excellent +Davies.

    @ William Oddie:  Do you see the malaise you perceive as affecting the Scottish Bishops as well?  If not, how can this be so, given is it not the same Nuncios who recommend Bishops across the UK?

    What is your opinion of the Scottish Bishops?  I recall you suggesting you felt they were generally better than the wet rags which passed for Bishops in England, before +Davies etc anyway.

    What is your opinion of Bishop Tartaglia succeeding Archbishop Conti in Glasgow?  Typically the press have said Tartaglia is “Benedicts man”, (I mean, really, who else’s would he be?), but I have heard criticism of him as being too accomdating / gun-shy to be a really good Bishop.

    Thanks for your comments, if you managed to post!

  • Proecclesia

    As a Catholic teacher (retd.)  I am not looking for extremism in any direction just bishops who will ensure that the children in their Catholic schools are taught the Truths of the Faith, as laid down in “The Catechism of the Catholic Church”  really effectively because then we can look forward to them staying in the Church and even some becoming priests and religious.  Otherwise the Church will not survive long in this country..

  • http://thesheepfold.typepad.com/ thesheepcat

    Exciting news. Britain’s opportunity for renewal of its episcopate may parallel that in the highly secularized Canadian province of Quebec, where Cardinal Ouellet has taken bold steps:
    http://www.catholicregister.org/columns/item/14091-reconfiguring-the-episcopate

  • St John Smythe

    The Leeds diocese will also need a new bishop because Bishop Roche will be going to Rome to become Secretary of the Congregation of Divine Worship and Discipline of the Sacraments.

    I’m sure Monsignor Egan will be a wonderful bishop. Fearless, authentic preaching of the Gospel, faithful priestly ministry, and living a life of example,  are what we need from our bishops.

  • awkwardcustomer

    How can you be so sure that the assessments of SSPX Asia ‘would certainly be rejected by Bishop Fellay and all other rational SSPX members’? Here’s a quote from Archbishop Lefebvre which might explain things:

    ‘The adoption of liberal theses by a Council could not have occurred except in a non-infallible pastoral council, and cannot be explained without there having been a secret, detailed preparation which the historians will eventually uncover to the great stupefaction of Catholics who confuse the eternal Roman Catholic Church with the human Rome susceptible to infiltration by enemies robed in purple.’ (A Bishop Speaks, p260)

    Ready to be stupefied, anyone?

  • Hopkins

    The Catholic Church has been very tolerant of bishops and priests that are not only disloyal to the Pope but also contemptuous of historical Catholicism itself . How can any organization expect to be properly run in this manner?

  • Alan

    There will always be differences of opinion in the Catholic Church, as in any organisation, though not as openly and publicly expressed as in the Anglican.  It seems to me that William Oddie is keen on stirring up these differences.  I’m particularly saddened by the implied criticism of the saintly Cardinal Hume.  I cannot recall ever hearing or seeing a denial by an English bishop of any basic Catholic teaching.  Could someone enlighten me please? 

  • South Saxon

    It is good news indeed about Mgr Egan. Those of us who long for bishops loyal to the Magisterium will look forward to the next recommendations of Archbishop Mennini.
     East Anglia and Leeds await a new bishop. The bishops of Plymouth, Hallam and Brentwood are over 75 years of age, while the Archbishop of Liverpool and the Bishop of Salford are nearly 74. There are two other diocesans in their seventies: Lancaster and Hexham & Newcastle.

    The diocese in which I live must wait until February 2025 until we can hope for a bishop loyal to the Magisterium. I don’t think I will make it!

  • Fudge

    The pope is only judged to be completely right when his statements are considered infallible.  Other than that there is scope for differences of opinion as long as nothing of significant importance is challenged.  It would be impossible for all priests, bishops, cardinals and people to agree with a pope just because he speaks or writes.   Jesus met the people where they were and wasn’t afraid to challenge laws and strict adherence to laws, hence his criticism of the Pharisees.  It is our hearts which he examines closely.
    Historical Catholism changed and evolved as it should do otherwise the church would be stagnant and irrelevant to itself and its people. 
    Don’t be afraid to embrace change, it can be inspiring and full of grace.  Clinging to the past is surely as ill advised as charging ahead without discerment. 

  • Honeybadger

    Soon, the Tablet will need to take the tablets…

    What a masterstroke! Yesssss!

  • Fintan1944

    Mr Oddie, The appointment in Wrexham rather weakens your argument. 

  • Laurence England

     In the 1960s and 70s the Church was infiltrated by Marxists.

    Today, the Church is being infiltrated by Catholics!

  • hopefroreurope

    It may take a while for distinctive changes to make a difference here in the UK but as St Luigi Orione once prophecied [quote] “England will see her errors departing and truth advancing once again as Catholicism blesses again the home of Wiseman, Manning and Vaughan to become again the Island of Saints” [unquote]

  • daclamat

    Just supposing the people in the Vazican who do these things actuall reaad the acts of the apostles and appointed respected heads of families to be episkopoi. And gfted Italian stayed at hom.  Stop being obsequous bill.  Jobs for the boys has no scriptural foundation

  • JabbaPapa

    Your comments are only true up to a point, and they entirely set aside the rest of the Magisterium, which does not constitute of just the Pope.

