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Friday, June 18, 1999 Published at 13:14 GMT 14:14 UK


The search for Hume's successor

The new archbishop will be chosen by Rome

By News Online's Alex Kirby

No-one at Westminster cathedral or in Archbishop's House will talk of a possible successor to Basil Hume.

They have a cardinal, and a friend, to mourn and to bury first.

But inevitably, in the wider church and beyond, thoughts now turn to the next archbishop of Westminster and leader of the Catholic church in England and Wales.

Whoever the next archbishop is, he will almost certainly later be made a cardinal. But that is a separate matter.

Choosing Hume's successor may take several months, and the decision will be taken by the Pope, who appoints every Catholic bishop and archbishop.

A demanding specification

Church law says a candidate must be not less than 35 years old and have been a priest for at least five years. He must be "held in good esteem", and learned in scripture, theology or the church's legal system.

[ image: Westminster cathedral awaits a new man]
Westminster cathedral awaits a new man
And he must be "outstanding in strong faith, good morals, piety, zeal for souls, wisdom, prudence and human virtues".

The apostolic nuncio (the Pope's ambassador to a country) takes soundings and then draws up a list of three names. He gives this, with his own opinions, to the Pope, who may choose one candidate or ask for new names. The entire process is secret.

The nuncio in Britain, Archbishop Pablo Puente, is reported to have no clear candidate in mind at this stage.

Congregation strength

One factor he will bear in mind is the church's need to stem its loss in numbers. In the 10 years from 1988, attendance at Sunday mass fell by 6%.

Few of the serving bishops are under 60 years old, which may count against the older men. Among the names most often discussed is Patrick Kelly, the archbishop of Liverpool, a Catholic stronghold.

Another, said to have been Basil Hume's chosen candidate, is Vincent Nicholls, who is 55. He is auxiliary bishop of north London, part of the Westminster diocese.

But the nuncio may look outside the ranks of the bishops themselves - Basil Hume was not a bishop when he was summoned to Westminster, but abbot of Ampleforth.

Some believe a possible successor is the present abbot, Timothy Wright. And the head of the Dominican order, Timothy Radcliffe, is also mentioned as a charismatic contender.

But the nuncio may feel that what Westminster needs is not another monk, but someone schooled in the ups and downs of ordinary parish life. And if he does, that could mean a surprising choice.

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