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UK university reverses decision to block pro-life priest


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John Burger - published on 10/03/21

Fr. David Palmer had expressed views on Twitter about abortion and euthanasia. Now he is subject to annual review.

Fr. David Palmer, whose appointment as the Catholic chaplain at a British university caused controversy earlier this year, tweeted that he “looks forward to getting on with the job,” after the school allowed his chaplaincy to go forward.

It was tweets that got Fr. Palmer into hot water in the first place.

After his appointment last spring, prior Twitter posts surfaced about abortion and euthanasia that led the university to reverse its acceptance of the appointment.

In one, he criticized American President Joe Biden for his stand on abortion, referring to the “slaughter of unborn babies.”

Another warned that the British National Health Service would be allowed to “kill the vulnerable,” if changes to the law permitted physician-assisted suicide. 

Palmer said he asked the university what aspects of his language on social media were problematic.

“They mentioned two … one where I had referred to ‘assisted dying’ as a plan to ‘allow the NHS to kill the vulnerable.’ … I was told that this language was not appropriate,” the priest said, according to the Tablet. “The other tweet was about abortion, where I referred to abortion as the ‘slaughter of babies’ (as in the ‘slaughter of the innocents’). I refused to back down and defended both tweets as reflecting Catholic belief.”

The university, insisting its problem was with the way he expressed himself and not necessarily with his right to his opinions, said the appointment as chaplain would be canceled, though Fr. Palmer would still be allowed to celebrate Mass on campus as a visiting priest. 

“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,” a university spokeswoman said, according to a September 8 BBC report. “Indeed we would expect any chaplain to hold their faith as primary. 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.”

New review process

Fr. Palmer demurred, saying, “We live in a free society, and a university of all places is supposed to be somewhere where we have that freedom to discuss different ideas. The university talks about diversity all the time — diversity means allowing different opinions. Anyone is allowed to disagree with what the Catholic Church teaches, but to say you cannot teach the Catholic position, even to Catholics, is crazy.” 

The university finally conceded September 25, saying in a statement: “Following constructive and helpful dialogue with the Diocese of Nottingham over recent weeks, it has been agreed that Father David Palmer will be recognized … as university chaplain for the Catholic faith.”

But it said he must abide by a “revised procedure” that involves a trial year for all chaplaincies. 

“The procedure allows for 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,” said a spokesman.

The new review process will include “regular engagement with current university chaplains of all faiths, students and the sponsoring faith body to determine the chaplain’s ability to: work in a large, international, multi-faith, secular, educational environment; willingness to represent the diversity of faith communities in a non-partisan way; present a strong personal spirituality whilst being able to manage disagreement and challenge; work as part of a chaplaincy team; demonstrate approachability and pastoral sensitivity,” the University of Nottingham said.

Fr. Palmer, a priest of the Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham, noted on Twitter Sept. 27 that “Lots of people helped us behind the scenes” in securing recognition of his appointment, and that the legal advice of the religious liberty legal firm ADF International and the Free Speech Union — a non-partisan public interest body that stands up for the speech rights of its members — “was invaluable.”

Bishop David McKinney of Nottingham tweeted September 25 that he was “very pleased” that Fr. Palmer has “been accepted as my appointment as Catholic chaplain to the University of Nottingham.”

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