WILLIAM HART, Bishop of Dunkeld, was one of the stalwarts of the Scottish Catholic Bishops Conference.
His public ministry extended from ordination in 1929 to his retirement from his see in 1981: years of dramatic change in the structures and attitudes of the Roman Catholic Church. He was trained for the priesthood at the Royal Scots College at Valladolid in Spain, a foundation whose origins were a reminder of the days of persecution when an outlawed church had to send its candidates for the ministry to seminaries abroad. He returned to 10 years of curacy in the west of Scotland before the war. At this time there was little contact with Christians of other churches and he developed in a culture of theological self-sufficiency.
When the Second World War came he volunteered as an army chaplain and served with the Fifth Battalion of the Cameron Highlanders. His war service took him to Egypt, Malta, Italy and Austria. Here his personal warmth and humanity opened new areas of understanding and prepared him for his later role in the developing ecumenical scene. A big man in every sense, he offered a solid comfort in times of danger and a steady friendship when needed; as well as demonstrating his ability as a swimmer when he survived four hours in the water when his transport was sunk in the Gulf of Sirte.
A west-of-Scotland man by birth, education and parish ministry, Hart moved to the east when he became Bishop of Dunkeld in 1955. The diocese has its cathedral in Dundee and covers Perthshire, Angus and parts of Fife and central Scotland. Bishop Hart's early years were a time of expansion as new churches were built and new parishes founded. In the mid-Sixties the Second Vatican Council provided a watershed in the life of the Catholic Church, producing far-reaching changes in liturgy, relationships with other Christian denominations and other faiths. In preparation for this, Hart was adviser to the Vatican Secretariat for Christian Unity, going on to become the President of the Ecumenical Commission within the Bishops Conference in Scotland.
In this period new possibilities of inter-church co-operation began, quite tentatively, to open up. Hart adapted to the new mood and the fruits of his influence can now be seen in the later development of Action of the Churches Together in Scotland (ACTS) - the Scottish response to the reorganisation of all the inter- church structures in Great Britain and Ireland. Before this, informal relations between the Scottish churches had continued to develop an open and collaborative style. Among the positive signs had been regular meetings between the members of the Catholic Conference and the Anglican College of Bishops. On such occasions Hart was always a smiling and encouraging presence.
More informally, when questions arose about issues that affected the overlapping Catholic and Anglican dioceses of which he and I were respectively bishops his generous hospitality and largeness of heart paved the way for practical ecumenism, like the sharing of churches.
His retirement was at first to the little town of Dunkeld which gave its name to the title of his use and then he spent his last years in the care of Sisters in Dundee. Although his public ministry was ended he continued to give a powerful witness by his courtesy and obvious enjoyment of his fellow human beings. In a country whose folklore has bred a pathological aversion to the title of 'Bishop', characters like William Hart have done perhaps as much by their personality as by their eccelesial activities to break down prejudice and bring all to be of one mind in Christ.
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