London - A married vicar took inappropriate photos of a teenage girl wearing his clerical collar and told her it was fine with God for them to have sex, a disciplinary tribunal has ruled.
Simon Marsh, 59, sent his parishioner – who first turned to him for help aged 15 – love poems, took pictures of her in her knickers and showered her with presents including chocolate and perfume.
He became besotted with the girl and even created secret pet nicknames, referring to himself as Gabriel – meaning God’s messenger after the Archangel Gabriel – and calling her "Raphael" or "the healer" because she had brought healing into his life.
By the time the girl had turned 16, Marsh – then in his early 50s – began a sexual relationship with her, the tribunal found on Monday.
He justified this by convincing her it was "fine with God", the panel said.
Marsh, who was the vicar of St Michael and All Angels Church in Bramhall, Stockport, also told the teenager she would be "disobeying" the Lord if she refused to have sex with him and it was her "duty" to allow it.
On one occasion Marsh got angry after the girl, who cannot be named, spilt coffee and "insisted" she perform a sex act on him as punishment, the hearing was told. Another time he "forced her" into sex, saying: "It would only happen once because God couldn’t approve of more."
His wife Jilly, who stood by him, was reportedly suffering from cancer as the scandal unfolded. She died in January aged 57. Marsh was arrested on suspicion of rape and sexual assault when the girl went to police in 2014. But he was never charged after the CPS ruled there was insufficient evidence.
However, the burden of proof at the tribunal – which operates at a lower civil standard and was brought by the Archdeacon of Macclesfield – found allegations about his behaviour, including adultery and sex without consent, were proven in full.
Marsh, who was ordained 35 years ago, has since been sacked and banned from being a member of Church of England clergy for life.
On Friday the Rt Rev Dr Peter Forster, the Bishop of Chester, apologised for Marsh’s actions, which he said amounted to "a sad and inexcusable abuse of trust and power by a priest".
Marsh befriended the girl in 2009. She had an unhappy, dysfunctional family life and turned to Christianity for "emotional and proper parental support", the tribunal papers state. By 2010 the pair’s relationship had "deepened" and the vicar began asking her to keep their meetings secret.
Marsh told the girl he loved her and encouraged her to send him intimate messages via an online blogsite.
In January 2011, when the girl was just 16, they started a sexual relationship, the tribunal ruled. They did not have full sex, however, until April 2012, when Marsh forced her by saying "it would only happen once because God couldn’t approve of more".
Further sexual intimacy, the panel found, happened "often against her will" and the relationship became "increasingly coercive, aggressive and controlling by him, resulting in her ending it" in December 2013.
Marsh emphatically denied the allegations, although he claimed the pair had a close "father/daughter" relationship. But the panel ruled the evidence against him was overwhelming, describing the sacked vicar as in "total denial" and a "deeply controlling man".
Panel chairman Roger Kaye QC said: "Increasingly he used force, anger and pressure, physical, emotional, and even theological, to compel her to submit to his increasing sexual demands and gratification.
"He attempted to justify his demands by telling her it was fine with God that he had sexual relations with her.
"He sought to justify to her – and to us – his relationship with her as one on proper theological or priestly grounds Frankly, in our judgment, we found him a deeply unsatisfactory witness. She was not, we find, fabricating the allegations." Marsh has been contacted for comment.Daily Mail