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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.

  • W Oddie

    See my reply to Nytor, above. Are you REALLY a priest?

  • rjt1

    What particular insights were you thinking of? (I fully accept Vatican II)

  • teigitur

    Nothing is ever definite in the Church until it happens.
     It is completely true that he is totally resisting the EF Mass in his Diocese. I know several of the group that are trying to overturn this. Rome is now involved, but I m sure no-one is holding their breath!

  • Fudge

    So throughout the Catholic Church you think that couples having sex outside of marriage as well as active homosexuals should be rooted out and denied Communion?  How can this be done publicly?  Who will be the one to stand with the ciborium or chalice and refuse reception of the Sacrament?  Who will decide or know whether they have confessed and received absolution?  Are murderers and paedophiles, and any other people who have committed serious sin to be rooted out too?   Yes, the Church says they should not receive Communion but refusing reception is a minefield which could create a lot of false accusation and scandal.

  • Cannon P

    One can only hope that those mentioned above in this slanderous tirade will have the courage to take 
    Dr William Oddie to court.

  • Karen

    A tragic day for Portsmouth if Mgr Egan follows the approach of Bishop Mark Davies in Shresbury.

  • Karen

    Nothing good can come from Bishop Mark Davies. He destroyed the Pastoral Formation when in Salford, now in Shrewsbury, and sadly his venom is now likely to stretch to Portsmouth. 

  • Karen

    God Help US if we have any more Bishop’s like Mark Davis

  • P. Cannon

    Sadly the writing is on the walls. Instead of having the values of Jesus Christ we will be faced with the values of a power crazy Bishop in the same vain as Mark Davis

  • Paul

    We should be following the teaching of Jesus Christ. If this clashes with Rome then we must have the courage to stand up to Rome. The teaching of Christ must take presidence at all times.

  • Karen

    I long for loyalty – to the teaching of Christ, which is not necessarily the Magisterium. look at the mess we got in when we BLINDLY followed our so called leaders  – Child abuse scandel comes to mind.

  • Burt

     Some of us are hoping that this appointment is because God is helping the Catholic Faith in England. I don’t think Bishops like Mark Davis will have much time for heretics and dissenters as did +Crispin for the likes of Sr. Myra Poole

  • Alan

    The Catechism of the Catholic Church (if we take that as constituting “what the Church teaches”) is nearly 700 pages long.  Is it really being suggested that every bishop should actively teach what is on every one of those 700 pages?  As for Humanae Vitae, whenever I have heard a bishop asked about it he has endorsed it.

  • Fudge

    Have you heard of the rumblings and havoc wreaked in Shrewsbury diocese since Bp Davies went there?  People’s jobs gone and feelings trampled on.  Surely not the way to go about things even if they are correct decisions

  • Fudge

    I agree

  • Athanasius

    Silly woman. He’s a Catholic bishop; he has the authority to teach; he knows what he is teaching. Learn from him.

  • sclerotic

    A new era? I doubt it. Believing as he does that contraception is a grave sin, one of his earliest acts should be to issue a pastoral letter informing his diocese that no one should come to the sacraments who have committed grave sin until they have been to confession. I can’t see it happening. Empty pews mean empty collection plates. In the competition between God and mammon, liberal or conservative, the episcopal decision is rarely in much doubt.

  • South Saxon

    Thank you, nytor.
    All we ask for is:
    - a bishop who does not question the necessity for regular confession; 
    - a bishop who does not “water down” the faith; 
    - a bishop who does not consider elements of the faith as being too difficult for young adults; 
    - a bishop who recognises the importance of Humanae Vitae; 
    - a bishop who does not oppose the use of the Hail Mary in the Mass;
    -  a bishop who does not criticise the Holy Father’s New Evangelisation programme; 
    - a bishop who consistently upholds the Faith;
    or a change of heart in the bishop we have. 

    At least there is the encouragement that the power of the Magic Circle cannot last with the appointment of such excellent orthodox bishops as Shrewsbury and (now) Portsmouth.

  • W Oddie

    I think you may have misunderstood what Newman meant by that. Which of these is the way to sainthood? Simple: both. Nobody defended the authority of the papacy more passionately than Newman. I think you have a little reading to do; I advise you to begin with Dr Ian Ker’s critical biography.

  • W Oddie

    What bishops have endorsed it, and when? This is drivel and you know it.

  • W Oddie

    I’m not saying that anyone should be reused communion at the altar rail: simply that the Soho Masses, which are a major source of scandal to the faithful, should be close down. Easy. The fact that Abp Nichols doesn’t do it can only indicate that he believes in what they represent.

