Clerics removed from office

29 December 2008

by Pat Ashworth

TWO CLERICS in the diocese of Rochester have been removed from office for deserting their parish and their respective spouses and forming “an inappropriate relationship”, after a tribunal hearing on 22 December under the Clergy Discipline Measure (News, 22 February).

Canon James Tipp, 63, Rector of Snodland with Lower Birling and Rural Dean of Cobham, has been prohibited for life. The Revd Elaine Northern, aged 54, Associate Rector, has been prohibited from office for 12 years. The tribunal upheld the complaint brought by the Archdeacon of Rochester, the Ven. Peter Lock, that they had acted in a manner unbecoming to the office and work of a clerk in holy orders.

Canon Tipp had been in the parish since 1992. Mrs Northern became Associate Rector in 2007. On 4 February 2008, the couple left their homes, spouses, and offices to set up home together. They had admitted the complaints, but contested the re­com­mendation by the Bishop of Rochester, Dr Michael Nazir-Ali, that they should be barred for life.

Judge Samuel Wiggs who chaired the tri­bunal, said that the couple had abandoned their parish responsi­bilities and deserted their spouses without notice.

Their defence, Mr Dellar, told the tribunal that both appreciated that leaving the parish without notice “may not in retrospect have been the best way of dealing with the issue”. Even the most notorious cases of sexual misconduct brought under the Measure, however, had not re­sulted in prohibition for life, Mr Dellar said.

“The public must understand that the Church takes matters such as this extremely seriously,” Judge Wiggs said in his determination. “The Church must exercise forgiveness, but this does not involve pretending something has not happened.”

It was small mitigation, he said, that both respondents were highly spoken of. “Persons of their standing and intellect have a greater degree of responsibility for their actions than those without these advantages. It is also right to say that those in public positions, whether in the church or elsewhere, must consider those posi­tions when making decisions in their private lives.”

Canon Tipp had ultimate re­sponsi­bility for the parish, and longer experience as a priest. His was there­fore the greater responsibility, the judge ruled. Mrs Northern might, with pastoral and other support, be able to resume her nor­mal ministry duties after the prohibition.

The couple now live in Murston in the diocese of Canterbury. Both are respondents to petitions for divorce and intend to marry.

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