Cardinal Winning: The Shepherd Who Refused to Become a Sheep

The late Cardinal Thomas Joseph Winning was the Archbishop of Glasgow between 1974 and 2001. His biographer, Stephen McGinty, revealed in This Turbulent Priest: The Life of Cardinal Winning (Harper Collins, 2003) that at the beginning of the new millennium Winning was both aware and suspicious of the intention of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments (CDW) to issue a document outlining new instructions on how liturgical texts should be translated. He was also outraged at the disrespectful way in which the CDW treated the members of the International Commission on English in the Liturgy (ICEL), in particular its chairman, Bishop Maurice Taylor, his old college friend and a fellow member of the Scottish episcopal conference.

For most of its life since its foundation in 1963, ICEL members had maintained cordial relationships with the CDW. However, things changed dramatically in 1996 when the Chilean Cardinal Medina Estevez, Archbishop of Valparaiso and former friend and fellow peritus of Joseph Ratzinger at the Second Vatican Council, was called to the Roman curia by Pope John Paul II as Prefect at the CDW. Bishop Maurice Taylor recorded what transpired when Medina took over at the CDW:

It soon became clear that things were going to change. Until then it was common for ICEL to send a few officials to Rome from time to time for informal discussions with officials of the congregation. They would speak about ICEL’s work at the time and of the progress of the work; they answered questions from the congregation’s representatives, heard their comments and, in a word, worked collaboratively for the good of English-speaking Catholics throughout the world.

From the start of his reign Cardinal Medina let it be known that relations with ICEL, if any, would be formal and cold. There were no further collaborative meetings, no advice or comments were forthcoming in the course of our work and, in general, we felt that we were under suspicion.

Cardinal Winning was well aware of all this and as a consequence, he made a dozen attempts between 1999 and 2001 to arrange a meeting with Cardinal Medina to discuss the proposed document, but was repeatedly rebuffed.

When Pope John Paul II called an extraordinary consistory of all the cardinals in March 2001 to discuss his apostolic letter Novo Millennio Ineunte, Winning was delighted with the opportunity it presented. He considered the letter to be one of Pope John Paul’s finest and noted with glee the criticism in it of ‘careerism’ among the curia. As a result, he decided that his own contribution to the extraordinary consistory of cardinals in May 2001 would address the subject of collegiality since he believed that consultation and cooperation ought to be the hallmark of the relationship between the Vatican dicasteries and bishops’ conferences throughout the world. However, one week before the consistory opened, the document he knew the CDW had been preparing – without any consultation – on the principles of translation was released, unannounced, on the Holy See’s website. An authoritative summary of the ramifications of this document, Liturgiam authenticam, can be found in Bishop Maurice Taylor’s book.

Cardinal Winning was greatly angered not only by the secret manner in which the document had been put together and then published, but also by its content which arbitrarily overturned the principles, approved by Pope Paul VI, on which ICEL had been basing its work for three decades. It made him even more determined to highlight what he believed to be the important issues at stake during the consistory.

In order to be able to speak with the maximum degree of authority, he faxed a draft of his proposed intervention to the presidents of the English-speaking bishops’ conferences around the world, including England and Wales, United States and Canada, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa asking for consent to speak in their name. He duly received the authority he sought.

When he addressed the extraordinary consistory of Cardinals on the afternoon of Wednesday 23 May 2001, he spoke in English and his address was translated into ten languages. He began by setting out the context of his unease:

My particular concern is with relationships between the Roman curia and the episcopal conferences. The apostolic constitution Pastor Bonus [John Paul II’s Constitution of June 1988] rightly defines the function of the Roman curia as a service, or diakonia. It is a service to the Holy Father in whose name the various dicasteries [Curia subdivisions] act, but it is also a service to the college of bishops. As diocesan bishops, we value greatly the insight, the pastoral concern and support we receive from the heads and collaborators of the various dicasteries here in Rome. I personally have experienced very warm and friendly meetings with many members of the Curia.

He went on to describe the nature of the problem and what caused it before proceeding to outline what was necessary for the situation to be corrected.

On occasion, however, tensions can and do arise. I know I speak for many bishops when I express my disappointment that the diakonia and collegiality of Pastor Bonus have, of late, not been evident in certain situations involving the Roman curia and the bishops’ conferences. I emphasize that such tensions are more due to misunderstandings and poor communication than to ill will and divergent ecclesiologies. I wish to suggest very strongly that a primary way of fostering the full potential of the Roman curia is the need for greater consultation and dialogue between bishops’ conferences and the curia.

The Cardinal then spelled out the importance of this consultation and dialogue if the needs of the Church were to be best served, and what the consequences would be if this did not happen, implicitly suggesting this had been the case in the preparation and publication of Liturgiam authenticam.

