The English Deacon Nick Donnelly runs a well-known Twitter-account with 17.000 followers. Five years ago, he was ordered by his bishop to stop publishing his blog because he kept challenging the almighty anti-Catholic mainstream. Deacon Donnelly spoke with Father Reto Nay:
Deacon Nick Donnelly, you are the most famous deacon in the English-speaking world. How did this happen?
I speak the truth of Catholic doctrine.
Shouldn’t all bishops, priests and deacons do that?
They should, but unfortunately this has become an exceptional act. Today, most clergy either speak heretically, ambiguously or remain silent. I shouldn’t be famous because all clergy are obliged to be outspoken defenders of the Deposit of Faith.
Where are you based?
I was born in south London and now live in Barrow-in-Furness, a town in North West England. My family have lived here since the foundation of the town in the 1860’s. I’m incardinated in the Diocese of Lancaster and active on Twitter.com.
Is there some Irish blood running in your veins?
Yes, my paternal family come from Moneymore, Derry. My mother’s family originate from Glasgow, Scotland. I put my fighting spirit down to my Irish and Scottish inheritance.
Have you always been Catholic?
Yes, I am a Cradle Catholic born just before Vatican II. I was ten when the Novus Ordo was enforced. Those ten years of the traditional Latin Mass gave me a strong belief in the Real Presence which was my anchor during the post conciliar chaos.
When did you notice the downfall of the post-conciliar Church?
I was taught as a child to unquestioningly accept Vatican II. It’s taken me a long time to realise that though Vatican II intended to renew, it has in fact impoverished the faith.
How did you get through this impoverishment?
The parish priest for most of my childhood was Canon Albert Ryan of Holy Cross parish, Carshalton, Archdiocese of Southwark. Of course, he went along with Vatican II but as a former Classics teacher he also loved Latin. So, we retained the Gloria, Credo, Paternoster and Agnus Dei long after the introduction of the vernacular. Following the principle of ‘lex orandi, lex credendi’, these all helped me keep a foothold in the traditional Faith.
When did you wake up to the loss after the Council?
My awakening to the richness of Tradition, and what we lost at Vatican II, began over twenty years ago.
What was the trigger?
The trigger for this awakening was my participation in the 19th Annotation of the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola, which involves undertaking the retreat as part of daily life.
(From the 19th Annotation of the Spiritual Exercises)
How long did the retreat take you?
I did this with a spiritual director for three years. It was through the charism of St. Ignatius expressed in his Spiritual Exercises that I underwent a very strong reaction against the so called ‘spirit’ of Vatican II.
Where you already a deacon at the time?
No, this was before, during a period when my health was very poor. I contracted Glandular fever, mononucleosis, when I was a teenager and it became a chronic condition, resulting in frequent relapses of the disease with glandular pain, exhaustion and feeling unwell. I also suffer from chronic ulcerative colitis and some other conditions for which I have to take daily medication. God often uses illness to cause a spiritual breakthrough. I was writing a lot of poetry at this time which was published in the Jesuit journal, The Month.
How did you become a deacon?
My parish priest at the time, Father Stephen Cross at St. Mary’s, Barrow-in-Furness, gave in the late 1990’s a homily on Vocations Sunday. He exhorted those holding back from answering a calling from God out of a sense of inadequacy or fear, to come forward.
Did these words appeal to you?
Yes, I had been considering, with my wife, if I had a vocation to the diaconate but doubts about my health held me back. After the homily I put my name forward trusting that God would help me in my weakness.
The consent of the wife is a condition for a married man to become a Permanent Deacon.
This is true. My wife Martina has enthusiastically undertaken this journey with me and when I feel discouraged, she reminds me that Our Lord called me to be His deacon. We have been married for over thirty-two years. We’ve known each other since teenagers when we met at a Catholic youth group. The Faith is at the heart of our marriage, and our love has deepened as the years have passed. We have two children, Gabriel and Ariel, who are waiting for us, God willing, in heaven.
