Doubts, Death and the Fragility of Belief

By Will Peakin
The Scotsman [Glasgow, Scotland]
Downloaded January 15, 2003

ONE of Scotland’s most senior Catholics, Mario Conti, the Archbishop of Glasgow, has questioned some fundamental tenets of the Church’s faith in an interview with The Scotsman published today.

The archbishop, who succeeded Cardinal Thomas Winning, speaks movingly about the fragility of his belief in the after-life, admitting he has "doubts". He contrasts this with his mother’s "utter confidence" that on death she would meet her friends and hear heavenly music.

Of his own conviction, he says: "One has sometimes to fall back on naked faith."

Although a strong supporter of the papal encyclical which outlawed contraception, Archbishop Conti also concedes that the Church’s stance on the use of condoms can be questioned: "I think it is legitimate to ask whether there are any circumstances in which, not for contraceptive but for hygienic purposes, condoms may be used in order to prevent the spread of AIDS."

In the wide-ranging interview, to mark the first anniversary of his appointment by the Pope, the archbishop confronts the Catholic Church’s "culture of secrecy" in dealing with paedophilia among priests, and he acknowledges the need to restore trust within the community it serves.

Although his comments will provoke debate, Archbishop Conti insists he does not look for, or enjoy, controversy. However, this has not stopped him declaring on key issues in recent weeks, such as cloning, sectarianism and the rights and wrongs of war with Iraq.

However, the archbishop emerges as a more considered thinker than his predecessor, who was given to verbal indiscretions and once admitted to having "nae dignity".

Culturally, there are differences too. While Cardinal Winning was at his happiest in Parkhead stadium watching Celtic, Archbishop Conti nominates "austere Florentine churches" and the "baroque magnificence of Rome" among his favourite places. His CD collection includes Schubert, Brahms and Bach.

Despite this, and his roots in Elgin and Aberdeen, the archbishop has clearly taken to his new home; a modern painting of Glasgow’s Paddy’s Market can be found among the religious iconography in his private chapel and, more substantially, he reveals a plan to restore St Andrew’s Cathedral and transform it into a centre of liturgical and musical excellence.

Archbishop Conti is the great-grandson of Italian farmers and the grandson of economic migrants. Ordained in Rome in 1959, he was appointed assistant priest at St Mary’s Cathedral in Aberdeen, then parish priest in Wick and Thurso before being ordained Bishop of Aberdeen in 1977.


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