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by Mgr Charles Vella
Bishops, both Catholic and Anglican, are not immune to sensational stories. The latest is that of Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury, a priest who is blessed with grace, charisma and spirituality.
The archbishop is very close to both Pope Francis and also to the Archbishop of Westminster Vincent Nicholas.
Archbishop Nicholas and many religious leaders readily expressed their support and friendship when the Daily Telegraph published a sensational story revealing that Archbishop Welby was the illegitimate son of the private secretary of Sir Winston Churchill, Sir Anthony Montague Browne.
This was a media shock and the Archbishop was told in private about his true father, who agreed this was a news story and assented to its confirmation by a DNA test. The journalist commented: “I admired his courageous matter-of-factness and lack of pomposity.”
While many frowned and passed judgements, Archbishop Welby as a spiritual man took it with deep humility, though the news came as a great surprise. Only the Pharisees called for resignation, instead of showing misericordia (pity), like Pope Francis.
The mentality in Malta has changed, though I am sure there are cases where pity, tolerance and love are missing
The Archbishop’s mother made a touching comment: “I have watched Justin from an almost impossible childhood, grow into what he is today... God has given us so much and my gratitude knows no bounds.”
For these years the mother withheld in her heart this secret amid many personal difficulties. Today after 86 years she can thank God for the gift of her son.
Two days earlier in Zambia, the Archbishop made a part confession when he told his congregation: “We need to be a Church where I am who I am because I am in Jesus Christ. That is the only thing that gives me my identity and you will see in a couple of days why I am saying this.” Again, it was a sense of humility as it seems the Archbishop wanted to tell his people, though he is not touched with any sin.
Both the Roman Catholic and the Anglican Churches had strict regulation in place about illegitimacy. I myself have had cases where we required a dispensation for two girls to enter a religious congregation and, in the past, such cases were evident for the priesthood. In the Anglican Church, until 1969, illegitimacy was an impediment for the episcopal ordination.
The Archbishop was born of married parents, as declared by Lord Parmoor in a letter to the paper, and is therefore a child of the family until a court decides otherwise.
The news of his late father came as a surprise, the Archbishop said, but he accepted it with love for his real father.
This whole episode shows that in family life we encounter many problems.
It reminds us of one case where the bride discovered, on the eve of her marriage, the illegitimate identity of her husband to be. The families took it all very badly and demonstrated very little spirit of acceptance. The groom himself did not know.
I think the mentality in Malta has changed, though I am sure there are cases where pity, tolerance and love are missing.
Like Cardinal Nichols, we all should say our heart goes out to Archbishop Welby who in a very Christian dignified way faced this personal problem.
For Pope Francis it is the misericordia of God which consoles Archbishop Welby.
Mgr Charles Vella is the founder of Cana Movement
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