Women priests claim abuse from 'closeted gay network' of clerics

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The Independent Online

Women priests are being subjected to abuse and discrimination by a "closeted gay network" within the Church of England, a campaign group claimed. Bishops are failing to tackle the widespread mistreatment of female priests out of misogyny and fear of upsetting "the old boy network", said members of the Group for the Rescinding of the Act of Synod (Gras).

They are lobbying for the abolition of the Act, which they say legitimises the abuse of women priests and encourages behaviour that would be "unthinkable" in other walks of life. The Act dates from 1993 when women priests were introduced, and it preserved the right of traditionalists to believe that female ordination was not valid.

Gras organisers say women priests have been called "witches" and "priestesses", were cold-shouldered by male colleagues, and kept out of jobs and certain dioceses. Gras published a report claiming discrimination was allowed to continue out of "fear of conflict, misogyny, the bishops' wish to present a united front to the world, a devotion to the old boy network, or, in some cases, to a "closeted gay network".

Dr Monica Furlong, a writer specialising in the Church of England, and author of the report, said discrimination by gay male priests was an "open secret". She added: "One would be really blinding oneself if one did not recognise that, within the church, there is a group of gay men who feel incredibly uncomfortable about women and seem to be setting up a world in which women do not exist."

The Reverend Mary Robins, co-ordinator of Gras and a priest in Piccadilly, central London, singled out traditional Anglican group Forward in Faith for particular criticism and called on bishops to stop turning a blind eye to what was happening.

She claimed "very closeted" misogynistic gay priests "came to work in the Church because they wanted a woman-free world and now the poor things find that we are here".

Geoffrey Kirk, national secretary of Forward in Faith said accusations about a "gay network" were "prejudiced and in serious bad taste". Even if Gras got the Act removed, he said, it would not help them because the measure passed to allow women priests did not compel bishops to ordain them or parishes to accept them.

"I can see that, 10 years on, a girl might wish the past was different but a girl can't have it. Nobody will make me, while I breathe, accept that the Church of England has ordained women to the priesthood."

Mr Kirk, a vicar in Lewisham, south-east London, did not believe his members had called women priests "witches" but said he would condemn it if it happened.