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Luke Coppen's Catholic Herald Blog

What does the +Longley appointment mean?

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That’s the question I’ve been puzzling over since Bishop Bernard Longley was named Archbishop of Birmingham yesterday.

There have already been a few good attempts to answer the question. Francis Davis suggests that Benedict XVI has jumped “a generation in key episcopal appointments to advance a new and more conservative team”, while my colleague Damian Thompson says the appointment shows the Pope’s preference for “witty and donnish, gentle and holy” bishops.

Here are a couple of thoughts about what Bishop Longley’s nomination almost certainly means, and what it might just possibly mean.

First, it certainly means that Pope Benedict XVI has tremendous personal confidence in Bishop Longley. Remember that until recently he was a relatively new auxiliary bishop who was hardly known beyond Church circles. At just 54, he has far less experience than many of his brother bishops and has never governed a diocese.

Second, it almost certainly means that the Pope wants Bishop Longley and Archbishop Vincent Nichols to be the two most high-profile public faces of Catholicism in England and Wales. Given that Archbishop Nichols is 63, we can reasonably expect that both men will represent the Church at the highest level for a decade or more. Their personalities and their working relationship will define the Church in this country for the foreseeable future.

Third, it might just possibly mean that the Vatican sees Bishop Longley as a future Archbishop of Westminster. After all, Archbishop Vincent Nichols was also a Westminster auxiliary who served as Archbishop of Birmingham before his appointment to Westminster. If Archbishop Nichols were to retire in 2020 at the age 75, Bishop Longley would be just 65.

Photo: Catholic Church (England and Wales)

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Written by Luke Coppen

October 2, 2009 at 2:28 pm

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