Betting on the next Archbishop of Westminster takes us a long way from Barchester, but the fundamental question – who will be the next Bishop? – is as important for the Church in England and Wales as it was for Barchester.
Let us take as read that all of the potential candidates are holy and prayerful men, that there are no skeletons in their closets, that what we see is what we get, and every other cliché in the book.
I will try not to introduce personal preference into the equation (with one major exception) but invite you to look at the cardinabile.
Let us start with the betting.
The latest odds from Paddy Power (the titles come from the website) are as follows:
Rt Rev Kevin McDonald 7-2
Rt Rev Vincent Nichols 7-2
Fr Aidan Nichols 5-1
Rt Rev Alan Hopes 11-2
Bishop William Kenney 6-1
Rt Rev Patrick Kelly 10-1
Fr Timothy Radcliffe 10-1
Rt Rev Arthur Roche 10-1
Archbishop Michael Louis Fitzgerald 10-1
Rt Rev Bernard Longley 12-1
Rt Rev Peter Smith 12-1
Rt Rev Michael Evans 16-1
Bishop Patrick O’Donoghue 16-1
Fr Christopher Jamison 20-1
Bishop John Rawsthorne 20-1
Bishop John Patrick Crowley 33-1
Paddy Power opened a book because people wanted to bet. He (let’s think of Paddy as the man in the ring, a faded tweed suit, a nose for something going on) took a bit of advice from inside the track, came up with a list, and has started to adjust the odds according to the way people are putting their money. I doubt that the Apostolic Nuncio, whose recommendation will carry the significant weight, was consulted, or that he will be having a flutter. So the list represents a combination of the views of the different sorts of Catholic Insider whom our friend Paddy trusts.
Two strong currents of thought suggest themselves immediately: the secular insider and the regular outsider. The latter first: two Dominicans and a Benedictine. Abbot Christopher Jamison is known for his programme on BBC2 in which he welcomed a series of social misfits to a Monastery and taught them about the Rule of St Benedict. Fr Timothy Radcliffe has a Catholic agenda which differs from the Pope’s. Fr Aidan Nichols has a Catholic agenda is far closer to the Pope’s than his Dominican brother, but has never managed anything like an Abbey or a Province, or, well, anything.
So why are the orders such a strong undercurrent? The Church in England and Wales received a message from Rome recently when William Kenney CP was named as the new Auxiliary in Birmingham. He was Auxiliary Bishop in Stockholm and was named ahead of all of the aspirant Vicars General in England and Wales. I don’t think we’ll see a regular at Westminster – at least, not any of the ones in the list – but there is a strong message that they are getting right something which the secular clergy aren’t.
The seculars: the question must by why Archbishop Nichols isn’t the only horse in the race. He was favourite to succeed Cardinal Hume but was moved to Birmingham to allow Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor to sort out the sexual scandals in the Church and give him a clear run at leading the Church without the distraction of a press concentrating on paedophilia. And MO’C, it was thought, was sufficiently middle class to maintain the social position of the Church which Cardinal Hume had won for it. Archbishop Nichols has spent much of the time since the death of Pope John Paul II acting as the senior Catholic churchman in England and Wales. And yet he is still only equal favourite with Archbishop McDonald, whose translation to Southwark was itself a surprise – even a shock – to the hierarchy.
Bishop Hopes is on the list because he knows the diocese; Bishop Kenney has only just arrived from Scandinavia, and once we get to 10-1, I think we have any Bishop anybody might put a few pounds on (though Bishops Roche and Smith are dark horses and might well end up a lot closer to the top of the list which goes to the Vatican than their position in Paddy Power’s list suggests.
Archbishop Kelly’s inclusion is, I trust, an invitation to Liverpudlians to throw some money away on what look like good odds. It is hard to think of a Bishop more imbued with the “spirit of Vatican II” and as he is now doing on a large scale to Liverpool what he did on a smaller scale in Salford, the fruits of that particular spirit are being made manifest. (Here is the man who wanted to experiment with starting the Mass with the Gloria rather than with a penitential rite, and who decided that in the Salford diocese, Confirmation should precede Communion and should be given as a matter of course by the Parish Priest.)
It’s still early to call the result: indeed, MO’C might well be asked to stay on for a year or two more. But as Archbishop’s Nichols campaign looks increasingly strained, the prospects look more and more interesting.