The Right Reverend John Satterthwaite, who has died aged 89, was Bishop of Gibraltar in Europe from 1980 to 1993; in this, and in his previous roles as Bishop of Fulham and General Secretary of the Church of England’s Council for Foreign Relations, he played a major part in strengthening his church’s relations with those of the Roman Catholic and Orthodox traditions and also in establishing a strong Anglican presence in continental Europe.
During his years at the Council for Foreign Relations (1955-70) Satterthwaite’s task was akin to that of a Foreign Office permanent secretary. At Lambeth Palace he was the trusted adviser of Archbishop Geoffrey Fisher, then of Archbishop Michael Ramsey, having accumulated – for the first time – much information about the current thinking of other churches, mainly through personal contacts with their own senior officials.
When Archbishop Fisher made his historic visit to Pope John XXIII in 1960, Satterthwaite was largely responsible for negotiating the preparations with a suspicious Vatican, and afterwards Fisher paid tribute to his “incalculable contribution” to the success of the visit. During the Second Vatican Council that came soon afterwards, Satterthwaite made the arrangements for the attendance of official Anglican observers and himself attended part of the Council’s sessions.
Following the Council, and in the light of some English Roman Catholic anxiety about the Church of England’s developing relationship with the Vatican, it was decided to set up an Archbishop’s Council for Roman Catholic Relations, on which Satterwaite served as secretary for the next five years.
His involvement in reciprocal visits and negotiations between Anglican and Orthodox church leaders from Russia, Romania, Bulgaria and Greece involved diplomatic skills of a similar order, as well as the preparation of well-informed briefings on personalities and ecclesiastical as well as secular politics.
Satterthwaite’s involvement in the creation and leadership of a new Anglican diocese of Europe in 1980 was inauspicious. A diocese of Gibraltar had been formed in 1842 to provide episcopal oversight of English congregations on the northern shores and islands of the Mediterranean, together with the Balkans. Pope Pius XII is alleged to have remarked to one of its bishops, “I believe that I live in your Lordship’s diocese”.
Northern Europe, including Scandinavia, was under the jurisdiction of the Bishop of London, who for many years had delegated responsibility to the suffragan Bishop of Fulham. It was to this bishopric that Satterthwaite was appointed in 1970 and, for the next 10 years, he travelled extensively in both Western and Eastern Europe, coping sensitively and sometimes ingeniously with the constraints imposed by the Iron Curtain.
At the same time he continued to lend his expertise and experience to the developing ecumenical opportunities and what proved to be long and laboured progress towards the creation of a single Anglican diocese of Europe. It was at the first meeting to consider specific proposals for such a diocese that the then Bishop of Gibraltar, Stanley Eley, had a heart attack, as a result of which he was forced to retire.
Responsibility for carrying the proposals through to completion fell inevitably on Satterthwaite and in 1980 he became the first Bishop of Gibraltar in Europe.
The responsibilities were considerable. During the previous two decades the scale and character of the Anglican ministry in Europe had changed significantly. The capitals and other main cities had become important spheres of ecumenical enterprise. At the same time the development of mass tourism and the boom in British-owned holiday and retirement properties demanded greatly increased chaplaincy provision.
Satterthwaite took this in his stride, much enjoying the challenge and the pastoral work and relieved to be detached from the mainstream Church of England politics with its changes, many of which he felt unable to support. His ministry was essentially a personal one, based, by no means conveniently, in London and with the minimum of administrative resources. But it was wholly successful so that today the diocese of Europe is no longer a “Cinderella” diocese, but one with more than 300 chaplaincies and 150 clergy, including a suffragan bishop and six archdeacons.
John Richard Satterthwaite was born on November 17 1925 in what was then Cumberland and attended Millom Grammar School. From there he went to the monastic theological college at Mirfield, in Yorkshire, to prepare for Holy Orders and also took a degree in History at Leeds University. Before proceeding to ordination, however, he spent two years at St Luke’s School in Haifa teaching History.
From 1950-53 he was a curate at St Barnabas Church, Carlisle, followed by a year at St Aidan’s Church, Carlisle. He had been trained in the Church of England’s Catholic tradition at Mirfield and, besides longing for the union of the Roman Catholic, Orthodox and Anglican churches, had gained some first-hand experience of church life in Eastern Europe. He also turned out to have considerable administrative skills.
These factors led the Archbishop of Canterbury, Geoffrey Fisher, to appoint him in 1955 as Assistant General Secretary of his Council for Foreign Relations. This was combined during the next four years with a curacy at St Michael Paternoster Royal in the City of London.
When he succeeded to the General Secretaryship of the Council in 1959 he became also Guild Vicar of St. Dunstan-in-the West Church in Fleet Street.
The duties of this church were not onerous and during his time there he arranged for it to be shared with the Romanian Orthodox community in London.
This was just one outcome of his efforts to befriend, on behalf of the Church of England, other émigré Christian communities in the capital. At the same time he helped to build up the strength of societies such as the Anglican-German Christian Fellowship and the Anglican-Eastern Orthodox Churches Association to foster closer ties with European churches.
He was made an Honorary Canon of Canterbury Cathedral in 1963 and six years later became a much-valued Honorary Canon of the Utrecht Old Catholic Cathedral in the Netherlands. Several other European awards came his way.
In 1993 Satterthwaite retired to his native Cumbria where he became an honorary assistant bishop in Carlisle diocese and greatly enjoyed fell-walking.
He was appointed CMG in 1991 for his services to international relations.
He was unmarried.
The Rt Rev John Satterthwaite, born November 17 1925, died May 22 2014