Female priest gripe led to investigation at Wakefield Cathedral

The Rev Canon Simon Cowling at Wakefield Cathedral.
The Rev Canon Simon Cowling at Wakefield Cathedral.

Wakefield Cathedral has been told it must confirm, on request, if a female priest is to lead a ceremony after a worshipper who disagrees in women serving at the altar had his complaint upheld.

Dennis Belk wrote to the Dean of Wakefield to say that on three occasions he had to leave Holy Communion because, as a “traditional Catholic”, he had “reservations about the priestly ministry of women”.

The cathedral had, until recently, publicised the names of the celebrants beforehand, but had stopped the practice.

In response, the Dean of Wakefield, the Very Reverend Simon Cowling wrote back to Mr Belk to say there had been no intention to inconvenience him, adding: “The change is closely related to our commitment to be a cathedral where the diaconal priestly, and episcopal ministry of women is fully recognised and celebrated.”

An independent investigation was carried out by Sir William Fittall, who once served as the secretary general of the Archbishops’ Council, and he concluded that people are entitled to know who would be taking the ceremony, even if the names are not printed and publicised.

He wrote: “Whether a cathedral routinely publishes the names of celebrants on its service sheets must remain for the judgement of the dean and chapter.

“Nevertheless, even when the identity of the celebrant at a service is not routinely published in advance, it should not be regarded as confidential information.

“It should, therefore, be supplied with a good grace to anyone who asks for it in advance so they can make an informed choice.”

Revd Cannon Cowling told Mr Belk that he would still be offered a warm welcome at the cathedral by all the clergy, both men and women.

He added: “I am grateful to Sir William for the time and care he has taken over his report.

“I shall be reflecting on his conclusions with colleagues on Chapter, the governing body of Wakefield Cathedral, and with the deans of the other English cathedrals.”