The Bishop’s Tale
My childhood hometown of Kendal is rarely the seat of scandal, proper scandal, that is, not just the tittle-tattle of local gossip, but in the autumn of 1996 it most certainly was.
The actual locus of scandal was in the Scottish Highlands and Islands, but its unfolding was just around the corner from my family home. I was visiting and first became aware of events when I popped out to the corner shop to be met by a bevy of broadcast media vans with their satellite dishes erect and a host of journalists and attentive locals staring across the road at an elevated terraced house.
It turned out that the house had become the bolthole of ex-Bishop Roderick Wright and his, ahem, ‘parishioner’ Kathleen MacPhee. For a few weeks Father Rod was, for Kendal, more than an answer to Father Ted and the Craggy Island team. The couple had fled in disgrace from the Scottish west coast, as lovers, shortly after Wright’s resignation as Bishop for the Diocese of Argyll and the Islands.
One’s sympathy for them, that their relationship and personal conflict between matters spiritual and temporal was being illuminated by the more salacious end of the British news media, was tempered by the pronouncement that the Bishop had fathered a child to another woman some years before. Oh, that and the fact that they sold their story to the News of the World.
This is how the Irish Times described Kendal’s five-weeks-long brush with fame: The return of the fugitives, and attendant TV vans cluttered with satellite dishes, to the Cumbrian market town caused some astonishment in streets around Mountain View, where the bishop and Ms Macphee who left her three children in Scotland rented their grey stone mid-terrace cottage after flitting from Argyll. Both had left the house, with its tangles of lavender on the front path, in the company of News of the World representatives after being recognised and traced by the media a month ago.
I had to laugh at one a part of the Church’s response to the tabloid Bishop’s tale: “It does show Roderick up in a very, very bad light”.
By coincidence, it turns out that the irreverend Bishop had attended Blairs College in Aberdeenshire, which I now regularly pass on one of my local cycling routes, and he later became its spiritual director prior to his ministry in the west of Scotland. Well, that was some ministry! Here’s the limerick…
There was once a licentious Scots priest
Took part in a celtic love feast,
But when he de-frocked
He appeared half-cocked.
‘Seems the bishoprick’s reach had decreased!