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Church of England bans vicar from ministry till 2030 over ‘anti-Semitic activity’

by Heather Preston
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A retired vicar has been barred from licensed ministry after sharing anti-Semitic material.

A church tribunal found that 69-year-old Rev Dr Stephen Sizer provoked and offended the Jewish community - something he says was unintentional.

The Archbishop of Canterbury said that the priest's behaviour has undermined Christian-Jewish relations and given “encouragement to conspiracy theories and tropes".

The Bishop’s Disciplinary Tribunal for the Diocese of Winchester issued the penalty following eleven allegations of misconduct between 2005 and 2018 raised by the Board of Deputies of British Jews.

The complaint was upheld in four instances, including one example from 2015 in which Sizer shared an article that suggested Israeli involvement in the 9/11 terrorist attacks in 2001. 

The former vicar of Christ Church in Virginia Water, Surrey was found to have committed misconduct under the Clergy Discipline Measure 2003, for acting in a manner “unbecoming or inappropriate to the office and work of a clerk in Holy Orders”.

The acting Bishop of Winchester said the penalty handed down on Monday reflects "the seriousness of the misconduct".

"It is the Church of England’s task to lead in the work of enabling mutual understanding and strong, peaceable inter-faith relationships for the common good of society, and its ministers must take very seriously their role in initiating positive relationships between communities, locally, at diocesan and regional level, as well as nationally and internationally," Rt Rev Debbie Sellin said.

Sizer disputes the claims that his conduct was anti-Semitic.

Speaking to the tribunal, Sizer claimed he had been the target of a “10-year campaign of intimidation and harassment” in which his views had been “routinely misrepresented and distorted”.

Sizer said he had “repeatedly and unequivocally repudiated racism, antisemitism and Holocaust denial in his lectures, books and website articles”.

Following the penalty judgement, The Archbishop of Canterbury stated that Sizer's behaviour had "undermined Christian-Jewish relations, giving encouragement to conspiracy theories and tropes that have no place in public Christian ministry and the church."

Most Rev Justin Welby went on to renew his call for "the highest possible standards among ordained ministers of the Church of England in combatting antisemitism of all kinds”.

In September 2018, the College of Bishops adopted the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance's working definition of antisemitism to mean: "A certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred towards Jews. Rhetorical and physical manifestations of antisemitism are directed towards Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, toward Jewish community institutions and religious facilities."

Speaking to Premier, the Council of Christians and Jews (CCJ) welcomed the penalty judgment against Sizer saying it concluded a "painful episode for all involved."

Co-director, Rev Nathan Eddy said: "We want to commend the Church of England for handling this case] so publicly and so seriously, these claims and the actions of Dr Sizer can really harm Jewish Christian relations.

"On this case, in particular, we endorse the decision and we want Christians to take on board Jewish sensitivities and the reality of anti-Semitism in the Church today.

Rev Eddy went on to encourage Christians to consider the importance of peaceful inter-faith relations.

"It's really important that Christians take Jews and Judaism into account and listen as to how our preaching and statements - especially around Israel and Palestine - [are perceived]. But even our preaching around Pharisees, around Jews at the time of Jesus. We need to take care that these aren't misinterpreted by Jews and by others in society. It's really, really important that Christians learn to listen to how other faiths - not just Jews - hear our preaching and our public statements."

Premier has reached out to Stephen Sizer for comment.

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