Saturday, December 13, 2008

Who should be the next Archbishop of Westminster?

James MacMillan, composer

The reason that Basil Hume (Cardinal, 1976-99) is so fondly and universally remembered is that he brought a genuine sense of holiness to his position as Cardinal Archbishop.

Sometimes that comes naturally with the contemplative and monastic life. Monasteries remind us of the prime importance of prayer and humble devotion in the presence of God.

More important than jousting with the media or man management is the ability to open a window on the nature of a loving God. Monks and friars have that vision, and that is why I would suggest either a Benedictine such as Abbot Hugh Gilbert of Pluscarden Abbey, Scotland, or a Dominican, Fr Aidan Nichols, for the post.

William Oddie, editor of The Catholic Herald 1999 - 2004 and author of Chesterton and the Romance of Orthodoxy

The Pope needs to find a man who combines ability with both orthodoxy and charisma. Rome is looking for someone outside what has been described as the episcopal club of largely liberal English bishops: one candidate who fits all these criteria (and has been noticed where it matters) is Abbot Hugh Gilbert of Pluscarden, who would be the first convert Archbishop of Westminster since Cardinal Manning (1865-92).

Melanie McDonagh, journalist

Charming, engaging, easy on the eye, unequivocally English, quite grand background, and genuinely holy, Timothy Radcliffe is a Dominican friar who has been Master-General of a worldwide order. This would compensate for him not having experience running a diocese. And he has a remarkable gift for effective communication with people who don’t speak the language of the religiously committed, which is what’s needed right now. The question is, would he be allowed by journalists to engage with the larger questions about God and Man rather than with the narrower questions of sexuality? As we’ve seen with Rowan Williams, an intelligent and interesting man is likely to be boxed into a corner (ie, not allowed to talk about much else) once he’s seen as having problematic views on the question of homosexuality. And on this, he’s on the record as being a liberal.

John Wilkins, editor, The Tablet, 1982-2003

Five names came back from Rome earlier this year, after the papal nuncio in London submitted a “long list” of candidates, asking which ones found most favour. It is safe to assume that Timothy Radcliffe, former Master of the Dominicans, was not among the five. He has the ability to think “outside the box”, and a spirituality that would appeal to the nation, but some in Rome consider him to the left of the left. He can therefore continue his prophetic mission untrammelled by high office. So the front-runners must be Archbishop Vincent Nichols of Birmingham and Archbishop Peter Smith of Cardiff. If chosen, either would be a formidable operator. The key decision facing the new man will be how far to engage in dialogue with the secularism of the age and how far to take up arms against it.

Ann Widdecombe, MP

The most important attribute for the next Cardinal Archbishop should be that he does not want the post. The late Basil Hume was plucked most unwillingly from his monastery and wanted only to return to it. It should be an appointment guided by the Holy Spirit and not just a career move for a senior churchman. Perhaps the Abbot of Worth, Christopher Jamison, would be a good choice because we do not need a career churchman, but someone more contemplative, and for that the Church needs to look in the monasteries.

Peter Stanford, biographer, columnist, The Tablet, former editor, The Catholic Herald (1988-92)

My impression of the papacy of Benedict XVI is that he is working above all to be a good shepherd, to keep his diverse, sometimes argumentative, flock united, and so he will choose as Archbishop of Westminster someone well suited to that task. Archbishop Vincent Nichols has the experience, the desire and the broad acceptability in all mainstream quarters of the English and Welsh Catholic Church to do it. Archbishop Peter Smith has a slight edge in his ability to convey the Church’s message to a secular and sceptical society in a positive way — but that is not high on the Vatican’s to-do list. However tempting it is to see the enlightened and enlightening Timothy Radcliffe in post, it is just not going to happen. It would polarise, and Rome doesn’t want that.

Dom Antony Sutch, parish priest, Beccles, and former headmaster, Downside School

Timothy Radcliffe is an inspiration, a huge towering spiritual man, mainly because he doesn’t know it. However, he is almost too big for the job.

Geoffrey Scott OSB, Abbot of Douai

The new leader will have to throw himself into the task of ensuring the very survival of Christianity in England and Wales. Pope Gregory the Great was called the Apostle of England; he was a monk and the author of that bishops’ manual called Pastoral Care. I would therefore recommend to the Holy Spirit as the new archbishop Abbot Edmund Power, a monk of my community who has all the qualities, but none of the weaknesses, of St Augustine of Canterbury.

