13Sep Winning: The Shepherd who refused to become a sheep

The late Cardinal Thomas Joseph Winning was the Archbishop of Glasgow between 1974 and 2001. His biographer, Stephen McGinty, revealed in ‘This Turbulent Priest: The Life of Cardinal Winning’ (Harper Collins 2003) that at the beginning of the new millennium Winning was both aware and suspicious of the intention of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments (CDW) to issue a document outlining new instructions on how Liturgical texts should be translated. He was also outraged at the disrespectful way in which the CDW treated the members of the International Commission on English in the Liturgy (ICEL) in particular its chairman, Bishop Maurice Taylor, his old college friend and a fellow member of the Scottish Episcopal conference.

For most of its life since its foundation in 1963, ICEL members had maintained cordial relationships with the CDW. However, things changed dramatically in 1996 when the Chilean Cardinal Medina Estevez, Archbishop of Valparaiso and former friend and fellow peritus of Joseph Ratzinger at the Second Vatican Council, was called to the Roman Curia by Pope John Paul II as Prefect at the CDW. Bishop Maurice Taylor recorded what transpired when Medina took over at the CDW:

“It soon became clear that things were going to change. Until then it was common for ICEL to send a few officials to Rome from time to time for informal discussions with officials of the congregation. They would speak about ICEL’s work at the time and of the progress of the work; they answered questions from the congregation’s representatives, heard their comments and, in a word, worked collaboratively for the good of English-speaking Catholics throughout the world.
From the start of his reign Cardinal Medina let it be known that relations with ICEL, if any, would be formal and cold. There were no further collaborative meetings, no advice or comments were forthcoming in the course of our work and, in general, we felt that we were under suspicion.”

Cardinal Winning was well aware of all this and as a consequence, he made a dozen attempts between 1999 and 2001 to arrange a meeting with Cardinal Medina to discuss the proposed document, but was repeatedly rebuffed.

When Pope John Paul II called an Extraordinary Consistory of all the Cardinals in March 2001 to discuss his Apostolic letter Novo Millennio Ineunte, Winning was delighted with the opportunity it presented. He considered the letter to be one of Pope John Paul’s finest and noted with glee the criticism in it of ‘careerism’ among the curia. As a result, he decided that his own contribution to the extraordinary Consistory of Cardinals in May 2001 would address the subject of collegiality since he believed that consultation and cooperation ought to be the hallmark of the relationship between the Vatican Dicasteries and Bishops’ Conferences throughout the world. However, one week before the Consistory opened, the document he knew the CDW had been preparing – without any consultation – on the principles of translation was released, unannounced, on the Holy See’s website. An authoritative summary of the ramifications of this document, Liturgiam Authenticam can be found in Bishop Maurice Taylor’s book.

Cardinal Winning was greatly angered not only by the secret manner in which the document had been put together and then published, but also by its content which arbitrarily overturned the principles, approved by Pope Paul VI, on which ICEL had been basing its work for three decades. It made him even more determined to highlight what he believed to be the important issues at stake during the Consistory.

In order to be able to speak with the maximum degree of authority, he faxed a draft of his proposed intervention to the Presidents of the English-speaking Bishops’ Conferences around the world, including England and Wales, United States and Canada, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa asking for consent to speak in their name. He duly received the authority he sought.

When he addressed the Extraordinary Consistory of Cardinals on the afternoon of Wednesday 23 May 2001, he spoke in English and his address was translated into ten languages. He began by setting out the context of his unease:

‘My particular concern is with relationships between the Roman Curia and the Episcopal Conferences. The Apostolic Constitution, Pastor Bonus [John Paul II’s Constitution of June 1988], rightly defines the function of the Roman Curia as a service, or diakonia. It is a service to the Holy Father in whose name the various dicasteries [Curia subdivisions] act, but it is also a service to the College of Bishops. As diocesan bishops, we value greatly the insight, the pastoral concern and support we receive from the heads and collaborators of the various dicasteries here in Rome. I personally have experienced very warm and friendly meetings with many members of the Curia.’

He went on to describe the nature of the problem and what caused it before proceeding to outline what was necessary for the situation to be corrected.

