In Remembrance
AFFIRMING AN INCLUSIVE PRIESTHOOD, ROOTED IN A REFORMED AND RENEWED CHURCH

Wright, Roddy

New Zealand
CAMERON SIMPSON May 25 2005

RODDY Wright, the Scottish bishop who shocked the Catholic Church when he ran off with a divorcee from his congregation, has died from liver cancer in New Zealand.

The news of his death was greeted with sadness by Cardinal Keith O'Brien, leader of Scotland's 750,000 Catholics. He said: "I pray for the repose of the soul of Roddy Wright and extend my sympathy to all those who mourn his loss."

As bishop of Argyll and the Isles, Roddy Wright stunned the Scottish Catholic community and sparked a media frenzy in 1996 when he eloped with Kathleen MacPhee, a divorced mother-of-three. As the scandal unfolded, he also admitted having an affair with another woman which led to the birth of a son.

Mr Wright left the priesthood and married Ms MacPhee in 1998 in the Caribbean. Four years later, they emigrated to New Zealand where Mr Wright was diagnosed with liver cancer last year, aged 64.

Bishop Ian Murray, bishop of Argyll and the Isles, said: "I was very sorry to hear of the death of Roddy Wright in New Zealand. He will be fondly remembered by the priests and people of this diocese for the many kindnesses he displayed during his time in Argyll and the Isles. I extend my sympathy to his family and friends and offer my prayers for the repose of his soul."

Mr Wright first met Ms MacPhee on a pilgrimage to Lourdes in the 1970s when he was a priest in Fort William. They were brought together again when he became bishop in 1991. He moved to the house next to Oban Cathedral, where she was housekeeper.

Their romance developed after Ms MacPhee, a teacher, was diagnosed with cervical cancer and Mr Wright visited her in hospital. They ran away to the Lake District in 1996 but a furore surrounded their disappearance. It also emerged that Mr Wright had had a relationship in 1981 with another parishioner, Joanna Whibley, and the couple had a son, Kevin, who is now in his mid-20s.

In his autobiography, Feet of Clay, which tells of a childhood in the tenements of Glasgow and his life as a young priest in the Highlands, Mr Wright also wrote about carrying a dark secret. "I had a son. He was born in the south of England in 1981 and my behaviour regarding this fact remains a matter of shame."

It was also a matter of regret for the late Cardinal Thomas Winning, former leader of Scotland's Catholics. In an authorised biography published five years ago he revealed his anguish over Mr Wright's affair. The author, Vivienne Belton, said he was left "ashen-faced and shaken" after being "duped" by Bishop Wright, who had given "cast-iron guarantees"to the cardinal over the episode.

After their move to New Zealand, the couple made occasional visits to Scotland to spend time with family. Ms McPhee was seen attending church services in Fort William. It emerged in January last year that the former clergyman had undergone at least one operation for a severe form of liver cancer, the same condition that had killed his sister Chrissie in 1996.

Harry Conroy, editor of the Scottish Catholic Observer, said he was well regarded by the communities he once served. "When it was first announced he was suffering from what appeared to be a terminal illness we asked our readers to pray for him. As a priest and a bishop he did a lot of good for a lot of people. There will be many people in the Western Highlands and Islands who remember him for the things he did and the kindness he showed them."

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