Plymouth Bishop-elect Christopher Whitehead’s planned installation was cancelled in February. / Credit: © Mazur/|Flickr|CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 DEED

CNA Staff, Mar 25, 2024 / 15:00 pm (CNA).

A diocese in England has announced that it will undertake “no canonical action” against a priest whose installation as bishop of Plymouth was canceled without explanation earlier this year.

The Diocese of Plymouth had said in a statement in early February that the ordination of Plymouth Bishop-elect Christopher Whitehead, at the time a priest in the nearby Diocese of Clifton, would “not take place” on Feb. 22 as had been previously scheduled.

“A canonical process is currently underway, and no further comments will be made until this has been concluded,” the diocese said at the time, noting that Whitehead himself had “stepped back from active ministry whilst this process is ongoing.”

In the wake of the announcement, the Plymouth Diocese had quickly moved to scrub its website of nearly all references to the bishop-elect. An earlier interview with Whitehead, as well as a Christmas message from the bishop-elect, were both missing from the site after the cancellation was announced, as was the December announcement of Whitehead’s appointment by Pope Francis. 

On Friday, the Diocese of Clifton said in a statement that it had “undertaken a preliminary investigation into the allegations raised against Canon Christopher Whitehead” and that “at the conclusion of the aforementioned inquiry, it was determined that no canonical action was warranted.” 

“The diocese communicates that Canon Whitehead has resumed his duties as parish priest of St. John the Evangelist in Bath,” the statement said. 

Reached for comment on Monday morning, diocesan spokesman Phil Gibbons provided CNA with an identical statement.

It is not clear if Whitehead is still slated to be installed as bishop or if another priest will fill that role. James Abbott, a spokesman for the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales, told CNA on Monday that the statement from the Clifton Diocese was “all we have just now.”

“As soon as we can provide anything further about Plymouth, we will certainly do so,” Abbott said. 

In its bulletin for Palm Sunday, meanwhile, St. John the Evangelist Parish in Bath announced that Whitehead “has been given the chance to return to St. John’s and resume his ministry here as our parish priest.” 

“He will, most probably, say something at each Mass, but he has tremendous gratitude for the concern, the love, and the prayer that has accompanied him across the last eight or nine weeks, prayers that have truly sustained him along the painful journey of this process,” the bulletin said. “It is good to enter into Holy Week with a shepherd to lead us.”

It was unclear on Monday if Whitehead had spoken of the incident at the past weekend’s Masses. The parish did not immediately respond to a query from CNA, nor did Whitehead himself. 

A parishioner at St. John’s, meanwhile, told the Catholic Herald that there was “nothing more to know” about the controversy. 

The inquiry into the canon has been “completed,” the parishioner told the outlet, and “nothing more needs to be said.” 

Join Our Free Mailing List

You can unsubscribe at any time. For more detail see our Privacy Policy.