A rarely convened ecclesiastical court was told yesterday how the congregation of a small parish in the Lake District was "grotesquely divided" by the arrival of a new vicar.
At the centre of the dispute was the Rev Harry Brown, 49, former vicar of the Crosscrake and Preston Patrick churches near Kendal, whose licence to preach was revoked 12 months ago by the Bishop of Carlisle after parishioners alleged sexual harassment, intimidating behaviour, mental abuse and financial irregularities.
Mr Brown has not gone quietly. Dozens of members of the campaign group Push (Pray until Something Happens) for Harry were at the Church of the Holy Redeemer in York for yesterday's hearing before the Archbishop of York, the Most Rev David Hope.
There were fleeting discussions of Mr Brown's alleged misdemeanours. For instance, his wife, Lynn, admitted that her own "big mistakes" had contributed to £675 being removed by the Browns from a church charity account. Mrs Brown wrote out three cheques totalling that sum, which her husband had signed while blank. There was a £1,000 discrepancy in another account. And for two years the church's collection box had been mysteriously emptied. "Harry said he had emptied it. I've never taken money out of it," Mrs Brown said.
Geoffrey Tattersall QC, representing the Bishop of Carlisle, also alluded to alleged sexual harassment. "If your priest had been kissing or touching improperly his parishioners, would you want the Bishop to at least listen to [these] complaints,'' he asked the "Pro Harry'' church organist, Bruce Eastwood.
The dissent fermented in the kitchens after church council meetings developed into spats over issues as trivial as the handing out of Palm Sunday crosses, then allegedly became more disturbing. Opponents "let down his car tyres, released livestock belonging to his supporters and made threatening phone calls", Mr Eastwood said.
The parish treasurer, Rosemary Quillinan, said: "[The parish] was grotesquely divided between a largish clique of people who set out to get rid of Mr Brown and the rest of us who thought he was a thumping good vicar."
Mr Brown, beginning his testimony, accused the Bishop of Carlisle of failing to research "both sides of the story" before defrocking him. The case continues today.
Join our new commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies