A priest in Wales could face disciplinary action after officiating at a wedding ceremony during lockdown.
Fr Sebastian Jones, who is a member of the Cardiff Oratory-in-formation and parish priest at St Alban-on-the-Moors church, was “pressured” into performing the ceremony for an Irish Traveller couple last month.
In an email to his superior, Fr Jones explained that he officiated at the ceremony due to “specific pressing needs of the Travelling community” and to “protect individuals and families from grave consequences that are particular to them.”
The Archbishop of Cardiff, the Right Reverend George Stack, told WalesOnline that Fr Jones felt compelled to perform the ceremony.
“The parents of the family insisted that it take place immediately,” the archbishop said. “They went to the priest and he caved in.”
“When I say he was pressured, he felt pressured. He was concerned. Worried about the girl’s health and safety.”
“Now I know it has happened I’m very shocked and upset,” he added.
“I share, in a way, the priest’s dilemma but it was not the right thing to do, to succumb to that pressure.”
Archbishop Stack said the matter was being investigated by the Church.
Fr John Chadwick, a chaplain to the Traveller community, wrote to Archbishop Stack to appeal for leniency. In a letter reported by Church Militant, Fr Chadwick said Fr Sebastian “routinely” ministers to Travellers around Cardiff and is “widely known as a devoted and reliable pastor.”
“I can confirm that some of the pastoral interventions made by Fr Sebastian have been so timely that he may well have saved lives as a consequence,” Fr Chadwick added.
“Travellers requesting marriage always, and perhaps uniquely, present acute pastoral need which is rarely found within other parts of the Catholic community.”
They represent “the only surviving yet consistently faithful remnant who explicitly live out the Church’s teaching regarding chastity,” Fr Chadwick said.
“I would in the strongest terms ask Your Grace to be aware of the history of young women committing suicide where marriage has been delayed. This may seem hyperbolic, but it is simply the reality within the context of a culture and community of which there is so little understanding.”
In an email to Fr Ignatius Harrison, provost of the Birmingham Oratory and his direct superior, Fr Jones wrote: “In seeking to be a pastoral priest to the specific pressing needs of the Travelling community during the indefinite uncertainties arising from the lockdown, I only ever hoped to protect individuals and families from grave consequences that are particular to them.”
“Those who minister to this community know what I am referring to. It was the urgency and persistence of the requests and their expectations that the Church could resolve a spiritual crisis in their lives that was my only motivation,” he added.
“At no time did I overlook the gravity of their circumstances nor even the possible consequences for me personally in the celebration of a Sacrament in their lives and the disturbing effects of lockdown.”
“I appreciate that for those without Faith or experience of this particular Ministry my pastoral decisions are incomprehensible,” he added. “However, as a priest, I must put the salvation of souls above every other consideration, even my own peace of mind and risk from infection.”