Episcopal Manoeuvres in the Dark

Catholic Bishops of England and Wales announced yesterday that Pope Francis had appointed Msgr James Curry, Parish Priest at Our Lady of Victories, Kensington, a salubrious parish in West London, as Auxiliary Bishop of Westminster Archdiocese and Titular Bishop of Ramsbiria (Ramsbiriensis).

This news will come to no surprise to anyone paying attention to Church politics in the United Kingdom. Msgr Jim, as he is known, has been long considered a favoured member of the “Magic Circle”, a self-selecting small pool of like-minded “insiders” who come through lines of patronage that can be traced back to one man. Archbishop Derek Worlock, the progressive former Archbishop of Liverpool and mentor to the current Cardinal Archbishop of Westminster, Vincent Nichols.

What is perhaps more of a shock is that it has taken so long to arrange his promotion, occurring as it does, at the end of Cardinal Nichol’s tenure as Cardinal Archbishop of Westminster – Nichols was 75 in 2020. It almost seems like scraping the bottom of the barrel, as if they have completely run out of ideas. As one Westminster parishioner said to me: 'there is no light at the end of the tunnel.'

Born in 1960, Curry was ordained by Cardinal Hume in 1986 and served as his private secretary from 1994 and then later, his successor and St Gallen Mafia member, Cardinal Cormac Murphy O’Connor, until 2002.

Mgsr Jim is regarded as a priest very much in the mould of Cardinal Cormac: It is said he never takes anything too seriously, including religion.

He was much discussed by the former Religious Editor of The Telegraph, Damian Thompson, as someone with a penchant for frequenting swanky London clubs and being a useful tool of Cardinal Nichols when it came to dismantling the Catholicity of leading London School Cardinal Vaughan, where he was forced onto the appointments panel and then the board of governors in order to remove Catholicity as an entry criterion to the school. 

Perhaps the most important qualifying characteristic in today climate in the Catholic Church is that bishop elect Curry has a reputation for being no fan of Tradition, having been widely criticised for cancelling the sung Latin Mass at Our Lady of Victories and replacing it with Filipino folk singing, something that was not universally popular even with Filipino parishioners! (Read more about that here).

Given the widely known background of Msgr Curry, it is hard not to see this as anything other than simply a case of more “jobs for the boys” – Curry is likely a safe pair of hands as far as the Catholic Bishops of England and Wales are concerned. Uncontroversial. He certainly isn’t going to create any waves in terms of evangelising the faithful or renewing the Church. He likes nice things: his club, the opera, a nice holiday. All this is the antithesis of Cardinal Nichols which would lead one to speculate on whether he was really Vincent's choice? He could have been appointed to release one of the auxiliaries, perhaps Hudson or Sherrington, to take up the vacant position in Plymouth. 

Although clergy and those inside the hierarchy in England and Wales will, no doubt, see this appointment as unsurprising and uncontroversial, there is a growing disquiet amongst the informed laity, who will see this appointment as a source of further scandal. A signal that those running the Catholic Church into the ground here can do just whatever they want to do. In an environment where fewer and fewer men are saying yes to the nuncio, is Curry, a known liberal with just ten years to run on the clock a safer bet to perpetuate the Bergoglian/ St Gallen agenda than training up a youngster who would most likely have more Catholic leanings?

The most obvious choices for the episcopacy (Sherbrooke? Langridge? Holden? In my diocese Armitage? Hale?) have no doubt been discounted because they are good, competent, faithful to Jesus.

For English Catholics, it is hard not to see this as just another poor decision in a long line of poor decisions: Same pieces, same chess board. And these decisions one might almost think were made to work against any potential renewal of the Church in England and Wales. They really do seem to have given up on Christ, the Gospel and building the Kingdom of God and have settled into managing what they see as inevitable decline.

In business I have always sought to engage with the best and brightest, to employ people who fill gaps in my own knowledge. It seems the CBEW work to a different model, as a friend pointed out "40 watt bulbs do not surround themselves with 100 watt bulbs".

And our bishops are really making a mess of things currently. For an example of this ineptitude, we can look at the recent debacle in Hexham & Newcastle, or, even more recently, the diocese of Plymouth. Here, a new bishop was announced on December 15th 2023. Canon Christopher Whitehead, incumbent in nearby Clifton diocese under the most progressive bishop in the UK, Declan Lang.

Then, suddenly, on 1st February 2024, a terse statement on the CBEW website announced that the Episcopal Ordination of Whitehead would not now take place due to “a canonical process”. Everyone immediately assumed an allegation had been made. What could the bishops expect other than that such a brief and opaque statement would do little other than fuel speculation? And so it seemed to be being handled very badly and unprofessionally. It was followed by a further brief statement on 22nd March which stated that the inquiry had been concluded and no canonical action was warranted and subsequently, Canon Whitehead has resumed his duties as Parish Priest of Saint John the Evangelist in Bath.

Why was he no longer going to be a bishop? What could have been alleged that would make him unsuitable for the episcopacy by fine to run a parish? The lack of clarity and poor handling of this situation could not be overstated. But the saga was not over yet! Canon Whitehead’s bishop then resigned before retirement age and the CBEW released an extraordinary, almost hagiographical podcast praising Lang. The former Tablet editor, Catherine Pepinster, wrote an article stating that there was certainly no connection between this resignation and the investigation into Whitehead and then it was revealed that Lang was forced to resign directly as a result of a Vos estis lux mundi investigation. If anyone is still reading Pepinster and thinking she is anything beyond a useless voice of progressive mediocrity this should have cured them of the delusion.

The allegations against Whitehead were eventually revealed in the press to be physical contact with two seminarians. The allegations were “not recent” and had been initially made to Whitehead’s bishop, Lang, who had failed to even note the personnel file appropriately and simply dismissed them. After the announcement of Whitehead’s pending episcopal consecration the accusations were reportedly raised again, this time directly to the dicastery, who were furious to only learn of these accusations following the announcement of Whitehead’s elevation in December.

By all accounts Canon Christopher Whitehead is a good man of sound moral character, but he has been placed in an impossible position by the ineptitude of Bishop Lang and the dreadful press briefings given by CBEW. Why has Whitehead’s episcopal ordination been cancelled? If the allegations were serious enough to result in his not being a suitable candidate for the episcopacy, why is it acceptable for him to return to running a parish? Did the Vos estis investigation into Bishop Lang reveal more wrongdoing that resulted in his removal?

Most seriously we are left wondering why the bishops of England and Wales are incapable of telling the public the truth about any of this.


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