Bishop Reginald Michael Cawcutt, retired Auxiliary Bishop of the Archdiocese of Cape Town, was laid to rest from Our Lady Help of Christians Church, Lansdowne on a wet and wintry Wednesday, 17th August 2022. Fellow Bishops from the Southern African Catholic Bishops’ Conference (SACBC) joined Archbishop Stephen Brislin, together with many of the priests and laity of the Archdiocese of Cape Town, to pay him tribute and celebrate his life.
Toward the end of the liturgy, Archbishop Brislin read out some of the many messages of condolences and tributes from around the world, and members of Bishop Cawcutt’s family present at the funeral – as well as Bishop Sithembele Sipuka (president of the SACBC) – also paid him tribute.
Bishops present at the funeral were: Bishop Sithembele Sipuka (Diocese of uMthatha), Archbishop Buti Tlhagale OMI (Archdiocese of Johannesburg), Bishop Noel Rucastle (Diocese of Oudtshoorn), Bishop Adam Musialek (Diocese of De Aar), Bishop Sylvester David OMI (Auxiliary Bishop of Cape Town), and retired Bishops Edward Adams and Frank De Gouveia (both of Oudtshoorn Diocese).
Bishop Reginald Cawcutt was born in Rugby, Cape Town on October 25, 1938 and did his schooling at Rugby Primary; St Agnes Convent, Woodstock; and Christian Brothers’ College, Green Point. He did his seminary studies at St John Vianney Seminary, Pretoria and was ordained a priest in Cape Town on July 9,1962. He was ordained Auxiliary Bishop of Cape Town on August 26,1992 and resigned as Auxiliary Bishop on 17th July 2002. He died on 5th August 2022.
Archbishop Brislin’s homily pays tribute to his life and his ministry.
Below the homily is a collage of pictures from the funeral liturgy.
ARCHBISHOP BRISLIN’S HOMILY
As we gather for the funeral of our brother, Bishop Reg Cawcutt, it is good to remind ourselves of the purpose and meaning of a Requiem Mass. First and foremost, with humility and awareness of the frailty of our own humanity, we commend the deceased into the loving arms of the Saviour, praying for him and asking God to forgive whatever sins may have been committed. The most powerful way in which we can do this is through the celebration of the Eucharist which brings us into communion with God and with the Church – the Church of both the living and dead. Secondly, it is meant to give consolation and comfort for all who mourn the loss of a loved one. Our faith gives meaning to life and death. Thirdly, the celebration strengthens us in our hope, as we re-affirm our belief in resurrection, and it strengthens us in our resolve to live a Christian life worthy of our calling as followers of Jesus.
The prophet Micah encapsulates what it means to live a life worthy of God – to act justly, to love tenderly and to walk humbly with our God. These three actions are inseparably connected. We cannot act justly if we do not love tenderly and we cannot love tenderly unless we are humble before God who is the fullness and source of perfect love – a love which is sacrificial and without selfishness. In his 60 years of priesthood and thirty years of episcopacy, although only active for ten years as a bishop, Bishop Reg Cawcutt tried to live this through his ministry as a priest and bishop. As a priest, apart from his role in parishes, his ministry and passion as chaplain to the deaf community built on the work and initiatives of others to strengthen and accompany those who struggled to find their place in society despite their impairment. Through preaching and showing God’s love for them, he nourished their faith, built their self-esteem and their self-confidence, giving them purpose and hope.
He ministered as naval chaplain for many years, despite much criticism at the time. Involvement with the apartheid armed forces by a Catholic priest was disputed and contested at a time when troops were deployed in the townships, but this did not dampen his resolve to give pastoral care to the conscripts and members of the navy. He recognized the spiritual needs of the individuals, the persons, and was unashamed in giving them the pastoral care that was their right. This was at a time when the Catholic Church had publicly given support to conscientious objectors and was highly opposed to the apartheid regime, and yet was also obliged – in justice – not to neglect the spiritual wellbeing of those caught up in the system.
