Vicar flies blind in vain sortie against female priests: Andrew Brown reports on High Court claims of treason in high places

Click to follow
The Independent Online
THE Rev Paul Williamson set out to persuade Mr Justice Popplewell in the High Court yesterday that the Archbishops of Canterbury and York are guilty of high treason with the bouncy self-confidence of a man about to cross a minefield on a pogo stick.

Mr Williamson, a vicar from west London, had the support of a shadowy body called the Defenders of the Faith Trust, and three of his supporters had turned up in court yesterday. But the bishops, the deans, the parish clergy, even the 15 million lay people he claimed were on his side had all failed to appear.

He was applying for two injunctions. The first would have stopped the General Synod voting today in favour of women priests, on the grounds that it would exceed the synod's powers to do so. The second was to compel his local magistrates to proceed with a summons of treason against the archbishops for forcing the Queen to sign the legislation.

The legal arguments in the first case had all been rehearsed in a three-day hearing last November when they were brought by the Church Society, a conservative evangelical group. They had been rejected then: the High Court had concluded that the General Synod was quite competent to decide whether the ordination of women was consonant with the doctrine of the Church of England.

But Mr Williamson's arguments ranged far and wide, through the Clergy Act of 1533, to the Union with Scotland Act of 1706, and the Act of Uniformity of 1662. It would have been impressive, except that he had none of his references to hand.

'I trust I have quoted correctly. I have typed and retyped so many things. I have been up all night preparing for this,' he said at one point. Sheila Cameron, the imperturbable QC for the General Synod, rose to give the correct reference and to pass the judge her copy of the Act in question.

Mr Williamson spoke for 70 minutes, hardly stopping except to let Miss Cameron supply his references.

But the judgment was brief and conclusive. Mr Justice Popplewell said: 'What the General Synod proposes to do tomorrow is in my judgement perfectly lawful.'

He cut himself a little more slack with the treason charge. 'The argument - if I can dignify it by using the word - seems to me the most far-fetched I have ever heard.'

Mr Williamson announced after the hearing that he was planning to sue again tomorrow for one-third of the assets of the Church of England, on behalf of the synod members who had lost the vote. 'Every third cathedral in England will be mine]' he cried.

The Church of England was yesterday given the go-ahead to launch advertising campaigns to spread the Christian message. A working party decided there was no ethical bar to advertising so long as it was used in co-operation with other churches.

(Photograph omitted)