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Reorganization of the English Hierarchy

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On 29 September, 1850, by the Bull "Universalis Ecclesiae", Pius IX restored the Catholic hierarchy in England which had become extinct with the death of the last Marian bishop in the reign of Elizabeth. Westminster became the metropolitan see and its occupant the lawful successor of the Catholic archbishops of Canterbury.

The suffragan sees were Southwark, Hexham (changed to Hexham and Newcastle in 1861), Beverley, Liverpool, Salford, Shrewsbury, Newport and Menevia, Clifton, Plymouth, Nottingham, Birmingham, and Northampton. In 1878 Beverley was divided into the two new Dioceses of Leeds and Middlesborough. And in 1895 Wales, except Glamorganshire, was separated into the Dioceses of Newport and Menevia, and of Shrewsbury, and formed into the Vicariate of Wales. The vicariate was erected into the Diocese of Menevia in 1898. The Diocese of Portsmouth was formed in 1882, by the division of the Diocese of Southwark into the Dioceses of Southwark and Portsmouth. Thus, the province of Westmister having fifteen suffragan sees was numerically the largest in the world. By letters Apostolic, "Si qua est", of 28 October, 1911, Pius X erected the new provinces of Birmingham and Liverpool. With Westminster remained the suffragan Sees of Northampton, Nottingham, Portsmouth, and Southwark ; to Birmingham were assigned those of Clifton, Newport, Plymouth, Shrewsbury, and Menevia ; and to Liverpool, Hexham and Newcastle, Leeds, Middlesborough, and Salford.

It had for many years been felt that some such division would have to be made, but there had always been the fear of causing disunion thereby, especially if it meant as in pre-Reformation times a division between north and south. Such a result was obviated by ignoring the precedent of York and Canterbury, and arranging for three instead of two provinces; and also by the grant in the Apostolic Constitution of

"certain new distinctions of preeminence, for the preservation of unity in government and policy, to the archbishop of Westminster for the time being, comprised under the following three heads: He will be permanent chairman of the meetings of the Bishops of all England and Wales, and for this reason it will be for him to summon these meetings and to preside over them, according to the rules in force in Italy and elsewhere. (2) He will take rank above the other two Archbishops, and will throughout allEngland and Wales enjoy the privilege of wearing the pallium, of occupying the throne, and of having the cross borne before him. (3) Lastly, in all dealings with the Supreme Civil Authority , he will in his person represent the entire Episcopate ofEngland and Wales. Always, however, he is to take the opinion of all the Bishops, and to be guided by the votes of the major part of them."

Thus, though the Archbishop of Westminster was vested with more powers and privileges than primates usually enjoy, unity of action has been safeguarded.

The grouping of the dioceses is rather curious. Instead of the natural division into a northern, a midland, and a southern province, formed by drawing a line from the Humber to the Mersey, and another from the Wash to the Bristol Channel, the Westminster or eastern province and the Birmingham or western province reach from the south-east and south-west to the Humber and Mersey respectively. In this way the northern province is contiguous to the other two, bringing all three into closer intercommunication. It is interesting to note that in 787 an attempt was made to have a third province with the metropolitan at Lichfield, but in 803 it was abandoned and the bishops of central England were again made subject to Canterbury.

The English hierarchy was reorganized to "promote the greater good of souls and the development of the Catholic religion". And before new sees could be formed it was felt necessary to erect more ecclesiastical provinces out of the already abnormal extensive province of Westminster. That this was the object in view seems clear from the concluding words of the Bull : "We have reserved to ourselves the taking of further measures in this matter of the reconstitution of the English dioceses, as shall seem opportune, and as experience may suggest and the good of souls require." In accordance with the instructions of the Constitution the present Archbishop of Westminster, Francis Cardinal Bourne, executed these new ordinances by Decree dated 1 December, 1911, which was ordered to be read at the meetings of the metropolitan and other cathedral chapters throughout England and Wales.

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