Just when things look set to wind down for the summer, with the Holy Father in his hilltop fastness, a long-awaited appointment was officially announced at midday today (Roman time). Monsignor Philip Egan has been appointed the eighth Bishop of Portsmouth, and so will the local bishop for us here at Douai.
Monsignor Egan holds a doctorate in theology and has had a rich ministry as a priest: parish priest, hospital chaplain, seminary lecturer and, latterly, Vicar General for the diocese of Shrewsbury. He has written a book, Philosophy and Catholic Theology: A Primer, which has been very well received.
His official response to the appointment is well worth some examination. It is not a series of platitudinous motherhood statements that is so often the mark of such texts. He seem instead to be laying down in clear view what his priorities will be, and also the character of his episcopal mission here. Read on:
It is with trepidation and yet with profound trust in the loving mercy of the Sacred Heart of Christ, that I accept the Holy Father’s appointment as the new Bishop of Portsmouth, in succession to dear Bishop Crispian. I look forward with joy to working with my fellow priests and with all who minister in parishes, schools and in other contexts, caring for the people of God. May we all together be in the closest communion of heart and mind with our Holy Father, Pope Benedict, and faithful to his call to new evangelisation. The ministry of the Bishop, as the chief shepherd, priest and teacher of the flock entrusted to him, involves carrying the Lord’s Cross in a particular way. So as I begin this ministry and look to the years ahead, I sincerely ask you for your prayers, together with those of our brothers and sisters in the other Christian communities and indeed of every person of faith and goodwill. May Mary, Queen conceived without original sin, and St Edmund of Abingdon, obtain for us a new outpouring of the Holy Spirit, that all may come to know, serve and love Our Lord Jesus Christ.
This is no manifesto for status quo. Indeed, it reads as a highly nuanced and subtle statement of outlook and intent. It is highly Christocentric: he begins by invoking the Sacred Heart of Jesus and ends by placing Christ as the goal of his ministry. Even more fully than a priest, a bishop is alter Christus, another Christ, so it is refreshing to see such a clear emphasis on Christ from Monsignor Egan.
He also develops his understanding of his episcopal mission. He sees it as collaborative, with both priests and people, and this will satisfy those with who hold with the contemporary emphasis on this approach. However, he has made it clear that he is not just a primus inter pares, a mere senior priest among other priests, and that his vision will go beyond the boundaries of his diocese. His point of reference will be to the universal Church in his service of the local Church. Thus he will work to ensure that his diocese will be in the “closest communion of heart and mind” with the Pope, a communion that is manifested in word and deed. If only poor Bishop Morris of Toowoomba had done the same! Moreover, within his diocese he will exercise the role not of facilitator or benign father-figure, but will be “chief shepherd, priest and teacher of the flock”. In other words he will shepherd the diocese much as the Pope shepherds the universal Church, but he makes it clear that this will not in any way supplant the authority of the Pope over the universal Church. Rather, in communion of mind and heart with the Holy Father, he will model his ministry on Pope Benedict’s. So at the very least, this means we can expect to hear some solid teaching in the years to come, particularly within the context of the New Evangelisation we have heard so little about here in the UK, but of which the upcoming Year of Faith is an expression.
Monsignor Egan realises the need for grace to fulfil his office, which will submit him to “the Lord’s Cross in a particular way”. Thus he asks the support of our prayers, not least when he has to make decisions that might not please all the established interest groups of the diocese. But as he strongly implies, the approval he seeks above all will be from Christ and Christ’s earthly vicar. In serving the universal Church as embodied in the local Church he will not forget other Christians, nor indeed those of “goodwill”, but he clearly subordinates that extra-ecclesial mission to the intra-ecclesial one. Of course, only in best serving the Church will he best serve our separated brethren and those outside Christianity.
Lastly, he invokes the heavenly patrons of the diocese, Our Lady and St Edmund of Abingdon, to assist him in allowing his ministry to be truly rich in the fruits of the Holy Spirit, by Whom alone is the Church renewed and strengthened in every age. The ministry of bishop is truly a charism, or gift, to the Church, a gift sent by Christ and anointed by the Spirit. May the Lord uphold him as our bishop, and may he bear much fruit to God’s glory.
It has been an episcopal week here, as it happens. Earlier in the week the bishops of Brittany stayed with us and joined with us to celebrate Mass on the solemnity of the dedication of the abbey church on Monday. They had been in England making something of a Blessed John Henry Newman pilgrimage.
Bishop Richard Moth, Bishop of the Forces, has also been with us this week, and kindly (and worthily) offered Mass with us today, the feast of St Benedict, Patron of Europe (which we keep as a lesser solemnity, as for us the major solemnity of St Benedict is that of his Passing on 21 March). His ministry is of necessity a mobile one, far more so than that of the average bishop, so an extra level of fortitude is required of him.
Together, these bishops (and bishop-to-be) show that monks need not always follow the maxim of the first monks, the desert fathers: “Flee women and bishops!”
St Benedict, pray for Europe and pray for us.
UPDATE – some blogs are providing the link to a video of Mgr Egan talking on Humanae Vitae. upholding it as an act of infallible magiesterium. I have not done so as the link goes nowhere! Thus far I cannot find it elsewhere on the internet. If anyone has a working link to it please do post it below. Pax!