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Friars accused of taking Portsmouth parish back in time

30 July 2015 | by Katherine Backler

Parishioners at a church in Portsmouth Diocese say they have been driven out by an order of traditionalist Franciscans who have been put in charge.

The Bishop of Portsmouth Philip Egan handed over St Mary’s, Gosport, to the Franciscans of the Immaculate in June. Since then, parishioners say people are required to kneel to receive communion and women asked to cover their heads at Mass.

The order attracted controversy in 2013 when Pope Francis dissolved its General Council and forbade the friars to celebrate Mass in the Extraordinary Form without permission. However the friars celebrate Mass in the old rite six days a week at St Mary’s.

Dr Amanda Field, a convert to Catholicism, says she has stopped attending the church after six years. “We used to have something really special here. The church was packed; people had to stand in the porch. But since the friars came we’ve been plunged back into the days before Vatican II,” said Dr Field.

Jean Watson, who has been serving the parish as a catechist and music-leader for 30 years, also described a “reversion” since the friars’ arrival. “I was a child in the parish before Vatican II and it wasn’t even like this then,” said Mrs Watson.

Bishop Egan announced this week that another traditionalist order, the Sisters of Maria Stella Matutina from Spain will reside at St Joseph’s church in Grayshott and assist with evangelisation.

In a statement the Diocese defended its decision to appoint the Friars. A spokeswoman said that the move was in line the common practice in a Catholic Diocese that a Bishop might ask a religious order to provide pastoral ministry for a particular parish.

"The Franciscans’ work in evangelisation, especially in using new media, is very much in line with the Diocese’s renewed commitment to new evangelisation. Bishop Egan’s invitation to them reflects his desire that they will contribute to this mission," she said.



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