  • Burt

     I applaud you Dr. Oddie for publicly voicing the concerns of those of us who are scandalised by the Soho Masses. Good on you.

  • JonathanBurdon

    On what basis?

  • Mike

    Thank God!!! We orthodox Catholics in the diocese of Portsmouth have prayed long and very hard for the end of the rot that has beset our poor diocese for years. I pray so much for our new bishop.

  • teigitur

    I was only at Mass in that Diocese once. It was a first Holy Communion Mass on a Sunday.I can safely say it was a very much less than edifying experience. To call Mass a shambles is not nice, but thats what it was.This may have been an isolated situation, though it seems not, given what I have read and heard since.

  • Alan

    I have never heard, or read, a bishop denying it, it would certainly make news if he had.  I have not kept a record of interviews on this topic, but I seem to recall Peter Smith (my own Archbishop) justifying the teaching.

  • gabriel_syme

    Hi Nytor,

    Well I have no concrete information, regarding ++Conti’s successor, but thats what everyone is saying. 

    I have no information regarding +Tartaglia and the latin mass.  However, according to Una Voca, it is only the Archdiocese of Glasgow, Archdiocese of Edinburgh and Diocese of Motherwell which have regular latin masses.  Paisley – +Tartaglias diocese – isnt mentioned in the list below.

    See here:  http://www.unavocescotland.org.uk/uvsmassesevents.htm

    I had heard that ++Conti was not accomodating to the traditional mass, but then there has always been some provision in Glasgow during his tenture, so maybe it was just hearsay.

    There is an SSPX Church in Glasgow too, just around the corner from where I go, offering traditional Catholicism.

  • W Oddie

    Certainly, Archbishop Smith does; he is exceptional in this. Maybe one or two more:  but that’s all. Mostly they keep quiet.

  • Fintan1944

     You are speculating about something you know nothing about to  further your argument.  All pending appointments were halted upon the retirement of the previous Nuncio and started again under the present Nuncio.  I do have a question for you though. How were you able to publish this article so soon after the announcement?  Were you tipped off in advance?>

  • gabriel_syme

    No-one is seeking  “extremism” Proecclesia.  Just Catholicism.

    My mother is also a retired Catholic teacher.  When I sent her the links to the coalition- and scotland-for-marriage petitions, a democratic endeavour, she called me an “extremist”.

    I thought that was absolutely remarkable.

    I also recall her encouraging me, when I was 16 and going on holiday, with a friend and his family, to “remember about condoms, if I met a girl”.

    (Funnily enough, I stopped going to Church when I was 16, mostly ignorant of my nominal faith, bar the nativity story and a rudimentary appreciation of the sacraments.  I returned aged 28, thanks to the grace of God.)

    Even in my largely secular adolescent time, It didn’t sit very well with me that a parent was condoning, (if not encouraging), their 16 year old child having meaningless sexual encounters with people met during a fortnights holiday.  Like secular society, it seemed contraception was the main point, not responsible sexual behaviour.

    It would seem you get 3 levels: extremism, orthodoxy and then you get Catholic teachers.

    Only when one of the new English Bishops posts a video online of himself cutting someones head off, will I accept talk of “extremism”.

    PS – I love my mother very much, but I don’t think any Catholics of the flower power generation have done a very good job of passing on, or advertising, the faith.  “Do as you will” always seems to be their message.

  • gabriel_syme

     I didn’t know that.  Who has been asking him and what is his reasoning?

    As for “Benedicts man” – it was definitely the typical kind of press story, (conjuring sinister / authoritative / alien influences), rather than a comment on +Tartaglias loyalty.

  • Alan

    Certainly Newman defended the papacy, but he was not an ultramontanist.  My comment on sainthood referred to canonisation.

  • Domine Jesu

    Amen Mike. I pray there are enough of us to step from the liberal shadow. We have truly been blessed by the appointment of Bishop-elect Egan. Jesus is Lord+

  • Percy Bailey

    I do think that it is disingenuous of Mr Oddie to use his piece in the reactionary Catholic Herald to make such a nasty attack on the person of the retiring Bishop of Portsmouth. Fr Hollis has been a driving force in the human and pastoral development of the people of his diocese. He has listened to them and responded with unstinting concern. He has moved with them, at their own pace, and used his episcopate to allow the Spirit driven hope of the Council to grow and become evident in the local communities he has developed and encouraged.