An essential element in genuine dialogue is that full information is available to those engaged in it. To engage in fraternal dialogue particularly before the publication of documents of far-reaching importance and with grave pastoral implications, is not to undermine or interfere in the work of the dicasteries. Rather it is in the interests of the whole Church as well as being the expression of the fraternal and collegial spirit which is the legacy of the Second Vatican Council.

If we are sincere in practicing the principles of collegiality and subsidiarity, there have to be consultation and exchange of views prior to the publication of major church documents. When such dialogue is lacking, misunderstandings arise and when, without due dialogue, major documents are published which appear to be contrary to previously established policies, these misunderstandings give rise to serious concerns, even to questioning the very reasons for the document and its canonical validity.

The cardinal then went on to address the unsatisfactory manner in which the documents were published and distributed by the Vatican.

Moreover, given our modern communications technology, it is disappointing that major documents are released unannounced on the internet. Not only does this mean that the bishops find themselves relying on others to bring these documents to their notice, but the secular media are able to deal with the contents of the documents before bishops have been properly briefed, causing misunderstanding and confusion among the People of God.

In concluding his address, Cardinal Winning generously opened the way for all concerned to engage in a fresh start which would avoid the pitfalls of fear and distrust. Finally he stressed that he spoke on behalf of English-speaking bishops throughout the world.

I offer these thoughts in the spirit of openness and sincerity and my plea today is that any communication blocks which may exist between the bishops’ conferences and the Roman curia will be examined and cleared so as to allow a full, free and genuine dialogue and collaboration. The church we all love is ill served by attitudes of fear and distrust. This is a plea from the heart reflecting the minds of the presidents of nine English-speaking conferences of bishops, and all the members of my own bishops’ conference.

These strong words drew a mixed reception from his listeners. Stephen McGinty recounted what happened in the immediate aftermath of Winning’s intervention:

The speech caused great offense to Cardinal Medina Estevez who, quite correctly, read it as a direct rebuttal to his treatment of ICEL and the manner of the publication of Liturgiam authenticam. Winning was relieved when two cardinals approached him afterwards and praised his words. At the end of the day Winning and Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor walked to the café within the building for an espresso….. In the café Winning was approached by Cardinal Estevez who was visibly angry and said, “You denigrated me in there.” He then began to complain about the difficulty of his job, that it was forced upon him against his wishes. Winning had no time for either his evasions or his self-pity and was brisk in his response. “I didn’t denigrate you. We’re all adults here. We can speak as adults.” At this point Estevez turned and walked off.

Perhaps his earlier experiences as Pinochet’s chaplain had caused the Chilean Cardinal to grow unaccustomed to being treated as an equal!

Cardinal Thomas Winning could – as Cardinal Medina discovered – be abrasive and hard-hitting. He was no stranger to controversy. He was outspoken on life issues, homosexuality, the Section 28 issue in Scotland, nuclear disarmament, and a host of other social matters. Many would fundamentally disagree with a number of the targets he chose to attack. And yet in certain respects Thomas Joseph Winning was most definitely a prophet. The new translation of the Mass is not a ‘document,’ but what Winning says about ‘major church documents’ in the third paragraph of his intervention could well be viewed as applying equally to the new translation.

Nor was Cardinal Estevez the only Vatican official unhappy at the content of Winning’s intervention. His words seem to have been too controversial and provocative for Dr Navarro-Vals, the director of the Vatican’s press office, who apparently attempted some internal censorship, making no mention of the speech in the daily press conference given on May 23rd, 2001.

Sadly, Cardinal Winning died suddenly of a heart attack on June 17tg, less than four weeks after delivering his address at the consistory.

In light of all of the above, it is clearly inaccurate to claim, as many opponents of the new translation have done, that the conferences of English-speaking bishops have never taken the Congregation of Divine Worship to task over its successful efforts to interfere in and seek to curb the rightful authority of episcopal conferences in this area. The various conferences clearly supported Cardinal Winning’s initiative and empowered him to speak on their behalf. The tragedy is that when he died, it seems they lost not only their spokesman but also their way. Indeed a decade later, the bishops seem to have performed a veritable volte-face: they seem to have surrendered their authority and no longer try to reclaim and reestablish their rights. For many of us, their increasing failure during these years to exercise their episcopal authority in this area has been both sad and rather humiliating.

It would appear that our bishops have allowed themselves to be bullied by Vatican officials who are actually in post in order to serve them. They seem to be embarrassed, and with just cause. It is, after all, the passivity of those bishops who have been in post for the past ten years that has landed us with a new translation of the English sacramentary in a style which the vast majority of English-speaking bishops neither asked for nor wanted: indeed, which it appears virtually no one except the officials in the CDW actively sought. But surely our bishops need to get over their embarrassment and seek to begin to reclaim their rights. Power and control are addictive, and it seems fair to assume that unless they are forcefully confronted by the bishops, the CDW, and indeed much of the Curia, will continue to act in an imperious and high-handed manner.

