Friday, March 21, 2014

After 13-Month Wait, Liverpool Lands a Preacher

A month after the Pope described his ideal picks, a fascinating cycle of choices from his rebooted Congregation for Bishops was capped at Roman Noon this Friday with Francis' appointment of Malcolm McMahon OP, 64, as archbishop of Liverpool, Britain's largest local church.

An engineer who entered religious life in his late 20s, McMahon had served as bishop of Nottingham since 2000, months after finishing his second term as Dominican provincial in England and Scotland, in which post he succeeded Timothy Radcliffe upon the celebrated theologian's election as Master of the Order. Beyond his work in the East Midlands, the archbishop-elect heads the education and catechetical apparatus of the church in England and Wales.

A moderate progressive in the mould of most of the Brit bench, in McMahon's case the comes with a stylistic twist: over recent years, the appointee has shown a striking affinity for the Tridentine Mass, leading several public celebrations of the 1962 Missal and, in the foreword to a recent reprint of the rite, praising the active use of Latin as being "as important for our culture and worship as Hebrew is for the Jewish people." At the same time, the new archbishop is fresh off his annual trip to last weekend's Los Angeles Religious Education Congresshardly a mecca for traditionalists – where he's long held a speaking slot, usually focusing on ecumenical and interfaith relations.

In any case, as one op – a longtime friend of McMahon's – observed, "I have never heard a word [from him] about traveling down the conservative path." Perhaps the most prominent example of the point came in 2001, when the prelate was quoted as saying "I look forward to the day when we will have women priests" during a conversation with a diocesan youth group, and was forced to clarify after a meeting with then-Cardinal Ratzinger.

Thirteen months since Archbishop Patrick Kelly's early resignation from the post following a late 2012 stroke, the move comes all of five days after the dominant Liverpudlian of the moment, now-Cardinal Vincent Nichols of Westminster (above right, with McMahon), made his homecoming to the "Mersey Funnel" – Liverpool's modern Cathedral of Christ the King (left) – to celebrate his elevation at last month's consistory.

Having used the spotlight of his elevation to fiercely decry the coalition government's cuts to welfare programs, Nichols was named by Francis to the membership of Bishops at its December reshuffle, giving the president of the English conference de facto oversight of the appointments on his turf.

The prime bastion of England's Irish diaspora, Liverpool's Catholic population is larger than Westminster's by some 30,000 members, according to the figures in the Annuario Pontificio, the Vatican directory of the global church.

Introduced in the cathedral as the Appointment Hour struck in Rome, McMahon used a favorite term of Francis' in calling Liverpool Catholicism's "long and proud history... rich in the tradition of missionary discipleship.

Looking ahead, "there is much work to be done," he said, "because the challenges which we face as a community are real. But we are a people of hope.

"Just as the Metropolitan Cathedral of Christ the King is visible for miles around, speaking to us of God’s presence in our midst, I pray that all of us in the archdiocese of Liverpool will be living signs of God’s eternal love, proclaiming the Good News of Jesus Christ in all that we say and do."

McMahon's installation is scheduled for 1 May, the feast of St Joseph the Worker.