What formation did you undergo in order to become a deacon?
I underwent four years of diaconal formation in Lancaster Diocese’s in-house programme while at the same studying for my BA Hons. Divinity at Maryvale Institute of Higher Education, Birmingham. At the same college I went on to get my Masters in Catholic Pastoral and Educational Studies, specialising in Spiritual Formation. So, I got a thorough doctrinal and spiritual education.
Was your formation any good?
Like all formation, it had its strengths and weaknesses. The highlight of Lancaster’s in-house formation programme was Canon Luiz Ruscillo’s course on the Old Testament. I am really grateful that I supplemented my diocesan formation with undergraduate theological studies. When I was appointed the Diocesan Formation Director, I arranged, with the approval of my bishop, for our students to undergo their theological formation with Maryvale College, which was then under the sound leadership of Dr. Petroc Willey.
You have also taught?
Yes, I’m a qualified theologian and have taught at two Catholic institutes of higher education, Maryvale College (pre-2013) and the School of the Annunciation.
What happened to Maryvale College?
Maryvale College was an oasis in a desert of academic modernism in the English Catholic Church when it was under the direction of Monsignor Paul Watson, Fr. John Redford, Dr. Petroc Willey and Dr. Caroline Farey.
Its expertise in catechetics and evangelisation was recognised around the world and especially by Pope Benedict XVI’s Holy See. Petroc and Caroline were appointed advisors to the 2011 Synod on the New Evangelisation. It has been one of the great fortunes of my life to be their student and colleague.
However, Maryvale came under pressure, and in 2013 a group of the academic staff, including Dr. Willey, Dr. Farey, Dr. Andrew Beards and myself, resigned from Maryvale to found a new school of theology, the School of the Annunciation at Buckfast Abbey, Devon, so that we could continue to teach the fullness of the Faith. Cardinal George Pell was a great friend of our initiative and a patron of the School.
What do you mean by “came under pressure”?
All I can say at the present time is this — there was a great deal of hostility and obstruction from ‘liberal’ clergy towards Maryvale when it was under the leadership of Monsignor Paul Watson, and Dr. Petroc Willey. Maryvale was often misrepresented as ‘fundamentalist’ and ‘outdated’ because we upheld the doctrines and discipline of the Church. When Monsignor Paul Watson retired, this hostility and obstruction intensified.
As an academic were you free to teach the Catholic faith?
Yes, I was. The strengths of Maryvale and the School of the Annunciation were their commitment to teach the fullness of the Faith.
Every year the academic staff made a public profession of faith mandated by Pope St John Paul II in his Motu Proprio Ad Tuendam Fidem. When we founded the School of the Annunciation in 2014 each member of the academic staff received their episcopal mandatum that recognised that we taught the fullness of the faith.
What did you teach?
I first taught catechetics at Maryvale, then I was appointed the Head of Diaconal Formation. I taught the theology and practice of social communications at the School of the Annunciation.
What has become of these schools now?
Maryvale has continued under different management and sadly the School of the Annunciation closed in 2019 due to a lack of funding. This means that now there is no academic institution in the UK that is 100% committed to Catholic pedagogy and teaching the fullness of the Catholic Faith.
You also published things
Yes, I’ve designed catechetical programmes for adults and children and written 20 + apologetic, pastoral, catechetical and devotional booklets for the Catholic Truth Socie
I’m a freelance journalist and have worked for EWTN and Catholic Voice Ireland. I’ve been published by Church Militant, Lifesite News, National Catholic Register and 1 Peter 10. I now write for the Traditional Catholic website, Rorate Caeli.
Did you do parish work as a deacon?
Yes, I did and I really enjoyed parish ministry at St. Mary of Furness, Barrow-in-Furness, working with my previous parish priest Canon John Watson. I particularly enjoyed my time with a youth group I set up with a friend, and with a prayer group for adults. I also enjoyed leading the annual parish retreat.
