Friday, 22 January 2010

Oxford Blue, Roman Purple: Cardinal William Theodore Heard

What follows came about as the result of a happy coincidence, or, rather, a happy sequence of coincidences. I was engaged in researching some material relating to a wholly separate matter - the workings of the Education (Scotland) Act of 1918 - when, on trawling through the 1960 issues of The Glasgow Herald, I came across an article which, although of no relevance to the matter at hand, nonetheless grabbed my attention. This article reported the appointment of Monsignor Gerard M Rogers as an auditor, judge, of the Vatican’s Sacred Roman Rota Appeals Tribunal. I attended Our Lady of Good Aid Cathedral Primary School, Park Street,Motherwell, where Mgr Rogers had been a frequent visitor in his role as Parish Priest of Motherwell’s Cathedral Parish.

Moreover, in the 1960s, as a youth growing up in the North Forgewood housing scheme in Motherwell, I had come to know His Eminence Thomas Joseph Cardinal Winning. His Eminence had for a time been Parish Priest of St Luke’s, Forgewood, following his return to his home diocese from Rome, where he had served as Spiritual Director to the students of the Scots College. His return had been occasioned by his appointment as Vicar Episcopal and Officialis under His Lordship Francis Thomson, Bishop of Motherwell. To his dying day Cardinal Winning regarded this appointment as being fortuitous. Not only was he able to renew his love affair with Glasgow Celtic Football Club, but he was also permitted to enjoy at first hand, in early middle age yet still a Bhoy at heart, their greatest ever season, 1966-67. Ecclesiastic authority enabled him to actively participate from his seat in the stand as his beloved Glasgow Celtic won every domestic competition. There is also the no small matter that this was the season in which they became the first British team to win the European Cup!

His Eminence had been a junior colleague of Mgr Rogers before going to Rome ― the good Monsignor was Vicar General of the diocese and Fr Tom was the Bishop’s Secretary. While in Rome, apart from fulfilling his duties in the Scots College, the future cardinal had studied at the Rota studuum, a sort of post-Doctoral Law Faculty run by the judges of the Rota to train consistorial advocates. He qualified as an Advocate of the Sacred Roman Rota (Adv SRR) in 1965. After coming to St Luke’s, one Sunday after twelve o’clock Mass the then Fr Winning discussed with me Mgr Rogers’s work in the Vatican and how he had come to be appointed. This discussion arose as a result of an article appearing that morning in one of the Sunday newspaper colour supplements. In it was quoted an unidentified, but all-too-easily identifiable, curial priest. In ruefully ironic terms, this curialist discussed having been taken away from his parish work and summoned to Rome having been identified by the Vatican as a particularly well-qualified lawyer. This was obviously Mgr Rogers possessor of the triple doctorate from the Gregoriana: in Canon Law, Philosophy, and Divinity; in addition while working as a priest he had obtained a Bachelor of Law degree from the University of Glasgow.

Although I was already aware of the existence of Cardinal Heard ― in 1960 while on holiday in Scotland and staying with his friend, the then Bishop James Donald Scanlan 9this was before JDS became Archbishop of Glasgow) His Eminence paid a visit to Our Lady of Good Aid Cathedral Primary School, Motherwell, in the company of Mgr Scanlan and he visited and spoke to my class ― it was in the course of this conversation that I first become aware of how eminent and influential within the Vatican the Cardinal had been. Mgr Rogers’s appointment to the Tribunal had, apparently, been secured through Cardinal Heard’s good offices. In the course of an interview kindly granted to me by Cardinal Winning early in the preparation of this work, His Eminence made it plain that Cardinal Heard had secured Mgr Rogers’s appointment in the face of attempts by a person or persons unknown, but presumably either a member of the Scottish hierarchy or someone with great influence within it, to block it. However, His Eminence would not go into any detail.

Over the years I learned a little more about Cardinal Heard, most especially from University friends who had been students at the Scots College in Rome. Among these former candidates for the priesthood, the late Cardinal enjoyed a reputation as a “bit of a character”. They recalled most especially his visits to the College on the feast day of Scotland’s patron, St Andrew. Whilst it would not be right in what is after all intended to be a serious work to retail any of the stories these Old Boys of the Scots College related to me, they engendered a certain curiosity about His Eminence. I formed a vague determination to find out, some time, more about this little-known Prince of the Church.

Years later, on reading the various newspaper reports and comments upon the announcement of Cardinal Winning’s elevation,I was struck by the fact that although there were references to Cardinals Beaton and Erskine in many of the articles published at the time, there was a total absence of any reference whatsoever to Cardinal Heard. It seemed to me that Cardinal Heard had become Scotland’s “forgotten cardinal”. Too ill at the time to seek to redress this lamentable state of affairs, the accidental discovery of the report in The Glasgow Herald about the appointment to the Rota of His Eminence’s protégé, Mgr Rogers, reawakened my interest. I hope that his modest effort might help to raise awareness of this Scottish, Protestant-born, rugby playing, dance loving, rowing Blue who went on to take part as the only Cardinal Elector from Great Britain (but not from what is customarily but debatably referred to as the British Isles) in the conclave which elected Giovanni Battista Montini, Pope Paul VI .

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