Nicholas Fitzherbert, in his occasional series on Britain's Bishops, talks to Cormac Murphy O'Connor, Bishop of Arundel and Brighton
NJF: You were born in 1932. Can you tell me something about your family and the environment in which you grew up during your formative years?
BCMOC: Yes. I was born in Reading and I suppose we were a very typical family, Catholic Family.
My father was a doctor who had come over from Cork and my mother came from there as well, and I and my brothers and my sister were all born in England, in Reading and I think with our family, in a sense, everthing revolved round both the family and the Faith.
My father and mother used to go to Mass every morning; I had three uncles who were priests and so it is not unnatural that I and two of my brothers would also follow in their footsteps.
The atmosphere in the family was a very close one, a very happy one. We had numerous relatives and we were brought up in absolute security and in an atmosphere of Faith and practice and prayer which I think was both secure and very formative. NJF: Being one of six children must have brought its own special advantages and challenges. How do you recall your childhood in a family of six?
BCMOC: I was the youngest of five boys: my sister was ten years younger than me and I was the one who got least to eat after the others! We did everthing together really. We were a small group; we were very keen on sport and we all played games a lot. We played cards and so on, so in a sense the life of Faith and the life of this very Catholic family was very bound up with the very ordinary things in family life, so both at school and at home we were surrounded with a sense of security from which we were abie to be free, to be ourselves, so all of us developed, I think, in a very individual way.
NJF: You were educated at Presentation College, Reading and Prior Park College, Bath. Do you feel that this wholly Catholic education was something from which you especially benefited?
Can you, within the answer, comment on the desirability of being educated in an Anglican environment as well as a Catholic one at some stage of your education?
BCMOC: First of all, I'm quite sure that my education in two Catholic schools, Presentation College at Reading and Prior Park at Bath was of benefit to me.
What was important in the home was also important in the school and this carried on very naturally and certainly I was happy at my two schools and it never crossed my mind that there should be anything else.
Having said that, I cannot deny that for some people the more important thing is the Catholic home and there are many who are formed, as it were, in the Catholic home by their parents and family and who go to non-Catholic schools, whether Anglican or otherwise and they're able to live their Faith and in some ways it can strengthen it.
However, I think for the majority it is good that from a Catholic home you have a school that inherits the same kind of values as the Catholic home.
NJF: You started training for the priesthood in 1950, aged, I believe, 18 and were sent, in due course, to The Venerable English College, Rome and whilst there took degrees in Philosophy and Theology in The Gregorian University. Do you recall your years in Rome as very special?
BCMOC: I was in Rome from 1950 to 1957: they were not only very special, they were very happy years and very formative; not only was there the philosophy and theology but, I think, living abroad, especially in a country like Italy and in a city like Rome for seven years is in itself very formative.
You imbibe another culture and I found that in those years many of the things I remember most are not so much the philosophy or the theology, important as they were, but the actual imbibing of a culture that was Christian and deeply human and those are the things that I remember and benefited from in many ways in my after years.
NJF: You were ordained in Rome on October 28th 1956 after a preparation of seven years: do you still have vivid memories of that day and who ordained you?
BCMOC: The Bishop who ordained me was a Bishop Traglia Bishop Cormac: "...with our family, in a sense, everything revolved around both the family and the faith." The Pope, of course, is the Bishop of Rome, but he has some assistant Bishops who exercise responsibility over the Diocese and the bishop had in fact ordained by the time he died, nearly 5,000 priests.
I always remember my Ordination day because I was ordained with a lot of other priests from other countries — but he made special mention to those of us from the English college of the English Martyrs and how much he was devoted to them and how much they should be an example to us. It was a very eventful and very happy day.
NJF: How did you feel when taking up your first appointment to Corpus Christi parish, Portsmouth where you seemed to have laid a lot of emphasis on youth during your five years there?
BCMOC: I think like any new curate in a parish I though I knew a lot more than I did.
I did have a lot to do with young people and again learnt that the best way of helping them was to be with them and to help them by example rather than just telling them what to do, and I'm sure that's true and I'm sure that's the way Our Lord dealt with the disciples — just to be with them and to form them gradually.
NJF: You moved on to The Sacred Heart parish, Fareham as assistant priest in 1963 and were made Diocesan Director of Vocations, with responsibility for recruiting candidates for the priesthood.
This appointment must have been made because of some particular special characteristic that you have. BCMOC: The Bishop at that time was Archbishop King and Bishop Holland who was the Coadjutor Bishop. Both felt that they wanted a younger priest to look after this very important work and I was chosen because I happened to be in the right age bracket and also was very keen to help young people and also felt strongly that there ought to be more vocations coming from the Diocese of Portsmouth.
