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Friday, 12 July, 2002, 13:48 GMT 14:48 UK
Mystery over 'monk's mass'
St Andrew's Church, Upleatham
St Andrew's Church is just 18ft by 15ft
A planned mass at an ancient church has been put on hold after it was revealed the man behind the move belongs to an obscure sect.

Father Philip-James French had hoped to hold a mass at the tiny St Andrew's Church in east Cleveland, for the first time in 500 years.

But council landlords have withdrawn their permission for the mass - which was due to held on Saturday - after doubts over Father French's "religious eligibility".

The Roman Catholic Church and the Church of England both raised their concerns to Redcar and Cleveland Council who own the church in Upleatham.


He belongs to a church he invented himself

Father Derek Turnham, spokesman for the Middlesbrough Diocese

Father French had billed the service as the first Catholic mass to held held at the church - thought to be England's smallest - since the Reformation almost 500 years ago.

Father Derek Turnham, spokesman for the Middlesbrough Roman Catholic Diocese, told BBC News Online Father French had never been a Roman Catholic priest.

Father Turnham said Father French belonged to a "sect" called the The Holy Catholic Church (Western Rite), based in North America.

He said: "When we first heard about plans for the mass we wrote to the local authority to say what was taking place was not a Roman Catholic mass.

"We were concerned that people would think it was a celebration that was part of the Diocese of Middlesbrough.

Ordained priest

"He is not our priest and we wanted to clarify matters.

"He belongs to a church he invented himself."

"In light of us contacting Redcar Council they have said they were, and these are my words, 'taken in by this man'."

Father Turnham said Father French had been received into the Roman Catholic Church as a lay person some years ago, but had never been a priest.

He later joined The Holy Catholic Church (Western Rite), claiming he had been ordained by a bishop of the sect.

Father Turnham added: "By being accepted into this sect in North America he took himself out of the Roman Catholic Church."

A spokesman for Redcar and Cleveland Council told BBC News Online said: "We have asked the gentleman to postpone the service because of strong representation from both the Roman Catholic Church and the Church of England, and he has agreed."

Father French was not available for comment at the Our Lady and St Cuthbert monastery in Skelton, east Cleveland.


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10 Jul 02 | England
24 Jun 02 | England
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