Vicar suspended over 'inappropriate' relationship

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The Independent Online

A vicar has been suspended after having an "inappropriate" relationship with a member of his congregation.

He was forced to leave the pulpit after a member of the public - reportedly a spurned ex-lover - made a formal complaint.

The Bishop of Hertford, the Rt Rev Christopher Foster, heard the complaint and ruled that the Rev Stephen Smith should be prohibited from exercising any functions as a member of the clergy for six months.

The prohibition of Mr Smith, 54, was announced to the congregation of St Mary's Church in Cardington, Bedfordshire, on January 31.

A spokesman for the Diocese of St Albans said: "In August 2009 a complaint was made against the Rev Stephen Smith, team vicar in the Elstow Team Ministry, Bedfordshire, that his conduct towards an adult female member of his parish was inappropriate to the office and work of a Clerk in Holy Orders.

"This (prohibition) is a significant penalty."

Some of the congregation lent its support to the vicar, who is now married to a different woman.

Church treasurer Mary Carmichael, 76, said: "Lots of people have sex. It's not a crime.

"Rev Smith is a wonderful vicar who is very well-liked by the congregation. It's his birthday on Thursday and we've all been sending him birthday cards.

"We are very aggrieved about the situation."

The vicar and his wife, a council worker, are understood to be upset and distressed by what has happened.

Parishioners were informed in the parish magazine recently that the vicar had not been taking services as he was unwell.

His prohibition began on January 31.

The diocese spokesman added: "The public and the Church rightly expect the highest standards of behaviour from clergy and take seriously any falling short from these standards.

"The disciplinary powers available exist to deal with these matters with appropriate penalties. The penalty remains noted on the record of the priest thereafter."

Police were not involved in the matter.

Members of the clergy are required to confine sexual relationships to within marriage.

They are also advised to avoid having relationships with members of their flock.