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Wakefield traditionalist criticises Dean’s policy

28 June 2019


Wakefield Cathedral

Wakefield Cathedral

THE traditionalist worshipper at Wakefield Cathedral whose complaint against the Dean was upheld by the Independent Reviewer last year, has said that the Dean’s response “cuts right across” the spirit of the ruling.

In March, the Independent Reviewer, Sir William Fittall, concluded that cathedrals should state, on request, who was presiding at the eucharist, so that those who were unable to accept the sacramental ministry of women could make an informed decision about attendance (News, 8 March).

He was considering the case of Dennis Belk, a regular worshipper at Wakefield Cathedral, who complained that, within a week of Dean Simon Cowling’s installation, the practice of publishing in advance the names of celebrants, on the cathedral notice-sheet, had been stopped.

It was “very hard to identify any obvious reason why cathedral duty rotas should, in the normal course of events, be confidential,” Sir William wrote. It did not show “sufficient pastoral sensitivity”.

This month, Dean Cowling said that he had notified Sir William that he intended to keep the existing policy in place, “but with a significant adjustment, which I believe to be in line with the spirit of his conclusions”. He would offer “a pastoral, face-to-face meeting with anyone who is a regular member of the worshipping community at Wakefield Cathedral who is unable, for reasons of conscience, to accept the priestly ministry of women.

“This will afford the space for a shared conversation, and the opportunity for me to offer to send a paper copy of the quarterly rota when it is published. This will be on the understanding that it is for their personal use, and that it may change at short notice.”

In a letter to Sir William, Mr Belk said that the Dean’s system meant that any traditionalist Catholic who wished to be informed about who was presiding had to pass three stages: “First, they must prove they are regular worshippers at the cathedral; second, they will need to apply for a face-to-face interview with the Dean; then, third, they have to convince the Dean that they have genuine reasons of conscience to avoid communion services presided over by women.” Many traditional Catholics would “fall at the first hurdle”, he said.

In a written reply to Dean Cowling, Mr Belk wrote that “the confidentiality aspect of your ‘concession’ not only cuts right across what I believe to be the spirit of Sir William’s conclusions, but also is in conflict with one of his main points.”

He concluded: “Apart from making myself known to you after evensong months ago, this was our first meeting; a meeting which you described as ‘pastoral’. Sadly, you made no attempt to get to know any more about me, nor did you show any interest in my spiritual or psychological well-being over the last eight months. I entered your office a stranger, and I left it a stranger.”

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