    There is far too great a focus put upon the question of infallible versus fallible doctrines, whereas the actual Authority of Catholic teachings is both deeper and more complex than this black & white view of things would seem to suggest.

    It would be better, instead of thinking in terms of infallible/fallible, to think in terms of divine/infallible/Authoritative/fallible/pastoral-disciplinary/speculative to more accurately understand the various degrees of necessity of the various doctrines in the Catholicity.

    At the upper end there is a difference between a doctrine that is divinely Revealed and one that is merely infallible — denying a simple infallible doctrine excludes you from Communion with the Church, a situation that is usually remedied by contrition and penance ; denying a divinely revealed one disqualifies you from describing yourself as a Christian.

    At the lower end, not every fallible doctrine is speculative in nature, and a great number of fallible doctrines are to be held as being true by Catholics de fide — and these may be fallible only in the very strict sense that to deny them, whilst NOT being considered as “licit”, does not automatically remove oneself from Communion with the Church.

    Total freedom of opinion exists only for those teachings that are speculative in nature, and have not been provided with any pastoral or disciplinary limitations as to what Catholics should profess and believe.

    As to your comments that “Historical Catholism changed and evolved“, good doctrine exists as Revelation, not as man-made theology — it is the property of God, provided to mankind, and as such it exists outside of any man-made considerations.

    Revelation has been provided to the Church to be taught to mankind, not debated and changed by him.

    The expression of Revelation via doctrine changes within History, with the changes that occur in Language, Philosophy, and Culture — but its substance is transcendental, and belongs to God, and is therefore constant throughout History.

    In other words, you’re wrong.

    Clinging to the past is surely as ill advised as charging ahead without discerment.

    I cling to neither past, present, nor future — I cling to the Christ, the Holy Spirit, and the Father, and to the Communion of the Saints, the living and the dead, and to Revelation.

    Imagining that these are contingent to changes and shifts in man-made thinking is the heresy called Modernism.

  • teigitur

    Bishop Tartaglia consistantly refuses to allow a EF Mass anywhere in his Diocese. So much for being ” Benedicts man”!!

  • Solent Rambler

    Good for you, Len.   I find this attack on Bishop Hollis, his priests and people unpleasant and distasteful.  Am in Fareham, by the way.

  • Alan

    Manning wrote “I see much danger of an English Catholicism of which Newman is the highest type. . . It takes the line of deprecating exaggerations, foreign devotions, ultramontanism, anti-national sympathies.  In a word, it is worldly Catholicism”.
    Newman wrote “To live is to change, and to be perfect is to have changed often”.
    Which of these is on the way to sainthood? 

  • Alan

    Still waiting for someone to enlighten me about which English bishop(s) has said anything contrary to Church teaching.  If you can’t provide an example, stop knocking them.

  • Fr Gerard

    Don’t hold your breath mate, it is mostly illusory and self justifying poppycock.

  • nytor

    I have lived in that diocese. It was a liturgical disaster area. Abuses were rife. As for “Christian Stewardship” campaign, what a waste of time and money.

  • nytor

    I greatly doubt that much of that had anything to do with Bishop Hollis. Agreeing to canonically erect a house is not the same thing as being enthusiastic about doing so. It’s a shame he didn’t properly regulate celebrations of the OF.

  • nytor

    Several dioceses will need bishops. East Anglia, Plymouth, Liverpool, Salford, Brentwood…and they’re just the ones I know of.

  • nytor

    Ah, you have Conry? My most profound commiserations.

  • nytor

    Try Conry’s attack on frequent confession and ramblings about how young people cannot understand salvation so we shouldn’t tell them about it, for a start.

  • nytor

    The bishops suggest candidates to the nuncio. The Scottish bishops have suggested candidates of a different stamp, that’s why.

    If it is true that Tartaglia has refused to allow EF masses in his diocese then this is an outrage as he has no right to do so. However, I’d want corroboration of the facts there. If it’s true he should be reported to Rome.

    He isn’t definitely succeeding Conti, is he?

  • nytor

    Wrexham was apparently not really the doing of this nuncio.

  • W Oddie

    If you actually read the article (which naturally refers to the Wrexham appointment), you will see why it doesn’t. 

  • Burt

    I am just hoping Archbishop Mennini might have it in mind that England, lacking a Cardinal, might recommend Bishop Davies. Does a Cardinal need to be an Archbishop in the first place?

  • Pam

    What is going to happen to the insights of Vatican II?

  • W Oddie

    It isn’t even a matter of actually saying anything contrary to Church teaching, few of them actually do that (Conry is a rare case). It’s a matter of not asserting Catholic truth and acting on that truth. Most strikingly, consider the Archbishop of Westminster’s refusal to close down the Soho Masses, during which he KNOWS, whatever his denials, that active homosexuals — who openly declare that that’s  what they are –are knowingly being given Holy Communion (with that refusal’s implied denial of Catholic teaching on homosexual acts), and also his open support for Gay civil unions, which the Church has condemned. 

    Quite simply, episcopal refusal or simple failure to teach what the Church teaches is as bad as a denial: how many, for instance, actually teach what Humanae Vitae teaches? Their refusal to teach it or to endorse it is a denial of it. One could go on at some length. Our bishops have too often simply declined to teach the whole Catholic faith as the Magisterium has declared it. That has been their betrayal.