LONDON, August 2, 2012 (LifeSiteNews.com) – British pro-life leaders are welcoming the appointment of a new Catholic bishop of Portsmouth in southern England as a sign that the grip of the Catholic far left is beginning to be prised open by Rome.

Back in 2009, Father Philip Egan gave a talk at a London book launch, in which he asserted that Humanae Vitae, Pope Paul VI’s 1968 reiteration of the Church’s prohibition against artificial birth control, is in fact infallible Catholic doctrine, an assertion commonly held by lay Catholic commentators, but publicly defended on too-rare occasions by Catholic bishops. Indeed, it is arguable that Humanae Vitae was the most vilified and widely ignored papal statement of the 20th century.

Now it has been announced that Bishop-elect Philip Egan, 56, former Vicar General of the Shrewsbury diocese, is set to take the reins of the Catholic diocese of Portsmouth in southern England, on September 24th, and many in the Church in Britain are seeing it as sign of a major shift in direction, perhaps for the whole Church in England and Wales. 

At the 2009 launch of the book, ‘A Pure Heart Create for Me,’ a collection of essays and lectures on the Catholic Church’s teachings on sexuality, Egan surprised attendees of the launch when he said, “t seems to me that there is a persuasive case for believing that the doctrine of Humanae Vitae, regardless of the pastoral difficulty it causes, regardless of the philosophical and theological arguments thrown against it, regardless of the historical conditioning of its neo-scholastic framework, has been, and is being taught infallibly, that is, irreversibly and without error, by the Church’s ordinary universal magisterium.”

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Described in the media as the “right hand man” of Bishop Mark Davies, Egan is expected to carry a more doctrinally robust style of Catholicism to Portsmouth, the long-time seat of retiring Bishop Crispian Hollis. Hollis is known in British Catholic circles as a leading proponent of the “progressivist” school that become popular immediately after the close of the Second Vatican Council in 1965.

Robert Colquhoun, the London director for Britain’s increasingly popular 40 Days for Life campaign, was effusive over the appointment, telling LifeSiteNews.com that the choice of Egan as bishop of Portsmouth is a “very exciting” sign that the grip of the liberal establishment is being forcibly loosened by Pope Benedict’s Vatican.

“As a priest he clearly grasps the importance and significance of this encyclical and its relevance to contemporary sexual ethics in the United Kingdom,” Colquhoun said.

“There has not been much desire to promote Theology of the Body or promote ministries that would derive from this teaching from episcopal leadership so far in our country, so who knows - perhaps we are in for a change.”

Colquhoun said the British Catholic Church has lacked “confidence” in the “transforming nature of their faith,” for themselves and the culture at large. The appointment of more men like Egan, those offering “clear, orthodox, positive, affirmative, solid and inspirational leadership,” will make this happen, he said.

“There are great and dynamic programs happening in the United States and it is time the Church in England and Wales woke up from its post-sixties slumber to be, as one diocese called it, ‘Fit for mission’. Outstanding catechesis, youth ministry and marriage and family apostolate is very much needed in our nation.”

Egan served as Vicar General to Bishop Mark Davies of Shrewsbury and was appointed on the recommendation of Archbishop Antonio Mennini, the nuncio appointed by Pope Benedict in 2010. Church-watchers are aware that the key to episcopal appointments lies in the hands of the nuncio, the pope’s representative to a country, whose role it is to make recommendations based on papal priorities.

In the past, some critics have said that previous nuncios had “gone native” and had acted only as a courier for the coterie of liberals dubbed in the media the “Magic Circle”.

Dr. William Oddie, writing in the Catholic Herald on the significance of Egan’s appointment, said it is a sign that Pope Benedict’s recently appointed nuncio, Archbishop Antonio Mennini, is cut from a different cloth from that of his predecessor. Previous nuncios, appointed under Pope John Paul II, had “been agents for the continuing project of the English bishops endlessly to perpetuate themselves and their de-Romanising, even secularising, vision for the English Church”.

Oddie called the appointment, Mennini’s first, “a cracker,” saying that it is also significant that he was chosen for Portsmouth, “the diocese in England where more than in any other the subversion of everything Pope John Paul stood for has proceeded unchecked”.