The Bishop of Lancaster has accepted a public apology after he threatened an ill parishioner with legal action in a row over the closure of two Preston churches.
Heart patient Philip Bannister wrote to the Bishop of Lancaster, expressing his upset about the decision to shut St Ignatius and St Augustine’s and merge congregations into a new parish. It was the final paragraph, in which he questioned whether his email would even be read by the Bishop, which sparked a response.
The Rt Rev Michael Campbell accused Mr Bannister of making a “most serious – and defamatory – allegation.” He said the comment had “no basis in truth whatsoever,” adding he received all his correspondence and replied to all of it in person. He added that libel action could follow.
St Augustine’s regular Mr Bannister, who suffered a heart attack five weeks ago and is awaiting a bypass operation, has now issued an apology to the Bishop.
He said: “I never meant to hurt anyone.”
“Looking at it I was probably a bit harsh.
“It was probably an error of judgement on my part and I’ve been given a slap down.
“I have made a public apology and I don’t think I can comment any further.”
Feelings have been running high in Preston since Bishop Campbell authorised the closure of the two churches last month as part of the formation of the new Parish of Pope St John XXIII.
A shortage of priests was cited as the key reason.
Worshippers at both have voiced their anger, claiming the closures were unnecessary and carried out without any consultation.
Church secretary Moira Cardwell even threatened to chain herself to the railings of St Ignatius in protest.
Mr Bannister took Bishop Campbell to task in an email which he also forwarded to the Papal Nuncio and local media.
In it he said he was “quite at a loss to understand” why St Augustine’s had been shut down.
He added: “I believe that, apart from the process being faulted, it has been contemptuous of parishioners.”
After Mr Bannister offered his apology, Bishop Campbell said: “I am happy to accept your retraction. With this email I now draw this correspondence to a conclusion.”
Mr Bannister, of Poppyfield, Cottam, Preston, commented: “After taking a bit of advice I decided to just apologise and withdraw the remark.
“But as regards the other nine-tenths of my letter, the Bishop has avoided responding to any of the issues contained in it.
“I won’t be pursuing those points now. I think I’ve probably said enough. I will leave the fight to have these church closures reversed to others now.”
Parishioners are still campaigning for a U-turn, even though both churches have now closed down.