We should not forget, either, when he was Bishop, his concern and compassion for those who were afflicted and affected by the HIV/AIDS crisis that, in the 1990s, took the world by storm and thousands perished. It was a time of turmoil as the world grabbled with this new disease – in some ways it was similar to our own times when we have had to come to grips with the Covid crisis. It was not known, in the early days of the HIV disease, that it was spread through the exchange of bodily fluids It was feared that it was spread through the air and through touch. For those of us who lived through those times, we will remember how those infected with the HI Virus were isolated and contact with them was avoided. There was real fear which descended into an inhumane stigma as the disease became associated with sexuality and sexual transmission. Because of the stigma those with HIV were often treated as “modern-day lepers”, they became the pariahs of society. It was a time of denial, of burying heads in the sand, as humanity struggled to make sense of it and how to respond to it. Many did not even want to speak of it and there were those who, in ignorance, propagated that this was punishment from God – a belief that the Catholic Bishops of Southern Africa, together with other Bishops’ Conference and faith leaders, refuted as a misrepresentation of God and how he acts in the world. In this time of turmoil and fear, Bishop Reg was a pioneer in becoming involved in ministry to those with HIV and Aids. The late Archbishop Henry had expressed a desire to find a Christian response to the crisis. And so, Bishop Reg was one of the founding members of the Catholic Aids Network of the Archdiocese of Cape Town which had the aim of educating people on the disease and how it could be prevented. Cape Town was, to the best of my knowledge, the first diocese in the country to respond in this way. The Bishops’ Conference, in turn, set up the AIDS Office, and the Catholic Church in this country, through the AIDS Office and volunteers in dioceses, became recognized as the single biggest service provider to HIV and AIDS sufferers, except for government. Its outreach continues to this day.
In all his ministry Bishop Reg recognized the needs and the struggles of the individual in a rapidly changing world. However, his ministry became engulfed in a storm of controversy when he set up a website for homosexual priests. Ultimately, the controversy led to his eventual resignation from the episcopacy in July 2002. He resigned he said, for the sake of the unity of the Church. He did not want to be a point of division.
Controversial, outspoken, determined, kind and generous – these were all parts of his character. There was certain innocence about him too, which was both endearing but also, perhaps, his greatest handicap. We should not let the controversy distract us from his innate goodness, his kindness, his compassion and, above all, his faith and his love for the Church. We should recall that Jesus reserved his greatest criticism, not for those who struggled or those who had fallen into sin, but for those who were blinded by hypocrisy and lacked any empathy for the struggles of others. There is no doubt that Bishop Reg touched the lives of many people and gave them hope through his pastoral care and compassion despite criticism and controversy.
Now, as we gather to celebrate our hope of Resurrection, sharing in the life of God through the Eucharist, we place our trust in Christ alone, for it is he alone who has opened before us the promise of eternal life. We gather together as saints and sinners, knowing that we all fall short of the glory of God, and that no one is worthy of salvation in himself. It is through Christ’s love, his self-giving on the Cross, that we can be redeemed. He is the resurrection and the life, and we believe.
But it is necessary that we, ourselves, re-commit our lives to God as we strive to act justly, to love tenderly and to walk humbly with our God. Part of doing this is precisely by accompanying those with whom we journey, by responding to the needs of others strengthening them in their struggles and the confusion of modern day life, by sharing our faith with them and by giving them the reason for our hope. Let us pray that we will never turn away from those who need our support through fear of what people might say, but that we will be like the Good Samaritan and leave all else in order to act compassionately. Like the Samaritan, may we see the person in need of help and respond, and not be deterred by our fears.
As we proceed now to celebrate and share the Eucharist, celebrating our communion with God and our brothers and sisters living and dead, we commend our brother Reg to the merciful and forgiving love of God. May he, and all the faithful departed, through the mercy of God rest in peace.
Archbishop of Cape Town
17 August 2022
(Click on first image to view in Slideshow view)