Page last updated at 01:22 GMT, Friday, 22 May 2009 02:22 UK

Canny figure at head of Church

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Catholic leader: 'God prefers chaos'

By Robert Pigott
Religious affairs correspondent, BBC News

The Most Reverend Vincent Nichols has been installed as the new Archbishop of Westminster - leader of the Roman Catholic Church in England and Wales. What will he bring to the role?

The archbishop's installation - with all its newly commissioned fanfares, music and robes - reflected the growing self-confidence of a Church with a progressively stronger position in the British "establishment".

There was something almost medieval about the way the new archbishop knelt humbly at the west door of Westminster Cathedral before appearing before the congregation of 2,000 - including 700 clergy - waiting for him inside.

The lavish and richly symbolic ritual was based on that used to enthrone Archbishops of Canterbury way back before the Reformation when they were Roman Catholic.

There was also an air of expectation among Catholics, centred on the new archbishop personally.

Moral life

The Most Reverend Vincent Nichols comes to the leadership of the Church with a reputation as a robust - even canny - defender of Roman Catholic values.

Many Catholics see in the dismay over MPs' expenses and the behaviour of the financial markets, a growing public conviction that all is not well in the moral life of the nation.

He said the revelations about expenses and the activities of the markets showed rules alone could not make a society work

They believe it presents a rare opportunity for the Church to make its voice heard, and see in the archbishop a forceful and articulate spokesman.

Some Catholics worry that he might be too outspoken, risking alienating the government and the public when quiet diplomacy over issues such as schools, abortion and stem-cell research might work better.

Others suspect he will be a stern guardian of Catholic orthodoxy, when a flexible approach is called for in leading a Church that needs to move forward in step with the times.

Impoverished experience

After the service, the archbishop chatted to priests drinking wine in the courtyard beside the cathedral, and gave a clue as to how he will try to sell a fundamental view of Christianity to a sceptical public in an age of doubt.

He said the revelations about expenses and the activities of the markets showed rules alone could not make a society work.

He insisted they showed that some sense of "virtue" - such as that offered by Christianity - was also needed.

The archbishop warned that society sometimes treated religion with contempt, insisting that it lacked reason.

But he claimed they had in mind the sort of "dry, technical" reason that believed only in what could be measured.

He said that sort of reason left people with an impoverished experience of life.

The archbishop insisted that people needed to know that religion brought its own kind of reason, without which "people will not soar, they will just hobble along".

Getting that message across in a secular society will not be easy, but it is the task which the new leader of the Roman Catholic Church in England and Wales has set himself.



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