Wednesday 10 April 2024

Declan Lang resignation not connected with Plymouth bishop controversy, says diocese

The Diocese of Clifton has insisted that the resignation of its bishop, Declan Lang, is not connected with the controversy over one of its diocesan priests being blocked from taking up the post of Bishop of Plymouth.

In February Canon Christopher Whitehead was to be installed as Bishop of Plymouth but his installation Mass was cancelled just weeks before it was due to take place. 

Inquiries were then made into allegations made against Canon Whitehead, for which he was later cleared.

Now, amid claims in an American Catholic publication that the Vatican has carried out an investigation into Bishop Lang’s handling of the Whitehead case, and that this was linked to Lang’s departure, Clifton has insisted that Lang resigned of his own accord.

The diocese has declined to say anything more about why Bishop Lang has stepped down, nor will it discuss the claims made by the US publication, The Pillar. “It cannot and will not comment,” said its spokesman.

Catholics in Clifton have been concerned about the speculation surrounding their bishop. What they do know is that Declan Lang has been unwell for some time and that he tendered his resignation two years before the official bishop retirement age of 75.

“When he came to our church for confirmations last year, we were told that it would be his final visit,” said one.

“We could see he was unwell and it makes sense that he has resigned because of ill health but we are very concerned about the speculation and why the diocese won’t say anything.”

The controversy began in December 2023 when Pope Francis announced that he had appointed Canon Whitehead as Bishop of Plymouth. But on 1 February, three weeks before his installation, it was announced that the bishop-elect was standing down from public ministry.

In March, Clifton diocese said: “The Diocese of Clifton has undertaken a preliminary investigation into the allegations raised against Canon Christopher Whitehead. 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 Saint John the Evangelist in Bath”.

At the same time it was announced that Bishop Lang was stepping down after 23 years.

The timetable of recent events suggests that both Canon Whitehead and Bishop Lang are in good standing with Rome. 

Canon Whitehead resumed his parish ministry in Clifton diocese on March 25. And while Bishop Lang resigned on 14 March, he conducted the Chrism Mass in Holy Week in his diocese on 27 March. 

He remains administrator of the diocese until his successor as bishop, Canon Bosco Macdonald, is installed in May.