OBITUARY: The Most Rev Derek Worlock

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Derek Worlock was a southerner who became, to his surprise, Metropolitan of Liverpool, the most populous northern diocese of the Roman Catholic Church. Bishop of Portsmouth from 1965, the year the Second Vatican Council ended, he became Archbishop of Liverpool on 7 February 1976, at a time when the See of Westminster was vacant.

Worlock was anxious to dispel the impression that he had coveted Westminster, insisted he was very happy with the appointment of Abbot Basil Hume - another of Pope Paul VI's surprises - and actually preferred Liverpool because it enabled him to have a pastoral role on the local level rather than a national role. In fact that turned out to be a distinction without a difference.

In Liverpool he inherited a new cathedral, the much abused "Paddy's wigwam", built on the foundations of a grandiose Lutyens project. It was linked to Giles Scott's Anglican cathedral by Hope Street, a piece of symbolism that the dullest mind could perceive. On arrival in Liverpool his first visitor was the city's Anglican Bishop, David Sheppard, former England opening bat and an old friend, who came bearing a bottle of wine. They became inseparable, were known as Tweedledum and Tweedledee or, in the scouse vernacular (because they were always seen together in the newspaper) "Fish 'n' Chips". They stood in for each other and sometimes preached joint sermons in which one would complete the thought of the other. Their principle was "Do everything together, except the things which conscience forces us to do apart". In a Liverpool which had the potential to be a British Belfast and in which older people could remember rowdy Orange marches, this was as dramatic as it was novel.

They stood together in all the problems and crises of Liverpool: the Heysel stadium disaster; unemployment; the Toxteth riots; housing and civic scandals and the IRA bombs in Warrington. But it was not just a cosy Catholic-Anglican club. The Church Leaders Group also included Dr John Newton, Methodist superintendent, John Williamson of the United Reformed Church, the Baptist Trevor Hubbard and Col Lily Farrar of the Salvation Army. Together they found a distinctive Merseyside voice in addressing the social problems of the Thatcher era, of whose individualist ethos they were sharply critical. In Liverpool they kept alive forgotten notions such as common good and community. They refused to believe that the weakest or the unemployed should go to the wall.

Worlock, much assailed as a "liberal" or a dangerous radical, justified his positions in terms of Catholic social doctrine. In 1991 he celebrated the 100th anniversary of Pope Leo XIII's encyclical Rerum Novarum with a conference for ordinary people designed to show the relevance of Catholic social teaching today. It was, he held, "the Church's best-kept secret". He unwrapped it.

Preaching in Liverpool Cathedral on Worlock's silver jubilee as a bishop, on 21 December 1990, Cardinal Basil Hume picked out two "high spots" of Worlock's ministry.

The first was his role in the meticulous planning of the National Pastoral Congress in 1980, a 2,000-strong assembly designed to discern what the Second Vatican Council meant for English Catholics in the pew. "It expressed," Hume said, "our growing awareness that we are a single people of God whose pastors and laity have their distinct but complementary ministries within the unique mission of the Church." The National Pastoral Congress was criticised for lack of follow-up. But, in the case of Liverpool, the idea of "collaborative ministry" in which clergy and laity worked side by side was firmly planted. The appointment of Pat Jones as the first woman to be an assistant secretary of the English and Welsh Bishops came out of this experiment.

The second memory evoked by Cardinal Hume was of the papal visit to Britain in 1982 at the height of the Falklands crisis. Apart from the service of reconciliation in Paddy's wigwam, there was an ecumenical service in the Anglican cathedral at which Pope John Paul II was applauded all the way up the aisle. "The applause which greeted the Holy Father," Hume said, "remains with me as the most earnest and insistent prayer for Christian unity that I have ever heard." It almost persuaded the Pope that ecumenism in Britain was a popular cause. It was a fitting tribute to Worlock's work with David Sheppard and the others.

