In commenting on the failure to include Cardinal Keith O’Brien in the recent visit to the Vatican by the delegation of UK officials (17 February), Eddie Barnes suggests that “it may well be that England’s Archbishop Vincent Nichols is the one to blame for allowing the impression to form that he is the man to lead the UK on all matters Catholic”.
On the contrary, the people who are to blame for attributing such a role to the Archbishop are the press, who persistently fail to grasp how the Catholic Church is governed.
A classic example of this is to be found in The Scotsman article on the visit which describes Archbishop Nichols as “head of the Roman Catholic Church in England and Wales”.
Archbishop Nichols is no more head of the Catholic Church in England and Wales than Cardinal O’Brien is head of the Catholic Church in Scotland.
Their authority is exercised exclusively within their own individual dioceses and not beyond. In other words, to use the term employed by your article, not only does Archbishop Nichols have “no locus for other parts of the UK”, he actually has “no locus” for any other diocese, be they English, Scottish, Welsh or Irish.
The head of the Catholic Church in the United Kingdom, and its constituent territories, is, of course, the Pope, and it is in communion with him, as successor of the Apostle Peter, that they govern their dioceses as vicars and legates of Christ, without, it is to be hoped, fear or favour of either Archbishop.
John A Sibbald
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