Your average tale of debauched "gay-adultery" amongst CofE
clergy men of sin (2 Thess 2:3).
(Extracts taken from the i-newpaper online / March 13, 2023 - hidden behind paywall - search for "defrocked" ).
Rev Riba-Thompson, 64, will soon be stripped of his job, his home, as well as banned from any ministerial activities for five years, because he fell in love, did not disclose the intimate details of it when questioned — and a member of the public objected. There was no coercion, harassment, illegality or misconduct that in any other profession would have led to this, he says. All it took was a simple complaint.
“I’ve been caught up in a system that is not fit for purpose — that hangs the clergy out to dry in a way that would never happen in the rest of society,” he says, hoping that by speaking out today it will embolden the campaign to reform the Church of England’s disciplinary process.
“In 2016, I [Rev Riba-Thompson] was unhappy in my existing relationship with another man,” he says — his husband. The reverend went on Grindr, the gay dating app, met a man called Oscar and had sex. Oscar, now 36, was also in an “unhappy situation with his partner”, he says. The pair soon began to realise that there was more to their connection than the physical, but didn’t expect it to endure so did not tell their respective partners.
By 2018, however, Riba-Thompson’s relationship ended, partly because of this affair. “It was a catalyst,” he says. Six months later, in July 2018, Oscar’s relationship also ended, enabling their new bond to develop. In the autumn of that year, Oscar’s ex, Jonathan Hollow, made a formal complaint to Riba-Thompson’s boss, the Rt Revd Christopher Chessun, the Bishop of Southwark, who sits in the House of Lords.
The Diocese of Southwark then wrote to Riba-Thompson. The letter, written by the registrar, alleges the priest “engaged in a secret affair with the complainant’s then partner” and quotes the complaint itself, which describes Riba-Thompson’s new relationship as “totally inappropriate”, “based on deceit” and “knowingly destructive of a committed relationship”.
But the other stated reason was that the relationship took place when Riba-Thompson “was in a pastoral position to Oscar”, because he was preparing Oscar to be baptised.
Hollow, Oscar’s ex-partner, told i that priests “are not permitted to mix a romantic relationship with baptismal preparation. Like doctors and teachers, they are required to separate sex from professional relationships.”
Outside the Anglican church, the Sexual Offences Act 2003 prohibits certain professionals in a position of trust, such as doctors, police officers and social workers, from having sex with anyone in their care who is under 18. (They can also face the sack due to professional conduct guidelines.) However, the Sexual Offences Act clauses do not include clergy, Oscar was in his thirties, and he was not a parishioner. For Riba-Thompson, the idea that he should be prohibited from a relationship with an adult denies any agency to that adult — to Oscar.
In other walks of life, neither the breakdown of relationships nor extra-marital affairs enable those left behind to complain to their ex’s employer. But the Church of England isn’t governed by employment law; instead, its clergy are subject to the Clergy Discipline Measure or CDM — a piece of ecclesiastical law from 2003. This includes in its “misconduct” section broad transgressions such as “conduct unbecoming or inappropriate to the office or work of a clerk in Holy Orders”. This was the clause invoked in the complaint against Riba-Thompson.
In English law, adultery isn’t grounds for divorce within same-sex relationships (unlike heterosexual ones), but in the CDM “marital infidelity is regarded as unbecoming or inappropriate conduct for the purposes of the clergy discipline measure”. Yet the Church of England is exempt from same-sex marriage legislation, and its vicars can’t perform same-sex weddings.
“But the Clergy Disciplinary Measure enabled Jonathan Hollow to say I had behaved badly as a priest and that therefore I should be punished,” says Riba-Thompson. Rather than dismiss the complaint, or encourage mediation, the Church of England decided there should be a hearing. The bishop, the archdeacon and all of Riba-Thompson’s seniors ceased contact with him, he says. “They disappeared.”
