Fascinating Appointments

Recent episcopal appointments by Pope Francis are proving fascinating.

In England, recently Bishop Malcolm McMahon O.P. has been promoted to Liverpool; Fr Robert Byrne Cong.Orat. has been appointed auxiliary bishop in Birmingham; and today it was announced that Fr Alan Williams S.M. has been appointed Bishop of Brentwood. In Australia this past Saturday Fr Columba Macbeth-Green O.S.P.P.E. has been appointed bishop of Wilcannia-Forbes, a vast and relatively empty diocese in outback Australia that has been vacant for 5 years.

Bishop-elect Alan WIlliams S.M.

Bishop-elect Alan WIlliams S.M.

In Australia especially, but also in England and Wales to a lesser degree, Religious bishops have not been common in the last century or so. In England the exception has been the tradition of having a Benedictine or two among the local hierarchy. Not unreasonably, nor surprisingly, episcopal appointments tend to be made from the ranks of the diocesan clergy. But for these two conferences Pope Francis seems willing to appoint Religious (or quasi-Religious in the case of Oratorians) to vacancies, and not necessarily from headlining congregations. Fr Williams, a Marist Father, and Fr Macbeth-Green, a Pauline Father, represent congregations that are not normally vescovabili in their respective countries.

Bishop-elect Columba Macbeth-Green O.S.P.P.E.

Bishop-elect Columba Macbeth-Green O.S.P.P.E.

More insightful commentators than I might be able to read the message here, if there is one. It may be merely that Pope Francis is not going to be tied to the prevailing pool of candidates and is being far more zealous for merit. It could also be that, give his strictures against careerism in the ranks of the clergy, he is looking in typically non-careerist pastures for new shepherds.

Sydney is vacant; will the Dominican Bishop Fisher be appointed there? In northern Sydney, Broken Bay, a wealthy but dispirited diocese with a drought of vocations, may well land a Religious bishop, and perhaps from a less predictable order or congregation.

Also interesting, if possibly inconsequential, is that Bishops-elect Williams S.M. and Macbeth-Green O.S.P.P.E. are both currently rectors of Marian shrines. Just saying…

Our Lady of Walsingham

Our Lady of Walsingham

9 thoughts on “Fascinating Appointments

  1. Jerry GH says:

    Is it true that Card Nicholls vetoed a Benedictine Episcopal candidate saying he could never work with him ?


  2. Gertrude says:

    Fr. Alan is a lovely priest. I remember him as a Confessor at Walsingham two years ago – Brentwood is fortunate.


    • Fr Hugh says:

      Despite one prominent UK blogger pouring a good deal of scorn on his appointment, only good things have been coming to my eyes and ears about him. There is much that is vigorous and healthy in his new diocese, so he has a good running start. May the Lord prosper his ministry.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. The appointment of Fr Columba Macbeth Green OSPPE as bishop of Wilcannia-Forbes is a most happy and welcome surprise.


  4. […] Earlier here we touched on the fact that so many of the episcopal appointments for England, and Australia, under Pope Francis have been of members of religious congregations (or, in the case of the Oratorians, quasi-religious). Today it was announced that the Bishop of Gibraltar, Ralph Heskett CSsR, a Redemptorist, has been translated to the diocese of Hallam, which covers Sheffield. He is unknown to me, but we can pray him Godspeed in his new office. The Catholic Herald adds a few more details. […]


  5. […] Fr Hugh Somerville-Knapman says recent episcopal appointments suggest Francis is “looking in typically non-careerist pastures for new shepherds“. […]


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