A priest “cancelled” by the University of Nottingham after he expressed pro-life opinions about abortion and assisted suicide has assured students that he will serve them as chaplain.
In a video message recorded for the Catholic Herald, Fr David Palmer told students that he would continue in the role in spite of the decision by the university to refuse to recognise his position.
“I want to assure you over the next year or so I will be here for you either on campus and recognised or unrecognised and off campus,” he said.
“The Catholic Students’ Chaplaincy in Nottingham is going to be a place where we come together to follow our consciences and to grow in faith,” he added.
The university declined to confirm the post of Fr Palmer, 51, a priest of the Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham, after he remarked on Twitter that abortion was the “slaughter of babies” and assisted suicide was “killing the vulnerable”.
Instead, it will allow him to visit once on a Sunday to celebrate Mass as a “guest priest” for staff and students, a move which effectively leaves the university and its large medical school without a Catholic priest chaplain on campus.
But Fr Palmer is certain that he is able to offer priestly ministry to students of the university from the nearby Church of St Paul, where he is parish priest, and also from Newman House, an off-campus property used by the chaplaincy.
He has the support of Bishop Patrick McKinney of Nottingham who has refused to rescind his appointment in spite of pressure from the university to appoint another priest as chaplain instead.
A spokesperson for the Diocese of Nottingham said the Church was “disappointed” that Fr Palmer’s appointment by the bishop as chaplain to the university was not accepted.
“Nevertheless, a most vital element of a chaplain’s role will be able to be fulfilled by him on campus, namely the provision of Sunday Mass for the university’s Catholics,” she said.
“As with any priest, Fr David’s priestly ministry also extends beyond sacramental provision to offering, off-campus, all who approach him for pastoral or spiritual support, which includes Catholics who attend the University of Nottingham.”
A University of Nottingham spokesperson said staff were “continuing a constructive dialogue with the diocese to ensure that staff and students of Catholic faith are fully supported under this arrangement”.
“The University remains totally committed to continuing our 90-year tradition of providing Catholic chaplaincy,” he said.
“The University of Nottingham values Catholic chaplaincy very highly as part of our multi-faith approach where dedicated chaplains provide invaluable support to staff and students of each faith,” he continued.
“A University should be a place for the robust exchange of views and debate over ideas, and we have no issue with the expression of faith in robust terms – indeed we would expect any chaplain to hold their faith as primary.”
He added: “Our concern was not therefore in relation to Father David’s views themselves, or the tenets of the Catholic faith which we fully respect, but the manner in which these views have been expressed in the context of our diverse community of people of many faiths.”
Controversy erupted soon after Fr Palmer was appointed by Bishop McKinney in early summer and he was invited for an interview at the university, a move which struck him as odd given that he was not being remunerated by the institution.
There, he was grilled about a tweet in which he had criticised US President Joe Biden, a Catholic, for seeking to fund abortions.
He was also upbraided for criticising the Assisted Dying Bill of Baroness Meacher, which will have its Second Reading in the House of Lords next month, because he said assisted suicide was “killing the vulnerable”. It was suggested to him that he should have instead described the practice as “end of life care”.
In his video message, Fr Palmer paid tribute to the “theology of conscience” of St John Henry Newman, the patron of the Nottingham chaplaincy and a former Anglican whose writings were instrumental in his own conversion to the Catholic faith.
“One of the great themes in Cardinal Newman’s life was the importance and primacy of conscience,” he said. “We must all obey our conscience.
“Now some of you will realise or have heard that I have not been recognised by the University of Nottingham as the official Catholic chaplain despite the appointment by the bishop.
“This is because I spoke out strongly on moral issues in line with the Church’s teaching on abortion and euthanasia.
“They wanted me to change my language. I could have those views, they said, but it was the way I expressed them. Well, I expressed them in accordance with my conscience.”
The so-called cancellation of Fr Palmer has been widely criticised by Catholics and non-Catholics alike.
Among those who came to his defence was Ann Furedi, until recently the chief executive officer of the British Pregnancy Advisory Service, who declared in a tweet: “So stupid to cancel this guy … he’s a Catholic priest – let Catholic students decide individually if they want his counsel.”
Miss Furedi also retweeted a post by Timandra Harkness, in which the scientific writer, comedian and broadcaster said: “This is terrible.
“I disagree with his views on abortion but as a Catholic priest he’s expressing a mainstream Catholic view. Universities can’t tell chaplains what religious beliefs to express.”
The University of Nottingham was founded in 1881 and was granted a royal charter in 1948.
In November 2020, it reached a settlement with Catholic undergraduate midwifery student Julia Rynkiewicz, who received an apology and compensation after she was barred from a hospital placement phase when the university learned of her leadership of a pro-life student group.
Fr Palmer was also asked Bishop McKinney to serve as Catholic chaplain to Nottingham Trent University, which has accepted his appointment.
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