There were lesser-known aspects of his episcopal ministry. Priests "in trouble" could always get a hearing from him and practical help. He was not easily shocked. He was assiduous in attending the annual meetings of the National Conference of Priests, where his talents as mimic and raconteur were much appreciated. But he was a man more mimicked against than mimicking, and with cause. "Ee," said one Liverpudlian, "you sound just like the bloody Duke of Edinburgh."

Worlock confessed that there never was a time when he did not want to be a priest. His father, a journalist turned Conservative political agent, had the same ambition at Keble College, Oxford, and 12 of his ancestors had been Anglican clergymen. But Worlock senior became a Roman Catholic along with his bride, a suffragette who preferred to call herself a suffragist.

Derek had an elder brother, lost at sea during the Second World War, and a twin sister. The twins were born in 1920 in a flat overlooking Lord's cricket ground. His parents alleged that he first expressed the desire to be a priest at the age of three. So in 1934 he was despatched to St Edmund's, Ware, the Westminster junior seminary. By this time the family home was in Winchester. As a small boy he was rebuked for "having an answer to everything", a trait that remained. He was ordained priest in June 1944, seminarians being exempt from military service so they could be rushed through to serve as chaplains. In theory he belonged to the diocese of Portsmouth; but its Bishop, Dr Thomas Cotter, expected his future priests to have an Irish background.

Thus disqualified, Worlock was led to Westminster and to Our Lady of Victories, High Street Kensington, in west London, where he coped with doodlebugs and anointed over 50 people amid the bomb wreckage before meeting a case of natural death. In 1945, at the age of 25, he became private secretary to the new Archbishop of Westminster, Bernard Griffin. There is no career structure for future bishops in the Catholic Church. But being a bishop's secretary is not a bad start.

Worlock was spoiled in that he spent 19 years as secretary to three successive Cardinal Archbishops of Westminster: Griffin, Thomas Godfrey and John Carmel Heenan - a red hat-trick. He began this work in the darkest period of Catholic-Anglican relations when Christians dared not even say the Lord's Prayer together. He heard Dr Geoffrey Fisher roar: "Haven't you Romans lived long enough in this country to know that we are the Establishment and you must toe the line?"

A decade later, the same Dr Fisher visited Pope John XXIII in Rome and launched the adventure of ecumenism. Monsignor Strega - as Pope John, having had his name explained, always called him - accompanied Griffin to Rome for the Second Vatican Council where he became an "expert" on the laity.

The Council was for him a great period of "in-service" training, and a bottomless source of insights and anecdotes. He aided his already retentive memory by keeping a diary - dictated last thing at night to a tape recorder. It is kept in a Liverpool bank vault. One of his colleagues on the laity commission was Karol Wojtyla, the future Pope John Paul II, whose philosophical ruminations contrasted with Worlock's briskly practical approach and mastery of minutes and the agenda.

In 1964 Heenan thought Worlock had been a bishop's secretary long enough, replaced him with Bruce Kent, the future chair of CND, and packed him off to "gain pastoral experience" as parish priest at St Mary and St Michael's, Commercial Road, east London. A neighbour was David Sheppard, then an Evangelical vicar working at the Mayflower Family Centre in Canning Town. Worlock spent 18 months commuting between the dockers of Stepney and Roman commissions.

In November 1965, he was named Bishop of Portsmouth, succeeding Henry King, a white-bearded ancient who had been his parish priest in Winchester. Pat Keegan, the Liverpool docker who was a lay auditor at the Council, was so overjoyed that he seized Worlock and danced a jig with him in the corridors of the Council. At 45, Worlock was the first "post-conciliar" bishop, the layman's friend and the hope for renewal among the rather defensive-minded bench of bishops.

He was ordained Bishop by Cardinal Heenan in St John's Cathedral, Portsmouth, on 21 December 1965, receiving an enigmatic telegram of congratulations from Archbishop "Tommy" Roberts, a conscientious thorn in the side of the English hierarchy, which declared "May the spirit of St Thomas be with you." He meant "doubting Thomas".

