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Obituary: Cardinal Gordon Gray

Gordon Joseph Gray, priest: born Leith, Lothian 10 August 1910; ordained priest 1935; Assistant Priest, St Andrews 1935-41; Parish Priest, Hawick 1941-47; Rector, Blairs College, Aberdeen 1947-51; Archbishop of St Andrews and Edinburgh 1951-85; Cardinal 1969; died Edinburgh 19 July 1993.

THAT relations between the Roman Catholic Church and the rest of the community in Scotland should have been generally cordial over the last 40 years is due in no small measure to Gordon Gray, writes Tam Dalyell. The pleasure felt when he became the first resident Scot to be made a Cardinal in over 400 years since the Reformation, extended far beyond the confines of the Catholic Church.

Albeit a priest of conservative views, ecclesiastical, social, and political, he expressed his humane opinions with a caution and moderation which earned the respect even of those who on some topics, such as abortion, deeply disagreed with him. And when those views were somewhat unexpected, they carried the more weight. Gray was deeply dismayed that Britain and predominantly Catholic Argentina should get entangled 'like two bald men fighting over a comb' in squabbling over the Falkland Islands. He asked powerfully and publicly in 1982 what effort had been made by the political leaders on both sides to fulfil one of St Thomas Aquinas' conditions for a Just War - namely, that everything possible should be done to avoid such a conflict before resorting to arms and inevitable bloodshed.

He also gave his support to Thomas Winning, Roman Catholic Archbishop of Glasgow, when Winning took the controversial decision to speak from a public platform in George Square, Glasgow, to thousands protesting against the Gulf war. Gray was no pacifist however; he believed that Nazism had to be fought and was critical of the papacy of Pope Pius XII in its attitude towards the Jews. His greeting to any Scottish Catholic or non-Catholic MP who cared to visit him for a serious talk was warm, and the hearing was more than polite.

It was in such a discussion that I came to realise how much his frequent visits to Rome and 'headquarters' mattered to him. He took his privilege as a member of the Curia as a priority, and it is believed with good reason that his counsel, discreet and private as always, counted not only with the Popes - Pope John XXIII, Pope Paul VI, and latterly Pope John Paul II - but also with the heavyweights of the Vatican, such as Cardinal Agostino Casaroli, the Secretary of State and Prefect of the Council for the Public Affairs of the Church.

Gray's international interests extended to the Third World and he urged his colleagues in the Curia to become even more interested in the affairs of Africa. In this matter, Gray spoke from a position of strength and experience since he was one of the prime movers in initiating the lasting relationship between the Roman Catholic Church in Scotland and the Bauchi area of Nigeria. He believed that lasting human relationships between two particular areas were of greater value than simply giving money to be spread around the Third World.

As a parish priest in rugby-orientated Hawick, Gray developed a lifelong interest in the wider aspects of education though he remained a zealous guardian of the 1918 Act which bestowed the right on the Scots Catholic community to run their own schools. It was fitting that he should be given a rare honorary fellowship of the Educational Institute of Scotland. The formal encomium at the ceremony in which the EIS conferred their honour contained the words 'he having in his work and in his person exemplified the qualities of a great teacher by his selfless attitude to the future welfare of all those in his care . . . his ability to initiate and inspire, his wealth of outlook . . . and above all his concern for young people everywhere make him a supremely worthy candidate'.

As a political candidate in Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles in 1959 I learnt of the success of the social evenings for young Catholic men and women that Gray as the parish priest in Hawick had initiated in every one of the border towns.

Gray was blessed with a superb and authoritative deep voice which he used to beautiful effect. He took infinite trouble over the tributes he paid on those occasions when it was fitting that the encomium about the deceased should be given by a Cardinal Archbishop.

The last memory which many of us in Scotland will have of Cardinal Gray comes from six weeks ago when he was determined, obviously ill and suffering, to be present on the high altar of the Roman Catholic cathedral in Edinburgh on that memorable occasion when Mother Teresa of Calcutta was welcomed for an afternoon mass and a talk to the people of Scotland. Gray was indeed as always a considerable presence.