‘On occasion, however, tensions can and do arise. I know I speak for many bishops when I express my disappointment that the diakonia and collegiality of Pastor Bonus have, of late, not been evident in certain situations involving the Roman Curia and the Bishops’ Conferences. I emphasize that such tensions are more due to misunderstandings and poor communication than to ill will and divergent ecclesiologies. I wish to suggest very strongly that a primary way of fostering the full potential of the Roman Curia is the need for greater consultation and dialogue between Bishops’ Conferences and the Curia.’

The Cardinal then spelt out the importance of this consultation and dialogue if the needs of the Church were to be best served; and what the consequences would be if this did not happen, implicitly suggesting this had been the case in the preparation and publication of Liturgiam Authenticam.

‘An essential element in genuine dialogue is that full information is available to those engaged in it. To engage in fraternal dialogue particularly before the publication of documents of far-reaching importance and with grave pastoral implications, is not to undermine or interfere in the work of the dicasteries. Rather it is in the interests of the whole Church as well as being the expression of the fraternal and collegial spirit which is the legacy of the Second Vatican Council.
If we are sincere in practising the principles of collegiality and subsidiarity, there have to be consultation and exchange of views prior to the publication of major Church documents. When such dialogue is lacking, misunderstandings arise and when, without due dialogue, major documents are published which appear to be contrary to previously established policies, these misunderstandings give rise to serious concerns, even to questioning the very reasons for the document and its canonical validity.’

The Cardinal then went on to address the unsatisfactory manner in which the Documents were published and distributed by the Vatican.

‘Moreover, given our modern communications technology, it is disappointing that major documents are released unannounced on the Internet. Not only does this mean that the bishops find themselves relying on others to bring these documents to their notice, but the secular media are able to deal with the contents of the documents before bishops have been properly briefed, causing misunderstanding and confusion among the People of God.’

In concluding his address, Cardinal Winning generously opened the way for all concerned to engage in a fresh start which would avoid the pitfalls of fear and distrust. Finally he stressed that he spoke on behalf of English-speaking bishops throughout the world.

‘I offer these thoughts in the spirit of openness and sincerity and my plea today is that any communication blocks which may exist between the Bishops’ Conferences and the Roman Curia will be examined and cleared so as to allow a full, free and genuine dialogue and collaboration. The Church we all love is ill served by attitudes of fear and distrust. This is a plea from the heart reflecting the minds of the Presidents of nine English-speaking Conferences of Bishops, and all the members of my own Bishops’ Conference.’

These strong words drew a mixed reception from his listeners. Stephen McGinty recounted what happened in the immediate aftermath of Winning’s intervention:

‘The speech caused great offence to Cardinal Medina Estevez who, quite correctly, read it as a direct rebuttal to his treatment of ICEL and the manner of the publication of Liturgiam Authenticam. Winning was relieved when two cardinals approached him afterwards and praised his words. At the end of the day Winning and Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor walked to the café within the building for an espresso….. In the café Winning was approached by Cardinal Estevez who was visibly angry and said, “You denigrated me in there.” He then began to complain about the difficulty of his job, that it was forced upon him against his wishes. Winning had no time for either his evasions or his self-pity and was brisk in his response. “I didn’t denigrate you. We’re all adults here. We can speak as adults.” At this point Estevez turned and walked off.’

Perhaps his earlier experiences as Pinochet’s chaplain had caused the Chilean Cardinal to grow unaccustomed to being treated as an equal !

Cardinal Thomas Winning could – as Cardinal Medina discovered – be abrasive and hard-hitting. He was no stranger to controversy. He was outspoken on Life issues, homosexuality, the Section 28 issue in Scotland, nuclear disarmament and a host of other social matters. Many would fundamentally disagree with a number of the targets he chose to attack. And yet in certain respects Thomas Joseph Winning was most definitely a prophet. The new translation of the Mass is not a ‘document’ but what Winning says about ‘major Church documents’ in the third paragraph of his intervention could well be viewed as applying equally to the new translation.

Nor was Cardinal Estevez the only Vatican official unhappy at the content of Winning’s intervention. His words seem to have been too controversial and provocative for Dr Navarro-Vals, the director of the Vatican’s press office, who apparently attempted some internal censorship, making no mention of the speech in the Daily Press Conference given on 23 May 2001.

