Ordination of cult priest 'not rushed' through f

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The Bishop of Sheffield yesterday denied that the ordination as a deacon of the Rev Chris Brain, the priest at the centre of sex-cult allegations, was rushed through by the Church a year earlier than normal.

Mr Brain, now in a Manchester psychiatric hospital, was made a deacon in 1991 after two years' training. Normally deacons require three years' training but after his Nine O'Clock Service (NOS) moved from St Thomas's Church in Crookes, Sheffield, to exist in its own right in a leisure centre, Mr Brain was made a deacon.

In an interview with BBC Radio Four's Sunday programme, the Bishop of Sheffield, the Rt Rev David Lunn said: "Mr Brain studied very hard and got very good reports. We were faced with the situation of the NOS moving from St Thomas's without a liturgical leader. It seemed to me and all who were involved in the decision that he was a fit and proper person and it seemed right to ordain him as a deacon."

Dr Lunn also admitted former members of the controversial Nine O'Clock Service were being asked to pay for their counselling, at a cost of pounds 500 a day, from donations already made to the NOS. The service had two funds: one for donations made to Mr Brain and the other a registered trust.

He said: "I don't feel it's unfair because we have done a great deal for these people. I haven't got the money to pay the bills and it seems perfectly reasonable that people who are being helped make some contribution to that help. No-one is being charged for individual counselling."

In fact, the fees the church is paying include those of full-time trained counsellors and psychologists, and security for the Whirlow Grange retreat in Sheffield where some of the 20 women who claim to have been sexually abused are staying. There is also a 24-hour hotline for NOS members.

Dr Lunn said: "The question of who pays for what is both trivial and irrelevant. Never for a second have we said to people that we wouldn't let them in to the retreat if they didn't pay us."He also rejected claims that the church was slow to spot the abuse of power within the NOS. "We were very vigilant. As soon as we got a sniff that anything was wrong, we uncovered it and made steps to stop it."

Meanwhile, the Rev Simon Baker, a vicar from Reading who has drafted a new "Code of Ministerial Practice" for priests, denied it was to be implemented throughout Britain. The code includes advice such as not to meet young women late at night and not to drink while working.

Mr Baker said: "I was asked to write it about 18 months ago ... It's still quite a way off."

A Church of England spokesman said: "It would be a matter for the 43 dioceses in England and their bishops but nothing will be decided until at least next year."