I was a full-time deacon under Bishop O’Donoghue, and for part of the episcopacy of Bishop Campbell. I’m now a part-time deacon. However, my health has been poor throughout this so that I have to work around this.
You were also an adviser to the bishop?
Two years after ordination my bishop, Patrick O’Donoghue of Lancaster from 2001 to 2009, asked me to assist him, thereby shifting the focus of my ministry from my parish to the diocese.
In my diocese, Lancaster, I’ve served as an advisor to Bishop O’Donoghue and as the Vocations and Formation Director for the Permanent Diaconate for his successor, Bishop Michael Campbell who was in Lancaster from 2009 to 2018.
What was your task?
Bishop O’Donoghue gave me a wonderful opportunity to use my theological skills to serve the Church. He asked me to design and help organise a strategic pastoral review of the diocese. It was called Fit for Mission? I worked closely with Bishop O’Donoghue and his secretary, Fr Robert Billing. Two main spin-offs from this pastoral review were reports that were praised by the Holy See. They also got a lot of media attention. Their names were Fit for Mission? Schools and Fit for Mission? Church.
What was their impact?
Bishop Patrick was summoned in 2009 to appear before a House of Commons committee.
For what reason?
He was confronted with secularists’ objections about Fit for Mission? Schools because this document instructed our schools to promote a Catholic ethos and to reject state-approved sexual immorality.
Are you serious?
Yes, he was the first bishop since St John Fisher to be summoned to appear in Parliament for his defence of the Faith.
What was the outcome?
The excitement among faithful Catholics over an English bishop clearly and fearlessly proclaiming the Faith led to the Catholic Truth Society publishing two expanded versions of the reports which were very popular with faithful clergy and laity around the English-speaking world.
Are these reports still available?
They are out of print, but you can download them as pdfs. Click the links for Fit for Mission? Schools and Fit for Mission? Church. We also produced a marriage preparation programme, Fit for Mission? Marriage.
How did the other British bishops receive Fit for Mission?
Our Fit for Mission? initiative was popular with Pope Benedict’s Holy See, but unpopular with some English bishops.
I was astounded how hostile some clergy and laity are towards the genuine Catholic Faith. In an interview in 2015, Bishop O’Donoghue admitted he was still baffled by the lack of support from his fellow bishops and their failure to publicly defend him.
What was the positive impact of the program?
We received communications from all over the English-speaking world from faithful clergy and laity who wanted to tell us how Fit for Mission? encouraged them to uphold the fullness of the Faith. Bishop O’Donoghue was contacted by bishops in other countries asking for copies of Fit for Mission? Schools. Fit for Mission? Schools has had a lasting impact on the secondary and primary schools of our diocese informing their understanding of the importance of a Catholic ethos.
Did you personally get in trouble for this work?
We all experienced some hostility and passive aggression from ‘liberal’ clergy and laity, but Bishop O’Donoghue was mostly at the receiving end of this. He was criticised in the media by a fellow bishop, Kieran Conry of Arundel & Brighton.
What did Bishop Conry not like?
Among other things, he mocked Bishop O’Donoghue for writing that Humanae Vitae was the litmus test for obedience in the Church. Conry resigned in October 2014 when his affairs with women became a public scandal.
The great thing about Bishop O’Donoghue was the greater the hostility, the more determined he was to speak out.
You have experienced other trouble?
Yes, I’ve got in a lot of difficulties because of my social media work. A bishop demanded that I have my faculties suspended because he and other English bishops were angry about me reporting about the poor state of the Church in my country. Fortunately, my bishop at the time didn’t agree with such a drastic step.
How did your teaching assignment come to an end?
In 2016 I was forced out of the School of the Annunciation I co-founded with friends because a major donor objected to me robustly upholding the Church’s teaching on homosexuality on Twitter.
What did you say about homosexuality?
I had posted tweets protesting ‘Gay Pride’ being celebrated in my local supermarket. I tweeted I went to the supermarket to do my shopping not be indoctrinated. I was mobbed and trolled by hundreds of homosexual militants who sent me obscene and depraved messages.
