Paternity battle vicar not stepping down

A SUFFOLK priest who had a child with a church organist and then denied he was the father said he would not stand down from his parish duties.Father Philip Gray, priest at St Mary's Church, Mendlesham, near Stowmarket, claimed in a statement he read to his congregation that he had the backing of the diocese and provincial bishops and he would stay.

By Richard Smith

A SUFFOLK priest who had a child with a church organist and then denied he was the father said he would not stand down from his parish duties.

Father Philip Gray, priest at St Mary's Church, Mendlesham, near Stowmarket, claimed in a statement he read to his congregation that he had the backing of the diocese and provincial bishops and he would stay.

However, the Diocese of St Edmundsbury and Ipswich, last night admitted that it remained concerned about the issues raised and it wanted the situation resolved.

An emergency meeting was held yesterday afternoon between Mr Gray, 61, and the Bishop of Dunwich, Rt Rev Clive Young, after the EADT revealed that a paternity test had shown Mr Gray was almost certainly the father of a boy born to Belinda Denton-Cardew at Ipswich Hospital on September 6, 1997.

Mr Gray told the diocese he was "unwilling to be suspended from duty".

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The test in 1999 gave a 99.999% positive match that Mr Gray was the father of Benjamin, now aged five.

Mr Gray made his first public comment yesterday about the court battle undertaken by Mrs Denton-Cardew, a former teacher at Mendlesham Primary School, to prove that he was the father. The Child Support Agency has asked Mr Gray to pay child maintenance arrears.

Mr Gray told 40 worshippers: ''Many of you will have heard the serious allegations about me. There is another explanation however. I have a clear conscience and the backing of the diocese and provincial bishops.

''After consultation with them I had their assurance that my priesthood is not in jeopardy nor my care of this church. I thank them for their support and ask you for prayers for myself and my family in this difficult time.''

His statement that he had the backing from the diocese was not wholly supported by a statement given out by the office of The Right Reverend Richard Lewis, bishop of St Edmundsbury and Ipswich, on Friday.

Bishop Richard met Mr Gray in 1999 and 2000 to discuss serious allegations made by Mr Gray against his former organist.

"At the first meeting the option of Father Gray stepping aside, while allegations were investigated was discussed. Father Gray declined this invitation.

"Bishop Richard is concerned about the situation, but is bound by ecclesiastical law. He has been advised that legal grounds have not been substantiated entitling him to act in, what remains, at present, a private matter,'' said the first statement.

Another statement was released last night when the diocese became concerned that the publicity generated would adversely affect Mr Gray's ability to continue for the moment as the parish priest.

Nick Clarke, diocesan communications director, said: ''In a personal statement made in Mendlesham church this morning Father Gray claimed there is another explanation. He also said he has the support of his bishop.

''In the meeting today, Bishop Clive offered Father Gray his continued pastoral care but remains concerned about the issues raised and expressed a desire to see the situation resolved.''

Father Timothy Van Carrapiett, a retired honorary priest, backed Mr Gray with a short comment from the front of the church before the service ended.

He said that all the prayers and thoughts were with Mr Gray and his family and he urged the congregation to remember that all judgements were made by the court that ruled supreme.

Mr Van Carrapiett said: ''We, each and every one of us, has to face that judgement and that court so it behoves us to watch what we say, write and do in all circumstances.'' Afterwards, Mr Carrapiett said that Mr Gray had his 100% support and he was a very fine parish priest.

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