Dean of Wakefield Cathedral proposes compromise in dispute over female celebrants

Wakefield Cathedral has offered a compromise on its position after a CofE independent reviewer ruled against it.Wikipedia

The Dean of Wakefield has proposed a compromise following a dispute with a traditionalist parishioner who could not in conscience accept communion from a female celebrant. 

Dennis Belk, who does not believe women should be priests, complained after the cathedral ceased to publicise in advance the names of those who were to celebrate Holy Communion. 

The information was essential for Mr Belk to know when he could take communion.  He says that without it, he was forced to leave services three times after discovering that the celebrant was a woman. 

In his complaint, he said the change implemented by cathedral dean, the Very Rev Simon Cowling, had made it "almost impossible" for him to "flourish" in light of his views - one of the  requirements of the Church of England's 'Five Guiding Principles' on the ministry of women. 

He said: "I do not force my convictions on others, as I defend their right to rejoice in the ministry of women. I do not, however, deserve to be marginalised in this way."

A report by Sir William Fittall, the Church of England's independent reviewer, found in favour of Mr Belk. The Bishop of Wakefield, Tony Robinson, also agreed that the cathedral dean and chapter had not done enough to accommodate Mr Belk's views.

In his report, Sir William wrote of the need "to seek to maintain the highest possible degree of communion" between those who differ on the matter of the ordination of women to the priesthood.

In a response issued this week, Rev Cowling said he would be retaining his original policy of keeping the names of the celebrants a secret, but in a compromise move has offered to send a paper copy of the quarterly rota to traditionalist members of the congregation. 

"I have now notified Sir William that I intend to keep the existing policy in place, but with a significant adjustment which I believe to be in line with the spirit of his conclusions," the Dean said.

"I will be offering a pastoral, face to face, meeting with anyone who is a regular member of the worshipping community at Wakefield Cathedral who is unable for reasons of conscience to accept the priestly ministry of women.

"This will afford the space for a shared conversation and the opportunity for me to offer to send a paper copy of the quarterly rota when it is published.

"This will be on the understanding that it is for their personal use and that it may change at short notice.

"I am pleased to say that I have already had such a conversation with the individual whose letter of concern prompted the review and the person concerned is reflecting on this offer." 

Forward in Faith, a traditionalist group in the Church of England of which the Bishop of Wakefield is chair, welcomed the compromise measure. 

"Forward in Faith notes the Dean of Wakefield's decision to comply with the ruling of the independent reviewer, Sir William Fittall, in his report on Wakefield Cathedral by making available to the complainant a service rota with information about the identity of those who will be celebrating the Eucharist in the cathedral," the group said in a statement. 

"This is a welcome first step towards making Wakefield Cathedral once again a truly inclusive church in which traditional catholics are made welcome and encouraged to flourish. We hope for even greater generosity in future."