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The television version of Hilary Mantel’s novel Wolf Hall is the latest account to challenge St Thomas More’s reputation as a courageous defender of the rights of conscience. Was he, in truth, a liberal icon, a religious fanatic or something in between?
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Mgr Andy McFadden, the Principal Catholic Chaplain to the Royal Navy, has been appointed Principal of the Armed Forces Chaplaincy Centre in Andover – the first Catholic forces chaplain to achieve the senior post.
“To say I was surprised to be offered this post is putting it mildly,” he said. “My first reaction was that I will miss going to sea, but then I realised that this is where God wants me – and Andover is less than an hour from Pompey (Portsmouth).”
Originally a parish priest in the Paisley diocese in Scotland, Mgr McFadden has been in the Navy for 16 years, serving in warzones from the Gulf and the Falklands to delivering humanitarian aid to Sierra Leone.
He said he would endeavour to be “an ambassador for the Catholic Church in a truly ecumenical environment.” The centre he will lead trains and supports chaplains in all three armed services.
He believes the Church has a special place in the military and rejects any suggestion it should not be involved. He told The Tablet: “The Church has to go out the periphery. The military community is sometimes very much alone, so we work with them and support them.”
Mgr McFadden travelled last week to Normandy for the 70th anniversary commemorations of the D-Day landings. He recalled that on the voyage out, his ferry, crowded with ex-servicemen, had slowed off the French coast. “An announcement from the bridge said: 'We are approaching the beaches where 70 years ago you and your colleagues secured the freedom, not only of France, but also Europe and society at large. Back then a spontaneous rendition of “Onward, Christian Soldiers” went across the landing craft. That spirit of courage is with us today.”
“They then played the hymn. Some might say it was triumphalistic, but it seemed fitting that their Christian experience should colour their courageous commitment.”
Bishop Richard Moth, Bishop of the Forces said “On behalf of the Bishopric, I wish Andy well in his new role. He has my best wishes and prayers as he works to support chaplains and service personnel of all three armed services”.