ADVISOR TO OXFORD BISHOP ACCUSED OF CHILD PORN OFFENSES
By David W. Virtue
OXFORD, UK: (12/6/2005)--A senior vicar and key advisor to the Bishop of Oxford has been accused of a string of child porn offenses.
A bespectacled Richard Thomas, 55, and a married priest, was arraigned in court on Monday and charged with eight counts of making and eight counts of possessing indecent pictures of children, according to the INS News Agency. Thomas neither admitted nor denied the charges during the short hearing at Didcot Magistrates' Court, Oxford.
Thomas, who is Director of Communications for the Diocese of Oxford, advising Bishop Richard Harries said he would defend himself "vigorously" against the charges, which related to two dates in June this year. Thomas was suspended from the Church following the allegations.
At the arraignment Thomas, of Eastern Drive, Abingdon, Oxon., spoke only to confirm his name and address during the four-minute hearing. He was released on bail and ordered to return to the court on January 9.
However a Google search revealed that Thomas has been deeply involved in pagan worship and practices and is doing a doctorate in paganism. According to the Church Times he was awarded a £1,000 ($1,700.00) bursary to meet with modern pagans and to attend their rituals in order to complete his Lambeth degree in wicca.
Thomas, speaking on the New Age Movement and paganism on BBC radio recently, said "I believe the new Paganism has an enormous amount to teach Christianity." A former New Ager countered Thomas, condemning Paganism saying it was individualistic, emphasized self empowerment with no authority and draws on many views at will, recognizing only the self. The lady then said she fled Paganism and converted to Roman Catholicism.
Thomas said her views were "hugely patronizing" and noted that there were some 20,000 initiated Pagans in the UK, adding "we have to learn from paganism." Thomas said there was a great deal of scope for "Christians to enter into dialogue with Pagans both on an individual and a group level than at first we might suppose." Thomas says that it is time for the Church to converse with pagans."
A Norwich InterFaith Link was to hear a lecture "Life in a Tibetan Monastery". a talk by Geshe Tsultim. Sadly Rev. Richard Thomas, who was to speak at this event, has had to cancel because of ill health, said the announcement.
In 2003 Thomas was a featured speaker at Pagan Pride Day UK at Avebury. A notice said events included talks by Michael Dames, Cerridwen Dragon-Oak, Pagan Elders, Rev. Richard Thomas, and others. The Autumnal Equinox Ritual will take place at Sunset! He also spoke at Gay Pride Day 2004.
Thomas has serious pro gay biases. These surfaced recently following a statement by Nigerian Primate Peter Akinola who said, "Homosexuality is so unnatural. Even in the world of dogs, cows and lions, we don't hear of such things."
His attack sparked a furious response from gay rights campaigners in the Church, who demanded a full apology before any further debate could take place.
Richard Kirker, of the Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement said, "His words reveal a disgust and contempt for other people that is incompatible with Christianity."
Kirker's views were backed by Thomas, spokesman for the Oxford Diocese whose bishop, The Right Rev Richard Harries, recently sparked the furor over homosexuals in the Church by appointing Canon John as the suffragan bishop of Reading.
"One of the advantages of having the kind of dispute the Church is having in public is that it makes it very clear where people's theology stops and their prejudice begins," said Thomas.
Thomas also started an online religious community, based on the principles of Benedictine monasticism, www.i-church.org , which has already been granted the official status of Parish of the Diocese of Oxford, England.
Thomas began his journey into paganism in January 2003 when he made a formal announcement that he was going to study witchcraft and had received his bishop's blessing for a plan to meet witches and attend pagan rituals.
At the time Thomas said he hoped the research would increase Christians' understanding of paganism and that the work was "something that God has called me to do".
However, he insisted that he would not overtly seek to "convert" pagans to Christianity.
The clergyman set out his plan after receiving a £1,000 ($1,700.00) a month bursary from the Ecclesiastical insurance group to help him study wicca, or modern pagan witchcraft.
He was also helped in his studies by being given a three-month sabbatical from his job as director of communications in the Oxford diocese. Thomas said that his bishop, the Rt. Rev Dr Richard Harries, a senior Church figure, had been "very supportive".
Thomas, who is researching for a thesis on modern Pagan Witchcraft for his three-year Masters qualification under the Archbishop of Canterbury's Lambeth system of degrees, said that his aim was to achieve a "clear, unambiguous and academically moderated picture of Wiccan practice and theology".
He said that Christians often indulged in speculation and made assumptions about pagan rituals, and that this led to a "clouded picture".
He said: "I want to go to the source to visit Wiccan rituals, to meet practicing Wiccans, to record their understanding of their theology and practice, in order to produce a snapshot of the reality and to do some thinking about the theology that underlies it."
"If Christianity is going to interact with people who are interested in witchcraft, druidry or shamanism [religion involving forms of spiritualism] then we are going to have to sit down and talk with people in humility and hear what they have to say about our faith."
Thomas said he saw no conflict between his ministry and his chosen area of study. "God is concerned about, and has love for all," he said. "Our mission is to care for all, and you can't have pastoral concern without backing it up with academic concern."
"For dialogue to take place it is necessary to proceed from a position of humility and understanding rather than from a position of arrogance or fear."
"The Church will benefit from my studies through having me and others who are known and trusted by members of the pagan community and who can be a point of reference."
Thomas said he would make no direct attempts to "convert" pagans to Christianity as he considered that this might make it harder to build a relationship of trust with them. However, he added: "I am more than happy to answer people's questions about the Christian faith."
The Lambeth Degree is a real academic award. Candidates are exempt from both residential and examination requirements and the special awards are made on merit in recognition of recipients' contribution to religious, academic and public life.
An Oxford theologian who asked to remain anonymous told VirtueOnline that, "We in Oxford have long known that this man [Thomas] is not on the side of the angels and is a pro-gay lobbyist and activist. The Bishop of Oxford, frustrated in his desire to promote Jeffrey John has more than one closet gay on his staff. If Thomas is convicted it will go far to destroying the last shreds of credibility for Bishop Harries who is on his way to retirement."
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