Bishop enters 'exploratory negotiations' with the Institute of Christ the King over future of huge church closed almost three years ago

Bishop Mark Davies of Shrewsbury may hand over a landmark church on the Wirral to an order which celebrates Mass exclusively in the Extraordinary Form.

The bishop has entered “exploratory negotiations” with the Institute of Christ the King about establishing a community of priests at Ss Peter and Paul, New Brighton.

The aim is to re-open the church, which was closed almost three years ago, and turn it into a centre for Eucharistic adoration.

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If the negotiations are successful it will be the first church in Britain to be run by the Institute of Christ the King. At present the Institute sends priests from Belgium to celebrate Sunday Mass in four English dioceses.

After Easter Mgr Gilles Wach, the French founder and superior general of the Institute, will visit the church in New Brighton and hold direct talks with the bishop.

The institute would hope to raise money for restoring the enormous Grade-II listed church by seeking support from local Catholics.

The bishop has signalled that a diocesan priest may be made available to provide Mass in the Ordinary Form if necessary. Bishop Davies said he welcomed the institute’s interest in the church and was looking forward to “exploring the practicalities”.

Canon William Hudson, a spokesman for the institute, said that it was a “very serious proposition” and was in the process of being discussed.

He said: “While there are a number of issues that need to be addressed – notably financial – we are sure that the faithful will be just as generous as when the church was built. Our order has considerable experience in re-opening churches in very similar circumstances to Ss Peter and Paul. I am confident that, with the guidance of the bishop, a solution can be found to the benefit of the Catholic community at large.”

Bishop Davies partially re-opened this month after years of campaigning by parishioners. Masses are now being celebrated in a side chapel every Friday.

In 2009 the Vatican said that the previous bishop, Bishop Brian Noble, had failed to fulfil the obligations of Canon Law in closing the church. But it withdrew the ruling after being assured that the parish’s move to a nearby Anglican parish was only temporary.

Bishop Davies was first approached by the Institute of Christ the King last year after being installed as bishop in October.

The proposal to establish a community at Ss Peter and Paul was welcomed by the Latin Mass Society, which said it would renew the Church in Shrewsbury and benefit all Catholics in the area.

Dr Joseph Shaw, chairman of the LMS, said: “This initiative is a clear expression of the harmonious reintegration of the Extraordinary Form into the life of the Church which Pope Benedict XVI so patently desires. It is a wonderful idea to have a centre for Eucharistic devotion in Shrewsbury diocese and the Institute of Christ the King are second to none in their devotion to Our Blessed Lord in the Sacrament of the Altar.”

Frank McGowan, a parishioner at Ss Peter and Paul who campaigned against its closure, said it was “wonderful” that the institute may work with local Catholics to restore the church. But he said a vernacular Mass on Sundays was “essential” if the community was to survive and questioned whether locals would contribute funds in light of controversy over past donations to the parish.

He said the bishop was a “spiritual man” who is “undoubtedly very earnest and genuine in his wish to sort out the complications of this previously abandoned parish”.

The church of Ss Peter and Paul, built in the Renaissance style and opened in 1935, was closed because of rising maintenance and repair costs and a shrinking congregation.

The Institute of Christ the King was founded by Mgr Wach in 1990. It has recently re-opened two churches in the US and one in Belgium.

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