RODERICK Wright, the former Bishop of Argyll and the Isles, who has died aged 64, was the tragic example of a man caught between the restrictions of the cloth and private passions. His resignation from high office because he had fathered a child by one woman, and was having a relationship with another, caused a sensation in the autumn of 1996.
Roddy Wright was born in a tenement in the Kingston district of Glasgow in 1940. His father, a seaman, had been fostered on the island of Eriskay, and his mother hailed from South Uist, Gaelic genes that were to be fundamental in Wright's life. He had a memory of being carried as an infant by a man in a helmet, with the smell of burning around him.
Had he been caught up in the Clydebank Blitz of 1941, or was this a false memory caused by hearing accounts of the devastating raids as a boy?
Loading article content
Wright was raised with compassion by impoverished parents, like so many children of his generation in Glasgow.
Until there was money for new shoes, he wore cardboard insoles in his old ones, understanding very early on the principles of asceticism.
However, the noise and deprivation of Glasgow were redeemed by summers spent in South Uist with his mother's family. For the rest of his life he was to have a wistful love for that island.
Wright's father wanted him to go to sea, but as an altar boy he developed a vision of himself as a priest, administering the Eucharist and serving the parish. He was 14 when he took the train to Blairs, with a suitcase full of new clothes his parents could ill afford. Wright found the restrictions of the Aberdeenshire seminary hard to accept, and indeed considered abandoning his ambitions to the priesthood, in favour of fishing out of Eriskay.
Roddy Wright's family life was overshadowed by tragic events that would have made a lesser human being lose his faith. His father broke his neck and back, having fallen into the hold of a ship after coming into contact with an electrical cable.
This honourable man, who had always handed his meagre pay packet intact to his wife, sadly died of stomach and liver cancer before his son's ordination.
The novice priest served in Drumchapel and Barlanark, parishes he was happy in because of his identification with the deprivation he had seen as a child. But in August 1969 he was sent to Blairs as spiritual director. He was also procurator, in charge of the college's farm, and his experience helping with relatives' cattle in South Uist stood him in good stead. There was more family tragedy, with his mother, who had developed breast cancer in 1971, dying in 1973, in harrowing circumstances which tested, but did not destroy her son's faith.
In March 1974, Wright was appointed to Our Lady and St Muns, Dunoon, where his duties included giving mass for American service personnel on board the vessels in the Holy Loch. Two years later he was transferred to St Mary's, Fort William, as assistant priest.
Roddy Wright received his ideal posting when he was sent to St Michael's, Ardkenneth, South Uist, in 1980. He was home on his mother's island, in a position to improve his grasp of Gaelic by learning to read and to write the language, an essential attribute if he were to minister effectively to his 350 parishioners. Always a busy priest, he was also a member of the education committee of Comhairle nan Eilean Siar, the Western Isles Council.
Wright was transferred to St Annes, Corpach, in 1986, and, following the death of Bishop Colin MacPherson in March 1990, was ordained Bishop of Argyll and the Isles in Oban Cathedral on January 15, 1991.
But the boy from the K ingston tenement had a confession which he was unable to make at the time. He wrote in his autobiography, Feet of Clay:
"Attentive and devoted a priest as I was, I carried 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."
Bishop Roddy Wright's close friendship with Kathleen MacPhee during his time at Corpach developed. He wrote:
"Both of us were coming to realise the consequences of allowing our love to grow: if we could not stay apart, the effects on ourselves and, in a wider sense, on many others could prove to be devastating."
In September 1996, the Bishop was posted "missing" from his Oban residence. He gave the late Cardinal Thomas Winning his resignation. Wright and Kathleen MacPhee (who had been divorced in 1992), tried to set up home in Kendal, but were harried by the press pack, even when they went to the continent. They were married on Antigua in June 1998.
Had Roddy Wright remained a parish priest, his relationships would not have caused the same scandal. His elevation to the bishopric had been relatively quick and unexpected in most quarters, and there was the added publicity of his commitment to Gaelic. Approachable and unassuming, fitted more to a soutane than to a mitre, the former Bishop of Argyll and the Isles made an agonising choice between his vows and celibacy, but never repudiated his church's tenet.
"The fact that I have broken that promise does not mean that I disagree with the law and teaching of the church."
Roddy Wright died of liver cancer, the same condition that had taken his sister Chrissie in 1996. He leaves his wife, Kathleen, and a son, acknowledged from a previous relationship.
He also leaves us pondering the injunction of St Francis of Assisi: "It is in pardoning that we are pardoned."
Roddy Wright; born June 18, 1940, died May 23, 2005.