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
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
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.