French-kissing priest loses appeal against dismissal from church

By Ian Herbert,North
Wednesday 05 March 2003 01:00
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An Anglican priest who made passes at parishioners and bullied those who challenged him has lost an appeal against his sacking, his wife said yesterday.

Harry Brown, 49, accused the Church of having a "feudal" approach to disciplinary procedures and maintained his innocence as he pre-empted anannouncement expected today that an ecclesiastical court has ruled against him. "I will never ever get another job in the Church again," Mr Brown said. "But I have not lost my faith. God is above all of this."

Mr Brown gave an undertaking to Dr David Hope, the Archbishop of York, who chaired the appeal, that he would not disclose the outcome of the hearing, which was given to him on Monday evening.

Instead, he allowed his wife, Lynn, 50, to make the announcement at a chaotic news conference in the vicarage at Crosscrake, near Kendal, Cumbria, where the couple have continued to live, pending the outcome of the appeal. Mr Brown was sacked as priest in charge by the Right Rev Graham Dow, the Bishop of Carlisle, in September 2001, after more than a dozen parishioners complained about sexual harassment, intimidating behaviour, mental abuse and financial irregularities. He denied all charges, except the financial irregularities.

Though the case has left the small parish fiercely divided, the outcome of the ecclesiastical court hearing – the first in northern England in more than a decade – was expected.

During five days of hearings into Mr Brown's appeal against the Bishop of Carlisle's decision to remove his licence, Dr Hope heard various lurid tales of parish disagreements over the priest's behaviour in his five years in charge of the district.

One of the more spectacular tales of Mr Brown's misdemeanours is of the pass he allegedly made at Christine Collier, head of the local tourist board. She told the court he tried to French kiss her on her doorstep. "One moment his arms were outstretched, the next he was towering over me. I felt engulfed by him."

The Bishop of Carlisle would not comment on the case until today. A a church spokesman said: "Although Lynn and Harry Brown have chosen to break the undertaking Harry gave to the archbishop, [the bishop] wishes to ... inform the parishioners properly and as planned."

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