Sadly, Cardinal Winning died suddenly of a heart attack on 17 June, less than four weeks after delivering his address at the Consistory.

In light of all of the above, it is clearly inaccurate to claim, as many opponents of the New Translation have done, that the Conferences of English-speaking Bishops have never taken the Congregation of Divine Worship to task over its successful efforts to interfere in, and seek to curb the rightful authority of, Episcopal Conferences, in this area. The various Conferences clearly supported Cardinal Winning’s initiative and empowered him to speak on their behalf. The tragedy is that when he died, it seems they lost not only their spokesman but also their way. Indeed a decade later, the bishops seem to have performed a veritable volte-face: they seem to have surrendered their authority and no longer try to reclaim and re-establish their rights. For many of us, their increasing failure during these years to exercise their Episcopal authority in this area has been both sad and rather humiliating.

It would appear that our Bishops have allowed themselves to be bullied by Vatican officials who are actually in post in order to serve them. They seem to be embarrassed, and with just cause. It is after all the passivity of those bishops who have been in post for the past ten years that has landed us with a new translation of the English Sacramentary in a style which the vast majority of English-speaking bishops neither asked for nor wanted: indeed, which it appears virtually no one except the officials in the CDW actively sought. But surely our bishops need to get over their embarrassment, and seek to begin to reclaim their rights. Power and control are addictive and it seems fair to assume that unless they are forcefully confronted by the bishops, the CDW, and indeed much of the Curia, will continue to act in an imperious and high-handed manner.

The Second Vatican Council articulated that ultimate authority rests with the college of bishops in union with the Pope. Unless there is strong leadership from a prophetic voice like Winning’s, the respective roles of bishops and curial officials will become even more blurred and the rightful authority of the bishops will be further usurped. History shows the need for prophetic figures like Francis of Assisi and Catherine of Siena who, as loyal critics, challenged the status quo in the governance of the Church and were canonised for their efforts.

The question now is whether such a prophetic figure will emerge at this time in the English-speaking Church. Or will history show that the capitulation of the English-speaking bishops over the new translation effectively signalled the demise of the authority of local Episcopal Conferences and the subjugation of the clear teaching of the Second Vatican Council ?

Perhaps our Shepherds need to know that they have both our encouragement and our support so that they can rediscover the confidence they need to reclaim their rights as Pastors. Unless that happens the flock will be left following sheep. Cardinal Winning would not be impressed.

3 Responses

  1. Soline Humbert

    Thanks for an illuminating article.
    Surely some of the key words are “POWER AND CONTROL ARE ADDICTIVE” and “THE NEED FOR PROPHETIC ACTION”.
    We either collude and act as “enablers” to this deadly addiction, which Jesus specifically warned us against,
    or we embrace the call of our baptism by which each one of us shares in the prophetic ministry of Christ.
    It seems to me that older priests/bishops who have retired are in a good place to challenge, and therefore carry a special responsibility: They are under no obligation to preside at Masses with the New Missal, and yet their support is vital. Withdraw it and there is less fodder for the addiction!
    But the call to stand up and be counted is to each one of us.
    If we fail to, we can be sure the addiction to power and control will only continue to grow and destroy more people, the addicts and the victims…. A far cry to witnessing to the Good News to the poor, freedom to captives….
    ” SPEAK OUT AS IF YOU HAD A THOUSAND VOICES:IT IS SILENCE THAT IS KILLING THE CHURCH”.” Catherine of Siena

  2. Paul Burns

    An inspirational article. I also came across this interview with Dr Hans Kung. Such voices can be silenced only temporarily. “The Roman system is very different from the Catholic Church…”. http://americancatholiccouncil.org/files/2011/06/Transcript-of-Kung-Video-Interview-ACC-Detroit-June-2011.pdf

  3. Joe O'Leary

    “Winning had no time for either his evasions or his self-pity and was brisk in his response. “I didn’t denigrate you. We’re all adults here. We can speak as adults.” At this point Estevez turned and walked off.’”

    This is the answer these curial creeps will be hearing more and mmore often.


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