Anglican bishop gives up priesthood

RARE MOVE: Bishop Tom Brown has voluntarily given up his right to officiate.
RARE MOVE: Bishop Tom Brown has voluntarily given up his right to officiate.

In a rare move the former head of the Anglican Church in Wellington has surrendered his licence as a priest.

Bishop Tom Brown told The Dominion Post yesterday he voluntarily gave up his right to officiate earlier this month "to be loyal to the church and maintain the church's integrity".

The announcement comes amid speculation surrounding the 69-year-old's split with wife Dwyllis Brown.

Members of the church community are said to be "deeply shocked and feel a bit let down" at Dr Brown's decision, which comes only six months after he retired as Bishop of Wellington, a position he held since he was elected in 1998.

His replacement, Bishop Justin Duckworth, was ordained in June.

Dr Brown said the decision to surrender his licence was not difficult to make.

"I wanted to be loyal to the church and maintain the church's integrity.

"I've stepped back from an involvement in the church for personal reasons. I volunteered to give back my licence, it was not taken from me.

"I think that under the circumstances it was appropriate that I stand down and have a period of sabbatical or time out, and the present bishop accepted that.

"I have a private life and I'm endeavouring to get on with that to deal with the difficulty of separating from my wife.

"I love the church . . . and I have no intention of turning around and walking away from the church.

"I say my morning prayers . . . [and] I get great consolation out of reading the psalms and, yes, I believe in the goodness of God."

Mrs Brown said yesterday it was up to her husband to reveal why he had stepped away from his role with the church.

"I'm sure he is still deeply faithful to the church, but for personal reasons he wants to do something different.

"He has been an amazing leader. He has been caring for so many people and been extraordinary in what he has done for the church over all his life."

Dr Duckworth said: "The breakdown of any marriage is always deeply sad for all involved."

He declined to comment further, as did the Archbishop of New Zealand, David Moxon.

Retired priest Sir Des Britten said church members were struggling to come to terms with Dr Brown's decision to surrender his licence.

"It's deeply shocked a lot of people and we feel a bit let down," Sir Des said.

"There's lots of gossip circulating and this will go on for a while, I suppose."

Anglican Church spokesman Lloyd Ashton said Dr Brown surrendered his licence on August 7. The decision means he cannot function as a priest.