How did you respond?
I responded by posting a photo from Lord of the Rings, writing that they were behaving like a bunch of orcs.
Did the homosex front show some humour?
They certainly didn’t. A homosexual teacher contacted the major donor of the School of the Annunciation to complain about my tweets which led to my suspension.
I was surprised by the lack of support I received in the face of this one complaint from a homosexual activist. I remain grateful that one of my co-founders stood by me. My health was very badly affected and not long afterwards I resigned.
What was your experience as an EWTN journalist?
I was invited to contribute to EWTN GB’s radio show Celtic Connections as a result of my news reports on my blog.
Later I was recruited to set up the news service on EWTN GB’s new website. It was a great success and quickly had an impact on the international Catholic news market. But in 2017, I was suspended by senior managers at EWTN because I posted criticism of Francis on EWTN GB’s website.
What do you say about today’s EWTN?
There’s an English saying that describes EWTN today — it’s a Curate’s Egg, partly really good, and partly really bad. Edward Pentin and Raymond Arroyo, with his Papal Posse, are doing an excellent job reporting the Bergoglian crisis. But other EWTN outlets, such as CNA and National Catholic Register, have a tendency to maintain the absurd fiction that the Bergoglian pontificate is normal and in continuity with previous pontificates.
Speaking the truth did not come at a cheap price for you?
As a consequence of speaking the truth I’ve lost most of my income but, in conscience, I had no choice but to defend the Catholic Faith. I’m blessed in a very supportive wife.
How did you manage to keep your Twitter account online?
Opponents on Twitter have complained to a succession of my bishops about me in an attempt to get them to silence me.
One individual even complained about my support for Brexit! I’m thankful that my freedom of speech on Twitter.com has, so far, been respected by my bishops.
What else have you been accused of?
Some opponents will stop at nothing to punish me for upholding the Faith, even stooping to falsely reporting me to the police for criticising Islam or homosexual militancy. The accusations were groundless and led to no action.
So, the homosex lobby is after you?
Well, it was actually a Bergoglian priest from Hexham and Newcastle diocese who once got me suspended from Twitter.com for 48 hours, again on false accusations of “homophobia.” He was angered by me upholding the Church’s teaching on homosexuality.
When did you start your famous Twitter.com apostolate?
I set up my first Twitter account in 2010. At the same time, I launched my blog Protect the Pope .
What was the reason?
I created both sites to defend Pope Benedict XVI during his State Visit to the UK. No one was defending the Holy Father from the awful lies and character assassination of leftists and homosexual militants.
Did anybody notice your web presence?
Oh yes, very much so. I got a lot of press coverage stepping into the storm of controversy around Pope Benedict XVI even as far as Vietnam! Within of a week of my site going live the homosexual activist Peter Tatchell, the leader of the protests against Pope Benedict XVI, responded to my posts.
Did he have anything to say?
He politely mocked me a little, but I didn’t mind because my blog was quickly having a positive impact.
How did your blog develop?
Protect the Pope was one of the most popular Catholic blogs in the UK, with over a million hits a year. It even resulted in a number of conversions to the Faith.
Yes, for example, a fellow blogger came across my work on Protect the Pope and later admitted to me that he had shared the prejudices and hostility towards Pope Benedict XVI. But as he read my rebuttals to the lies and disinformation being spread about the Holy Father, he began to change his mind. The day Pope Benedict landed in the UK this man realised that the Catholic Faith was true and that he wanted to become a Catholic.
Why is your blog not updated anymore?
It was eventually shut down by a former bishop of mine. Some English bishops were angry about my reports on their departures from Church teaching.
Why did they not touch your Twitter account?
To be honest, at the time I think they overlooked it. I was only told to stop posting on my blog. I changed the name of my Twitter account from Protect the Pope to Protect the Faith in 2017 when it became clear that Francis is destroying the Catholic nature of the Church.
