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Church is powerless to prevent banned clergy from wearing collar

16 January 2015

PRIESTS convicted of sex offences are able to continue to wear the clerical collar and use the title "the Reverend", the Archbishop of Canterbury has told a woman who says that she was abused.

In a letter to the woman, Lucy Duckworth, he wrote: "Regrettably, although we can ban someone from ever officiating at worship and wearing robes for worship, or passing themselves off as a priest in good standing, we cannot prevent them from using the title 'the Reverend', or even wearing a clerical collar.

"In fact, anyone is able to wear such dress, providing they do not do so for illegal purposes. It is not contravening any law, unlike, say, dressing as a police officer.

"As it stands, I do not have the powers to depose [Guy] Bennett from clerical orders, although I well understand your sense of injustice about that."

Ordination is considered by the Church of England to be indelible. Archbishop Welby told the BBC: "I would like it very much if it were within the power of the Church to remove that, but that would require an Act of Parliament. It's not something we have control over in any way at all."

Ms Duckworth says that she was sexually abused as a young girl by Guy Bennett, who was jailed for nine months after pleading guilty in 1999 to indecently assaulting three 11-year-old girls (News, 7 May, 1999).

He denies abusing Ms Duckworth. He told the BBC that he did not refer to himself as "the Reverend", but that others did so, and that he has not worn the clerical collar for more than ten years. A picture obtained by the BBC shows him wearing it in 2008. He attends a church in Sussex.

Ms Duckworth told the BBC that she felt "bemused, baffled, angry, frustrated, and absolutely shocked, really, that this is happening".

In response to the Archbishop's letter, she said: "He's the head of the Church; so if he's powerless to remove convicted child abusers from his institution, then they've got some real questions to be asking themselves, and they really need to let us know who does have that power."

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