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LEICESTER, United Kingdom – A Catholic chaplain will be allowed to take up his position at the University of Nottingham, after the school reversed a decision to block his appointment based on his tweets on abortion.
In a Sept. 25 announcement, the university said it had revised its procedure for the recognition of chaplains working at the institution, introducing 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.”
Father David Palmer had been given the appointment by Bishop Patrick McKinney of the Diocese of Nottingham, but the university had rejected him based upon social media posts where, among other things, he had accused U.S. President Joe Biden of promoting the “slaughtering unborn babies.”
“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 – indeed we would expect any chaplain to hold their faith as primary,” a university spokesperson said in a statement.
“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.”
However, the priest was backed by both the diocese and The Free Speech Union.
In their Sept. 25 statement, the university said it would recognize Palmer as the Catholic chaplain.
“Following constructive and helpful dialogue with the Diocese of Nottingham over recent weeks, it has been agreed that Father David Palmer will be recognized under this procedure as university chaplain for the Catholic faith. He will commence his work on campus as part of our multi-faith chaplaincy team with immediate effect,” the statement said.
The statement also said chaplains of the university “are highly valued members of our community, providing faith, pastoral, and wellbeing support to our students and staff throughout the year.”
Paul Greatrix, the Registrar at The University of Nottingham, said the new chaplain recognition procedure would ensure that, “in a spirit of support and collaboration, the university and faith leaders can welcome chaplains who will, absolutely, hold their faith primary whilst fully engaging with a multi-faith environment.”
“In a community of more than 35,000 people, drawn from more than 200 nationalities, we pride ourselves on a multi-faith approach so that the university is able to support and celebrate students and staff of all faiths and none,” Greatrix said.
“As a university we fully respect and safeguard our community’s freedom of speech and our chaplains’ expression of the tenets of their faith. The new procedure will ensure that our team of chaplains feel comfortable and supported in their work with students in what is a diverse and multi-faith community which has the full range of views on religious expression,” he continued, adding that he looked forward to working with Palmer on the chaplaincy team.
McKinney alluded to the 90-year history of collaboration between the University of Nottingham and the Diocese of Nottingham in welcoming the new chaplain procedures at the institution.
“This ministry has been led by a succession of Catholic priests serving in the diocese, and so I am very pleased that the university has now recognized my appointment of Father David Palmer as Catholic Chaplain, to work alongside the other university chaplains who give such great support to students and staff alike,” the Nottingham bishop said.
“In developing a new approach to recognition and support for chaplains, I acknowledge that the university is striving to demonstrate its commitment to the importance of this role within the wider university experience. I appreciate the period of constructive dialogue which has led to this development, and I look forward to seeing the university’s chaplaincy continue to flourish. It is my hope that the chaplaincy will always be a safe space for people of all faiths and none to be helped to discuss difficult issues. It is important that the Catholic Church can be a part of these conversations and contribute to individuals’ search for truth and meaning in their lives,” he continued.
McKinney said every person has had times in their lives when they needed the support of a chaplain, and was appreciative that such support was available at the university.
“For Catholic students, perhaps away from home for the first time, and for staff too, the presence of a Catholic priest within the University is an opportunity for them to be strengthened in their faith. Having seen the pastoral work Father David has undertaken from his parish in Lenton [a neighborhood of Nottingham], I have every confidence that his presence on campus will be a blessing both for those of the Catholic community, and others in the wider university family who engage with the multi-faith environment,” the bishop said.
In a tweet, Palmer said he “look[ed] forward to getting on with the job, starting with Mass [Sunday] morning.”
Follow Charles Collins on Twitter: @CharlesinRome