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Thursday, July 30, 1998 Published at 21:32 GMT 22:32 UK


Church attacks council's atheist chaplain

The Church says it sends the "wrong message"

A London council has defended its decision to have an atheist in a top religious post.

Denis Cobell, who does not believe in God, has been appointed chaplain for the Labour-run borough of Lewisham.

But the move has been attacked by the Catholic Church as "offensive".

Father Kieran Conry, a Catholic Church spokesman, said: "This sends out completely the wrong message to people - especially if they are going to call him chaplain."

Mr Cobell said: "I might not believe in God but I am very honoured to accept the post. I don't know what the fuss is about."

A spokesman for the council defended the appointment.

He said: "The chaplain provides a strong moral framework.

"We have Hindus, Sikhs, Muslims, Christians and non-believers in the borough and we have had no complaints about Mr Cobell so far."

'Unusual' appointment

A spokeswoman for the Association for London Government said it was an unusual appointment.

She said: "I would have thought believing in God was a prerequisite. The chaplain is basically spiritual advisor to the mayor."

Mr Cobell was inspired to abandon religion in his late teens.

He said he was "looking forward" to taking funerals and memorial services such as Remembrance Day. He will also name babies in non-religious ceremonies.

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