20 July 2023, The Tablet

Abuse survivors speak out at bishop’s installation

Bishop Steven Wright of Hexham and Newcastle received prayer ribbons alongside his symbols of office.

Abuse survivors speak out at bishop’s installation

Bishop Steven Wright receives prayer ribbons from representatives of abuse survivors including Maggie Mathews, centre, who delivered a testimony during the Installation Mass.
Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales / Mazur

Steven Wright was installed as the Bishop of Hexham and Newcastle on Wednesday, one month after he was appointed to replace Bishop Robert Byrne.

Members of the hierarchy including Cardinal Vincent Nichols and Archbishop Malcolm McMahon of Liverpool, apostolic administrator of the diocese since Bishop Byrne’s resignation in December, attended the Mass of Installation in St Mary’s Cathedral in Newcastle.

Alongside the customary elements of an installation, the Mass featured a significant contribution from survivors of abuse, following Bishop Wright’s commitment on his appointment to learn “about the troubling history [of abuse and safeguarding failures] and the way the diocese needs to respond to this history”.

After the chancellor of the diocese, Canon William Agley, had read the apostolic letter of appointment, Bishop Wright received his symbols of office – the pastoral staff, the crozier, St Cuthbert’s Ring and the pectoral cross – before three representatives of abuse survivors presented him with prayer ribbons which were tied to the cathedra, the episcopal throne.

Bishop Wright, who had asked the survivors to take part, said that the ribbons were “a powerful symbol of their God-given dignity and the fact we must never lose sight of their voice”.

Maggie Mathews then spoke to explain their symbolism and to offer a testimony on behalf of “people desperately hurt by abuse within the Church”.

“They see the systemic nature of abuse in our Church,” she said. “They see the structures that lead to abuse. They see the damage that excessive deference and fear of speaking continues to cause.”

Ms Mathews, a member of Root and Branch, explained that she had been abused in the diocese and had not been able to go to confession since 1979.  She said she had lost trust in priests, “certainly in the exclusive male priesthood”, and was left “clinging on at the margins” of the Church.

“I don’t feel safe, secure, at home in this Church,” she said.

She urged Catholics to use “the dignity that comes from your baptism” to “challenge our leaders”, insisting that fellow survivors had been unable to attend “with the ranks of hierarchy here”.

Survivors, she said, can make a vital contribution to the life of the Church.

She thanked Bishop Wright for inviting her to speak freely, and not asking to see her text beforehand.

The Diocese of Hexham and Newcastle has been subject to a series of investigations since Bishop Byrne’s resignation, as evidence of serious safeguarding failures during his tenure began to emerge.  Bishop Wright has committed to respond to the recommendations of a Catholic Safeguarding Standards Agency report on the diocese.

Archbishop McMahon described the installation as “a moment of grace in the life of the diocese”.

Delivering the Pope’s greetings to the congregation, the apostolic nuncio Archbishop Miguel Maury Buendía asked the faithful to pray for Bishop Wright – whom he observed “still has all black hair”.

  Loading ...
Get Instant Access
Subscribe to The Tablet for just £7.99

Subscribe today to take advantage of our introductory offers and enjoy 30 days' access for just £7.99