9/11 row vicar accepts net ban

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Published: Monday 9th February 2015 by The News Editor

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A Church of England vicar is to keep his job after he posted a link to an internet article blaming Israel for the September 11 terror attacks – but he faces a ban from using social media and commenting on Middle East issues.

Reverend Stephen Sizer used Facebook to promote the article entitled “9/11 Israel did it” and reportedly wrote: “Is this anti-Semitic? It raises so many questions.”

Dr Sizer, vicar at Christ Church in Virginia Water, Surrey, faced an investigation from the Diocese of Guildford where he is licensed.

He later issued a statement through the diocese expressing regret and admitting that sharing the article was “ill-considered and misguided”.

The Right Reverend Andrew Watson, the newly-appointed Bishop of Guildford, told a Press conference at Guildford that Dr Sizer had agreed to a prohibition from using social media for six months and from commenting on Middle Eastern issues while he remains in the employment of the diocese.

He said: “It is my view that Stephen’s strong but increasingly undisciplined commitment to an anti-Zionist agenda has become a liability to his own ministry and that of the wider church.

“Many who more moderately support the Palestinian cause and share his critque of a particular brand of Christian fundamentalism, themselves find Stephen’s actions to be increasingly unhelpful and counter-productive, a fact he himself now recognises.

“It is therefore my decision that Stephen’s work in this area is no longer compatible with his ministry as a parish priest.

“In order for Stephen to remain in parish ministry, I have therefore asked for and received from him a solemn undertaking, in writing, that he is to refrain entirely from writing or speaking on any themes that relate, either directly or indirectly, to the current situation in the Middle East or to its historical backdrop.”

Bishop Watson continued: “He has promised to refrain, with no exceptions, from attendance at, or participation in, any conferences which promote or are linked to this agenda, from all writing, tweeting, blogging emailing, preaching and teaching on these themes, whether formally or informally – a prohibition which of course includes posting links to other sites and from all background work in this area which may resource others to act as spokespeople in Stephen’s stead.

“Should Stephen be deemed by the Diocese to have broken this agreement, in letter or in spirit, he has pledged to offer me his immediate resignation which I will duly accept.

“He has also agreed to desist from the use of social media entirely for the next six months, after which he and I will review that prohibition.

“It is fair to say that Stephen seems relieved to be working within this clear new framework and would now like to redirect his energies into his work as a parish priest.”

Bishop Watson said that he had consulted the Board of Deputies of British Jews concerning the matter. He added: “Most importantly of all, I am hugely sorry for the hurt which has been caused to the members of the Jewish community and I hope and pray that the storms of the past two weeks will ultimately serve to deepen and strengthen our relationship with one another.

“This is a time when I would urge all Christian people to stand shoulder to shoulder with our Jewish brothers and sisters in countering the alarming rise of anti-Semitic incidents being reported, not least here in the UK.”

Commenting on Dr Sizer’s actions said: “It is perfectly possible to criticise Israeli policies without such criticism being anti-Semitic and Christians and others should feel free to do so.

“However such legitimate criticism must not be used as a cloak for anti-Semitism, nor can anti-Semitism itself ever be disguised as mere political comment.

“Having now met Stephen I do not believe that his motives are anti-Semitic but I have concluded that, at the very least, he has demonstrated appallingly poor judgment in the material he has chosen to disseminate, particularly via social media, some of which is clearly anti-Semitic.

“By associating with or promoting subject matter which is either ambiguous in its motivation or, worse still, openly racist, he has crossed a serious line. I regard these actions as indefensible.

“I have welcomed Stephen’s apology, his recognition of the deep hurt caused by his actions, his acknowledgement of the gross insensitivity of their timing just prior to Holocaust Memorial Day and his retraction of the ridiculous suggestion that Israel may have been complicit in the events of 9/11.

“I have also recognised that much of Stephen’s ministry in other areas and at other times has been good, wise and wholesome.”

The statement by Dr Sizer , who was not at the Press conference, said: “I very much regret and apologise for the distress caused by the sharing on Facebook of a link to an article about 9/11 from Wikispooks.

“It was particularly insensitive in that last week coincided with Holocaust Memorial Day. I removed the link as soon as I received adverse feedback, and realised that offence had been caused.

“I have never believed Israel or any other country was complicit in the terrorist atrocity of 9/11, and my sharing of this material was ill-considered and misguided.”

Dr Sizer has previously been accused of linking to extremist content and a formal complaint was made by the Board of Deputies of British Jews in October 2012.

Published: Monday 9th February 2015 by The News Editor

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