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The future Cardinal Roche, Pope Francis’ liturgical right-hand man

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Mgr Arthur Roche

I.Media - published on 08/23/22

He oversaw the new translation of the Roman Missal into English.

The first on the list of 20 men whom Pope Francis will create cardinals during the consistory on August 27, Archbishop Roche will be in charge of giving the traditional speech of thanks to the pontiff. This is a sign of the importance that the current Prefect of the Dicastery for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments has assumed in the Roman Curia in recent years.

The man who was for a long time the number two—and in the shadow—of Cardinal Robert Sarah before replacing him in 2021 is now part of the “new generation” launched by Francis recently, along with Cardinals Grech and You Heung-sik. 

Arthur Roche, 71, was born in Yorkshire, in the far north of England, the youngest child of a Catholic family. His older brother Brian died as a young man in a military operation during his service in the Far East.

After studying in Catholic schools, Arthur Roche felt called to the priesthood and was sent to the English Royal Seminary in Valladolid, St. Alban’s, an institution dating from the difficult times of the Anglican Reformation. During these six years he attended the Jesuit University of Comillas where he obtained his theology degree and then, on his return to England, was ordained for the Diocese of Leeds in 1975. 

He worked in this diocese in the North of England first as a curate, until being appointed in 1978 as secretary to the bishop, Bishop William Gordon Wheeler. During these years he was also chaplain to a Catholic school. Then, in 1979, he was appointed vice-chancellor of the diocese He was responsible for drafting the diocesan directory between 1981 and 1986. 

In 1982, he was given the responsibility of organizing the visit of Pope John Paul II to York, after which he joined the staff of Leeds Cathedral where he remained for more than seven years. He was in charge of the finances of the diocese between 1986 and 1991. In 1989 he became parish priest of St Wilfrid’s in Leeds. 

He gave up all his responsibilities in 1991 to pursue his studies at the Gregorian in Rome, where he joined the English College and became its spiritual director in 1992. He remained there until 1996, when he was called back to the United Kingdom to become Secretary of the Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales. 

He remained there for five years before being appointed by Pope John Paul II as Auxiliary Bishop of Westminster in London in 2001, and a year later as Coadjutor Bishop of his home diocese of Leeds. In the same year, he became president of the International Commission for English in the Liturgy. In this position, he oversaw the new translation of the Roman Missal into English. He was also entrusted with the supervision of the three international English colleges: the English College of Rome, that of Valladolid, and the Bede College of Rome.

In 2012, Benedict XVI called him to Rome and appointed him Secretary of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments. He then became the number 2 in the dicastery with Cardinal Antonio Cañizares Llovera until 2014, when the latter was replaced by Cardinal Sarah, appointed by Pope Francis. He worked with the Guinean prelate, keeping a low profile for seven years before the cardinal, known for his defense of fairly traditional positions on the liturgy, went into retirement in 2021.

A few weeks later, the Argentine pontiff entrusted Archbishop Roche with the reins of the Congregation for Divine Worship.

A few months later, the pontiff published the Motu proprio Traditionis custodes, which reversed the liberalization of the Tridentine Mass implemented by Benedict XVI and caused a certain amount of commotion in traditionalist circles. 

The Englishman then faithfully defended the pontiff’s decision, presenting himself as the guardian of liturgical unity but also of the need for the liturgy to adapt “to the needs of the times,” as it has always done in his view. 

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