Austin gives `too liberal' Church one last chance

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The Independent Online
BRITAIN'S most outspoken priest is set to resign from the Church of England in protest at what he claims is the increasing domination of liberals.

George Austin, the Archdeacon of York, will give the church one last chance to return to "traditional" beliefs at the Lambeth Conference, the 10-yearly gathering of clergy from around the world in July.

But he fears further liberalisation on key issues, specifically, the acceptance of homosexual relationships. Without reassurances, he will leave.

At 67, he is already past the statutory retirement age and was deprived of some of his influence when he lost his place on General Synod two years ago.

Mr Austin said yesterday: "There will be some serious issues at the Lambeth Conference and if they fudge them I think I will go. One of the key issues will be gay rights. There is a big movement to recognise gay relations and accept sodomy as Christian behaviour."

Mr Austin said he was struggling between weariness at the perpetual need to fight for basic Christian principles and the fear of letting people down if he did quit.

Increasingly, he said, priests "of our integrity" were finding it difficult to get appointments, despite assurances made at the time of the vote in favour of the ordination of women in 1992.

"Every bishop of our persuasion who has retired has been replaced by one who isn't of our persuasion.

"In a sense it doesn't matter, because the real work is done in the parish, but nevertheless, that is where the influence is," he said.

However, he said he would never convert to Catholicism. "The Church of England is my home. It's not the Church of England teaching that has changed, but the people who are leading it who are trying to change it.

"There is a difference between the people in power and those in the pews."

The Rev Geoffrey Kirk, leader of the orthodox Forward in Faith movement set up in after the women's ordination vote, said many felt as George Austin did and their support was growing all the time.

"In the end, they will have to get rid of us or face up to the fact that they have a new radical church quite different from anything they have experienced before."

A Church of England spokesman said Mr Austin's views were well-known and the church would not comment on them.

Meanwhile, William Hague, the Conservative leader, yesterday expressed his own brand of religious belief.

Speaking in a Channel 5 interview with Kirsty Young, he said he was a Christian and went to church every month.

But he said: "I'm not someone who goes to church every Sunday morning. I would rather go for a walk in the Yorkshire dales in my constituency.

"If you want to feel God and close to nature, that can often be the best place to be. I think it is important to take those breaks in the outdoor world."

Asked whether Tony Blair wore his religion on his sleeve, Mr Hague said: "I don't mind if he does. We all approach religion in our own personal way. I'm not going to criticise him for that at all."