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Conciliation ends anti-Semitism row

25 October 2013

Dr Stephen Sizer

Dr Stephen Sizer

A FORMAL complaint brought by the Board of Deputies of British Jews against the Revd Dr Stephen Sizer, Vicar of Christ Church, Virginia Water, has been resolved through conciliation under the Clergy Discipline Measure (CDM).

In October last year, the Board of Deputies lodged a formal complaint against Dr Sizer under the CDM, alleging that he had made anti-Semitic statements and published links to anti-Semitic websites (News, 2 November). Before this complaint, a review by the Crown Prosecution Service concluded that Dr Sizer had not committed any criminal offence (News, 16 March and 4 May 2012).

In May, the Bishop of Guildford, the Rt Revd Christopher Hill, appointed two conciliators to at-tempt to resolve the complaint.Conciliation is one of the outcomes set out in the CDM. On Wednesday, Bishop Hill confirmed that the conciliation process, which included a face-to-face meeting of the two parties, had resolved the complaint.

"I welcome the spirit of this agreement as a positive step towards Jewish-Christian understanding," he said. "I am also pleased to take this opportunity once again to emphasise how important it is for the Church to stand firm against all forms of prejudice and the evils of racial hatred."

The report of the conciliation states: "Without accepting the substance of the complaint, Dr Sizer regrets that on occasions his use of language has caused offence to some and agrees that he should have reflected on his choice of words more carefully. The content of certain websites having been drawn to his attention, Dr Sizer also accepts that he should have taken more care before linking to them.

"He does not accept that this amounts to conduct unbecoming or inappropriate to a clerk in Holy Orders.

"Dr Sizer maintains his opposition to anti-Semitism, and maintains that he did not link to the websites in question in order to introduce his readers to anti-Semitic material."

Both sides have agreed that "freedom of speech within the law is of fundamental importance", and that "exercise of this freedom may cause offence, but is best carried out while demonstrating care and sensitivity over the use of language."

The report states that Dr Sizer has agreed to ensure that three people will read his website and blog in order to check the content and monitor any links to websites. He will also "reflect on any points concerning his publications which are made to him (preferably privately) and respond promptly to identifiable critics".

On Wednesday, the vice- president of the Board of Deputies, Jonathan Arkush, said: "The outcome has demonstrated that the Board of Deputies, the community and very many Christians were right to feel very deep concern about Revd Sizer."

Dr Sizer said: "The complaint alleged that I had made anti-Semitic statements, and had deliberately introduced my readers to anti-Semitic websites. I have always maintained that these allegations were untrue, and am confident that I would have been vindicated had I been forced to contest them at a clergy disciplinary tribunal."

Social media brought with it the risk, he said, that "we might publish our thoughts without adequately reflecting on our choice of words or how they might be interpreted. I will do all I can to guard against this risk in the future."

He said: "I care passionately about the safety of the Jewish people and the right of Israel to exist within internationally agreed borders. I have always opposed racism, anti-Semitism, and Holocaust-denial, as well as Islamophobia and the denial of the Palestinian right to self-determination, and will continue to do so."

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