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Gay priest ‘refused to be quizzed’

13 July 2012

CHICHESTER diocese has initiated disciplinary proceedings against a retired priest in a civil partnership for officiating without permission, and against his rector for allowing him to do so. The action, under the Clergy Discipline Measure, is against the Revd David Page, a retired cleric, and the Rector of Winchelsea and Icklesham, Canon Howard Cocks.

Mr Page has been ministering in the parish of Winchelsea without a Bishop's licence or Permission to Officiate (PTO). The breach of the Measure was reported by the Archdeacon of Lewes and Hastings, the Ven. Philip Jones.

On Sunday, Canon Cocks told the congregation at St Thomas's, Winchelsea, that, "because, over a period starting in 2009, David has preached and presided at the eucharist at my invitation and with the knowledge and consent of the Church Council, both he and myself have been cited under the Clergy Discipline Measure 2003 - David for exercising ministry and me for permitting it."

On Tuesday, Mr Page said that, in 2008, he had applied to the Bishop of Lewes, the Rt Revd Wallace Benn, for permission to minister in the diocese after retiring to Winchelsea. Bishop Benn had "wanted to know whether my relationship was simply based on friendship or sexually expressed. . . I did not answer. We had an ongoing conversation, and he refused permission."

Canon Cocks said that the PCC and parishioners "agreed that we could not possibly accept Wallace Benn's decision. . . So we allowed him, with the support of the PCC and parishioners, to exercise his ministry in all the churches in my benefice."

Mr Page said that he had applied for PTO again in April, having decided that he would "probably have to sacrifice that principle" (of not answering the question about his relationship), because Canon Cocks was due to retire in August, and the parish was in need of support. He learned of the disciplinary proceedings on Wednesday of last week, he said.

Canon Cocks said that there had been a "palpable amount of incredulity, anger, and frustration" when he had read out the statement on Sunday.

John Rodley, churchwarden at St Thomas's, said on Wednesday that Mr Page was a "huge contributor to the community overall", serving as a school governor, and running the parish magazine, besides preaching.

The Bishop of Horsham, the Rt Revd Mark Sowerby, said: "The Church of England lays down very clear regulations concerning those who officiate in our churches. These regulations should not be disregarded even in the case of sincere disagreement with bishops. Apart from considerations of canon law, this is central to the integrity of our safeguarding policy."

Chichester diocese is currently conducting a review of the status of CRB checks for clergy across the diocese (story). Mr Page said on Tuesday that his CRB check was up to date, and a spokesman for the diocese confirmed that Mr Page had sought PTO before the review was undertaken.

The House of Bishops' pastoral statement on civil partnerships, issued in 2005, states that entering into a civil partnership is not "intrinscially incompatible with holy orders, provided the person concerned is willing to give assurances to his or her bishop that the relationship is consistent with the standards set for the clergy set out in Issues in Human Sexuality". A review of the statement is under way.

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