Vicar steps down as governor over Wickersley LGBT row - but keeps church role

By David Parker | 05/07/2019

Vicar steps down as governor over Wickersley LGBT row - but keeps church role

SENIOR clergy said they would “reflect on lessons learned” after a Rotherham vicar described classes discussing LGBT relationships as “state-sponsored child abuse” — but revealed that the controversial rector would not be defrocked.

Rev Peter Hughes (pictured), who is Rector of St Alban’s Church, Wickersley, had said school lessons on same-sex relationships and transgender issues “could open the door to sexual predators”.

His comments in the June edition of the Wickersley St Alban’s parish magazine, where he described the lessons as “anti-Christian and harmful”, split opinion amongst Advertiser readers and attracted condemnation from, among others, Rotherham Council leader Cllr Chris Read and the National Secular Society.

Mr Hughes stepped down as an ex-officio governor at St Alban’s Primary School on June 14 after it launched an investigation into his comments.

He also quit as Area Dean of Rotherham — but the Diocese of Sheffield, which distanced itself from his comments, confirmed to the Advertiser he would be keeping his job as a rector.

The diocese said the Bishop of Sheffield, the Rt Rev Dr Pete Wilcox, had met with him but refused to say whether he had been reprimanded for his comments, stating it would not comment on “a private HR matter”.

A spokesperson for the diocese said Mr Hughes had expressed a personal viewpoint in the article.

“The diocese will reflect on lessons learned, but our position has not shifted,” said the spokesperson.

“We fully affirm the government’s new RSE (Relationships and Sex Education) guidance and support its aims to promote a healthy and respectful approach to relationships.”

Department for Education guidance about relationship lessons, which will be compulsory from next year, says content on LGBT relationships should be integral but “sensitive, age-appropriate and delivered with reference to the law”.

Emily Wraw, chair of Rotherham LGBT charity The Rainbow Project, said she had invited Mr Hughes to meet with her to discuss the government’s programme.

“I would hope to sit down with him and actually help him learn about the LGBT community,” she said.

“I think learning about our community is the best way of combating fear and hatred.”

Ms Wraw saw Mr Hughes had initially said he could not engage with anyone while he was under investigation but she was hoping, now that it had concluded, he would be willing to meet.

Council leader and Wickersley ward member Cllr Read, who condemned Mr Hughes’ comments as “homophobic” and “nonsense”, welcomed his decision to quit as a governor.

“I welcome the vicar’s decision to stand down from the governing body, which follows the strong and welcome commitments from both the school and the church to follow the law and more importantly to embrace the spirit of equality and inclusion that it represents,” he said.

“I very much hope that he will engage with the LGBT Christians who have reached out to him, to understand their lives and their experiences, and that this will help him to understand the upset that was caused and ensure it isn’t repeated in future.”

Alison Adair, headteacher of St Alban’s Primary School, said Mr Hughes had decided to resign after a formal investigation had been launched.

“Rev Hughes, in his resignation letter, expressed deep regret for the unwelcome attention the school received and the distraction caused,” said Ms Adair.

“The school accepted his resignation immediately but also formally recorded our appreciation for the several years of unwavering support he had given the school in his time of governor.”

The National Secular Society, which condemned Mr Hughes’ article as “uninformed and discriminatory”, said his fitness to be a school governor had been brought into serious question.

Its education and schools officer, Alastair Lichten, said: “His actions were clearly incompatible with the best interests of St Alban’s school, along with its public-sector equality duty and stated equality objectives.

“Granting religious representatives automatic places on the governing bodies of state schools risks blurring the line between educational and religious interests.

“Effective relationships and sex education is a key part of anti-bullying strategies and a governor with such a wildly inaccurate view of the subject was clearly unsuitable to lead in this area.”

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