Winning's successor hopes to overcome sectarianism in Scottish life

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The Independent Online

The outspoken Bishop of Aberdeen, Mario Joseph Conti, was appointed by the Pope to take over from the late Cardinal Thomas Winning as leader of Scotland's Catholics.

The 67-year-old Bishop will become Archbishop of Glasgow, the country's biggest Catholic diocese, when he is ordained at a mass in St Andrew's Cathedral, Glasgow, on 22 February. Bishop Conti, who has often spoken out against abortion and cloning, said that succeeding Cardinal Winning would be difficult. The 76-year-old Archbishop died of a heart attack at his home in Glasgow last June, two days after he was released from hospital.

Although Bishop Conti was informed several weeks ago of the Pope's decision to appoint him as a successor, he was sworn to secrecy.

"When I heard the news my heart sank because I recognised immediately that it was not an easy assignment or appointment, particularly because I am following someone of outstanding ability who was a public figure and well known throughout Scotland," said the Archbishop-elect.

"I may be known within the Catholic community, and to a few outside, but come as something of an unknown person to this part of the world. However, it is a great honour to be nominated Archbishop of Glasgow and I accept the challenge confident of the support of the clergy," he said.

Bishop Conti, a native of Elgin, Moray, was educated at St Marie's Convent, Elgin, and Springfield School before entering the Minor Seminary of St Mary's College, Aberdeen.

After completing his studies, he was appointed assistant priest at St Mary's Cathedral, Aberdeen, in 1959 and was ordained as Bishop 18 years later. The Bishop said that leaving Aberdeen for the more demanding appointment in Glasgow would be difficult but he believed that his rural experiences could be of value, not least in attempting to combat religious sectarianism, which too often had cast a shadow over Glasgow.

"While I have nearly 25 years' experience as a bishop, it has been in a mainly different and rural diocese with a proportionately much smaller Catholic population," he said. "I come as an innocent from the north-east, and therefore perhaps with some advantage, but I would hope that what we focus on is something that is common to everyone and that we can overcome some of the sectarian issues which in the past have divided society."

Bishop Conti said the main challenge ahead was to address the crisis of faith within the Church. "Increasingly in the western democratic secular society, questions of faith can be marginalised.

"It's not so in other parts of the world, we only need to look with a telescope to other continents to see the faith is very vibrant," he said.

He said the question of faith needed to be addressed with new vigour and a sense of hope in order to encourage the faithful to retain their devout practice of attendance at Mass, which he was concerned was "perhaps slipping".