Frances Gumley, Catholic Advisor to the Head of Religious Broadcasting, pays tribute to Bishop Agnellus Andrew.
JUST a fortnight ago I was at what might be loosely termed a meeting of the Clan Agnellus. It was the annual gathering at Hatch End of the priests and other oddities who teeter in Agnellus' masterful footsteps across the high wires which are personally slung up between the spires of an old faith and the aerials of the new world of radio and television.
The meeting began on a rather subdued note. Bishop Agnellus had been due to start the proceedings with one of his customary addresses covering every new development in religious broadcasting over the past year Canon Law to Channel Four.
They were gentle talks seasoned with favourite old stories which somehow also managed to fruitfully remind us of new ideas we had not yet thought of.
We felt rather cheated that Canon Peter Bourne, Agnellus' successor at Hatch End, took the chair and prised us into sentient life as we discussed mistakes not to be repeated and new paths to be explored. Several new initiatives were canvassed and there were quite a few suggestions about action which Agnellus could take on our behalf.
Looking back on it, it was at that point, with the patience normally reserved for particularly obtuse children, that Peter Bourne flipped in the idea that perhaps we ought not to expect Agnellus to shoulder a complete allocation of work.
This was an odd thought because we all knew that Agnellus was involved in a string of committees with a formidable quiverful of initials. He commuted between national and international advisory bodies, was at ease in think tanks. He dispensed wisdom about communications and always had time for new ventures whether Christian dramas or lobbying for animal rights — and after all he was only 78.
It is hard to pick out Agnellus' greatest skill. He was a natural broadcaster and an inspiring teacher. But perhaps his greatest gift was his ability to lay demons. In his early days in the BBC he met with a degree of sectarian reserve which now, in large part because of his effort, would be laughably unthinkable.
Within the Catholic community he constantly worked to allay suspicion of the media. His secret weapon in dealing with these problems was an unassailable belief in the goodness of individuals whether clerics or broadcasters.
In the course of his career Agnellus received many deserved honours and some flattening brickbats. Many years ago it was muttered that he was a one man Papist plot infiltrating the BBC. This was denied but of course it was totally accurate. He was a living demonstration of that papist plot which is found in the pages of the Gospel.
He had his ecumenical spurs long before they became fashionable. By his integrity he proved to his non-Christian colleagues it was possible to be Christian and Catholic and by his commonsense he persuaded Catholics that paranoia was not a state of grace.
What I will miss is his youngness — which sprang from a faith as fresh as a garden with an empty tomb.