The Church of England’s lenient treatment of a controversial vicar has been described as “very disappointing” by the Board of Deputies, after he again breached the terms of an agreement he had made with bishops not to discuss Israel.
Stephen Sizer, who has led the Christ Church congregation in Virginia Water, Surrey, for 20 years, had agreed in 2015 not to write, speak or tweet about the Middle East after sharing a link to a piece which suggested Israel had been behind the 9/11 attacks. He had previously been warned about sharing Holocaust denial and Zionist conspiracy articles.
However, in November 2016 he posted about an event he had gone to in the House of Lords hosted by Baroness Tonge and organised by the Palestinian Return Centre, at which a questioner in the audience appeared to blame Jews for the Holocaust.
On that occasion, despite his breaching the terms of the agreement, Andrew Watson, the Bishop of Guildford, decided to give Dr Sizer a final chance.
The JC understands that over the last two weeks Dr Sizer was again found to have posted statuses on Facebook about the Middle East, once more breaching the terms of his agreement.
In a statement issued today by Bishop Watson, the Church confirmed: “Dr Stephen Sizer has again contravened the agreement he made in February 2015.”
The Bishop said Dr Sizer planned to retire next month, on Easter Sunday, but that he had been required “to cease all preaching, teaching and leading of services with immediate effect” and to “desist from all use of social media until his retirement takes effect”.
However, despite the Bishop saying he was “very disappointed by Dr Sizer’s actions”, he conceded that Dr Sizer should be allowed to lead his ministry over the Easter weekend in order “to allow the parish of Virginia Water to say a proper goodbye”.
Jonathan Arkush, Board of Deputies president, said: “Stephen Sizer has repeatedly transgressed the terms of the agreement he made with the Church of England on 14 February 2015. He was issued with a final warning on 2 November 2016 following yet another breach.
“So it is very disappointing that the Church has allowed him to remain in his ministry, albeit with restrictions, until Easter, when he will again be permitted to preach.
“The Jewish community will feel let down that the church has failed to dismiss a minister who has repeatedly posted slurs.”