Church leader condemns fathers' stunt
Protest action group that attacked Tony Blair condemned for latest stunt
Protesters scale York Minster and one activist tackled inside the building
12 people arrested as lead protester allowed to address General Synod
"No doubt there are real issues at stake for these individuals. They have been given an opportunity to share their concerns with the congregation here. But there has also been personal injury and damage to a place of worship which preaches the eternal message of healing, justice and compassion for all, and that has to be deplored strongly" - Very Reverend Keith Jones, the Dean of York
Story in full THE Church of England condemned a fathers’ pressure group for a "violent intrusion" during a service yesterday in York Minster where a member of staff was understood to have been assaulted and a glass door broken.
Dressed as clergy and monks, about 20 members of Fathers 4 Justice entered the cathedral during the annual service for the Anglican Church’s General Synod, its governing body.
The disruption happened in front of the church’s most senior members including its spiritual head, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, and during a sermon given by the Archbishop of York, Dr David Hope.
The same group that threw purple flour-filled condoms at Tony Blair in the House of Commons in May stood in front of the altar holding photos of their children until police arrived to remove them.
Fathers 4 Justice founder Matt O’Connor was taken out of the Minster after being rugby-tackled to the floor while making his way to the pulpit. Other protesters mounted the Minster’s roof and unfurled a large banner reading "In the Name of the Father".
The group pulled the stunt to highlight what they see as the Church’s failure to help fathers denied access to their children by former wives.
The Very Rev Keith Jones, the Dean of York, said: "We deeply regret the violent intrusion into a place of Christian worship and witness - that should not have happened.
"No doubt there are real issues at stake for these individuals. They have been given an opportunity to share their concerns with the congregation here. But there has also been personal injury and damage to a place of worship which preaches the eternal message of healing, justice and compassion for all, and that has to be deplored strongly."
Over the past two years angry fathers have climbed bridges and blocked traffic to press their case.
As Mr O’Connor was taken out of the service yesterday he shouted: "Shame on you. Justice for fathers. Remember half a million children are deprived of contact with their fathers and the Church does nothing. Shame on you."
However, he was later allowed back into York Minster to address those gathered for the service.
The scenes mirrored last year’s protest by the gay rights campaigner Peter Tatchell and his Outrage! group at a session of the General Synod.
North Yorkshire police yesterday arrested 12 people on suspicion of assault and criminal damage. They were later released on bail.
Sergeant Martin Metcalfe said: "We were called to a group allegedly forcing entry to the Minster where a door was damaged and someone was allegedly assaulted."
Last night Zero Tolerance, the charity that campaigns to stop violence against women and children, criticised the fathers’ rights group for failing to follow legal procedures.
Margaret McGregor, chairwoman of Zero Tolerance, said that usually a history of violence in the home caused judges to deny fathers access.
"There is always a good reason why fathers are not allowed access to their children. Each case is judged on its merits and is looked at very carefully.
"It could be that some men have a history of violence and are therefore denied access to their children."
She added: "I think the actions have been unacceptable at York Minster and will cause more people to go against the group. We have moved on a long way since the Suffragettes, so if they have a grievance they should work through exactly what they think is unjust in a court room until they reach a solution.
"They can’t just go smashing things in society and breaking the law, especially if they want people to listen to them. This behaviour will just be a turn-off for people."
Speaking before his arrest, Mr O’Connor said: "We want to wake the Church up to its responsibility in this area.
"The Church has failed to defend the sacred bond between parent and child and in turn has failed fathers, failed families and, most importantly, failed children.
"Many of our members are complaining that vicars neither want to get involved or even help out in cases where fathers are denied access to their children. That is morally bankrupt."
Two men came down from the roof last night following a ten-hour stand-off with police.
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