The Bishop of Lancaster has provoked dismay among members of the Neocatechumenal Way by issuing new rules for their liturgies.
Bishop Michael Campbell said that, although the Way had been a “blessing” for many people, there was a “growing sense of unease” about the movement’s liturgical practices.
His new norms include Masses always being celebrated at the main altar or approved chapel in a church and for there to be “no delay” in communicants receiving Holy Communion once it has been placed in their hands. Among some Neocatechumenal groups Communion is only consumed once everyone has been given the Host.
Paul Hayward, speaking on behalf of Neocatechumenal groups in the north of England, said he had asked Bishop Campbell to hold off implementing the new norms until representatives of the Way had had a chance to meet him.
He said they had requested a meeting but were told the bishop would not be available until August. The norms will come into effect on July 1.
“We beg him not to initiate any of this before we can explain how we do things and why,” Mr Hayward said. He was speaking from Rome a day before he was due to meet Kiko Argüello, the Way’s founder.
The diocese said that while representatives of the Way had asked for a meeting they had not made clear that they wanted to discuss the norms.
In a statement issued on Tuesday the diocese said that “in no way should these norms be seen as punitive or issued for any other motive than simply reminding all of the liturgical norms of the Church”.
The Neocatechumenal Way is an international community that started in Spain in 1964. It focuses on the formation of adults after they have been baptised. It is estimated to have more than a million members and about 40,000 groups around the world.
In the Diocese of Lancaster there are seven communities based in Preston, Carlisle and Blackpool. They number about 150 people.
Mr Hayward said: “The whole thing came as a complete surprise. We’ve worked in Lancaster diocese for 39 years. We’ve never had any problem before. We’ve always been on good terms with the bishop.
“If there was unease I would have thought people would have told us, just out of good manners. But we’ve heard nothing.”
Bishop Campbell’s norms say that if a regular Mass at a parish was a Neocatechumenal liturgy it must be advertised as such in the bulletin. He also said that the parish priest had the authority to limit any additional liturgies and that priests were not permitted to celebrate Mass more than once a day.
The Neocatechumenal Way, whose statutes were approved by Rome in 2008, has special permission to celebrate the Mass in a distinctive way. Communion is received, for instance, by communicants “standing, remaining in their place”. However, Bishop Campbell noted that the priest must consume Communion before distributing it.
The bishop’s norms follow very closely those issued by Coadjutor Archbishop Michael Byrnes of Guam in March.
Archbishop Byrnes had been appointed to the Archdiocese of Guam after the suspension of Archbishop Anthony Apuron, who faces allegations of sexually abusing minors. Archbishop Apuron is a member of the Neocatechumenal Way. Critics said he caused division and handed over the island’s seminary to the movement.
Bishop Campbell is not the first bishop to rein in the Neocatechumenal Way. In 1996, Bishop Mervyn Alexander banned the group from Clifton diocese after commissioning a report on them.