When did you understand that there was a problem with Francis?
I felt unaccountably uneasy about Francis the moment he walked out onto the loggia in 2013 but shrugged this unease off. I put it down to me being unfamiliar with the new man.
My unease returned following his infamous ‘Who am I to judge’ remark about homosexuality in July 2013. However, I did not enter lightly into criticism of him.
I continued to give him the benefit of the doubt until his refusal to answer the Dubia in 2016.
There is no excuse that justifies refusing to answer the Dubia’s straightforward questions about Amoris Laetitia’s contradiction of Catholic moral doctrine. Since 2016, there is no avoiding the fact that Francis is unfit to hold the Petrine office.
How can a faithful Catholic survive in such a dreadful situation?
This is what I’ve found indispensable to endure this time of heresy and apostasy in the Church — Eucharistic Adoration, studying sacred Scripture with good Catholic commentaries such as the Navarre Bible series, praying the Most Holy Rosary with the Fatima prayers, and reading pre-Vatican II Catholic theologians and writers.
What prayers do you recommend?
I recommend devotions to the Five Sacred Wounds and the Most Precious Blood before an image of the Holy Shroud of Turin in acts of reparation for offences against Almighty God. Of course, regular receipt of the sacraments of Holy Communion and Confession.
Where do you find doctrinal nourishment?
I love St Paul and try to read him every day. I’m inspired by his passion to proclaim the precious deposit of faith entrusted to us by God and his courage in protecting these life-giving truths from any corrupting heresy. His theology is sublime, sparkling with the energy of orthodox faith.
What is your preferred letter of Saint Paul?
St Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians. There is an exuberant joy in St. Paul’s proclamation of foundational doctrines of the Church. He speaks about the Resurrection, the Eucharist, the Church as the Body of Christ.
St Paul proves that Francis is so wrong in his diatribes against doctrine as being “rigid” and “joyless.” Nothing could be further from the truth.
Which Catholic writers encourage you during this crisis in the Church?
I return again and again to the fiction of two English Catholic authors — Monsignor Robert Hugh Benson and Cecily Hallack.
Who is Cecily Hallack?
Cecily Hallack was a convert to the Faith, a novelist and writer of children’s devotional books. She was a member of the Franciscan Third Order and as the assistant to Baden-Powell, the founder of the Scout movement, had deep insight into the psychology and spirituality of children. I recommend her novel, The Happiness of Father Happé, and her collections of shorts stories about the adventures of Jimmy and Wops in Beardless counsellors and The Sword of Michael.
What books by Monsignor Robert Hugh Benson do you recommend?
Of course, I’ve read many times his most famous novel, The Lord of the World but my favourite books are his two volumes of supernatural short stories, The Light Invisible and A Mirror of Shalott. His great gift was the ability to powerfully convey the reality of the ‘invisible creation’ and its influence on our lives.
Both Benson and Hallack vividly convey the beauty and goodness of the English Catholic Church prior to Vatican II. Also, both have a profound sense of the supernatural reality in which we live and move and have our being that provides the antidote we need to counter the banal materialism of our times.
Which saints inspire you?
I’m inspired by the English martyrs such as St. John Houghton and the Carthusian martyrs, St. Thomas More, St Edmund Campion SJ, and many more.
They remained true to the Faith when the majority of English bishops betrayed the Church. When I visit London, I try to visit sites associated with them to pray that I can share their courage and perseverance.
What is your relationship to the Traditional Latin Mass and Liturgy?
After fifty years of the Novus Ordo the Traditional Latin Mass has become unfamiliar to me. One of the benefits of the Bergoglian pontificate has been my rediscovery of the richness and beauty of Latin in my reaction against the resurgence of 1970’s banality.
My wife and I have learnt to pray the Most Holy Rosary in Latin and I’m learning about the Latin Mass from a children’s book from the 1930’s.
I now always receive Holy Communion kneeling down and on the tongue no matter what Mass I attend. Bishop Athanasius Schneider has been a great influence on me.
