Bishop Vincent Malone, who died recently, was a much-loved Episcopal Liaison to the National Board of Catholic Women from 1999 to 2007. He survived through the reigns of four Board presidents, all of whom found him supportive and caring. His role was to be a bridge between the Bishops’ conference and its consultative bodies, of which the Board is one.
For us, he communicated the current issues of the Bishops and in turn he would convey, often as an advocate, our concerns to them. He co-chaired, with the President, the Joint Dialogue Group which was set up by Cardinal Hume to give women a stronger voice in the church and which, in the beginning, had three bishops as members to emphasise its importance. Throughout the ups and downs of those years his was a calming and gentle presence. He did not always agree with us but was willing to listen and then express his views with clarity and precision and a dry wit.
He rarely missed a meeting of the Board, including our weekend AGMs. He enjoyed the evening socials and on request he would delight everyone by reading the monologue ‘Albert and the Lion’ and joining in the dancing. On one occasion he played the part of Prince Charming in the pantomime Cinderella to great acclaim.
During one discussion he was happy to agree that, for some women, confessing to a woman religious rather than a male priest should sometimes be possible, showing, for the time, quite a forward-looking theology. On another occasion he pointed out that it would be difficult to change the Our Father to a gender-neutral address as the words were those of Jesus Himself. He was supportive of the Board’s mission to enhance the role of women in the Church but – like Cardinal Hume – realised that the pontificate at that time was unlikely to encourage any radical change.
His homilies during the Masses he celebrated with us were always meticulously prepared and relevant. We loved him and he seemed to enjoy our company. He said he enjoyed being an auxiliary bishop – it gave him more time for being with people. It may have been in fulfilling this pastoral role that he became infected with Covid-19. I like to think that he would have seen it as sharing in the distress of the people he loved. The Board missed him when he retired. We miss him now in another way: gone to God whom he served so faithfully.
Celia Capstick is a past president of the National Board of Catholic Women.