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smoke signals from London

By Phil Lawler (bio - articles ) | Jan 02, 2009

 London's Daily Mail reports that a prominent Benedictine abbot, Dom Hugh Gilbert, has declined the Pope's invitation to become the next Archbishop of Westminster, succeeding Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor as the leading prelate in the English Catholic Church. According to Daily Mail reporter Simon Caldwell, the appointment would have been announced this week. 

This report is unconfirmed. The Vatican has not commented, and presumably will not comment until the appointment of a new archbishop is announced. So it's prudent to treat this report as merely a rumor. You'll notice that this story is not appearing in our regular news coverage.

Nevertheless the rumor is an interesting one. Somebody leaked this story to the Daily Mail. Somebody wants the world to know-- or at least to think-- that Dom Hugh Gilbert was offered the position. Since it's general knowledge that Cardinal Murphy-O'Connor hopes to step down in the near future, the speculation is now fairly intense. The idea that the Pope would turn first to a Benedictine-- someone from outside the comfortably clubby atmosphere of the current English hierarchy-- is significant. Perhaps even more significant is the fact that Abbot Hugh is a former Anglican, and unlike many English bishops he would likely be sympathetic in his approach toward other Anglicans interested in becoming Catholics. 

Finally, if it's true that Pope Benedict asked the Benedict abbot to accept the post, and Gilbert declined-- and again, let's underline that this is a rumor-- Abbot Hugh might always be persuaded to change his mind and accept the appointment. 

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