After the article “Philip James French: The Fake Catholic Bishop of Whitby” it seems the people of Whitby now have a chance to bring their concerns about Philip James French of St Ninians to a public forum. The town’s religious leaders will be discussing the matter on the 8th of November.
Philip James French is a “bishop” for the “Catholic Church OF England and Wales” (CCEW), a splinter group from the Brazilian Catholic Apostolic Church (ICAB), which is lead by James Atkinson-Wake. Philip James French stands accused of abusive behaviour towards a number of Whitby residents, including his own parishioners. He has threatened people with police and legal action; has a history of claiming to be a Roman Catholic priest; and has a reputation for drunk and disorderly behaviour around the town of Whitby. French has also been a member of the clergy for two Continuing Anglican groups—he was suspended from the first; and left the second after he was called in to “please explain” a number of allegations.
In Whitby there is a local branch of the national ecumenical organisation “Churches Together”, of which French’s St Ninians was a member. The chairman for Churches Together in Whitby, Rev Michael Gobbett, as a result of the article on French sent a “please explain” to St Ninians. The reply was of no surprise: French’s St Ninians wishes to withdraw from Churches Together.
Churches Together Whitby will still be discussing the St. Ninians matter at their meeting on the 8th November, and Whitby residents can contact the Rev Michael Gobbett, or other members of the clergy for different denominations which belong to Churches Together in Whitby, and share any concerns regarding the actions of Philip James French. Details can be given confidentially so complainants cannot be identified.
The Trustees of St Ninians
Also at stake is the beautiful historic church of St Ninians itself, a tourist attraction in Whitby built by Captain James Cook’s ship builders with ownership being kept by their descendants, known as Proprietors, but this all changed as stated on the history section of the St Ninians website:
The church is no longer owned by Proprietors but is a charitable trust, governed by a board of Trustees. As a Catholic church served by the Order of St Benedict (Benedictines) since 2000, in a very real sense St Ninian’s continues both our Catholic and monastic heritage.
So the ownership was changed over to a trust which was established in 2005, and French has been the parish priest since 2000 and so instrumental, and possibly the driving force, behind setting up the trust.
St Ninians not long ago had six Trustees but now two of them, both old women and one the treasurer, have left alleging abuse by French (under the policies section of the trust it lists “Safeguarding vulnerable beneficiaries”). A number of actions have been taken in the name of “The Wardens and Trustees of St Ninians” such as:
So who are these Trustees in who keep Philip James French as parish priest?
The UK Charities Commission has two websites which list charity details, and not so long ago, about a week and a half, both listed six Trustees for St Ninians. Around a week ago a letter starting the complaints procedure for the Charities Commission UK was sent to St Ninians, with one of the issues cited was the listing of two Trustees who resigned, allegedly under duress. Now one of the UK Charities Commission list only four individuals.
The four Trustees listed are a Mr Ian Tompson (sources suggest the name is a misspelling of ‘Ian Thompson’), St Ninians organist and local piano tuner business owner Mr Nicholas Frye (unless a volunteer organist, an employee of St Ninians). Not surprisingly Philip French is automatically a Trustee as the parish priest, with the fourth position being taken by “Br Peter” Russell Smith who official is the other monk (i.e. only two) and also Trustee of French’s cottage “Monastery Of Our Lady And St Cuthbert”.
So can the Trustees of St Ninians deal with the allegations against Philip James French who is one of the four Trustees himself, and when he is the “religious superior” of another who formally has a vow of obedience to him, and a third who is likely his employee? That is a question increasingly seeming likely the UK Charities Commission will be answering.
A letter has also been sent to the Mayor of Whitby, Rebbecca Pearson, to look into the matter as there is a real fear for the future of the historic building and tourist attraction- but more importantly place of worship.
Ever since the article about French came out, he has gone from being a visible individual around Whitby, to hardly seen. French has not only removed his Facebook profile, but also that for St Ninians, a defunct ‘Friends of St Ninians’ page and his “Monastery Of Our Lady And St Cuthbert”.
A recently updated CCEW contacts page still lists French as the secretary to James Atkinson-Wake (although the link to the St Ninians website has been removed), and he still appears on the CCEW Facebook page with this interesting photo with Christopher Fearne, Deputy Prime Minister of Malta:
“Talks” or just a photo with a notable individual passed off as more?
The other “bishop” pictured is Charles Richards (from his Facebook a Romanian who claims to have studied at a Catholic seminary in Russia) from the CCEW website:
The CCEW have had met in Malta and have many pictures together at this building which appears on the front page of the CCEW website:
But just as with my first article on James Atkinson-Wake who claimed the Mortuary Chapel at Handsworth Cemetery in Birmingham, UK, was his “Patriarchal Cathedral of St’s. Mary & John” (and still does on the CCEW website), the so called “Catholic Church of Jesus Latin Rite ” is actually the Cemetery chapel at Ta’Braxia, Malta.
CCEW group photo in front of entrance of Ta’Braxia Chapel, French on far-righthand side
This is one of the the things which makes St Ninians Whitby special- it is the only church building under control of one of the questionable clergy of the CCEW outside the Phillipines.
Although it seems the writing is on the wall for Philip James French, how the drama will end we do not know- what I do know is the people of Whitby deserve to be safe. Although seemingly gone to ground, since the article came out I have had two other individuals email me regarding recent abusive behaviour they have suffered from French. The importance of the upcoming Churches Together meeting is that it is a public forum were the concerns of the people of Whitby can be heard, and public pressure can be brought to bare.
St Ninians went Anglo-Catholic during the Oxford Movement, and is a gem of English Catholic heritage- and was so until French changed its character to a parody of Roman Catholicism (the Tridentine Mass is not celebrated in English Mr French!). Not so long ago Philip French was asking the public for money to save St Ninians from closure: it is a beautiful building, but is there an actual parish left, or just French’s cronies? Is it possible for French go and former worshipers return to chose a future for St Ninians?
If French leaves as parish priest and there is a change of “denomination” from the CCEW to Anglican, Continuing Anglican, Catholic, Personal Ordinariate etc- money and parishioners will flow into St Ninians allowing it to revive itself. If not then who wants to go to, and donate money to, a parish with a dodgy priest under the banner of the CCEW? The answer is pretty clear.
The Rev Gobbett has made a complaint to me about the article, although he has not given specific details (which makes it hard to give a clarification). To make it simple I was informed that there was a meeting of Churches Together on the 8th and they will be discussing their concerns. In the same letter I was told anyone affected by the situation could approach clergy of Churches Together for pastoral care, and this is why I suggested in the article for Whitby residents to contact the clergy members of Churches Together to share their stories regarding the matter (as in my opinion that would come under pastoral care). Churches Together Whitby did not do an appeal for submissions.
Further update: the clarification was well received, and if Whitby residents still want to contact clergy of Churches Together before the meeting there is nothing stopping them.
Over all this is another case study of the bad fruit of the ever questionable Brazilian Catholic Apostolic Church (ICAB) which James Atkinson-Wake’s so called “Catholic Church of England and Wales” is a proud spin off of- but now English language material is coming out such as the new book “God, Land and Freedom: The True Story of I.C.A.B” about ICAB and its splinter groups: revelling many shocking details and challenging fundamental claims made by these groups, including their claims of being actually Catholic (James Atkinson-Wake also gets a mention…).