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Cath Pic Jubilee Issue-1
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A new priest with a lifetime’s experience to draw on
- by Simon Hart

“It’s an eccentric pastime,” admits Father John Goddard as he interrupts the pleasures of a trip on his canal boat to speak to the Pic. Not your usual hobby perhaps, but then this is not your usual priest. The 74-year-old is the diocese’s newest priest – and certainly the first to have once been an Anglican Bishop.

His ordination by Bishop Tom Williams in the Metropolitan Cathedral crypt on Saturday 2 April came 51 years after he was ordained as an Anglican priest. ‘There is the whole different approach to life but both were in their particular ways very exciting,’ he reflects of two moments half-a-century apart. Then he had his parents with him; now the congregation included his sons, Michael and Gareth, and his grandson, Jimmy.

The presence of Bishop Tom – ‘someone who has helped me no end’ – was significant too. His wife of 51 years, Vivienne, had urged him to speak to Bishop Tom amid a period of soul-searching. ‘She suggested I have a conversation with him and from that everything flowed wonderfully,’ he explains. There were also supportive conversations with Archbishop Malcolm McMahon and Archbishop Emeritus Patrick Kelly before he was received into the Catholic Church last year at Pentecost. Having received a dispensation from Rome, he was ordained deacon on Tuesday 29 March – four days before his ordination as a priest.

As Father John explains, he had long considered this path now taken. He resigned as Bishop of Burnley in 2014, shortly after the Church of England’s synod voted to allow women bishops. He elaborates on why: ‘I had always believed myself to be a Catholic within the Church of England, working for the reunification of the two churches. That sounds very grand but it was a commitment I made early on.’ With the vote for women bishops, he saw the two Churches moving further apart. ‘In my mind it has called off the whole development of ARCIC, the Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission, which I felt was one of the most positive things we were given.

‘As I put in my press release,’ he adds, ‘I am a Christian by baptism, I am a Catholic by conviction and I was a member of the Church of England while I thought I could still be all of those three things together. Increasingly I thought they couldn’t be held together. I now know that I'm called to the fullness of the Catholic faith, within the Catholic Church.'
He cites the principles of Tractarianism – the Oxford Movement which led St John Henry Newman from the Anglican Church to the Catholic Church. There was also the influence of his father, William, an Anglican priest who was Anglo-Catholic in his thinking.

Fr John’s road to religious life began on leaving Wells Cathedral School in his home county of Somerset at 18. He spent a year in Ghana with the White Fathers before studying Theology at Durham University. There, on his first day, he met Vivienne, a student on the same course; Mugwump, their canal boat is named after the shop they frequented for coffees.

As an Anglican priest he had a series of placings in and around Middlesbrough before being appointed dean there and, subsequently, honorary canon of York Minster. After four years as vice-principal at Edinburgh’s Episcopalian Dalian Theological College, he moved to Ribbleton in Lancashire before being named Bishop of Burnley in 2000.  
‘It has largely been a mixture of urban, deprived areas and they’ve been wonderful parishes and people to work with,’ he says. ‘I was very blessed in my ministry. There’s something wonderful you receive as a person who’s involved in areas of poverty and difficulty where people do not cloak what they want to say to you – it’s not all wrapped up in politeness.’

Now for his new life as a Catholic priest in this diocese. He is grateful for ‘the generosity of so many of the clergy’, explaining how he felt ‘so welcome at the Chrism Mass’ at the Cathedral in Holy week. And he highlights the support of Fr Gerald Anders, priest of the nearest parish to his home – Our Lady, Help of Christians in Tarleton – where he said his first Mass the day after his ordination. It is at nearby St Oswald’s, Longton, where he now serves as assistant to Fr Michael Barrett, the parish priest, while assisting in the diocese as requested. ‘It is lovely how in both these churches I’ve been made to feel so welcome,’ he says. ‘I celebrated Mass on Easter morning at Longton and it was a great joy to be able to do that. I felt a completion, a fullness. I felt at home.’

Father John Goddard

I had always believed myself to be a Catholic within the Church of England, working for the reunification of the two churches