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Church of England could return to defrocking rogue priests after child abuse scandals

July 14, 2015 ·  By John Bingham, Religious affairs editor for www.telegraph.co.uk

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The Church of England is considering an about-turn to bring back the penalty of defrocking rogue priests

The Rt Rev Paul Butler Photo: Keith Blundy / Aegies Associates

The Rt Rev Paul Butler Photo: Keith Blundy / Aegies Associates

The Church of England is considering an about-turn to bring back the penalty of defrocking rogue priests in response to a series of child abuse scandals.

The Rt Rev Paul Butler, the Bishop of Durham, said the Church must face up to the possibility that the decision to scrap the punishment just over a decade ago was wrong.

Bishop Butler, who is responsible for the Church’s safeguarding policy, disclosed that the bishops are to debate bringing the penalty back after admitting the decision no longer looks “wise” in the light of new cases of abuse.

The move comes after victims said clerics with criminal convictions were still calling themselves priests.

Defrocking – officially known as “deposition from Holy Orders” – was dropped when a new disciplinary code for clergy came into force in 2003.

Although clerics can still be banned for life from ministry they remain ordained as priests and there is no mechanism to remove this.

The decision to scrap defrocking was made by the Church’s ruling General Synod in 2000, after pressure from clergy union reps, who argued it was unfair to victims of miscarriages of justice as it is considered irreversible.

Members of the Synod have just passed sweeping changes to safeguarding rules to make it easier to suspend clerics suspected of abuse and have removed a time limit on complaints which made it impossible for historical abuse cases to be considered.

The possibility of reintroducing defrocking was raised by the Rev Neil Patterson, a rector in Herefordshire, in a question and answer session with Bishop Butler.

The bishop said he would invite the House of Bishops to consider reintroducing defrocking, but warned any reversal would “take some considerable time”.

Members of the Synod are due to spend Monday debating measures to cut carbon dioxide emissions.

A guidebook for parishes on going green issued this weekend warned: “It still seems that amongst the pews and the pulpits the environment remains not so much a cause for worship, or a way of life, but somewhere to walk on a Sunday afternoon.”

The Synod also gave final approval yesterday to a new alternative baptism service in which references to the devil are removed.

The Church of England is harbouring racism with a “shocking” lack of black and ethnic minority clerics, a senior bishop has warned.

The Rt Rev Stephen Cottrell, Bishop of Chelmsford, said: “Let’s be clear and honest with ourselves, there is still racism in our Church. I believe it is high time we awoke out of sleep and realised that we are guilty of complacency and neglect.”

The Church has only five clergy from ethnic minorities in senior positions.

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