Page 5, 24th May 1996

24th May 1996
Page 5
Page 5, 24th May 1996 — Right man, right place, right time

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Right man, right place, right time

William Oddie views Patrick Kelly as a conservative who will adhere to Vatican II

AakT LONG LAST, after year's damaging speculation, an rchbishop for Liverpool has been appointed. Bishop Kelly of Salford is such an obvious choice now it has actually been announced that one wonders why it did not emerge from the customary processes before.

He is a Lancashire Catholic. He is the one real theologian in the present conference of Bishops. At the time of uncertainty for those suspicious of what they see as current dilutions of "the Catholic faith that comes to us from the apostles" he is a conservative, but not one from whom any abandonment of the authentic spirit of the second Vatican Council is to be feared.

In his first Radio 4 interview, he said he was the sort of person who "starts from what we have received and then explores the radical depths of that message". That is the kind of language we need from our Bishops: the tradition understood not as an unthinking resistance to all change but as a sign of contradiction to the spirit of the age. That, and not the spirit of murky compromise, is the real way to unite "radicals" and "conservatives". So why all the delay? The answer is that real debate over the present character and the future direction of Catholicism in England has been taking place at the highest levels (though not, except in the Catholic Herald, in the Catholic press).

The question has been whether or not to preserve the status quo, or whether a touch on the tiller was required. The names at first submitted to Rome rumour has it that two of these were Bishops Vincent Nicholls (North London) and David Konstant (Leeds) were seen in the Vatican as too closely associated with a period in the Church's post-Conciliar history which is now naturally drawing to a close.

Bishop Konstant has had the misfortune to preside over a programme of catechetical experimentation which here and elsewhere in the world I= has proved disastrous. Bishop Nichols, who was Archbishop Worlock's ptotege in his Liverpool days, has for too long been seer as the Cardinal's chosen successor for Westminster, in other words as representirg given his youth an almost indefinite extension of the status quo into the future.

Liverpool would have been for him a stepping stone to Westminster; this must now be regarded is an unlikely appointment. In a recent interview, the Cardinal expressed the view that "the person who comes after me will have to be very different from me, do it differently";

but only three years ago, on the occasion of his 70th birthday, he told the editor of The Tablet that he knew who he wanted to be his successor. Cardinal Hurne's understanding seems now to be that there is a sea change takingplace in English Catholicism, that the English Church needs to move into a new phase in its history; after years of exercising a hands off policy towards England, this seems also to be the Vatican's perception.

What differences will the rule of Bishop Kelly bring to the diocese of Liverpool? It is unlikely that his style of ecumenism will attract the same charges of doctrinal indifferentism as did Archbishop Worlock's. One correspondent in the letters columns of the Daily Telegraph wrote from Liverpool recently that "if the Anglican Bishop could not accept a particular Catholic doctrine, the Catholic Archbishop did not teach it." This may have been unjust (I remember for instance, a moving defence by Archbishop Worlock of clerical celibacy). But it was an accusation which had become all to easy to make, and one which will be impossible to level against Bishop Kelly. His ecumenical style will be more appropriate to an age in which it has become all too tragically clear that reunion between Canterbury and Rome is a distant mirage.

Bishop Kelly's appointment reflects a new understanding that the priority now is for Catholics to come through their present crisis of identity by relearning the faith of their fathers, but without abandoning the indispensable insights of the post-Conciliar Church. As a blunt Northerner with a devotion to the English martyrs, Bishop Kelly is the right man in the right place at the right time.

COMPROMISE candidate, the headlines

may have announced this week, but Patrick Kelly is so well-suited to step into the shoes of the late and much debated Archbishop Derek Worlock that the only real puzzle is why it took 15 long, agonised and sometimes fractious months for his name to "emerge" from the Vatican's labyrinthine processes.

Like the country folk of Ambridge, my fellow Liverpudlians prefer their own and take a disporportionately long time to accept outsiders.

Patrick Kelly will not have to wait. His birthplace at Morecambe counts as a colony of Liverpool at least for the summer months while his Irish ancestors will give the diminutive, silverhaired 57-year-old much in common with 99 per cent of his new flock. Even the most triumphalist of Liverpudlians conceded this week that his most recent posting, as Bishop of neighbouring Salford for 12 years, was the next best thing to being head of the most devout and traditionally (as opposed to traditionalist) Catholic diocese in England and Wales.

Patrick Kelly is enough like Derek Warlock to build on the past two decades of Church leadership in Liverpool but, equally and encouragingly, is enough his own man to heal the rift that has recently emerged between that majority of modernisers who lauded Archbishop Worlock's imaginative and progressive approach and that promi nent minority of traditionalists who felt he had diluted the faith.

The new Archbishop is the brightest of the Bishops and an outstanding theologian with a clear grasp of the non-negotiable essentials of the faith, combined with the wit to put them across in a readily comprehensible way. Yet he has also shown great insight and imagination over the very real practical, emotional and social dilemmas facing many Catholics in their everyday lives.

A consultor on the Pontifical Commission for Justice and Peace, he does not preach unattainable ideals, but rather gives strong and at times quietly outspoken support to such pastoral organisations as the Association of Separated and Divorced Catholics.

ONE OF THE greatest challenges facing any Church leader in Liverpool is to counter the age-old tradition of religious sectarianism in a city where Orange marches are still a feature of every 11 July.

Derek Worlock tackled this with his unique partnership with his Anglican and Free Church counterparts. Bishop Kelly has all the right credentials to continue this ground-breaking mission.

He has already worked with Bishop David Sheppard on a national broadcasting commission and is a cochairman of the AnglicanRoman Catholic International Commission. As rector of the seminary at Oscott, he developed a harmonious working relationship with the neigh bouring interchurch Queen's College.

At the same time as promoting ecumenism though, Bishop Kelly has shown particular sensitivity to the recent flood of disgruntled Anglicans wanting to come over to Rome.

Whilst stressing his respect for the sincerity of their conviction, he has recognised both the fears of cradle Catholics that this will transform their parishes and the wider damage that too enthusiastic a welcome could do to the ongoing ecumenical dialogue. His rumoured refusal to rush into ordaining a number of convert Anglican clergymen after General Synod's vote on women priests has been much commented upon in Church circles.

The selection of Bishops, according to Catholic teach ing, is not the work of vocal commentators in newspapers, or the nuncio in London, or even of the Congregation of Bishops in Rome.

It is a task for the Holy Spirit. And though the Spirit may have taken its time to reach a decision, there will be few who will not welcome Patrick Kelly's appointment. He is a man both to continue the tradition of English Catholicism that has developed under the leadership of Archbishop Worlock and Cardinal Hume over two decades, and to react with verve to heal the peculiar and sometimes divisive tensions that exist within the soul of the local and national Church at this moment.

Peter Stanford's biography of the Devil was published last month by Heinemann.

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