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Winchelsea-case priests restored

05 October 2012

ST THOMAS THE MARTYR, WINCHELSEA

Parishioners wrote to the Bishop: St Thomas the Martyr, Winchelsea

Parishioners wrote to the Bishop: St Thomas the Martyr, Winchelsea

A GAY priest who officiated without permission in the diocese of Chichester after refusing to answer questions about his relatonship with his civil partner has been granted permission to officiate (PTO), in an "agreeable conclusion" to proceedings under the Clergy Discipline Measure.

A complaint against the Revd David Page, a retired cleric, was brought to the Acting Bishop of Chichester, the Rt Revd Mark Sowerby, in June ( News, 13 July). Mr Page had, over a protracted period, exercised his ministry in the parish of Winchelsea without holding PTO. The Rector of Winchelsea and Icklesham at that time, Canon Howard Cocks, was also reported for consenting to this.

In July, Mr Page said that he had applied for PTO from the Bishop of Lewes, the Rt Revd Wallace Benn, in 2008, but had been denied it after he refused to discuss whether or not his civil partnership was a celibate one. He applied for PTO again in April, in expectation of Canon Cocks's retirement, after deciding "very reluctantly" to confirm that his relationship was consistent with the teaching set out in Issues in Human Sexuality.

The diocese of Chichester confirmed on Monday that Bishop Sowerby had granted Mr Page PTO in an "agreeable conclusion" to proceedings, after both clergy admitted to "misconduct".

"Whilst there is no suggestion whatsoever that David Page or Howard Cocks have ever behaved inappropriately with children or vulnerable adults, the Church relies upon the upholding of its disciplines relating to PTO in order to fulfil its obligations in respect of safeguard-ing," it said.

Mr Page said on Tuesday that "no additional questions" were asked about his civil partnership, and that "no extra assurances were asked for." Nevertheless, "part of the pain of the whole incident for me is the humiliation of having to make any declaration at all about the nature of our civil partnership." He had felt compelled to do so "because loyalty to the needs of the congregation required it". His "only comfort" was that "the angry reaction in Winchelsea and wider afield to the idea that any such thing should happen to partnered gay clergy means fewer bishops will ask questions and demand direct assurances in future."

When the news emerged that Mr Page and Canon Cocks were subject to disciplinary proceedings, parishioners in Winchelsea wrote to Bishop Sowerby to complain.

Canon Cocks, now retired, has been told that he can apply to the Bishop of London for PTO, and that the diocese of Chichester will provide a reference for this.

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