You have never been the deacon in a Traditional Latin Mass?
No. I was asked once but thankfully I knew the depth of my ignorance and declined. Hopefully one day this will be possible.
What is the strength of Catholicism in the U.K.?
The strengths of Catholicism in the UK are the few clergy and many more laity who are 100% committed in their fidelity to the enduring truths of the Catholic faith.
Much of the hierarchy and institutions, religious orders and schools, are dominated by modernists who are antagonistic towards the true Catholic faith and hostile towards the faithful.
Which bishops in the U.K. would you recommend?
I can only recommend one bishop — Bishop Mark Davies of Shrewsbury. My new bishop was only appointed in 2018 so I don’t know him well enough yet to give an opinion.
Are there good monasteries in the U.K.?
I don’t know them all but the monasteries I’ve visited are dominated by liberals. I personally don’t know any monasteries I’d recommend. However, I am in touch with a group of hermits led by Father Stephen de Kerdrel on Westray, one of the Orkney Islands, who are good friends to have during this time of crisis in the Church.
You have called to send Christmas Letters to Cardinal Pell. Why?
I realised that Cardinal Pell is in jail for a crime that it was impossible to commit. Cardinal Pell is the victim of a grave miscarriage of justice based on the uncorroborated complaints of one anonymous individual.
Why do you know this?
The complainant’s bizarre accusations have not only been contradicted by over twenty witnesses but also by the other former choir boy who he alleged was involved. This choir boy insisted on two occasions before his death that he had not been sexually abused by Cardinal Pell.
What is the reason for the persecution against Cardinal Pell?
His Eminence has been the target of a thirty-year campaign of vilification because he upheld Church teaching about homosexuality and refused Holy Communion to homosexual militants.
He is one of the few bishops in the world with the courage to proclaim the unvarnished truth of Catholic doctrine.
What is the goal of your appeal for sending Christmas Letters to Cardinal Pell?
It would be great if Cardinal Pell’s prison was inundated with Christmas cards so he knows that Catholics around the world know he is innocent and not forgotten.
Please send cards to: George Pell at Melbourne Assessment Prison, 317-353 Spencer Street, West Melbourne, VIC 3003, Australia. Please don’t address the letter to ‘Cardinal Pell’ to avoid it being rejected by prison authorities.
What do you think about Boris Johnson and Brexit?
I voted to leave the EU at the 2016 referendum because I want the UK to be locally accountable as a free, sovereign nation state. The EU has become an anti-democratic institution run by unaccountable officials pursuing a globalist agenda.
Boris Johnson and the Conservative party offer a way to cut through the Gordian knot of tricks and scheming that seek to undermine the democratic referendum result to leave.
Why do you oppose the EU?
The Church needs to be prophetically opposed to globalist institutions such as the EU and the UN which are both profoundly hostile to the Catholic Faith and the true good of humanity.
What danger is there that Johnson and his Tories will betray as they have betrayed so many times before?
I think that there is a big difference between the government of Boris Johnson and that of Theresa May — Johnson led the Leave campaign and May was always a pro- EU remainer.
All the pundits said Boris couldn’t renegotiate a deal with the EU but his genuine threat to leave with no deal forced the EU to re-open the treaty. I think he has the British bulldog determination of a latter-day Churchill.
Is there a future for the Catholic Church in England?
Sadly, an obstacle to the Catholic Church’s future in England and Wales is the Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales which is dominated by modernists and secularists hostile to the perennial Faith.
While this state continues it forces compromise with the politically correct, pro-homosexual, pro-abortion ruling elite which is the death knell of Christianity.
Will there be survivors?
The Faith survives in the diaspora of traditional Catholic families, just as it survived among families during the persecution of the Penal Times, served by a network of faithful priests.
The motto on my Twitter site is ‘Salvation of souls. Nothing else matters’. During this unprecedented crisis facing the faithful this must become our watchword.