My Former Archbishop

Bishop John Hepworth

Fr Stephen Smuts has published photos and articles from the mainstream Australian press in No Charge for Priest Accused by John Hepworth and Oh How the Mighty Have Fallen….

I followed much of this at the time, especially between the time I joined the TAC and the final showdown in September 2011. Most of my old English Catholic articles went into The TAC Archive. Fr Smuts has written the second article with about the clearest explanation.

The key to this whole story was when a decision was made to bring the TAC into communion with Rome as some kind of “uniate” structure. In 2007, it seemed plausible as encouragement was forthcoming from an obscure Australian priest and former Anglican and even from some elements of the Roman Curia. I assisted at the big Bishops’ meeting in Portsmouth and heard the sales patter for myself. No one was less suitable to lead this whole movement than a priest who had deserted from his RC diocese, committed what is canonically termed as “apostasy” by joining the Anglican Church and working out a whole new life for himself. Furthermore, he was in a second marriage, though the first was arguably invalid due to the impediment of orders and having received an annulment from Anglican authorities.

Many of us were brought to believe is some kind of “amnesty” operation worked out by the Pope and Cardinal Levada. The other TAC bishops didn’t walk out at the time through the enormity of it all. They followed, and the only movement of dissent came from a few American bishops in 2010, just as soon as it became plain that Rome was going to apply the same methods as for Anglican clergy converting and joining the old Pastoral Provision.

I had reams of conversations and correspondence with Mrs Deborah Gyapong, and nothing was ever clear. She tried to see the whole thing fairly and the most favourably as possible towards the Archbishop. Finally, she had to admit that he in some way had what I might call an impaired grasp of reality. Please see footnote * for links to her postings on Archbishop Hepworth, since I would hate to misrepresent what she has really said. [Update: The latest on Archbishop John Hepworth] I have the impression he either had psychological problems, in which case he was unsuitable for exercising an episcopal or priestly ministry – or he thought he could force Rome’s hand by invoking mitigating circumstances for his “apostasy”, which in any case would also disqualify him from returning to ministry.

Perhaps this was a pastoral move on his part to get everyone onto the Ordinariate bandwagon, the rest of the TAC discredited for “reneging” on their commitment at Portsmouth, and that he was ready to sacrifice his own vocation. The evidence doesn’t seem to support such a theory, but things are often very odd in this world. Others portray feu Archbishop Hepworth as wicked to the core of his being. I tend to seek a middle path.

What do I think, as I have known him and spent time with him? He is forceful and single-minded, determined and charismatic. I have also heard him speak very disparagingly about individual persons whom I will not name here. Others have suggested he can be something of a bully. I cannot entirely discount that possibility, though he hasn’t bullied me. Perhaps he is so single-minded about something, perhaps to a point of almost fanaticism, that he would go into denial about all the obstacles and conditions to be seen to before the main objective becomes possible. I am not a professional in psychology or psychiatry, so I cannot even attempt a “diagnosis”. A man can perhaps become so afraid of failure, as he has had his fill of it in the past, that success becomes an imperative at any cost.

I also have a word about the other TAC bishops. Some of them elected John Hepworth to be their Primate. They all followed the plan, even the Americans, until the early months of 2010, about the time when Christian Campbell of The Anglo-Catholic blew his particular whistle and a very ugly controversy ensued. When I resigned from the TTAC in England and joined the ACC, like those who joined the Ordinariates, I put an end to the ambiguities as far as I was concerned. I repeat the old French quote from Léon Bloy: Souffrir passe, avoir souffert ne passe jamais.

In 2011 and 2012, I began to see him as a man playing a big gamble, like compulsive gamblers in a casino, betting away their houses, cars and families. Abyssus abyssum invocat. There was no turning back.

The whole motivation is clear to see. When a little boy starts to prod a wasps’ nest with a stick, he is liable to get stung. This is what happened when feu Archbishop Hepworth started to think he had a chip in the big game, that he was almost friends with Cardinal Levada and that he was going to come out of this victorious. The only reaction possible by the Roman Curia was to stay silent and let the man get his own rope to hang himself. And this happened. He even told me during one of our long Skype conversations that he was well-connected in Australian political circles (Senator Xenophon) and that this would be the miracle solution to make Rome react from its silence and quiet work at building up ordinariates from elements leaving the Canterbury Communion.

