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Tuesday, July 13, 1999 Published at 09:15 GMT 10:15 UK


Church brings back heresy trials

Clergy have been able to believe what they like

Heresy trials are to be brought back by the Church of England.

After a gap of 150 years tribunals are to be reintroduced for clergy accused of not believing in God.

The last heresy trial was in 1847, when the Bishop of Exeter accused the Rev A Gorham of being unsound on the doctrine of "baptismal regeneration". The Rev Gorham did not agree that a person was cleansed of original sin at baptism and born again into Christ.

[ image: The Rt Rev David Jenkins said he did not believe in the Resurrection]
The Rt Rev David Jenkins said he did not believe in the Resurrection
Since then clergy and bishops have been able to deviate from doctrine without punishment. The former Bishop of Durham, the Rt Rev David Jenkins, caused a scandal in the 1980s when he said that he did not believe in the Church's doctrine on the Resurrection.

The new discipline procedure for clergy will include offences against "doctrine, ritual and ceremonial" matters after the General Synod meeting in York agreed legislation prepared by bishops.

The code of practice says clergy who profess atheism or deny the doctrine of the Trinity or the Incarnation should be disciplined.

The new legislation will create tribunals to be held in private although the judgements will be made public.

The tribunals, said to be based on the industrial model, will be cheaper and quicker than the Church's consistory courts.

'Powerful devil let loose'

But the Ven Robert Reiss, the Archdeacon of Surrey, warned of the threat of "new evil spirits" being unleashed into the Church if heresy trials are reintroduced.

He dismissed a claim by bishops that such trials would be rare and said the procedure would need to screen complaints from worshippers who would bring complaints against vicars with whom they disagreed on doctrine.

"Otherwise I feel a very powerful devil will be let loose in our Church," he told bishops.

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