Church in mass row attracts curious few

Northern Echo/July 15, 2002

Several worshippers visited a remote, long disused, church at the weekend after plans were announced to celebrate mass there for the first time in 500 years.

Philip-James French had planned to return Catholic services to the tiny St Andrew's Church, in Upleatham, near Saltburn, east Cleveland, on Saturday.

But Redcar and Cleveland Council, which owns the church, withdrew permission after it emerged Mr French was a member of the Holy Catholic Church, Western Rites, a breakaway movement from an American religious group.

Despite the cancellation, the church was still visited on Saturday by members of the public curious about its history.

Susan Everard, who travelled from Durham City, said: "I wanted to see what the church was like and I'm a disappointed that the mass was cancelled. They should open it up anyway."

On Friday, Mr French said he would instead hold the service at his home in Skelton, east Cleveland, which doubles as his monastery, but The Northern Echo was unable to confirm if it went ahead.

Meanwhile, the leaders of Western Rites, an Orthodox Catholic offshoot, have leapt to his defence.

In a letter to The Northern Echo, Leslie Hamlett, the group's metropolitan archbishop, said it represented a legitimate religion.

He denied that the ceremony would have been a Roman Catholic mass, as had been widely reported.

"I should stress that we bear the Roman Catholic Church no ill- will whatsoever. Nevertheless, when it is clear we are wrongly identified as Roman Catholics, we hastily make correction, for it is unhelpful to our mission to be identified with the modern Roman Catholic Church," he said.

Challenging reports that Western Rites was a sect, he said: "We are not a sect - it is the Roman Catholic church that is a sect. A sect is a group of people with religious or other beliefs that differ from those more generally accepted.

"Let me be plain. Much of our membership left the Anglican Church precisely because it was moving away from beliefs generally accepted throughout Christendom."

He said Western Rites had about 5,000 members worldwide, with missions in Newcastle and Durham City.

To see more documents/articles regarding this group/organization/subject click here.