The Second Vatican Council articulated that ultimate authority rests with the college of bishops in union with the Pope. Unless there is strong leadership from a prophetic voice like Winning’s, the respective roles of bishops and curial officials will become even more blurred and the rightful authority of the bishops will be further usurped. History shows the need for prophetic figures like Francis of Assisi and Catherine of Siena who, as loyal critics, challenged the status quo in the governance of the Church and were canonised for their efforts.

The question now is whether such a prophetic figure will emerge at this time in the English-speaking church. Or will history show that the capitulation of the English-speaking bishops over the new translation effectively signalled the demise of the authority of local episcopal conferences and the subjugation of the clear teaching of the Second Vatican Council ?

Perhaps our shepherds need to know that they have both our encouragement and our support so that they can rediscover the confidence they need to reclaim their rights as pastors. Unless that happens the flock will be left following sheep. Cardinal Winning would not be impressed.

Source: Association of Catholic Priests


17 responses to “Cardinal Winning: The Shepherd Who Refused to Become a Sheep”

  1. Graham Wilson Avatar
    Graham Wilson

    Interesting article.

    IMO, it’s people like Cardinal Medina and their creepy and secretive behaviour who give the lie to this translation being the fruit of a good tree.

  2. Dunstan Harding Avatar
    Dunstan Harding

    Perhaps his earlier experiences as Pinochet’s chaplain had caused the Chilean Cardinal to grow unaccustomed to being treated as an equal!
    If you consider another veteran from the Vatican’s diplomatic corps who also became close to the late Chilean dictaror, General Augusto Pinochet, Cardinal Sodano, the present Dean of the College of Cardinals and a close confidant of Pope Benedict, I’m not surprised or shocked to hear any of this.

  3. Todd Flowerday Avatar

    Very interesting. LA is a lamentable document, filled with its own inconsistencies. It’s hard to discern the greater weakness: the concentration of power in the curia or the wealth of illogic in its words. If only we could have a Cardinal Rode moment with the CDWDS.

  4. Fr. Steve Sanchez Avatar
    Fr. Steve Sanchez

    “The Second Vatican Council articulated that ultimate authority rests with the college of bishops in union with the Pope.”

    This is a half truth…and we all know what half truths are, don’t we? The Second Vatican Council also said that the Pope has direct, immediate and supreme jurisdiction over the universal Church – even apart from the College of Bishops. Simply restating what was taught at the First Vatican Council. Remember that one “Association of Catholic Priests”? The next thing to keep in mind is that, the Roman Curia functions with the Pope’s authority, and therefore can act directly, immediately, and supremely over the universal Church.

    1. Karl Liam Saur Avatar
      Karl Liam Saur

      Because, of course, it really would be best just to get rid of the rest of the bishops and name apostolic administrators instead. That way we don’t have to continue to sustain the Potemkin village of an episcopacy, but let HQ run things directly.

      1. Graham Wilson Avatar
        Graham Wilson


        Then we can sue HQ directly from anywhere in the world.

        Really, the more controlling the Holy See becomes the more liable it becomes in local legal matters.

      2. Karl Liam Saur Avatar
        Karl Liam Saur


        As you may have read from my comments before, that’s a risk I’ve often highlighted: control and liability are very highly correlated – the more control Rome tries to exert, the less credible its protestations of limited liability will be become.

        Which is why, within a few generations, we might well see a revival of synodal governance. Not that I expect to see it, but what we are seeing now is the foundation of an expensive hard lesson.

    2. Jack Feehily Avatar
      Jack Feehily

      Father, you seem to be having a need to be “more Roman Catholic than thou”. We all know about the teachings of the First and Second Vatican Councils to which you have specifically referred. We also know that there is a Roman curia in service to both the Holy Father and the College of Bishops. But there is nothing about immediate jurisdiction that conflicts with taking decisions on behalf of the Universal Church in close consultation with the College of Bishops. Otherwise, the teaching stressed at Vatican II is meaningless.
      The fact is that a faction within the College of Bishops–specifically within the Roman Curia–carried the day on the principals of translation without a rigorous, honest, and transparent process of consultation that welcomed critical input.
      I find it hard to believe that you have actually read through the new translation without noticing its obvious shortcomings. To have insisted that the opening words of the Holy had to be revised to accommodate the word “hosts” when all of the present prefaces had concluded with a clear reference to joining with the angels is a shameless exercise of power. All new compositions were required to accommodate that minor change.
      Are you proposing that all of this is simply a matter of obedience to the Holy Father and his curial colleagues? Is that not more like “lording it over subjects” than imitating the Son of Man who came to serve and not be served?

