UK university refuses to recognise Catholic priest as chaplain over social media posts

UK university refuses to recognise Catholic priest as chaplain over social media posts Fr Palmer. Photo CNA

A university in England has refused to recognise a Catholic priest as a chaplain over comments that he posted on social media.

The University of Nottingham, in central England, confirmed August 25 that it had declined to give official recognition to Fr David Palmer, a priest of the Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham.

“Our concern was not in relation to Fr David’s views themselves, but the manner in which these views have been expressed in the context of our diverse community of people of many faiths,” a spokesperson for the university told CNA.

Fr Palmer, who serves in the Diocese of Nottingham, was named as chaplain to the Catholic community at the University of Nottingham by local Bishop Patrick McKinney.

The bishop also asked him to serve as Catholic chaplain to Nottingham Trent University.

While Nottingham Trent University accepted the appointment, the University of Nottingham invited Palmer for an interview on June 17.

Following the interview, the university wrote to Bishop McKinney expressing concerns about the appointment.

At a further meeting July 1, the university specified that the concerns related to Fr Palmer’s posts on social media, highlighting one on assisted suicide and another on abortion.

“They referenced a tweet where I had referred to the proposed ‘assisted dying’ bill [introduced in Britain’s Parliament in May] as a bill to allow the NHS ‘to kill the vulnerable,’” Fr Palmer told CNA via email August 26.

“I was told it was fine for me to have this opinion, but they were concerned with how I expressed it. When I asked how they would suggest I express it, quite remarkably, they suggested I should call it ‘end of life care,’ which is a completely unacceptable policing of religious belief.”

The priest wrote on Twitter August 24 that the university also objected to a second post in which he described abortion as the “slaughter of babies,” in the context of the debate over US President Joe Biden’s reception of Holy Communion despite backing legal abortion.

Fr Palmer said that he defended both posts as reflecting Catholic belief.

Fr Palmer told CNA that after the meeting where his social media posts were discussed, the university authorities contacted the bishop to say that they still had concerns, asking him to provide an alternative priest.

The priest said that the bishop declined to nominate another priest and that following further discussions, the university agreed that Fr Palmer could offer Mass on campus on Sundays as a “guest priest”.