PORTSMOUTH, September 27, 2012, ( – A newly installed Catholic bishop has asked his flock to pray for him so he can be a “humble and holy, orthodox, creative and courageous,” bishop of Portsmouth, “one fashioned after the Lord’s own.” In a homily laced with coded phrases, Bishop Philip Egan signaled to close observers that he intends to take a possibly radically new direction for his tenure.

In his homily for the Mass of installation at the Cathedral Church of St John the Evangelist on Monday, Egan described the British social scene, and his own role within it in terms surprising for a British Catholic bishop. He urged his listeners to “go forth from this Mass with joyful vigor,” and “help bring about the conversions needed – intellectual, moral and spiritual – for everyone-we-meet to receive Jesus Christ, the Gospel of Life”.


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Traditionally minded English Catholics will not have missed Egan’s use of several significant catch-phrases in the homily that seems to signal that the new bishop intends to steer a more papally oriented course.

In a sharp contrast with the trend among most English bishops of distancing themselves from the papacy of Pope Benedict XVI, Egan described himself as a bishop in a “communion of mind, will, and heart” with the pope. He sees his role as that of “the chief Shepherd, Teacher and High Priest” of the diocese, “who, like the Master, must lay down his life for his flock.”

Egan used several key terms that were made popular by the writings of the late Pope John Paul II, including describing Christian culture as a “civilisation of love” that can be created only by a forthright declaration of religious truth. He described Britain as “Mary’s Dowry,” an expression that was believed to be in common use during Britain’s Middle Ages, when the country was regarded as one of the most devoutly Catholic in all of Christendom.

Perhaps most tellingly, Egan described post-Protestant, heavily secular British culture as a “culture of death,” a term that Pope John Paul II coined to describe the social trends that have culminated in near-universal legalised abortion and the growth of legalised euthanasia that followed.

The Christian message, he said, must be offered “to a people, sorely in need of new hope and direction, disenfranchised by the desert of modern British politics, wearied by the cycle of work, shopping, entertainment, and betrayed by educational, legal, medical and social policymakers who, in the relativistic world they’re creating, however well-intentioned, are sowing the seeds of a strangling counterculture of death.”

This is not the first time Egan has stepped away publicly from the liberal template set by the majority of English Catholic bishops, nicknamed the “magic circle” in the press. Before his elevation to the episcopate, Fr. Philip Egan gave a talk in 2009 in which he said that Humanae Vitae, the 1968 papal encyclical on birth control that is thought to have launched a global revolution in the Catholic Church, was “infallible teaching” and therefore must be upheld by all Catholics.

Philip Egan may have his hands full opposing not only the overarching secularist zeitgeist of British culture on the one hand, but the position of his brother bishops who have for the most part denied the existence of serious moral problems in Britain. Two years ago an official of the Westminster archdiocese received a public rebuke from his ecclesiastical superiors when he described Britain as the “geopolitical epicentre of the culture of death.”

In the lead-up to a state visit by Pope Benedict XVI, Edmund Adamus, who was then serving as Director of Pastoral Affairs under Archbishop Vincent Nichols, said in an interview with Rome’s Zenit news service that Britain “is in “a time of shadows especially threatening to the fundamental cell of society – the family – and the rights of parents.”

Adamus went on to describe the country’s leadership as increasingly “permissively anti-life and progressively anti-family and marriage,” and the British people as obsessed with sex and materialistic pursuits, exploiting women and ignoring the needs of children. He said that Britain is one of “the most anti-Catholic landscapes, culturally speaking, than even those places where Catholics suffer open persecution.”

Although Adamus was saying nothing that has not been said by many Catholic and non-Catholic observers, Archbishop Nichols responded only in a brief statement saying that his comments “did not reflect the archbishop’s opinions.”

Later, the sentiments of the mainstream of the English Catholic bishops were summed up by Kieran Conry, the bishop of Arundel and Brighton, who told the Guardian that, on the contrary, there is really nothing for the pope to worry about in Britain.

“I am often told by those Catholics who dislike the way our church operates in this country that they are the ‘silent majority,’ denied a voice by people like me in the hierarchy,” he said. “The reality is that they are a very small minority. Pope Benedict is coming to a country where Catholicism is unusually stable, cohesive, and vibrant enough in the current overall context of decline of interest in the Church in western Europe,” Conry said.

Pope Benedict, he said, “may well be relieved to be coming to a place where, unlike some of his other recent trips, there are no big problems for him to sort out.”

Read the full text of Bishop Egan’s homily.

Click here for a video of Fr. Egan’s talk on Humanae Vitae.



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