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Priest Associate of Walsingham resigns after compromises over women priests fail

11 September 2020

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The gardens of the Shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham

The gardens of the Shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham

THE Sub Dean of Christ Church, Oxford, Canon Richard Peers, has resigned as a Priest Associate of the Shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham. A blog explaining the decision cited the shrine’s policy that women priests are not permitted to celebrate or concelebrate the eucharist there.

The Anglican shrine in Walsingham, Norfolk, is a place of pilgrimage for many in the Anglo-Catholic tradition, including those who do not believe that women should be ordained priests.

The shrine’s website says: “Membership of the Association is open to all male priests who are permitted to minister sacramentally at the Shrine: those of the Anglican Communion who are in good standing with their Bishop and episcopally ordained priests of Churches with whom the Anglican Communion is in full communion. The Guardians maintain the discipline of reserving sacramental ministry in the Shrine to male priests ordained by a male bishop.”

Women priests can take a part in some of the healing ministries, and, since December 2011, permanent deacons (male and female) have been invited to become Deacons Associate.

Canon Peers wrote on his blog last week that the shrine was “woven into my being”. He found it difficult, none the less, that “priests who are women” were “not able to celebrate [or] concelebrate” the eucharist at Walsingham.

“The rudeness, awkwardness and occasionally abuse they have faced there. I have seen it. It is not exaggerated,” he wrote. “I have been embarrassed, apologised. . .

“I have suggested compromises. A chapel to celebrate in? The Barn Chapel? Flags put up for celebrants identifying priests of the Society and those of us who are not. I don’t mind the truth. Otherwise it is just ghettoes.”

He continued: “Mutual Flourishing must be about flourishing in the same space. And I get that it is hard. But the Guardians reserve the space at Walsingham for one integrity.

“I want the ‘traditionalists’ to flourish, [as] we would be diminished without them. But we can only flourish when we do so in the same spaces.

“I love concelebrating the National Pilgrimage. But I would willingly give that up to be in choir with sister priests. . .

“If I go again, I will celebrate Mass in nearby parishes, in my room on the floor. There is no room at this inn for me.”

A spokesperson for the Shrine said on Tuesday: “All who come to Walsingham do so in humility as pilgrims in order to be inspired by Mary’s ‘yes’ and offer their lives anew to her Child.

“We delight to make this holy ground available to a rich diversity of pilgrims of different traditions, denominations, and theological convictions and seek to welcome all as if they were Christ.

“We regret Canon Peers’s decision, and would have valued an opportunity to discuss this with him before it was made public. Like all Anglicans, we live each day with the mutual pain of the issues he raises, and will continue to pray for him and for all who seek the unity of the Church.”

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