Robin Baird-Smith, publishing director, Continuum Books

The one religious order in Britain which is really flourishing today is the Dominican Order, with lots of young people signing up. That is because they have got it right. They are open to God and open to the world. And their motto is one word: Truth. I think we need a blast of Dominican fresh air. I would therefore support either Fr Timothy Radcliffe or Bishop Malcolm McMahon of Nottingham to be the next Archbishop of Westminster, but I would plump for McMahon because I don’t think Radcliffe will get the job. The Bishop is open, a man of principle with the greatest pastoral sensitivity. He is loved by his priests.

Michael Walsh, author of The Westminster Cardinals: The Past and the Future

Many would be delighted if Malcolm McMahon was appointed. McMahon is not likely to be browbeaten by Rome — maintaining one’s distance from the Vatican is, particularly under the present administration, not at all a bad thing. He would be popular with the more liberal wing of the Church. Another possibility is William Kenny, now an assistant bishop in Birmingham but before that a bishop in Sweden. He has vast experience of working with the Church’s international relief services which could be of considerable benefit. He is easy to get on with, but has the possible disadvantage of being, like McMahon, a member of a religious order, in his case the Passionists.

Another religious who has been mentioned to me is Edmund Power OSB, Abbot of St Paul’s-without-the-Wall in Rome. He studied at Heythrop and was teaching at Sant’Anselmo, the Benedictine university in Rome, before he was transferred to St Paul’s, one of the world’s oldest Benedictine monasteries. The community was in disarray, and he has done an outstanding job pulling it together. He also has the advantage of knowing Rome and being known in Rome. I would pick him or Michael Holman, the Jesuit Provincial, as the outside choice. Holman is excellent on social issues and is much admired by people who hear him speak. It is, however, an unlikely choice. There has not been a Jesuit diocesan bishop in England since the restoration of the hierarchy in 1850.

Otherwise, I think I prefer Peter Smith to Vincent Nichols. Smith is rather more aware of himself, and of the impact he is making, on radio and television than is Nichols, and is not as confrontational — and in a difficult situation he has done a good job in Cardiff.

Sir Stephen Wall, former EU adviser to Tony Blair and to Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor

The next Archbishop of Westminster will need to carve out space in which to say things that resonate with non-Catholics and non-Christians. The Vatican likes its bishops to bang on about the perils of secularism, condoms, gay marriage and other issues where most ordinary people — including many Catholics — think they have lost the plot. So, the next archbishop should put a bit of water in that rather vinegary wine. My first choice would be Timothy Radcliffe: a man who has proven skills as a leader and can communicate the message of God’s love in a way that reaches out to the wider community.

Dr Gemma Simmonds CJ, Heythrop College

Archbishop Peter Smith has a proven track record in dealing effectively with both the public and private sides of this office. In the context of complex moral and theological issues he has made confident, clear statements of Catholic teaching to the media and the Government. He has dealt with painful issues within his own diocese decisively and humanely. He is a man of convincing spiritual presence while also being hugely engaging, utterly natural and disarmingly human.

Charles Moore, former editor, The Daily Telegraph

Timothy Radcliffe, please. It is time for a visionary.

Catherine Pepinster, editor of The Tablet

When Cardinal Wiseman sat down to four courses of fish during Lent, Lytton Strachey recalled in Eminent Victorians, one observer remarked that there was a “lobster salad side” to the Cardinal. Spiritual leaders in this country, however, are most admired and respected when they are modest, humble and with their eyes fixed on God rather than their plate and their own worldly ambitions.

In the media age, the next Archbishop of Westminster must be articulate, able to communicate church teachings to a sceptical world, as well as Christ’s love. He must not be a politician, but be able to talk to politicians.

The most vital challenge is to be both of this world and not of it.

People will be alienated by a Church that closes its shutters to contemporary problems, but if it offers nothing different, what is the point?

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The placing of an article hereupon does not necessarily imply that I agree or accept the contents of the article as being necessarily factual in theology, dogma or otherwise.

Sotto Voce

(Source: TTO)

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