Bishop "embarrassed" by sham weddings case

The local bishop admitted the church has been "embarrassed" by the Alex Brown case, and vowed to return any money received from the bogus weddings.

The Right Reverend Wallace Benn, Bishop of Lewes, was speaking outside Lewes Crown Court after Rev Brown was sentenced to four years in prison for the St Peter's marriage scam.

He defended the steps Rev Brown's colleagues took when evidence of dodgy goings-on at the church first surfaced, and admitted it was "extremely unlikely" that Father Brown would ever conduct a wedding ceremony again.

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The bishop said the church was discussing with police what to do with the thousands of pounds earned from the 360 fake weddings.

"The church has no interest in keeping money it should not have," he said.

Asked about Rev Brown's motives he said: "I think that is one of the mysteries of the whole case. I personally think a stronger case could have been made on humanitarian grounds because Father Brown has a long term record of helping people in the community. It was certainly excessive naivety.

"I am extremely disappointed and it does not do the church any favours at all, but I would appeal to you to understand that one problem does not mean a myriad of problems."

Asked if he was embarrassed, he replied: "Yes."

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In a personal message to the people of St Leonards, the Rt Rev Benn said: "On behalf of the Church of England, for any hurt or pain or concern raised in the hearts of people I am very, very sorry."

"The sentence passed today on the Rev Alex Brown reflects the seriousness of his offences. So many people have been let down by Alex Brown's conduct and all those affected by the events in St Leonards are at the forefront of our sympathy and prayers.

"The church holds marriage as a sacred institution and condemns unreservedly any activities and behaviour that undermine that sanctity."

He again rejected any criticisms of the way in which the church handled Rev Brown, and said: "We recognise that people's confidence in the Church of England to live up to its own standards has been undermined by these events. We are in the process of reviewing all relevant procedures to ensure that couples continue to be given the best support possible as they make the decisive choice to seek God's blessing on their marriage."