FAITH leaders and politicians led tributes to the Archbishop of Liverpool after his announcement that he is to step down after nearly 17 years in the role.
The Most Rev Patrick Kelly made his decision on health grounds after suffering a slight stroke early last month.
It meant he was forced to miss the traditional Christmas celebrations, including a live BBC Radio 4 broadcast of Midnight Mass from the city’s Metropolitan Cathedral on Christmas Eve.
The 74-year-old archbishop informed the 180 priests in the Archdiocese of Liverpool by letter that he had offered his resignation to Pope Benedict XVI.
It is at the Pope’s discretion as to whether or not he accepts the archbishop’s resignation, but as it is being sought on health grounds it is unlikely to be refused.
The search will then begin in earnest for Patrick Kelly’s successor – a process shrouded in secrecy which could take anything up to a year to be completed.
Even the senior cleric who is eventually selected will not know of his appointment until it is approved by the Pope.
The Most Rev Patrick Kelly will still have pastoral responsibility for the Archdiocese until his resignation is accepted, although day-to-day engagements will continue to be performed by others, including Auxiliary Bishop Tom Williams.
The Archbishop is due to return to his official Liverpool residence this week after spending time convalescing at Grange-over-Sands, close to his native Morecambe.
In his letter, he thanked everyone for their prayers and good wishes after his recent illness.
He said he was making good progress but there was “no question” of his resuming his engagements once he returns to Liverpool.