Woman priest pulls out of service

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A FEMALE priest withdrew from serving communion hours before the service was due to take place because she did not have permission from the local vicar.

She had neglected to seek the approval of Canon Keith Catchpole, who is strongly opposed to the ordination of women. Under canon law no minister can take a service on another's patch without his permission.

Priests who are opposed to the ordination of women, such as Mr Catchpole and the Bishop of Chichester, also have the right to stop them holding services in their parish. Mr Catchpole has made it clear in the past that he will not accept female priests in his parish.

The bishop's chaplain telephoned the Rev Geinor Downs to alert her of the illegality of the service. 'I was not ordered to withdraw but the appropriateness of my celebrating in that parish was raised,' said Miss Downs.

'I felt it would be best if I pulled out. This is something we are having to sort out in a new situation. Unfortunately the problem did not arise until the last minute.'

Miss Downs was due to take the service in St Olave's Church, Chichester, which has been deconsecrated and turned into a specialist Christian bookshop owned by the Anglican mission society SPCK. A small service is held there once a year.

Miss Downs's withdrawal upset the congregration. 'This was dirty work at the crossroads and gross discrimination of the worst kind,' a man who attended the service, but refused to take communion, said yesterday.