Wednesday, 5 September 2012

Cuthbert Irvine Peacock 1903-1994 : Bishop of Derry and Raphoe 1970-1975

Cuthbert Peacocke was born in Dublin on the 26th April 1903. Son of Rt. Revd Joseph Irvine Peacocke, bishop of Derry and Raphoe 1916-1945, Cuthbert was educated at St Columba's College and Trinity College, Dublin were he read modern history and political science. He graduated B.A. 1925, M.A. 1929. He was ordained deacon 1926 and was curate of Seapatrick (Dromore) in the period 1926-1930. Between 1930-1933 he was head of the Church of Ireland Southern Mission to Belfast, Ballymacarett (Down), the main shipyard parish of east Belfast at the time of the 1920s Depression. He subsequently became Rector of Derriaghy (Connor) 1933-1935; Rector of St Mark's Dundela, Belfast (Down) 1935-1956; Chaplain to the Forces 1939-1945 (serving with the 8th Belfast Heavy Anti-Aircraft Unit in France); private chaplain to the Bishop of Down and Dromore 1945-1956; Rural Dean of Holywood 1948-1950; Archdeacon of Down and Canon of Belfast 1950-1956; Dean and Vicar of Belfast 1956-1970. On the 16th October he was appointed by the electoral college as Bishop of Derry and Raphoe and enthroned in St Columb's Cathedral on 22nd January 1970. He represented the third generation of his family to the episcopate.

In 1970 Cuthbert Peacocke became Bishop of Derry and Raphoe at a time when communal discord had reached new heights. His role as a religious leader striving for peace and reconciliation in a divided society proved particularly challenging and trying. The bishop consistently believed and publicly stated during his episcopate that greater efforts were needed for people of differing viewpoints to meet and understand one other. During his tenure he defended meetings between Protestant and Roman Catholic churches as the way to resolve such divisive issues as inter-church marriages. In the aftermath of spiralling violence which included "Bloody Sunday" (30th January 1972) and "Bloody Friday" (21st July 1972), the bishop lamented:

The tragedy of all this is that there has developed a hatred and distrust, even among moderate minded men and women on all sides. What can the Church do but reiterate that hatred is an offence to love, that we are called to love our enemies and pray for those who spitefully use us.

Despite at the destruction and carnage, Cuthbert Peacocke never lost hope. In the midst of terrible tragedy the bishop nevertheless recognized those who exhibited great restraint as well as those who were "giving great service in reconciliation and promoting harmony". In particular, he deeply welcomed the various peace movements which had emerged in the early 1970s and had taken great heart from the tenacity of the business community in Londonderry who refused to be bombed out of business. He was also keenly aware of the sacrifice which the security forces had made an paid tribute to their courage, impartiality and restraint. Hope for the future was given a momentary boost when a significant number of Northern Irish politicians became involved in the power sharing experiment of 1974. However, search for a successful solution to the province's constitutional problem proved illusory. Many Protestants wear fearful of a "sell-out" which would leave their position as part of the United Kingdom uncertain. The more militant members of this community took to the streets to voice their opposition to a devolved government (The Northern Ireland Executive) composed of the SDLP, the Alliance Party and the Ulster Unionists loyal to Brian Faulkner. This resistance took on a more coherent form with the Ulster Workers' Council Strike (15th-28th May 1974) bringing the provinces services to a standstill and ultimately leading to the collapse of the Executive. 

The success of the strike was due in part to a high degree of intimidation by the Ulster Defence Association whose check points were an ubiquitous sight on may of Ulster's streets and roads. It was during this "bewildering year" as the bishop had termed it that he himself was stopped by a UDA activist manning just such a checkpoint. As the activist peered inside the bishop's car he suddenly recognized the well known driver and exclaimed "O God". "Not quite" was the bishop's reply.

It was during Peacocke's episcopate that new responsibilities were given to the laity with the institution of Parish Readers. The amalgamation of parishes, the problems of clerical illness and holiday duty and the number of services themselves provided raison d'etre for introducing parish readers to assist the clergy and in their absence to read Morning and Evening Prayer in their own parish. The laity was also give a part to play in the re-organized rural deaneries which provided a forum for the exchange of views and dissemination of information. The church was also occupied with debate on liturgical reform. Peacocke took a broad and accepting view:

We are a conservative people, and yet we must remember that spiritual life is never static and we should be prepared to follow where the Holy Spirit is leading us to wider vision and deeper spiritual truths and not condemn outright all such attempts"

In 1972 a new Holy Communion service was authorized which the bishop hoped  would be widely used. On the social front, the bishop was also aware of various youth problems affecting society such as a lack of discipline and respect for authority and the widespread abuse of drugs and alcohol amongst the young. Again the bishop pointed to the familiar problem of inadequate clergy stiepends which were now badly affected by rapid inflation and foresaw more cutbacks in church's resources.

On announcing his retirement in January 1975, Bishop Peacocke said of his episcopate:

I have never regarded myself as anything more than a nightwatchman

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