Richard Shaw reports on the swingeing staffing changes at the offices of the Catholic Church in England and Wales THE HEADQUARTERS of the Catholic Church in England and Wales is undergoing a radical overhaul following the departures of key members of staff.
Top-level changes are being made to the Secretariat of the Bishops' Conference of England and Wales and the Catholic Media Office (CMO), both based in Eccleston Square, London.
The shake-up comes with the retirement of assistant general secretary Nicholas Coote and the expiry of former CMO director Mgr Kieron Conry's six-year term in office last month.
Mr Coote, who will leave in April after reaching retirement age, is one of three assistants to Leeds priest Mgr Arthur Roche, the general secretary of the bishops' conference.
Mr Coote is responsible for social policies while Fr Liam Kelly, who will also leave to take up a position in the Nottingham diocese later this year, is responsible for church life, and Jesuit Fr Frank Turner responsible for international affairs.
A new position of assistant general secretary for ecumenical and inter-faith matters will also be created later in the year, to which Fr Bernard Longley, secretary to the bishops' department of mission and committee for Christian unity since 1996, will be appointed. Mr Coote has worked for the bishops' conference since 1977, first as assistant secretary and later secretary to the former social welfare commission.
He was made the first assistant general secretary when the conference reformed the Secretariat's structure in 1984.
Mr Coote will be replaced by Charles Wookey, who became public affairs assistant to Cardinal Basil Hume in 1988 and since last year has served Archbishop Cormac Murphy-O'Connor of Westminster in the same capacity.
Mr Wookey will be succeeded by his assistant, James Parker, who will be assisted himself by Conor Taaffe. "It is a great privilege to work for the Church and I am delighted and honoured to be joining the team at the bishops' conference Secretariat. I much look forward to it," said Mr Wookey.
Fr Kelly's replacement in the Secretariat has not yet been decided. Fr Turner will continue to be responsible for international affairs.
A review of the CMO has also been under way, triggered by the departure of Mgr Conry, a priest of the Archdiocese of Birmingham, who will take over a parish in Stafford when he returns from a six-month sabbatical.
Tom Horwood, CMO acting director, said that at their November meeting last year the bishops decided Mgr Conry's move presented a good opportunity to review the organisation and they commissioned an independent review run by media professionals from outside of the Church.
Key figures involved in the review are Jim Moir, the controller of BBC Radio 2 and Angela Salt, the former director of press of the Millennium Commission.
Mr Horwood said: "I have spoken to some of the diocesan communications officers and the feedback from them about the operation of the review is very impressive".
The review will report to the bishops in Low Week — the week after Easter — when they have their first meeting of the year.
The findings and recommendations of the review are expected to be implemented toward the end of 2001, possibly from October.
Mr Horwood said: 'There will probably be an interim period during which the bishops will consider the review's proposals."
He added that the Church also expected "half a dozen" new bishops over the next year.
He said: "It will be an exciting time for the bishops' conference. There will be newer and younger faces around the table bringing fresh outlooks and new experience."