Parish Split on Vicar

By Adam Derbyshire
Tameside Advertiser [United Kingdom]
February 22, 2006

THE Archbishop of Canterbury has admitted he is "very concerned" by the split among parishioners in Godley over vicar Malcolm Harries.

A no-confidence petition containing more than 60 names was sent to Lambeth Palace, demanding his removal.

Reverend Harries, priest-in-charge at St John's, was acquitted of gross indecency towards a 15-year-old boy at a swimming baths in 2003.

But he was later sacked by the Bishop of Chester after it emerged he had been acquitted in a similar court case in April 1992.

The bishop, who took advice from child protection officers and his legal team, revoked the married 61-year-old's licence. The decision was later upheld by the Bishop of Durham.

However the Archbishop overturned both rulings and decided to give Mr Harries his licence back. He was reinstated on 1 November after giving written assurances about his future conduct.

Despite earlier insisting "no further redress or action can be taken", Dr Rowan Williams now admits his decision has sparked a "pastoral situation of some gravity".

Andrew Nunn, the Archbishop's secretary, has alerted the parochial church council to the Incumbent's Measure 1977. It states an incumbent may be removed from office if there is a serious breakdown in the pastoral relationship between a priest and his parishioners.

"The PCC may wish to take advice and explore the options available to them," he said, "That is however a local matter and not one on which the Archbishop can or should given an opinion."

A mum – who launched the petition – said: "I wonder if the Archbishop is beginning to think he made a great mistake. Maybe the Church thought we were too weak-willed to do anything, being such a small community. How wrong they were."


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