Thursday, March 12, 2009

The Choice?

Yesterday, the ever-reliable Italian vaticanista Paolo Rodari of Il Riformista reported that the Pope's choice of a new archbishop of Westminster in succession to Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor could be named today.

Alas, Roman Noon came and went without an announcement for the church's top post in England and Wales. But Rodari -- who reported that Tim Dolan was headed for New York a day or so before the appointee got the phone call -- returned this morning with word that the choice has fallen on a current auxiliary of the capital, 53 year-old Bishop Bernard Longley.

Ordained a priest of Arundel and Brighton in 1981 where he served under then-Bishop Murphy-O'Connor, the Oxford-educated prelate led the 76 year-old cardinal to London, becoming the top ecumenist for the bishops of England and Wales and then an assistant general secretary to the episcopal conference.

A onetime seminary professor of dogmatic theology, Longley was ordained an auxiliary of Westminster in 2003 and currently oversees both a geographic slice of the 500,000-member local church and its department for pastoral affairs.

Among other notable interventions, Longley played a key role in the "groundbreaking" integration of the Soho Masses community of gay and lesbian Catholics into the life of the archdiocese, hashing out a Vatican-backed agreement in 2007 that saw the group's liturgies move from an Anglican parish to a Catholic church and a statement that, while holding the church's consistent line of teaching on homosexuality, underscored just as strongly that "the church’s pastoral outreach recognises that baptised persons with a homosexual inclination continue to look to the church for a place where they might live in authentic human integrity and holiness of life" and that their "full and active participation" in church life "is encouraged."

Amid protests from church conservatives over the liturgies, Longley said in a BBC interview at the time that "it's never been the practice of the Catholic church, as it were, to 'means-test' people before admitting them to the celebration of the Eucharist.

"It would be a mistake to jump to conclusions or to generalize," he added, "about anybody's particular lifestyle, or their state of grace."

According to prior reports, a farewell Mass for Murphy-O'Connor is scheduled for 25 March and the installation has already been booked for 23 April. Late last month, the tenth archbishop -- who succeeded the iconic Benedictine Basil Hume in 2000 -- delivered his farewell lecture in Westminster Cathedral.

SVILUPPO: By the looks of it, a Longley appointment would make both the Times and Telegraph happy; the former describes the reported pick as "someone who is relatively accessible, reliable and worthy of immense respect," with the latter portraying it as "a change in the direction of the church in England and Wales."

PHOTO: Westminster Cathedral