24 March 2015, The Tablet

Cardinal rebukes priests for publicising call to resist reform

Cardinal Vincent Nichols has rebuked the almost 500 priests in England and Wales who have signed a letter resisting any change to church teaching at the Vatican’s next Synod on the Family in October, saying that discussions between priests and bishops ahead of the gathering are "not best conducted through the press".

Almost 500 priests in England and Wales have signed a letter calling on the Vatican’s next Synod on the Family to proclaim the Church’s “unchanging” moral teaching and resist any move allowing Communion for the divorced and remarried.

The 461 priests endorsed a letter, reported earlier this month by The Tablet and published in the Catholic Herald, that was initiated by a group of a dozen conservative-minded clergy. The 12 had circulated a letter and a covering note to priests in England and Wales. The note invited priests to sign the letter that was composed for publication in the press.

The letter expresses fidelity to the Church’s traditional doctrines of marriage and sexuality, and affirms the traditional discipline “regarding the reception of the sacraments” (which bars Communion for the divorced and remarried).

The covering note to the letter contended that the media’s reporting of the 2014 synod had left a “distorted sense” that the Church’s moral teaching could be changed.

The letter with 461 signatories appeared on the Catholic Herald website on Tuesday. One signatory, who asked to remain anonymous, told the Catholic Herald there “has been a certain amount of pressure not to sign the letter and indeed a degree of intimidation from some senior Churchmen”.

On Wednesday, Cardinal Nichols issued a statement saying every priest in England and Wales has been asked to reflect on the synod discussion and that their pastoral experience and concern are of “great importance”. He added, however, that the “dialogue between a priest and his bishop, is not best conducted through the press.”

The number of signatories to the letter totals around 12 per cent of priests in England and Wales. There are currently around 3,000 active diocesan priests and 1,000 religious priests. The signatories include religious but do not say whether priests are retired or not. There are around 800 retired clergy.

The 12 priests who initiated the letter include the Dominican theologian Fr Aidan Nichols, who in a letter to The Tablet this week writes: “[The] nuptial relation between husband and wife embodies in sacramental form the bond between Christ and his Church-Bride. How, then, in the lifetime of a still recognised spouse can a household with a second (or third, etc.) partner present itself, in a “domestic church’ manner, at the Table of the Lord?”

Other priests supporting the letter are: Fr Julian Large, provost of the London Oratory, Fr Alexander Sherbrooke of St Patrick’s, Soho Square in London, Fr Tim Finigan, parish priest in Margate, Kent; Mgr Edwin Barnes, former Church of England bishop and a priest of the ordinariate; Mgr Gordon Read, chancellor of the Diocese of Brentwood; Fr Andrew Pinsent, research director of the Ian Ramsey Centre for Science and Religion at Oxford; Fr John Saward, a theologian who is priest-in-charge of an Oxford parish; Fr Robert Billing, spokesman for the Diocese of Lancaster, Fr Roger Nesbitt, parish priest of St Bede’s in Clapham, south London, where the old rite is regularly celebrated, and Fr Neil Brett of the Diocese of Brentwood.

Cardinal Vincent Nichols, who attended the last synod and will be at the next one in October, has said divorced and remarried people could be readmitted to Communion under certain conditions.

Above: Cardinal Nichols. Photo: CBCEW

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