This is Romanità. If you disturb a sleeping dog, you are liable to get bitten. The whole thing originated in wanting a negotiated solution with Rome. It doesn’ t work. I see fault on two sides, and I would almost write a parable or fable called The Compulsive Gambler and the Snake. Rome could have been forthright about this whole thing from the beginning, that the game belonged to the Forward in Faith men in England and Bishop Steenson in America, with a sop thrown to the Australians by making Bishop Entwistle the Ordinary, and the TAC would not be considered as a partner in dialogue, only individual members and the kind of groups that joined the Ordinariates. It seems to me that the “hermeneutic” of Cardinal Kasper is the most accurate one:

Almost two years ago, their [the TAC] representatives asked to be incorporated into the Catholic Church. But they didn’t participate in the conversations. Now, however, they have hopped onto a train that is already moving. All right, if they are sincere, the doors are open. But we are not ignoring the fact that they have not been in communion with Canterbury since 1992. […] Also, conversion is a personal matter: there is the freedom of grace, the freedom of the human decision. It is not possible to intrude in this matter, to manipulate or organize it.

Fr Smuts writes like a prosecutor and hits hard, but at this stage, I can’t say he is wrong. Perhaps a nuance or two would be in order, but the logic is clear. I don’t know Monsignor Dempsey, but the law in his country has nothing against him. If there were homosexual acts between the two seminarians, chances are that they were already no longer illegal in the 1960’s. A man in his late 20’s is either going to punch his aggressor’s face or consent to sexual acts. That’s between him and God, since it is a moral matter, not legal. The law has nothing more to say. Perhaps the Archdiocese of Adeleide might instigate legal proceedings against feu Archbishop Hepworth for libel. Talk about Oscar Wilde and the Marquis of Queensbury – o tempora, o mores!

Fr Smuts talks of divine justice. There is little of it in this world. He might be right, or wrong in seeing God in this whole story. Some believe in the law of karma, you sow the wind and reap the whirlwind. If you don’t get it in the neck in this life, you’ll get what you deserve in the next. It’s not for us to judge, or even to take pleasure in Schadenfreude.

I still pray for this complex person who was good enough to take me into his clergy back in 2005, preside over my marriage and show many signs of friendship and pastoral care. I was not important enough to matter to him, but yet I found fatherly qualities in him. I have had to see reality over the years and months I waited for clarity and truth.

I may have been a victim of the Compulsive Gambler, but I have also been so of the Snake. I found my spiritual home in the Anglican Catholic Church. Many of us are lone sailors in the vastness of the sea, buffeted by storms and becalmed, the slowly flapping sails hanging from the mast. No one can fathom the mystery of the human soul, and all we can do is pray and have faith, stay clear of addictions and false illusions. Truth and clarity are only found by abnegation and being true to oneself.

I pray that John Hepworth will find peace. He is a sailor – at least he told me he was rebuilding a 37-foot yacht. If she is stout and well-rigged, and if he can keep a steady helm in a heavy sea, she could take on the Roaring Forties. I could see him following in the way of men like Bernard Moitessier or Joshua Slocum. He might find the peace he seeks in the contemplative life, where the priesthood left him with torment and ruin. If he is reading this article, I can say in all good conscience that I have tried to be fair and compassionate, loyal to him as one of his priests for as long as he was Primate of the TAC and Ordinary of the Patrimony of the Primate, truthful to my own doubts and concerns, and that I pray for him and wish him that peace that presently eludes him.


* A good number of posts found via the search function with the word “hepworth”. Press the “older posts” button at the bottom of each page.

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4 Responses to My Former Archbishop

  1. Pingback: Oh How the Mighty Have Fallen… | Fr Stephen Smuts

  2. Foolishness says:

    Fr Anthony, you seem to be attributing your opinion to me above regarding Archbishop Hepworth by making this blanket assertion: “Finally, she had to admit that he had an impaired grasp of reality. He either had psychological problems, in which case he was unsuitable for exercising an episcopal or priestly ministry – or he thought he could force Rome’s hand by invoking mitigating circumstances for his “apostasy”, which in any case would also disqualify him from returning to ministry.”

    Those are your conclusions, not mine. My view is a lot more nuanced than this.

    • Thank you. I seem to have interpolated my own words. We have spoken distinctly about his wishful thinking and his “drifting in and out”. Perhaps you would describe your nuanced view to avoid my misrepresenting you…

      I have now slightly modified the text to remove this ambiguity.

  3. Pingback: The latest on Archbishop John Hepworth | Foolishness to the world

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