Belfast Telegraph

I'll stand by him, says Northern Ireland wife of vicar who had an affair with parishioner

By Nevin Farrell

The Northern Ireland wife of a love cheat minister has told how she is sticking by him despite his affair with a parishioner.

Erin Vincent (30) was speaking after it emerged that 40-year-old Rev Stephen Vincent has lost his job and is being evicted from his home in England in the wake of the scandal.

But Erin and her minister husband, who have three young children, have remained together. Erin, who is originally from Bangor, told the Daily Telegraph that she had "been taught to forgive" and believed "everyone deserves a second chance".

Rev Stephen Vincent, also from Northern Ireland, said his family had been left "on the brink" after his removal from office as a result of a relationship with a woman he had been asked to mentor.

Mr Vincent was introduced to the woman where he ministered at St Giles Church in Newcastle-under-Lyme, Staffordshire, because she had expressed an interest in joining the clergy.

The pair went on to exchange "innumerable" messages over a three-month period. At one point the messages numbered more than 80 per day and were "full of double entendres about underwear" and discussions of sexual acts.

Speaking to The Mail on Sunday, Mr Vincent, now unemployed, rejected a claim he had sex with the woman in an alleyway.

He said: "The first encounter wasn't in an alleyway. It was in an enclosed courtyard and was more of a fumble. The second time, she invited me to her house and we had consensual sex."

The exchanges were reviewed by a specially convened church disciplinary panel after complaints lodged by the woman, who cannot be named for legal reasons, and Mr Vincent's archdeacon.

The panel heard that the pair met at local pubs and "committed adultery" during two liaisons in 2012. The first of the two sexual encounters was in a place described as "an alleyway", although Mr Vincent said it was a "courtyard". On the second occasion, the woman texted him: "I'm home now come and get me." He replied that he would have to leave immediately afterwards.

Erin Vincent, who works in administration and met her husband 10 years ago, said she had read the messages but believed he deserved a second chance.

She told the Daily Telegraph: "Our relationship was unstable at the time. "I can see how much he regrets it and I don't think he needs punishing further. Steve is an amazing person who has made some silly decisions.

"We have three gorgeous children who mean the world to us, and we both stay strong for them."

In the spring of 2012 Mr Vincent was asked to meet the woman with whom he later had an affair, having been told "she was interested in exploring a call to ministry within the church".

The woman, who was also in a relationship, texted him to introduce herself on April 25, 2012, the first of an "innumerable" stream of messages between the pair.

The pair met in a pub on May 25 and by June 18 the messages had become sexually explicit.

They returned to the same venue on June 19, after which Mr Vincent said that "in different circumstances he may have kissed" her and she sent him a photograph of herself in her underwear.

Three days after Mr Vincent's ordination as a priest the pair again met at a bar. They went into a courtyard and engaged in what, according to the panel, the clergyman told them was consensual sexual intercourse.

They met again at a pub at which point, the panel said, she "made it clear to him that she wanted sex". She returned home before inviting Mr Vincent to join her and wore "only a silky dressing gown and knickers" to greet him.

The woman later made an allegation that she had been raped, which Mr Vincent strongly denies. The claim was investigated by police, who later dropped the case.

The panel said it "unreservedly accepted" the priest's version that the encounter was consensual.

Mr Vincent has been banned from acting as a priest for eight years. The panel said it could not judge whether he may be able to return to "active ministry" after that.

He is now claiming unemployment benefits said he and his family have been given until the end of the year to leave their home.

The affair, he said, was a "huge, stupid mistake".

"It has been devastating," he said. "In one day I lost my home, my job, and in some ways I nearly lost my family as well. We have been on the brink of breaking up and it is the thing I regret most in my life."

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