THE gifted broadcaster and writer John FX Harriott has died, aged 57. Best known for his Periscope column in the Tablet, John Harriott was also a noted expert on ecumenical matters and after he left the Jesuit order worked with the Independent Broadcasting Authority.
Born in 1923 and educated at Wimbledon College, he joined the Society of Jesus before his seventeenth birthday, going on to read English at Oxford and philosophy and theology at Heythrop College. He was ordained in 1965 and worked initially in the Jesuit retreat house at Rainhill in Lancashire.
He was about to be appointed superior of the house when, in October, 1968, he joined 54 other priests in signing a letter to the Times on the encyclical Humanae vitae which outlawed artificial birth control, in which he declared that he "could not in conscience give loyal internal and external obedience to the view that all such means of contraception are in all circumstances wrong".
His action earned him the disapproval of his superiors and he left Rainhill, ending up on the staff of the Jesuit publication the Month, on condition that he did not write on the contentious encyclical.
His attendance at the 1971 Synod on Justice in Rome brought him into contact with worldwide issues and with the Catholic Institute for International Relations where he became a familiar face.
Despite the high regard in which he was held by many Jesuits in Rome, John Harriott was not reconciled with his superiors in London and in 1978 left the Society. In 1979 he married the writer and broadcaster Shirley de Boulay and they made their home in Oxfordshire, with John working for the IBA and beginning his Tablet column which appeared every two weeks.
Tiring of commuting to London he retired in 1986 to dedicate himself to his writing, contributing to many publications including the Catholic Herald, and drafting speeches on ecumenical matters for the Archbishop of Canterbury. A collection of his writings, Empire of the Heart, was published recently and its success is a tribute to John Harriott's enduring skill and style as a writer.
He had a particular affection for Ireland and a gift for conveying a sense of place and of personal observation. Writing in the Catholic Herald in July 1989 he described a holiday sojourn in Dingle in Ireland. "An Englishman
visiting Ireland", he wrote, "is like a German visiting Coventry. Without being personally responsible one still feels shame for the atrocities visited on the Irish by one's own people. With a few headline-hogging exceptions, the resurgent Irish have shown an heroic capacity to forgive their oppressors; but, we the English, I fear, have never really faced our need to be forgiven. Perhaps true reconciliation will only be possible when representatives of the Crown, Lords and Commons travel in sackcloth and ashes to confess, do penance and ask forgiveness of the Irish people. It would be quite a ceremony."
CATHOLIC convert and diplomat Sir Paul Grey died recently, aged 82. Sir Paul served in Rome in the 1930s and in Moscow in the 1950s, where he lived through the last years of Stalinism.
In 1957, he was appointed Ambassador to Prague, where he remained for three years before being sent to Berne.
Sir Paul was born in 1908. He was educated at Charterhouse and Oxford. He joined the Foreign Office in 1934 and the next year he was posted to Rome, beginning a long and distinguished career which lasted until 1964 when he retired.
He was involved in a number of charitable and church-related activities. He was a Knight of Malta and contributor and trustee of the Tablet.
BR Denis Victor of the De la Salle order died recently. He was, at his death, the oldest De La Salle Brother in Britain. Br Denis was educated at St Joseph's College, Beulah Hill, and after a period of postschool work, he entered the order in Dover in 1914.
Early assignments as a teacher were in St John's, Southsea, Guernsey and Beulah Hill. He spent many years in recruiting aspirants to the brothers and in their formation.
After a spell as superior in St Joseph's, Ipswich, he was appointed the second Provincial of the London province in 1958, a post he held until 1964. For many years after this he worked as Librarian-Archivist in Dogmersfield, Hampshire, and in Herne Hill.
Br Denis received the award Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice and other decorations, including being appointed a Freeman of the City of London. These were to mark his work for Catholic education.
From the bisho s' diaries
THE standing committee of the bishops' conference meeting at New Hall in Chelmsford dominates the bishops' diaries for the forthcoming week.
Before joining their fellow prelates at New Hall several witness the launch of the Decade of Evangelistion. Bishop Mervyn Alexander or Clifton attends a launch service in Bristol cathedral on Sunday evening, while Bishop Crisplan Hollis of Portsmouth joins other church leaders in Winchester cathedral for a similar event on the same day. Bishop Daniel Mullins of Menevia is likewise in his cathedral to see in the decade on Sunday morning.
Cardinal Basil Hume of Westminster goes on from the bishops' meeting to a gathering of the Churches Together in England at Lambeth Palace on Friday.
Bishop Cormac Murphy O'Connor of Arundel and Brighton travels to Malta on Friday to address the Cana Movement on their 35th anniversary.
Bishop Howard Tripp, auxiliary in Southwark, celebrates mass at Brixton Prison on Sunday and inducts Fr McElhone as Catholic chaplain there, while on the same day Bishop John Crowley, auxiliary in Westminster, is at mass with the deaf community.