    To say, and I quote, “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″ must hurt a Bishop who has worked so hard to support ordinary people at a local level.The prayer of Pope John Paul was always that people should love one another as the Christ showed love. Fr Hollis has embodied that in all he has tried to achieve.A local priest in Portsmouth has told me that, in the Diocese of Portsmouth, there are more adult formation programmes ongoing in the Portsmouth Diocese than in any area in the Country, a fact highlighted at a recent RCIA conference.To compare this, with the Diocese of Shrewsbury, where Fr Egan is coming to us from, a priest there told me that adult formation is struggling because the Notre Dame Sister leading the programme has not had her contract renewed recently, after a long productive and well appreciated association with the Diocese, something she only discovered when she read a recent piece in the Tablet. Fr Egan was the VG responsible for passing on that information in what most of us would consider a sensitive way. Friends of mine remind me of a similar cull in the Salford Diocese when Fr Davies was the Vicar General.I rang a colleague in Shrewsbury to ask about the unknown Vicar General and she told me that 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.Is that what Portsmouth deserves?

  • Fintan1944

     Yes it was!

  • northern priest

    how a Catholic woman can say this is quite unbelievable!!!! fidelity to the Church and its teaching!!! its wonderful to hear the pope’s comments,the Catechism of the Catholic Church being used and the teaching of Christ and His Church being proclaimed….you are in my prayers -

  • Bob Hayes

    Sorry, I am not sure what point you seek to make. Please explain further.

  • Jim

    It’s great to see this approach being taken.  The appointment of cronies by the influence of the national episcopal conference has similarly destroyed the Irish Church. As someone who has being active in my faith I have never heard the term “New Evangelisation” used in this country.  Our bishops may need some of their foreign counterparts to explain this term when they go to Rome for the Synod in October  Disobedience does not solely apply to heretics like the ACP, it applies to Bishops who show grudging obedience to the Magisterium and Rome.  Recently the Irish Visitation Report into seminaries was a prime example.  Cardinal Dolan was asked by the Holy Father to conduct an honest report into seminaries which he did.  Every ordinary catholic on the street knew that our seminaries are cesspits that do more damage to vocations than cultivate them.  The Irish archbishops thought that this went too far and slated Cardinal Dolan.  Sheer pride!   I thank God that Rome is taking a real interest in us also because our four archbishops seem to be kicking and screaming towards orthodoxy.  I thank God for Bishops like Mark Davies, someone who sees himself as a successor of the apostles and not a clerical celebrity!

  • Deacon Augustine

    Looks like its time to get the P45′s ready for the crowd at Park Place….

  • Deacon Augustine

    Hopefully they will be contextualized by the insights of Vatican I, Trent, Florence etc.

  • Burt

    “The Irish archbishops thought that this went too far and slated Cardinal Dolan.  Sheer pride!”

    Sheer pride indeed. when the Irish hierarchy should feel nothing but shame. They tolerate ACP with their dreadful agenda of dissent. Our Hierarchy in England & Wales are also too tolerating to the likes of ACP priests also. High flying eco, green issue, obsessed ringleaders of the ACP are given platforms all the time here too. Fr Sean McDonagh has his regular column in The Catholic Heralds down market sister paper the tabloidish ‘Universe’. Dissenting priests are given too much rope. It’s about time these priests were reined in!

  • teigitur

    Several people asked for an EF Mass( even just an occasional one) after the Summorum Pontificum, and were refused. Then a group got together and a series of letters were exchanged, resulting, eventually in a meeting with the Bishop. A relatively positive meeting by all accounts.
     Then, he clearly was put under pressure by certain high placed Priests in the Diocese, and nothing happened. The group contacted Rome some 2.5 years ago, and presumably Rome are still looking into it.

  • W Oddie

    What do you think?

  • Fintan1944

     Is that a ‘yes’?   Seems like it ……..

  • Athanasius

    Why are yuo so against a good bishop, loyal to Christ and His Church? Seems to me you have problems with the truth.

  • Hambone42

    My friend in the Diocese of Portsmouth is livid at the pretentious swipe at their beloved bishop, Crispian. Tablet 1-0 Herald (own goal)

  • John-of-Hayling

     Quite correct Karen, God will help us – perhaps that is not exactly what you meant though!

  • John-of-Hayling

     Karen – get a life and give the new man a chance…. You have an obvious bias towards something that doesn’t seem to be very Catholic.

  • John-of-Hayling

     Fudgey – rumblings eh…. not actual hard evidence. Could it be that the direction set by the new Bishop has put some people’s noses out of joint?

  • John-of-Hayling

     Ah – so you want to follow the line of ‘What would Jesus do….’ Interesting but hardly a Catholic approach, it is essentially a low-level protestant road followed by folk in groups that have little strucure or authority. And don’t blame child abuse on the Magisterium there are plenty of others only too happy to follow that line….