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Fight for priest of 70

09 August 2013


COMMUNITY and faith leaders have joined together to campaign against the decision by the Bishop of Liverpool, the Rt Revd James Jones, not to extend the tenure of a priest beyond his 70th birthday.

The Vicar of St Margaret's, Toxteth, the Revd Robert Gallagher, is facing obligatory retirement, with effect from his 70th birthday, on 19 August, after Bishop Jones rejected his request to stay on for a further two years.

The Black-E community and cultural arts centre in Toxteth has attracted more than 600 signatures on a petition calling for Fr Gallagher to remain in his post. The General Secretary of the Liverpool Muslim Society, Sister Catherine Odita, has co-signed a letter to Bishop Jones in support of Fr Gallagher, alongside a Black community leader, Maria Paul, and a churchwarden, Ste Fleming.

The letter states: "We cannot believe that you wish to retire at a moment when your decision to enforce the retirement of the Revd Robert Gallagher . . . goes so strongly against the . . . publicly expressed wishes of his parishioners, of extensive members of Liverpool's Black community, and of extensive members of Liverpool's Islamic community."

The director of the Black-E, Bill Harpe, described Fr Gallagher's ministry as "unique and remarkable": "The Bishop is very noted for his input into regeneration, and his view that the wishes of local communities must be paramount. We would hope that the Bishop would take the same view in this case."

Fr Gallagher said that he was taking legal advice, and would wait until Bishop Jones retired on 18 August before applying to the Suffragan Bishop of Warrington, the Rt Revd Richard Blackburn, for permission to stay on in the parish on a house-for-duty basis.

He was "humbled" by the "very moving" response of the community, he said, and he wanted to stay on to support an application for a free school that will be presented to the Government next month.

A spokesman for the diocese said that Bishop Jones was "very grateful for Fr Roberts's ministry at St Margaret's, but the law says it is time for him to retire . . . and there are no exceptional circumstances for his tenure to be extended."


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