The Bishop-elect of Plymouth has stepped back from active ministry just three weeks before his ordination.
Fifty-four year-old Canon Christopher Whitehead, a priest in the Diocese of Clifton, was due to be installed at a ceremony later this month having been announced as the next Bishop by Pope Francis last year.
The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales hasn’t given details for the reasons behind the sudden cancellation, but issued a short statement:
“The episcopal ordination of Canon Christopher Whitehead will not take place on 22 February 2024 as expected.
“Canon Paul Cummins continues as the (Plymouth) diocesan administrator.
“A canonical process is currently underway, and no further comments will be made until this has been concluded.
“Canon Christopher Whitehead has stepped back from active ministry whilst this process is ongoing.”
The Diocese of Plymouth covers much of the south west of England including Cornwall, Devon and Dorset and the installation of a new bishop has been much anticipated. The former Bishop of Plymouth Mark O'Toole moved on to become the Archbishop of Cardiff in June 2022.
Canon Whitehead who was ordained a priest in 1994, has worked as a parish priest in Bath and as Clifton’s director of adult education, director of ongoing formation of priests, and director of formation for the permanent diaconate.
At the time of his appointment he said he wished to be “a gentle shepherd to God’s people and a loving father to those I have been called to serve – wanting to ensure that the Church in the Diocese of Plymouth continues to be a safe and welcoming space for all”.