CHURCHGOERS have spoken out in support of their rector, who resigned after a sexual misconduct inquiry.
The Rev Simon Sayers, from the Warblington and Emsworth parish, announced his resignation on Sunday following the Church of England’s investigation.
It comes after he admitted two sexual incidents with a 16-year-old girl in 1995, while he was a vicar in London.
Despite police concluding that there was ‘no case to answer’, Mr Sayers accepted the penalty from the Bishop of London to be prohibited from ministry for five years.
Parishioners walked out of services at St Thomas a Becket Church in Warblington and St James’ Church in Emsworth on Sunday in support of Mr Sayers.
They have since accused church authorities of forcing Mr Sayers’ resignation
Canon John Harwood, a member of Emsworth and Warblington’s clergy, said: ‘There seems a huge credibility gap between God’s heart of mercy and kindness, and the way that Simon has been treated by the church.’
Leslie Grist, a member of St James’ Church’s choir, said Mr Sayers was ‘kept in limbo’ for almost two years.
She said: ‘Simon has served this parish and town wonderfully over the last 12 years.
‘Now he and his family have lost his income and been told to get out of their home within two weeks. It just seems so harsh and unkind. There is real outrage about this here.’
Emsworth parishioners Richard and Ineke Belfrage accused authorities of keeping the congregation ‘almost completely in the dark’.
They said: ‘It’s one thing for the church to expect high standards of its ministers and to exercise discipline when things go wrong.
‘But this punishment is wholly disproportionate and the process has been very badly handled.’
Norman and Wendy Peers, also from Emsworth, added: ‘The church has standards but the church also preaches a message of grace, forgiveness and pastoral care.
‘These things seem to be sorely lacking in the heavy-handed response by church authorities.’
Mr Sayers said: ‘My family and I are very grateful for the depth of support that we have received from residents and parishioners of Emsworth and Warblington.’
The Diocese of Portsmouth said in a statement: ‘The bishop’s penalty reflects both the seriousness of the Rev Simon Sayers’ behaviour on those occasions and of breaching the trust of a young person who had been in his pastoral care for some years.’