At the hearing, he says, “I was asked by a representative of the tribunal system to explain the nature of my friendship with Oscar in the first 18 months of our meeting each other.” In his reply, he did not describe the sexual part of their relationship.
“He then said, ‘so the relationship with Oscar didn’t begin until the August of 2018?’” This was after Oscar had left his partner. “I said, ‘Yes, that’s right.’”
Because no sex had been disclosed in the hearing, the complaint centring on the relationship itself was dismissed in 2019 due to insufficient evidence. But because the Church of England doesn’t recognise same-sex marriage, it also doesn’t recognise same-sex infidelity anyway, so the diocese told Hollow they couldn’t sanction Riba-Thompson for that either.
This makes no sense to Hollow (Oscar’s ex-partner). “It’s really odd that gay married priests can have affairs when straight married priests can’t, when the Church of England disapproves of gay sex and gay marriage. It’s nuts,” he said. “It just shows the crazy knots that the Church of England has tied itself up in about same sex marriage.”
It also leaves a loophole for gay priests, said Hollow. “If they wish for an equal opportunity to marry, gay priests must accept equal accountability for breaking church rules about sex and relationships.”
Relieved at the case being dismissed, Riba-Thompson continued his work as a local vicar, which included supporting his elderly and vulnerable parishioners throughout the pandemic. He also continued his relationship with Oscar. But if Riba-Thompson had said during the first tribunal that they were having sex, “the penalties would have been devastating at the time”, he says. He believes this because of what happened next.
“This time last year, it all kicked off again,” says Riba-Thompson. In 2022, more than two years later, the diocese investigated again, with further evidence of the affair supplied by Hollow, alleging that Riba-Thompson had not provided the tribunal with all the necessary information [ cf.
“It’s true,” the reverend says, “the tribunal did not have all the facts, because I did not give them all the facts.” In other words, he didn’t tell them about his sex life. “It really all centres around sex. I chose not to incriminate myself.”
For Hollow, this is unacceptable. “Priests should not make misleading statements,” he told i.
When asked by the church officials in charge of the process if he had previously provided the tribunal with all the facts, Riba-Thompson admitted he had not, knowing that to do so would now mean being punished.
“I cut the process short,” he says. He applied for what’s called a “penalty by consent” where you concede that what is alleged is true, thereby stopping the tribunal. The bishop is then left to decide what that penalty should be.
Last month, the Bishop of Southwark, handed down the penalty. It banned Riba-Thompson from any ministerial duties for five years, and forced him to retire early, reducing his income and his pension. Had the vicar disclosed everything at the first tribunal five years ago, he fears he would have been fired for the charge of “conduct unbecoming”, and lost the last five years of salary too, which would have also had significant impact on his pension.
As it is, the Church of England has taken more than his career away. “They pull the plug on your vocation — what you believe God is calling you to do is stopped,” he says. “We’ve had some very dark moments since the ‘penalty by consent’, because that was a really bitter pill to try to stop this process.”
Jonathan Hollow believes the outcome was just. “I am pleased and relieved that, as a result of Geoffrey Riba-Thompsons’ own admission, he has received a serious penalty.” But the process is flawed, he said, making it too hard for complainants to navigate ecclesiastical law, and having Bishops in charge of what should be an independent process, as you have in employment tribunals.
On that, he and Riba-Thompson agree. The priest feels punished for falling in love and not revealing its sexual dimension. “I don’t think it’s Christian,” he says. “Where’s the Christian compassion?” His parishioners are also upset.[What does this cretin know of Christianity?]
“They are angry, they are confused, they cannot see who’s meant to benefit from this. They are aware that they are losing a priest who they appear to love and respect and "value"" [but he hadn't provided the Tribunal with all the necessary information - see above - so just a hypocrite in any event.]
“There is no doubt that Oscar and I do regret any pain and distress that we have caused to our exes,” he says, adding that they are sorry for that — but being in love and forging a healthy relationship means he cannot regret finding Oscar. “We still believe we were doing the right thing” [he can't distinguish right from wrong].