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The new Bishop of Plymouth says one of his priorities is to serve the poor starting with those in his diocese affected by Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines.
Mgr Mark O’Toole, the rector of Allen Hall, the Archdiocese of Westminster’s seminary in Chelsea, London, was named for his new role by Pope Francis on Saturday and will be installed on 28 January 2014.
Speaking to The Tablet after his appointment, he said he had already telephoned the Philippines Embassy in London to offer solidarity. “People often think of Plymouth and the south-west as very Anglo-Saxon but in fact there are significant numbers of migrants and one of the largest communities is the Filipino community,” Mgr O’Toole said.
“I imagine the response in our country [to the typhoon] will be very generous, particularly the Catholic people’s, in terms of blankets and dry goods and so on. How does the local Church open up its halls to allow that kind of thing to take place?” He added that a number of people working on ships docking at Plymouth include Catholics – Filipino and Keralite – who are often facing difficult situations. The bishop-elect also pointed out that the port had experienced economic upheaval with a decline in the defence sector – the city is a major naval base.
Mgr O’Toole admitted that he does not know Plymouth well, having visited the diocese – which stretches from Bournemouth to the Scilly Isles – just three times. But he said he felt a familiarity with Cornwall (he visited it for the first time last weekend) as his family comes from the west coast of Ireland and his grandfather was a fisherman.
The bishop-elect said that Pope Francis’ simplicity of life had challenged him and that he was glad that his predecessor, Bishop Christopher Budd – who has served the diocese for almost 28 years – had lived in a humble way in an apartment within Bishop’s House. The new bishop also said that he wants to reach out to those who feel alienated from God, including lapsed Catholics. He said this was something the seminarians in his charge were conscious of and that he had experienced in his own family.
Mgr O’Toole, who assisted Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor with the apostolic visitation examining clerical sexual abuse in various dioceses, religious orders and seminaries in Ireland, said he wants to listen to abuse victims. He said he would collaborate with experienced laypeople and that the greatest challenge was helping those victims who feel abandoned by God.