So I spent a lot of time talking in schools and taking away young people for retreats and I found it a very good work and very helpful work and something which I think benefitted me as well as, I hope, many young people.
NJF: Do you still retain a special interest in vocations? BCMOC: Well, certainly as Bishop it's clearly something which is very dear to my heart because 1 am anxious that this Diocese should have sufficient priests to carry on the Ordained Ministry in the future so I still take a particular interest in the vocation work in the Diocese.
NJF: Two years on you were appointed Private Secretary and Chaplain to the new Bishop of Portsmouth, the Right Reverend Derek Worlock.
Can you please describe the nature of your responsibilities?
BCMOC: Any Bishop's Secretary is meant to help the Bishop in anything the Bishop is doing, whether it is a liturgical function or whether it is a function of administration or responsibility or helping people who come to see him. I think I should say that Bishop Worlock was very kind to me, and I learnt so much from him during those years for which I'm always grateful.
NJF: You returned to pastoral work as parish priest at The Immaculate Conception, Portswood, Southampton, for a year before being appointed Rector of The English College, Rome which had been founded by Cardinal Allen in 1568 for exiled vocations. What was particularly rewarding about this appointement?
BCMOC: The most rewarding thing about being Rector of the English College was being directly responsible for forming students for the priesthood.
It is a very difficult, demanding, but also a very rewarding job because to help form young men who have such high ideals was itself very formative for me and I found it a most enriching experience.
There's a lot more to being Rector of the English College in Rome in the sense that you are connected not only with the College but also with the Universities in Rome, with the Vatican and with the English community in Rome, so in a sense you are living four or five lives and it was all most exhilarating and in many ways very enjoyable.
NJF: In 1977 at the age of 45 you were appointed Bishop of Arundel and Brighton. What responsibilities do you particularly enjoy amongst your various responsibilities? BCMOC: A Bishop has many things to do in administering the Diocese.
I think I enjoy most of all, more informal occasions, particularly when the priests of the Diocese and other lay people, can be close to one another and be a family together.
I often describe the Church as a family and the Diocese as a family and I think that whenever I experience this deeply, as I do with priests and people, on Diocesan occasions, I find this very rewarding.
NJF: You have a very big responsibility nationally as coChairman of ARCIC 11 since it was set up in 1982.
Have you any overwhelming message about the possible outcome of ecumenical effort by. say. the year 2,000 which is thirteen years away?
BCMOC: There's no way in which you can put a date to the end of ecumenism. It is like a road that has no exit. The Catholic Church is utterly committed to the ecumenical endeavour, to the growth of reconciliation between all Christian communities and we seek full Communion between other Christian communities and the Catholic Church.
You ask what are the prospects for the year 2,000? I am a natural optimist and I think that the pilgrimage on which we're on will gather momentum. I never want to say that any particular thing will happen by a certain date but when you look back and see what has happened over the past 20 years then under the grace of the Holy Spirit I think there will be greater unity between us by that date.
It will however be much more in the area of working together, of praying together, all the small things; it will be much more natural for Christians to be together and to work together and I think under the Holy Spirit this is what gives the ecumenical movement its meaning and its incentive.
You see, the ecumenical movement is not just results, it really is something to do with conversion; it's something to do with common prayer; it's something to do with new initiatives.
Now, when you take all these together then you have, as it were, an ongoing growth of reconciliation which is very hard to, quantify — it happens.
I have an adage that ecumenism happens where it happens. By that I mean that where people are working and praying and wanting unity, then that unity is coming about and where it's not happening, where people don't do it, then the grace of the Holy Spirit, as it were, hasn't the opportunity to be effective, to be fruitful.
NJF: In so far as the ultimate manifestation of ecumenism is reflected in a number of ways such as Eucharistic hospitality or, reaching beyond the obstacles of Pope Leo's Apostolic curae on the vadility of Anglican Orders, can I, in this way, hope that you might give me a little guidance as to those areas which you think are more easy for harmonisation and those which are going to take longer and prove more intractable?
BCMOC: The areas that are difficult are no doubt those areas which deal with Authoritiy in the Church, both its focus and its exercise, and also the area regarding the nature of the Church.
The second point about the nature of the Church, however, is bound up also in what ARCIC II is studying, namely the Reconciliation of Ministries.
There are still obstacles to the Reconciliation of the Anglican and Catholic Ministries and ARCIC II is studying these questions.
One of them, of coure, is the recent problem of the Ordination of women in some parts of the Reconciliation of Ministries and part of the work of ARCIC II is to determine what kind of obstacle it is.