Archbishop of Westminster

Archbishop of Westminster

The Archbishop of Westminster heads the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Westminster, in England. The incumbent is the Metropolitan of the Province of Westminster and, as a matter of custom, is elected President of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of England and Wales, and therefore de facto spokesman of the Catholic Church in England and Wales. Since the establishment of the hierarchy in 1850 each successive Archbishop of Westminster has been raised to the rank of cardinal.


With the gradual abolition of the legal restrictions on the activities of Catholics in England and Wales in the early 19th century, Rome decided to proceed to bridge the gap of the centuries from Queen Elizabeth I by instituting Catholic dioceses on the regular historical pattern. Thus Pope Pius IX issued the Bull "Universalis Ecclesiae" of September 29, 1850 by which thirteen new dioceses, which did not formally claim any continuity with the pre-Elizabethan English dioceses, were created.

The Ecclesistical Titles Act had already been proposed by the British Parliament and was passed in 1851 as an anti-Catholic measure precisely to prevent any newly created Catholic dioceses from taking existing Anglican diocesan names, forbidding the wearing of (Anglican) clerical dress or setting bells in Catholic places of worship. It was repealed by Gladstone in 1871.

One of these newly created diocese was the Archdiocese of Westminster, the sole Metropolitan See at that time. However, under Pope Pius X, on October 28, 1911, two new Provinces of Liverpool and Birmingham were created, and Westminster retained as suffragan dioceses only Northampton, Nottingham, Portsmouth and Southwark. These increased when under Pope Benedict XV a Bull of July 20, 1917, fixed the seat of a new diocese corresponding to the County of Essex, detached now from Westminster, at Brentwood, making it a suffragan of Westminster.

During the pontificate of Pope Paul VI, on May 28, 1965, a new Province of Southwark was erected, with as its suffragans Portsmouth, detached from Westminster, Plymouth, detached from Birmingham, and a new diocese of Arundel and Brighton erected in the Counties of Sussex and Surrey with territory taken from the diocese of Southwark. Westminster retained as suffragan dioceses only Northampton, Nottingham and Brentwood. Subsequently these were joined by a new diocese of East Anglia, erected with territory from the Northampton diocese in the Counties of Cambridge, Norfolk and Suffolk by Paul VI on March 13, 1976.

The previous Catholic jurisdiction in the London area was a Vicariate headed by the Vicar Apostolic of the London District.

Current situation

The archdiocese presently covers an area of 3,634 km² of the London Boroughs north of the River Thames, together with the districts of Staines and Sunbury-on-Thames and the County of Hertfordshire. The see is in the City of Westminster, the Archbishop's "cathedra" or seat is located at the Metropolitan Cathedral Church of the "Most Precious Holy Blood, Saint Mary, Saint Joseph and Saint Peter", usually referred to as Westminster Cathedral, which is set back from Victoria Street.

The Archbishop's residence is Archbishop's House, Ambrosden Avenue, London.

The current archbishop is Cormac Cardinal Murphy-O'Connor, the 10th Metropolitan Archbishop of Westminster.

Title of primate

Among the old European Catholic Sees (i.e., Paris, Prague, Lyons, Cologne, etc.), the Archbishop of Westminster is referred to as the valid Primate of England and Wales. However, in the United Kingdom, this is not legally correct, since the title is formally claimed only by the archbishops of the established Church of England, and is applied to the Archbishop of York as "Primate of England", and the Archbishop of Canterbury, as "Primate of All England". In global Catholicism, however, the last time there was an erected Catholic Primate of England in the UK, accepted by the state, was prior to the Reformation.

List of the Archbishops of the Catholic Archdiocese of Westminster, England

ee also

*Religion in the United Kingdom
*Catholic Church in Great Britain
*Lists of office-holders

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