Roderick Wright

Roderick Wright

Roderick Wright (June 28, 1940 - May 23, 2005) was a Scottish Roman Catholic priest, and Bishop of Argyll and the Isles from 1990 to 1996.

Wright attracted worldwide media interest in 1996 when he eloped with a divorced woman parishioner, Kathleen MacPhee. (A condition of priesthood in Roman Catholicism is that ordinands take a vow of celibacy). It subsequently emerged that he had fathered a child with another woman in 1981. Wright resigned, and he and MacPhee were traced to a house in Kendal, Cumbria. He died from cancer of the liver, aged 64.

Early life

Wright was born in Glasgow in 1940, the son of a working-class merchant seaman. He was one of four children. He studied at Blairs College junior seminary, in Aberdeen and began senior seminary at St Peter’s College, Cardross, in 1958.


Kathleen MacPhee scandal

Roderick Wright disappeared from his home next door to St. Columba's Cathedral, Oban on September 4th 1996. Kathleen MacPhee, a divorced mother of three who worked as a nurse in Fort William, vanished at the same time, leaving her youngest child with relatives. There was concern among local people, including Frances Shand Kydd, the mother of Diana, Princess of Wales. Wright had advised Mrs Shand-Kydd before her conversion to Catholicism in 1994.

A week and a half later, Wright surfaced, and met the church's leader in Scotland, Cardinal Thomas Winning, at his residence in Glasgow, where he submitted his resignation. They discussed MacPhee, but the Cardinal said at the time that there had been no talk about sexual relations. The Cardinal said he hoped Wright could one day resume his vocation as a priest. This prompted the Archbishop of Westminster, Cardinal Basil Hume, to suggest that the celibacy rule may be relaxed by the Vatican.

The following weekend, a former parishioner of Wright's, Joanna Whibley, came forward to say that she had become pregnant by him, and given birth to a son, Kevin, in 1981.

Wright and MacPhee were traced to a rented cottage in Kendal, Cumbria, by journalists from the News of the World, and agreed to sell their story. They escaped to France, Wright travelling under the name of David Janssen, the actor in the TV series The Fugitive.

In their interview, MacPhee explained that she loved Wright despite his vocation. "He could have been a plumber or a dustman. If he was it would have been a lot easier. But he was a bishop," she said. Wright insisted in the same interview that he and MacPhee had not had a sexual relationship.

The pair were reportedly paid around £100,000 for their story. The money was split between MacPhee's three children. This caused anger among the Catholic hierarchy. Cardinal Winning called the decision to speak to a newspaper "deplorable", and a spokesman for the Church in England and Wales described it as a "betrayal of trust". At Mass in Wright's former diocese, the congregation was told by Fr Sean MacAulay: "Like Christ was betrayed by someone in his group for 30 pieces of silver, perhaps we feel similarly betrayed at this moment in time.

In 2006, the managing editor of the News of the World, Stewart Kuttner, said the story had been his favourite newspaper front page of all time. Though not a story of international magnitude, it was a great scoop that everybody wanted, he said.

Later life and marriage

Wright registered as unemployed, and was spotted looking for work in the Jobcentre in Kendal. Macphee took a job as a geriatric nurse in the town's Westmorland General Hospital, before the pair moved to the nearby town of Carnforth, in north Lancashire.

Wright married MacPhee in a civil ceremony in Antigua in June 1998.. In 1999 his autobiography, Feet of Clay, was published. The pair later moved to New Zealand, where he became gravely ill with liver cancer in 2003. He died in 2005.


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