Bishop threatens legal action over cash smear

Holy Trinity Church at Holbeach
Holy Trinity Church at Holbeach
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CHURCH parishioners have been warned that they could face legal action if they continue to make claims of financial wrongdoing.

“Aggressive” letters – some signed and others penned anonymously – made allegations of impropriety and pointed the finger at Father James Burke, parish priest for Spalding and Holbeach.

But two audits of the accounts for the Parish of the Holy Trinity in Holbeach have been undertaken and the Bishop of Nottingham, the Rt Rev Malcolm McMahon, has declared that the allegations are “wholly unfounded”.

The claims lodged against Fr Burke have been ongoing for more than two months and are said to have taken “a considerable personal toll”.

In a pastoral message read to parishioners at two masses over the weekend, the bishop said: “I was particularly concerned about the aggressive tone of some of the letters which were sent to me and Father Burke, both signed and anonymous; this itself is something which cannot be tolerated since it is not in accordance with the standard expected by the Gospels.”

During the audits – carried out by the diocesan auditors Higsons and Father Christopher Thomas, who is the bishop’s episcopal vicar for finance and administration and delivered the message at Saturday’s evening mass and again on Sunday morning – no irregularities were found in the parish return, the matching of invoices and payments, and the reconciliation between bank statements and weekly income sheets.

Bishop McMahon said: “After careful analysis, I must state for the avoidance of doubt that any claims which have been made alleging financial impropriety have no basis in fact, and lack any evidence to substantiate them.

“Since they have no foundation whatsoever, it is time for those making them to cease from so doing, not least because those who continue to make them are opening themselves to legal action for defamation.”

Currently there are masses at 6.30pm on Saturdays at both Holy Trinity and St Norbert’s in Spalding and each church has a morning mass on Sundays, Holbeach at 9.30am and Spalding at 8am. The bishop said he has asked Fr Burke to come up with “a more reasonable” timetable of weekend masses in both parishes so that he can spend more time with his parishioners.

He will also look into whether Holbeach could support its own priest but, again referring to the recent unrest, told parishioners: “Any eventual appointment...will not be considered until this atmosphere has been consigned to history.”

Bishop McMahon closed by saying that the two parishes were extremely fortunate to have two priests (the other being assistant Father Paul Lloyd) and he hoped that parishioners would grow together in communion with their priests in “unity, harmony and peace”.