18 March 2020, The Tablet

Peter Smith: a principled pragmatist


Peter Smith: a principled pragmatist

Archbishop Peter Smith in 2001
Photo: PA, Chris Ison

 

The Archbishop Emeritus of Southwark, who died on 6 March aged 76, combined firm convictions with a genuine desire for engagement and dialogue. His long-term public affairs adviser remembers an astute, unpretentious, independent-minded man who was, above all, a priest

You knew you had arrived at the right venue when you saw him standing on the pavement by the door, cigarette in hand (often already on his second), amiably chatting to anybody he happened to meet. Though very private in many ways, Archbishop Peter Smith was easy to talk to, totally unassuming and blessed with a great sense of humour. He was kind, thoughtful and unafraid. He was also very much his own man.

That independence of mind was in evidence on one of the first occasions I met him. It was in March 1999, and my then boss, Cardinal Basil Hume, by that time very unwell, had arranged for a group of bishops and leading lay Catholics to come to Archbishop’s House to discuss a proposal that a number of religious leaders, including some Catholic bishops, might join the Church of England bishops in a reformed House of Lords. Both Hume and his successor, Cormac Murphy-O’Connor, were in favour, as were the other bishops present. But Peter was firmly against the idea. I remember one of the other bishops saying, “But shouldn’t we be united on this?” Peter replied, with a lightness of touch: “Why? It’s not a matter of faith or morals.”

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