'Drunken' bishop faces battle to save his job

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The Independent Online

The Bishop of Southwark is facing a battle to keep his job after he was apparently found in a tired and emotional state in the back of a stranger's car after a Christmas party.

The Christian Peoples Alliance suggested that the Rt Rev Tom Butler may lose his office after he suffered a head injury last week and told a congregation he was probably mugged.

The bishop reportedly staggered home from a function at the Irish embassy on Tuesday night, climbed into the back of a stranger's Mercedes, and started throwing an infant's toys out of the vehicle.

The Mercedes' alarm went off outside the Suchard bar near Southwark Cathedral. Nicola Sumpter, who owns the car, said: "My boyfriend and his pal raced outside and were stunned to see a grey-haired man in the back seat. He was throwing my one-year-old son's toys everywhere.

"He wouldn't get out so they could pull him away. He couldn't stand up straight and fell over, banging his head."Asked to explain himself, he is claimed to have said: "I'm the Bishop of Southwark. It's what I do." He sat and then lay on the pavement for several minutes while an onlooker dialled 999, but the bishop declined medical attention and an ambulance was cancelled. Then he got up and staggered away. The next day his office called the police to report the loss of property, which was reported in some newspapers as a mugging.

Ms Sumpter said she found a bag with the bishop's possessions in the car.

"He does not remember very much at all," said a spokesman for the bishop. "He got a bump on the back of his head but he is OK and is in good spirits. He is back at work and really wants to downplay it."

The bishop's bruises meant he was not able to wear his mitre the following day. He began a ceremony for a new priests' institution at All Saints Church in south London by apologising to the 300-strong congregation, saying that the mitre no longer fitted his bruised head because he had "apparently been mugged".

Alan Craig, leader of the Christian People's Alliance group on Newham council in east London, said: "If it's true he was drunk he ought to resign. He can be forgiven, but he can't carry on as bishop. He's supposed to be a role model and being drunk in a gutter he can't be a good example. It's not comical; it's sad for him, and for the church." A spokes-man for the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, said: "It would be premature to comment. We are sorry to hear of the bishop's injuries and wish him a speedy recovery."

Guests at the Christmas reception included the head of MI5, Dame Eliza Manningham-Buller; Sir Hugh Orde, the head of the Northern Ireland police service; and the former Ulster Unionist leader David Trimble.

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