THE Roman Catholic Bishop of Hallam is preparing to retire, although he has not yet been given a date.
After heading the diocese for 14 years, the Rt Rev John Rawsthorne has started the formal procedure by writing to the Pope to inform him that he is approaching the traditional retirement point of his 75th birthday, which is in November.
Usual conduct is to be told to stay until a replacement is found.
“That can take a year. I have absolutely no idea how long it will take. I’m due for retirement but exactly when I don’t know.”
Already Bishop John is looking to move from Sheffield to Liverpool.
“Territorially Hallam is smallest English diocese and it would be difficult to stay on without being under the feet of my successor.
“A little bit reluctantly I have approached the Bishop of Liverpool, which is where I came from originally, and said I would like some pastoral work when I leave Sheffield and he has said that’s fine.”
Bishop John is also planning to step down to allow a younger man to deal with some of the key organisational challenges facing the diocese, which stretches across South Yorkshire into Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire.
“The parishes are in good form but the fact is that we are going through a period of a shortage of clergy.
“We are asking a parish priest to be priest in two parishes and even three in one case. We have joined parishes together.”
He said he wanted somebody younger to be involved in the process.
“In the not too distant future we are going to have to make some difficult decisions with regard to parishes and the shortage of priests.”
Bishop John was born in Crosby, Merseyside, and was ordained to the priesthood by the then Archbishop of Liverpool in 1962.
He was ordained Bishop in Liverpool at the end of 1981 and became Bishop of Hallam in July 1997.
He said he had “thoroughly enjoyed himself” in the Sheffield region.
“It’s a great place to be,” he added.
He paid tribute to the leaders of other faiths who had worked hard together to strengthen relationships.
Bishop John has often aligned himself with the Anglican Bishops of Sheffield, the Rt Revs Jack Nicholls and Steven Croft, and chairmen of the Sheffield Methodist District, the Revs David Halstead and Vernon Marsh.
And Bishop John has worked with other leaders, including the Muslim and Jewish communities, especially before elections to present a united front against right-wing political extremism.
“I have been privileged and blessed with the people I have worked with from other faiths,” he said.
Pending retirement will also see him step back from chairing the Catholic aid agency, Cafod, a role that has seen him travel extensively in Africa and where he had found “human life at its hardest”.
But he described the work as “a shining light in my life” and he will continue to chair the organisation’s international committee.
Meanwhile, the Bishop believes he will be leaving Hallam at a time when faith can play an essential role in the life of individuals and the city.
“All human beings are searching for meaning and obviously I think we have got a great message to communicate to people. I came to Sheffield not knowing the general temperature viz a viz religious faith.
“It’s said South Yorkshire has the lowest church affiliation in England and some people would say western Europe and I have no idea why that is.
“I have found the Church fits very well into the life of the city. In the past we have had some very strong and creative people in the churches and we have really built relationships with the city.”