BY Ian Dunn | November 3 2017 | comments icon 0 COMMENTS     print icon print


Cardinal Winning saved Pope’s 1982 visit from Falklands fallout

New book reveals the late archbishop’s role in securing St John Paul II’s arrival

The late Cardinal Thomas ­Winning of Glasgow saved St Pope John Paul II’s 1982 visit to the UK after it was almost ­cancelled because of the Falklands War, a new book has revealed.

The Keys and The Kingdom by Catherine Pepinster, a former editor of The Tablet magazine, is out later this month, and is a history of the recent relationship between the papacy and the United Kingdom.

The book reveals that Cardinal ­Winning, then Archbishop of ­Glasgow, refused to accept Vatican fears that the long-planned trip would imply that the Church favoured one side of the ­conflict.

“Winning went into overdrive,” Ms Pepinster writes, “getting every Catholic lay organisation in Scotland to telegram the Pope urging him not to cancel his visit and then organising a telegram from the Scottish bishops saying much the same thing.”

Cardinal Winning even convinced the then Moderator of the Church of Scotland to write a letter backing the visit and then travelled to Rome to personally convince the Holy Father not to cancel his trip.

“He does seem to have been ­instrumental in ensuring it got back on track,” Ms Pepinster told the SCO. “The Pope coming to Britain for the first time, when it was at war with such a Catholic country, was an issue, and he was the one who suggested the Pope go to Argentina as well to ­balance it out—which the Pope did. It seems to have been the vital compromise.”


Pope Francis

The book reveals that the Falklands were again to become a live question on the election of Pope Francis, as the Foreign Office were concerned that, as Archbishop of Buenos Aires, the new pontiff had talked about ‘Las Malvinas’ being ‘usurped’ by the British. This led to the Foreign Office sending a delegation to the Holy See following Pope Francis’ election to assert the Britishness of the Islands.

The book also details Cardinal ­Winning’s relationship with former Prime Minister Tony Blair—‘extremely unimpressed’—and Ms Pepinster suggests the cardinal’s ­political friendship must ‘have played quite a part in helping the SNP win over many Catholic voters from Labour.’

The section on Scotland also recounts Cardinal Keith O’Brien’s fall from grace, which she describes as the ‘most traumatic event in the history of the Scottish Church.’


Uncertain relationship

Ms Pepinster says she was inspired to write the book after leaving The Tablet, and her research draws on a lot of what she learned about the Church in 13 years as editor.

She says that though the ­relationship between the British ­Government and the Holy See is ­generally ‘healthy now,’ with ­cooperation on areas like human ­trafficking, the Foreign Office is still at times unsure of what to make of the Vatican.

“They’re not sure at times if it’s a tiny state like San Marino or a vast superpower like China,” she said. “Although recent ambassadors have been quite successful.

“However I’ve been in Rome this past week and there is concern over Brexit. The Vatican is still invested in the idea of the European project and Britain’s retreat from that is an issue.”

She suggests that though diplomats may occasionally clash, there is a present warmth from the British ­public towards Pope Francis.

“At one time most people in Britain had at least a nominal knowledge of Christianity, which is not the case now,” she said. “But there is still an interest in the papacy from the great British public because people do like Pope Francis—he’s a popular guy. But where things go after that is a good question. If you’re dependent on the charisma of one person, where does that relationship go when they’re no longer there?”


The Keys and the Kingdom: The British and the Papacy from John Paul II to Francis is published by Bloomsbury on November 14.

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