A university has performed a U-turn on its decision to “cancel” a Catholic chaplain after he tweeted against abortion and assisted suicide.
The University of Nottingham has announced that it will now allow Fr David Palmer to serve Catholic students on campus “with immediate effect”.
During the summer it refused to recognise his appointment by the Bishop of Nottingham after he said on Twitter that abortion was the “slaughter” of unborn babies.
He also said assisted suicide was “killing the vulnerable” when the university wanted him to describe the practice as “end of life care”.
Fr Palmer refused to retract his remarks, arguing that the reflected the well-known and traditionally-held moral teaching of the Catholic Church.
The university reversed its decision just weeks after the Free Speech Union threatened to take it to court on the grounds that the cancellation of Fr Palmer represented a flagrant breach of the 2010 Equality Act that prohibits public institutions from discriminating against anyone on the basis of their religious or philosophical beliefs.
Fr Palmer said: “I’m glad the issue has been resolved and now look forward to getting on with the role of being the Catholic chaplain at the University of Nottingham and serving the Catholic students and staff as their priest as well as being available to anyone else at the university who may wish to speak to me.”
The university announced that Fr Palmer has been accepted as chaplain under a revised procedure for the recognition of chaplains of all faiths who are nominated to work in its chaplaincy.
The procedure allows a preparatory year to enable the nominated chaplain, the sponsoring faith body and the university to explore together if the role is right both for the individual and the multi-faith environment at Nottingham.
Dr Paul Greatrix, the university registrar, said: “We fully respect and safeguard our community’s freedom of speech and our chaplains’ expression of the tenets of their faith.
“The new procedure will ensure that our team of chaplains feel comfortable and supported in their work with students in what is a diverse and multi-faith community which has the full range of views on religious expression.
He added: “I look forward to Fr Palmer joining our chaplaincy team, and to him working on campus to provide the full ministry and pastoral support which is so valued in particular by our Catholic staff and students.”
The U-turn was also welcomed by Bishop Patrick McKinney of Nottingham. “I am very pleased that the university has now recognised my appointment,” he said.
“Each one of us, in whatever walk of life we follow, has times when we need support, and the multi-faith chaplaincy of the University of Nottingham has always provided such support,” he continued.
“For Catholic students, perhaps away from home for the first time, and for staff too, the presence of a Catholic priest within the University is an opportunity for them to be strengthened in their faith.
“Having seen the pastoral work Fr David has undertaken from his parish in Lenton, I have every confidence that his presence on campus will be a blessing both for those of the Catholic community, and others in the wider university family who engage with the multi-faith environment.”
The university’s recognition of Fr Palmer, 51, a former Anglican who is now a priest of the Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham, means that he now allowed to serve students on-campus.
Previously he was barred from visiting except for one Mass each Sunday as a “guest priest” for staff and students.
The policy effectively left the university and its large medical school without a Catholic priest chaplain on campus.
The cancellation of Fr Palmer caused an outcry among Catholics and was also widely criticised by non-Catholics, including Ann Furedi, former chief executive officer of the British Pregnancy Advisory Service, the largest private abortion provider in the UK, who described the move as “stupid”.
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