Rector quits after removing Royal British Legion flags from churches
A rector who removed and destroyed Royal British Legion flags from two churches has apologised and resigned.
The Reverend Kingsley Sutton said he "utterly regretted" his "inappropriate and unacceptable" decision to take down the legion standards hanging in St Patrick's and St Mary's churches in Newry, Northern Ireland.
Mr Sutton, who was Church of Ireland rector of Newry, said his actions had been motivated by a desire to make the places of worship "accessible to all people" and free from "vestiges from the past". He replaced the standards with white peace themed flags emblazoned with a red heart.
The minister, who defied instructions of a senior bishop in taking down the flags, had already been asked to step back from ministry amid the fallout from the episode.
He has now formally offered his resignation, which has been accepted by the Bishop of Down and Dromore, the Right Reverend Harold Miller.
Mr Sutton said: "In the light of the unfolding events here in Newry since I unwisely and forcefully removed the Royal British Legion Standards from St Patrick's and St Mary's churches, I wish to make a full and unreserved apology.
"In my haste to provide worship areas in Newry that are more accessible to all people and free from what I perceived as the vestiges of the past, I completely underestimated the depth of meaning and present day value of the Royal British Legion Standards.
"I truly wish I had sought advice at the time and avoided all the damage I have caused. In my misguided thinking and zeal, not only did I remove the standards, but I also made my decision irreversible by destroying them. I utterly regret this inappropriate and unacceptable action. I repent, and wish to make a full and deeply felt public apology to all those I have insulted, undermined and offended by my actions.
"I apologise to the Royal British Legion, to its members and supporters, and anyone else I have hurt in my ignorance, especially those for whom the standards hold particular meaning and connection. If I can ease the hurt I have caused, even at this late stage, I here commit myself to doing so.
"I apologise to the Select Vestry members and parishioners of St Patrick's and St Mary's, Newry, for abusing my role as their leader and for causing them deep embarrassment and tremendous stress.
"I apologise to the bishop for disobeying his leadership and have since fully resubmitted myself to the structures of authority within the Church of Ireland."
The rector said he also apologised to members of Protestant loyal orders, in particular the Apprentice Boys of Derry, for making what he described as "insensitive remarks" about their traditions and values.
"I also apologise to my family and friends for the difficult and serious situation that I have put them in," he added.
"I commit myself to learning from my mistakes.
"My desire and heart has only ever been to make Jesus known and to draw as many people as possible to Him, to advance the hope of peace and love in this troubled land. As I got this so blatantly wrong with my actions, I feel I can do no other at this stage than to offer my resignation as rector of Newry."
Bishop Miller said the situation around the flags' removal had been "very painful indeed".
"I welcome the statement of apology from the rector, Revd Kingsley Sutton, which was issued last night (Wednesday) to the local Royal British Legion and the Select Vestries of St Patrick's and St Mary's," he said.
"The rector also offered me his resignation and sadly, I feel I must accept it.
"I have been in touch with the Royal British Legion, the Select Vestries and the Apprentice Boys of Derry, to arrange to meet with them as we seek a way forward, and would like to thank all concerned for their helpfulness and graciousness."