Derek Worlock


Derek John Harford Worlock, born in London in 1920, was best known as Archbishop of Liverpool in the Roman Catholic Church between 1976 and 1996. Much assailed by the Conservative wing of the Catholic Church as a "liberal" or a dangerous radical, he justified his positions in terms of Catholic Social Doctrine. In 1991 he celebrated the 100th anniversary of Pope Leo XIII's encyclical Rerum Novarum with a conference for ordinary people designed to show the relevance of Catholic Social Teaching at that time. It was, he held, the Church's best-kept secret".

Son of a journalist turned Conservative political agent, twelve of whose ancestors had been Anglican clergymen, his mother had been a suffragette and he once confessed that there never was a time when he did not want to be a priest. Ordained in 1944, the young Worlock’s first role as a parish priest was at Our Lady of Victories, High Street Kensington in the Archdiocese of Westminster. But a year later he was to begin the first of a series of posts as secretary to leading church figures. With Archbishop Griffin he worked in close contact with the newly formed Labour government on health, welfare and education-related matters, and travelled Europe, Canada and the USA working on the social and spiritual rebuilding taking place in the post-war period.

He became a monsignor at the age of 29. Following Cardinal Griffin’s death he became secretary to Archbishop Godfrey, later Cardinal Godfrey, a former papal diplomat, who had good contacts in the Holy See, and personal friendship with Pope John XXIII. Godfrey was made a member of the central preparatory commission for the Second Vatican Council, and by the time of the opening of the Council in 1962, Worlock was well known in Rome and was responsible for advisory and administrative tasks in support of the bishops from England and Wales attending the council.

He returned to London in 1964 and was sent to St Mary and St Michael’s Commercial Road in London’s East End, to gain ‘pastoral experience’ in a dockland community while continuing his work with the Council, attending sessions and writing council documents and working in contact with leading bishops from across the world.

In November 1965, he was named Bishop of Portsmouth. At 45, Worlock was the first "post-conciliar" bishop, and spent the next ten years in post implementing the conclusions of the Council across all aspects of the Church and promoting the roles and responsibilities of the Catholic laity through his positions as both President of the Laity Council for England and Wales, and as a member of the Pontifical Council for the Laity.

He became Archbishop of Liverpool in 1976, arriving only nine months after Bishop David Sheppard who was appointed to Liverpool in 1975. Along with Sheppard he dedicated himself to the needs of the city in a time of crisis. More is written about their joint work in the Background section of this site.

Throughout his ministry he was involved in numerous national initiatives including leading the Catholic side in the negotiations that led to the establishment of Churches Together in England (CTE) and the Council of Churches for Britain and Ireland (CCBI) (later to become CTBI).

Perhaps his vocation was most powerfully expressed in his yearning to make church teachings accessible to the laity. His gifts as a diplomat and meticulous organiser were instrumental in delivering the 1980 National Pastoral Congress (NPC) in Liverpool – a 2,000-strong assembly designed to discern what the Second Vatican Council meant for ordinary English Catholics, from which in Liverpool, the idea of "collaborative ministry", in which clergy and laity worked side by side, was firmly planted. Whilst its influence has been described as 'muted' it did nevertheless play a powerful role in galvanising lay vocations among the young Catholic laity who attended.

'The Easter People', the report that came out of the congress was instrumental in the historic visit of John Paul II to Britain in 1982. Worlock invited John Paul to come to Britain, the first such visit by a reigning pope, on the strength of the report, which he delivered personally in Rome.  His role in this unprecedented visit, not only in making the invitation, but also in brokering the iconic reconciliatory visits of John Paul II to Canterbury and Liverpool Cathedrals, was pivotal and set a tone which has since become established. At the height of the Falklands crisis this pastoral visit by his former Council colleague was almost cancelled at the last minute but saved as a result of Worlock’s diplomacy behind the scenes.

Worlock published several books with David Sheppard and four as a sole author: English Bishops at the Council (1965), Turn and Turn Again (1971), Give Me Your Hand (1977), Bread Upon the Waters (1991).

Diagnosed with cancer in 1992, Worlock was made a Companion of Honour in the 1996 New Year’s Honours List, but died of cancer two days after his 76th birthday, just a week before he was due to receive the honour.

Books by Sheppard and Worlock are listed in Resources/Further Reading

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