      1. Fr. Steve Sanchez Avatar
        Fr. Steve Sanchez

        “But there is nothing about immediate jurisdiction that conflicts with taking decisions on behalf of the Universal Church in close consultation with the College of Bishops.”

        Jack in this we agree. But, close consultation with the College is not always necessary or even desired. The Council never said that close consultation must always be done. It is one thing to state a valid principle, but quite another thing to insist that it be used each and every time. I am not trying to be “More Catholic than thou,” but simply reminding people of the Pope’s prerogatives restated by the Second Vatican Council, which, it seems, he used in this case (with minor consultation).

        If the primary complaint is that the Roman Curia has no right to do what they did; then I would point to this and say that position is flat out wrong. But, If the complaint is that this wasn’t prudent or even desirable, than that’s another argument all together.

    3. Mike Burns Avatar
      Mike Burns

      Fr. Steve,
      The Pope in union with the Bishops teaching at an ecumenical council is an expression of extraordinary magisterium. This is not a half truth at all but a solemnly defined truth of our faith. Could you provide where exactly Vatican II says that the Pope has direct and supreme jurisdication over the univeral Church-even apart from the Bishops? Are you speaking of statements of the Pope “ex cathedra” that include papal infallibility?

      1. Fr. Steve Sanchez Avatar
        Fr. Steve Sanchez

        “But the college or body of bishops has no authority unless it is understood together with the Roman Pontiff, the successor of Peter as its head. The pope’s power of primacy over all, both pastors and faithful, remains whole and intact. In virtue of his office, that is as Vicar of Christ and pastor of the whole Church, the Roman Pontiff has full, supreme and universal power over the Church. And he is always free to exercise this power. The order of bishops, which succeeds to the college of apostles and gives this apostolic body continued existence, is also the subject of supreme and full power over the universal Church, provided we understand this body together with its head the Roman Pontiff and never without this head.(27*) This power can be exercised only with the consent of the Roman Pontiff” (Lumen Gentium 22, emphases mine).

        “The Supreme Pontiff usually conducts the affairs of the universal Church through the Roman Curia which performs its function in his name and by his authority for the good and service of the churches” (Can. 360).

      2. Fr. Steve Sanchez Avatar
        Fr. Steve Sanchez

        Yes, “The Pope in union with the Bishops teaching at an ecumenical council is an expression of extraordinary magisterium,” but the Supreme Legislator can change or amend previous legislation. For example, the present Pope is not bound to the administrative decrees of the Council of Trent, nor did another council have to change those decrees, but only a Roman Pontiff. The same applies to the administrative and prudential decrees from the Second Vatican Council.

  5. Michael Aiguani Avatar
    Michael Aiguani

    Fr Sanchez’s view, to be blunt, lacks theological and canonical depth. It is a quarter-truth, or less. I think he would benifit from reading Bishop Dunn’s careful canonical opinion on CDW activity posted earlier . It concludes: “Ultimately, the Congregation of Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments does not have the authority to impose a new translation upon a country. This can occur only if the conference freely approves the translation or if the Congregation receives a papal mandate with legislative authority to legislate the text for a country. This latter procedure would blatantly contradict the teaching and legislation of the Church since Vatican II.”

    1. Fr. Steve Sanchez Avatar
      Fr. Steve Sanchez

      See 12:38am above.

  6. Bill deHaas Avatar

    And again, what seminary did you attend, Fr. Steve? Appears that you need some refresher courses?

    1. Fr. Steve Sanchez Avatar
      Fr. Steve Sanchez

      God bless you Bill. 😉

  7. Bill deHaas Avatar
    Bill deHaas

    Fr. Steve – a diferent slant on this issue and how it is connected to VII’s call to collegiality.

    From The Tablet:


    – “But the limited efforts to broaden the make-up of the Roman Curia, whose “internationalisation” was an expressed desire of the Fathers at the Second Vatican Council, is only part of the picture. Just as important as having a geographical representation of the local Churches in Rome, there is also a need for administrative, cultural, pastoral and theological experience and competence.

    The fact that Pope Benedict has chosen most of his officials from among those who have a Roman pedigree assures a loyalty to a long-standing theological and governing system. But it also tends to reinforce insularity and block out other currents of legitimate ecclesiological thinking. Obviously, people such as Professor Hans Küng are proof that someone can be “Roman-trained” and still be critical of the Roman system. However, one would be hard-pressed to find many Curia officials who are openly “anti-Roman Romans”.

    – “Another objective the German Pope has pursued during his six years in office is to offer a definitive interpretation of the Second Vatican Council. One of the major themes to emerge from the council, which many theologians believe has not been sufficiently developed and implemented, is episcopal collegiality. In this light it will be very telling to see what the Pope decides to do with the Synod of Bishops and who he appoints as secretary general. It may be among the impending appointments that will continue to show where Benedict XVI seeks to lead the Church.”

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