1996 – Derek Worlock – My personal journey

Mgr Derek Worlock

My personal journey

In his will the late Mgr Derek Worlock CH, Archbishop of Liverpool, entrusted Bishop Vincent Nichols and Canon Nicholas France with all his papers, including his Second Vatican Council diaries, together with an incomplete series of “occasional essays in reflection and recollection — what I wanted to write”. While on holiday in Cornwall in August 1981 Archbishop Worlock wrote about the way he had changed, as had the Church, during the years since the council. This candid piece of self-analysis throws fresh light on the personality and philosophy of one of the leading figures of Christianity in Britain since the Second World War, whose legacy is still much discussed.

Musing on the theme of change in other people, I suppose it is only honest to try and face the same question about myself. One is, of course, much less conscious of change in oneself. In spite of momentous events and turning points, the whole process is so gradual that one is not conscious of the degree of change in outlook, and perhaps even in character, which will be apparent to others.

I have to accept the fact that people have said that I changed. I tried to explain it away by saying that before 1964, when I left Archbishop’s House, Westminster, people did not know me as I was in myself, only in so far as I tried faithfully to reflect and transmit the views of those I had to serve. And you could scarcely find three more different characters than Cardinals Griffin, Godfrey and Heenan. There is a lot of truth in that explanation but yes, if I look back, I have to admit that my outlook changed in those critical years at the end of the council, immediately before I was made a bishop.

Some of it was due to opportunity for self-expression, some was due to the development of ideas over the years which reached fruition in the council, some was due to the council itself (which, as Nick France says, was a conversion experience for me), but I think most was due to those months at Stepney [the archbishop was at this time a parish priest in the East End of London], to the priests I was with then, and the laity, especially the dockers and their families, with whom I worked in undoubtedly the happiest time of my life, March 1964 to October 1965.

But before trying to analyse these influences in the Stepney era, it is only fair to say that having learned something about social justice in the years immediately after the [Second World] War through my involvement with Cardinal Griffin and his dealings with the labour leaders — Bevin, Bevan, Tomlinson, Isaacs and of course the great Dick Stokes — I began to get involved with the lay leaders of the Young Christian Workers (YCW). They not only introduced me to the practical problems of the worker apostolate, they also began to open my eyes to the true role of the laity in the Church. I suppose that was the real beginning.

In the early 1950s, when Cardinal Griffin was either sick or in diminished activity, I took a number of initiatives in his name or with his backing, for example drawing together a group of representative young laity to attend a first World Congress for the Promotion of the Lay Apostolate (COPECIAL). As a result of that in 1952 there was formed the National Council for the Lay Apostolate (NCLA). That was quite an important step because it was the first time I know of when what was then called “the Church”, i.e. central administration, paid for the expenses of a delegation of representatives of organisations which chose who would represent them. Hitherto it had largely been a case of giving some authorisation to whomsoever chose to go in a representative capacity and could pay for themselves.

In this way I was drawn into close relationship with nearly all the lay movements but, through Pat Keegan [a founder of the Young Christian Workers], more especially with the YCW, and with the various lay leaders who came to Clapham Road [YCW headquarters] for training. It was in the late 1940s and early 1950s that Pat, Frank Lane and Kevin Muir came to me about the formation of a team to comprise the totally committed who, at the completion of a fixed term of service with some movement, wanted to commit themselves to apostolic work and needed mutual support, especially of a spiritual nature. It was essentially directed to the worker apostolate, to the service of God’s poor.

They asked me to become their chaplain: at that stage it meant a monthly meeting and Mass, and continuing spiritual counsel. Now, over 30 years later, the team still exists. It has been a long and enriching relationship which enshrines some marvellous friendships, as with Kevin Muir and Austin Winkley, but with no one more than Pat Keegan himself. I shall never forget the night we celebrated in Rome Pat’s making the first lay intervention in the council. As we met for a meal we got a telegram from Kitty Foley in London to say that Maurice (ex-YCW) had just been made Parliamentary Secretary to George Brown, the Foreign Secretary. It all seemed to be happening at once.

That night, after a meal in the Hotel Columbus, Archbishop Gillie Young of Hobart made an inspired speech about the caravan of God, trundling forward, some pulling ahead, some pulling back, some hanging on like grim death to the sides. It was the Church we were to know so well in the years following the council.


The Tablet, 1 June 1996