Winchelsea vicar accuses Church of 'homophobic' ban

The Rev David Page The Rev David Page said he felt questions about his relationship were "intrusive"

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An openly gay priest who defied Church of England rules by continuing to officiate at a church in Sussex has been stopped by diocese officials.

St Thomas the Martyr of Winchelsea asked the Reverend David Page to preach even though he had refused to disclose whether his relationship was celibate.

He has now been stopped after again seeking official permission to preach.

The Diocese of Chichester said strict rules governed who officiated. Mr Page said the church was being homophobic.

The Church of England allows for the ordination of gay priests as long as they are celibate.

The Diocese of Chichester said that Mr Page did not have the necessary permissions to preach and the matter was now the subject of internal disciplinary proceedings.

Mr Page said: "The Winchelsea community are up in arms about this, seeing it as, in essence, a homophobic act."

'Intrusive questioning'

He said in 2008 the Bishop of Lewes, the Right Reverend Wallace Benn, had refused him permission to minister at St Thomas the Martyr because he refused to answer questions about his relationship with his civil partner.

The church's parochial church council (PCC) invited him to preach and lead worship after an appeal against the decision was ignored.

Preaching on Sunday, the Rector of Winchelsea , the Reverend Howard Cocks said: "Permission... was refused on the grounds that he is in a civil partnership and was not prepared to discuss the nature of their relationship, finding the questioning intrusive.

"Both he and myself have been cited under the Clergy Discipline Measure 2003 - David for exercising ministry and me for permitting it."

As Mr Cocks is due to retire, the parish again applied for permission for Mr Page to preach at the church.

'Clear regulations'

The Diocese of Chichester said that Mr Page had been ministering even though he had not been granted a Bishop's licence or Permission to Officiate.

In a statement, the diocese said: "This is a requirement of canon law and may not be disregarded. This is now the subject of internal disciplinary proceedings."

Bishop of Horsham, the Right Reverend 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."

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