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Last Updated: Sunday, 3 April 2005, 10:28 GMT 11:28 UK
Pope is dead
On Sunday, 03 April, 2005, Sir David Frost interviewed Rt Rev Richard Harries, Bishop of Oxford and Garry O'Connor, Biographer

Please note "BBC Breakfast with Frost" must be credited if any part of this transcript is used.

Rt Rev Richard Harries
Rt Rev Richard Harries, Bishop of Oxford

DAVID FROST: John Paul II was obviously a towering figure as we've just been hearing so persuasively there. And for Roman Catholics of course it is a time of mourning as well as celebration of the assessment of his life and Papacy.

And with me now to discuss John Paul as a man and as a spiritual leader and as a figure on the world stage, is the Catholic writer and author of a new biography of him, Garry O'Connor, a biography entitled "Universal Father" a life of Pope John Paul II. And we welcome from the Church of England, we have the Bishop of Oxford. Delighted to have him with us again. Bishop, may we start with you?

What are your reflections? We heard there at the end of that interview, where Cormac was talking about, very much about have we done enough to bring the churches together, the Christian priests together? There was some progress, wasn't there? But has enough been done on both sides?

BISHOP OF OXFORD: He clearly was a man of outstanding spiritual and moral stature, there's absolutely no doubt about that. And I think that his main legacy to the future will be what you might call the wider ecumenism, what he did to re-establish relationship with the Jewish community, leaving aside for the moment the Church of England or the Orthodox Church. Building on the good work of the Second Vatican Council he attended a Synagogue in Rome and referred to the Chief Rabbi there as his elder brother.

And perhaps most significant of all, that he went to Jerusalem and put a prayer in the Western Wall, the most sacred place for Jews to pray, with a deeply, deeply moving prayer. And I think that that, perhaps more than anything else, will go down in history, extraordinary moral stature. And of course we hope for all sorts of things in the future, in the church relationships, but never let's forget what he's done for the Jewish community.

DAVID FROST: That's a very important point. And Garry ...

Garry O'Connor
Garry O'Connor, Biographer

GARRY O'CONNOR: Yes, I was going to add, and also to try and get the church, the Orthodox church in the east, reconciled with Catholicism so that the church, the church could as he said, "breathe with both lungs", this was his phrase.

DAVID FROST: A very strong phrase. And the point the Bishop was just making there, about his impact on the Jewish community and so on, which is very important of course, takes us back to the war. And I guess that was a formative....what was his World War II, I mean obviously that's where a lot of this passion for reunion with the Jews came from. Because he saw what happened to the Jews in Poland.

GARRY O'CONNOR: Very true. But even before that. He was born in Wadowice which was a small town, near to Cracow, and as he said, meeting and mingling with Jews was an everyday occurrence. And in fact they lived in a flat which was owned by a Jewish landowner.

So this was a very tolerant small town but it wasn't necessarily true of all of Poland where anti-Semitism was still very prevalent. That's one side of it, and then of course when he moved to Cracow in 1938, to become a university student, the persecution with the occupation by the Nazis, became very, very strong. But it not only applied to Jews, it also applied to the Catholic church, to Poles in general, to intellectuals, to university professors and teachers. And it was very widespread. But this was a very formative influence and he saw around him all the time this ...

DAVID FROST: And was it true that he was active in the war on behalf of the allies?

GARRY O'CONNOR: No, he was, as Cardinal Cormac rightly says, a pacifist, very much from the beginning. But he was involved in the underground cultural movement which was putting on plays in clandestine situations in houses of friends. And there was always a risk of discovery. And this was the kind of non-combatant, you might say, of the Polish resistance. And very important, because they were keeping alive the spiritual legacy of Poland and among themselves there was a sort of preparation again a hope, amazingly in those terrible circumstances, for the future.

DAVID FROST: And in fact, Bishop, that you were talking about the unity and so on, and talking about the two lungs and so on. I expect there's no doubting the fact that the Pope was eager to bring Christian priests closer together. But obviously in a doctrinal sense he was a conservative and so on, and also on the doctrinal sense that the Church of England has brought in women priests and so on. We presumably have to hope for closer emotional ties but there will never probably be closer structural ties.

BISHOP OF OXFORD: Well the Pope had very, very good personal relationships with a whole series of Archbishops of Canterbury. And one of the most powerful images of his pontificate was him and Archbishop Robert Runcie kneeling in a chapel in Canterbury Cathedral at the time of the Pope's visit to England.

They knelt side by side. But I have to say I think that during the latter part of his reign as Pope, ecumenical relationships with the Church of England were on a bit of a plateau. I mean, I remember when I was a vicar in London in the 1970s, and the first of the reports of the International Anglican Roman Catholic Commission were published and there was sense of huge intellectual excitement that all that had divided the Reformation could now be overcome.

And I gathered together in the parish Roman Catholics and Anglicans - we discussed these together. Well the high hopes for the 1970s were not fulfilled. One reason of course was the Church of England has, rightly in my view, gone ahead with the ordination of women. So I would personally hope with a new Pope, that we could have not good personal relationships which there've been, and very good spiritual relationships, but we could actually move forward in a more structural way.

Interview Ends


NB: this transcript was typed from a recording and not copied from an original script.

Because of the possibility of mis-hearing and the difficulty, in some cases, of identifying individual speakers, the BBC cannot vouch for its accuracy.


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