But there were never any doubts about Worlock's episcopal ministry. Always totally loyal to Roman directives, he yet exploited them as generously as he could, particularly in ecumenical matters. When the local Anglican bishop's daughter wished to marry a Catholic, Worlock devised what he called "the Portsmouth solution", by which the marriage rite and promises took place in the morning in a Catholic church while the full celebration followed in the bride's church that same afternoon, presided over by her father.

Worlock played a crucial role in the episcopal conference. Always a good committee man, he masterminded the setting up of commissions on the media, on the laity, on justice and peace - the Catholic euphemism for politics - and on other aspects of church life that were needed in the new era of consultation. His Roman experience taught him never to enter a meeting without knowing what he wanted to get out of it. He was a master of procedure.

He also kept his Roman friendships in good repair, making annual visits in September for the plenary sessions of the Laity Council. Fortunately for the monoglot Worlock, its working language was English. His diary (partially unveiled for my 1993 biography of Pope Paul VI) records two moments when he influenced the Church profoundly.

In September 1968, the Laity Council was passionately divided over Humanae Vitae, Paul VI's encyclical condemning artificial birth control: some of the Europeans and North Americans were shocked by it, while the Latin Americans welcomed it as the rejection of Yankee imperialism. Worlock did not take sides, but pointed out that the Pope's lachrymose complaints about "bad Catholics" who dissented from the encyclical missed the target: the only people who objected were conscientious Catholics who cared about the Church's credibility. Worlock put this to Pope Paul, who modified his lamentations to take account of Worlock's comment.

He did it again in 1973 when it looked as though the theme for the forthcoming Roman Synod would be Christian Marriage. Worlock remarked that such a topic could only reopen the scarcely healed wounds of Humanae Vitae, and that a more outward-looking theme such as "Evangelisation" would rekindle the Church's sense of mission among all the baptised. Paul VI accepted this suggestion and thus prevented his pontificate's appearing to be obsessed with sexuality.

When Cardinal Heenan died in 1975, tipsters confidently predicted Worlock would succeed him. But Basil Hume was appointed, and Worlock went to Liverpool "without", he ruefully remarked, "that consultation in the diocese I had always advocated". The clergy, once dominated by the "Kerry mafia", pulled his leg and mimicked him mercilessly.

Two points about Worlock's appointment to Liverpool should be noted. The only English bishop to attend the Requiem for Archbishop Roberts, he took me aside and explained how delighted he was at being appointed to Liverpool, that he did not consider this second-best, and looked forward to the challenge of "real pastoral work" in conditions he knew would be tough.

The second observation is that David Sheppard, already Anglican Bishop of Liverpool, was invited to dinner by Archbishop Bruno Heim, the Papal Nuncio in Britain, before the appointment and quizzed for an hour about the pastoral needs and priorities of the city. So Worlock was the first, perhaps the only, Catholic bishop to be appointed on the advice of an Anglican bishop. The method clearly has a lot to commend it.

Peter Hebblethwaite

Derek John Harford Worlock, priest: born London 4 February 1920; ordained priest 1944; Curate, Our Lady of Victories, Kensington 1944-45; Private Secretary to the Archbishop of Westminster 1945-64; Rector and Rural Dean, Church of SS Mary and Michael, London 1964-65; Bishop of Portsmouth 1965- 76; Archbishop of Liverpool and Metropolitan of Northern Province 1976- 96; books include English Bishops at the Council 1965, Turn and Turn Again 1971, Give Me Your Hand 1977, Better Together (with the Right Rev David Sheppard) 1988, With Christ in the Wilderness (with the Right Rev David Sheppard) 1990, Bread Upon the Waters 1991; died Liverpool 8 February 1996.

Peter Hebblethwaite died 18 December 1994