William Theodore Heard

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His Eminence
William Theodore Heard
Dean Emeritus of the Roman Rota
Installed15 December 1958
Term ended14 December 1959
PredecessorAndré-Damien-Ferdinand Jullien
SuccessorFrancis Brennan
Other postsTitular bishop of Feradi Maius
Ordination30 March 1918 (Priest)
Consecration19 April 1962 (Bishop)
Created cardinalCardinal deacon 14 December 1959; elevated to Cardinal priest 18 May 1970
RankCardinal deacon, later cardinal priest, of S. Teodoro
Personal details
Born24 February 1884
Edinburgh, Scotland
Died16 September 1973 (aged 89)
The clinic of the Blue Sisters at S. Stefano Rotondo, Rome
BuriedThe chapel of the Venerable English College, Campo Verano, Rome
DenominationRoman Catholic Church
ParentsWilliam Augustus Heard and Elizabeth Tamar Heard (née Burt)

William Theodore Heard (24 February 1884 – 16 September 1973) was a cardinal in the Roman Catholic Church.


He was born in Edinburgh, the eldest son of Rev Dr William Augustus Heard (1847–1921), a housemaster of Fettes College, and his wife, Elizabeth Tamar Burt (who died when William Theodore was only four). They lived at Carrington House on Comely Bank, one of the school's boarding houses.[1]

He was educated at Fettes College, of which his father was by then headmaster, a role he continued for 30 years, 1887 until 1912. He then studied divinity at Balliol College, Oxford, where he also rowed. He was baptised conditionally on 9 August 1910 by Fr Stanislaus St John SJ in the Farm Street Church of The Immaculate Conception in Mayfair, central London and, being thus reconciled with the Catholic Church, he was then confirmed. In 1913 he was accepted as a candidate for the priesthood by Bishop (later Archbishop) Peter Amigo of Southwark, his application to be a student priest of the Archdiocese of Saint Andrews and Edinburgh having been ignored by Archbishop Smith – whether intentionally or by omission is unclear. He studied at the Pontifical Gregorian University, Rome, where he obtained his doctorate in philosophy in 1915 and his doctorates in both theology and canon law in 1921.

He was ordained to the priesthood aged 34 years in the Patriarchal Lateran Basilica (the Pope's Cathedral as Bishop of Rome) on 30 March 1918, by Basilio Pompilj, Cardinal Bishop of Velletrie Segni, the Pope's Vicar General for Rome. He acted as confessor for the students of the Venerable English College, Rome, 1918–1921 and again 1927-1960s. In 1921 he was appointed curate at the Most Holy Trinity parish in Dockhead, Bermondsey. He was named a domestic prelate by Pope Pius XI on 30 September 1927, and on the following day, 1 October 1927, he was named auditor of the Tribunal of the Roman Rota (the judicial part of the Roman Curia), which acts as the Supreme Court of Appeal in the administration of the canon law of the Roman Catholic Church. In 1958 he was appointed dean of the Holy Roman Rota (i.e. the equivalent of chief justice) and was elevated to cardinal one year later when he was appointed cardinal deacon of the titular church San Teodoro. He was one of the rare modern instances of a cardinal who was not a bishop. This was rectified after three years when, on 19 April 1962, he was appointed bishop of the titular see of Feradi Maius and consecrated bishop by Pope John XXIII in the same Patriarchal Lateran Basilica in which he had been ordained priest forty-four years before. He attended the Second Vatican Council, 1962–1965 and participated in the conclave of 19 to 21 June 1963, which elected the Archbishop of Milan, Cardinal Giovanni-Battista Montini, to be Pope Paul VI.

For a number of years in the late 1950s/early 1960s, Cardinal Heard who – despite his sense of rejection by the Scottish Church in having not accepted him as a student for the priesthood – never forgot his Scottish birth and heritage, freely gave his time to serve as external confessor to the students of the Scots College, Rome, particularly during the summer season, when the students migrated to the college villa at Marino.

In 1970 he was elevated to cardinal priest of San Teodoro, as is customary for cardinal deacons after serving for ten years in that capacity.

On 1 January 1971 Pope Paul VI's new rule abolishing the right of cardinals over 80 years of age to participate in the conclave came into effect, and Cardinal Heard, who was already nearly 87 years old, immediately lost his electoral rights.

He had a long decline aggravated by failing sight and hearing, and his death at the age of 89 was natural and hardly surprising. He died in the clinic at S. Stefano Rotondo run by the Blue Nuns, on the morning of Sunday, 16 September 1973, aged 89. His funeral took place in the right transept of St Peter's Basilica in the Vatican,[2] and he was buried in the Campo Verano cemetery, Rome.

That his funeral did not take place at the Scots College[3][4] certainly speaks silent volumes about a private pain of which neither he nor any of his contemporaries have left any public record.

Suffice it to say that in his lifetime – and certainly when he was first elevated to the Sacred College – the entire British press used to refer to him as "the first Scottish Cardinal since the Reformation".


  1. ^ Edinburgh and Leith Post Office Directory 1884-85
  2. ^ (The 5 Scottish seminarians who served the funeral)
  3. ^ http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/13632a.html
  4. ^ http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/paul_vi/speeches/1964/documents/hf_p-vi_spe_19641116_scots-college_en.html
Catholic Church titles
Preceded by
Arcadio Larraona Saralegui, CMF
Cardinal protodeacon
Succeeded by
Antonio Bacci