Remember Pope Joan? Meet Father Patricia.
In a shocking development earlier this morning, Tanya Cohen, an investigative reporter for the British newspaper The Sun revealed that a Catholic priest in the diocese of Hexham and Newcastle was actually a woman. "Fr. Daniel Fitzpatrick" had been living under a false identity ever since entering seminary in 2008. The "Father" is actually Patricia Fitzdaniel of Leeds.
How Ms. Fitzdaniel could have concealed her true identity for so long, especially in the close male environment of a seminary remains a mystery, though interviews of fellow seminarians by Cohen indicated that while other students remarked upon "Daniel's" often feminine appearance and demeanor, they simply assumed "he" was homosexual.
In recent years the youngish priest had become a minor media celebrity along with fellow priest, Fr. Marc Lyden-Smith. The duo hosted a podcast, initiated a series of faith talks at a pub called "iThirst", appeared on a BBC game-show together and became well-known social media supporters of "progressive" Catholic causes including openness to gay marriage.
The sex of Fr. Lyden-Smith is not at issue.
Ironically, "Father Dan" (as Patricia Fitzdaniel called herself) was involved in a recent social media kerfuffle, threatening to sue a fellow Catholic blogger for defamation. The blogger had criticized Father Dan for tweeting that the Holy Spirit was in fact female.
Neither Father Dan or Lyden-Smith have been available for comment. Parishioners arriving at church a few hours after the story hit, found a note on the front door apologizing for the fact that Mass would not be celebrated by Father Dan for the foreseeable future. It was signed "Patricia", and included the words, "Thank you for three wonderful years. Long live Pope Francis and the true People of God! Always remember, God made them male AND female. Male AND female He made them."
At a time when some Catholics have questioned the Church's absolute bar on the ordination of women, a few bloggers and journalists have publicly wondered whether the case of Father Dan, an obvious embarrassment for the Church, may in fact be a positive spur to the pro-female ordination progressives. By all accounts Father Dan was popular with his parishioners and exercised his priestly duties at all levels with competence and distinction.
In a related development, Chris Ross, a solicitor with the firm Swinburne Maddison and the lawyer responsible for threatening legal action concerning allegedly false and defamatory claims against Father Dan, was arrested Friday on charges of embezzling £5.5 million from a local orphanage.