Sex offender priests banned from serving in churches are hiring themselves out to conduct funerals, a senior cleric has warned in the UK.

The Rt Rev Paul Butler, the Bishop of Durham, said the Church of England and other denominations were powerless to stop barred clerics from operating as unlicensed celebrants.

He signalled that the Church would be lobbying MPs to press for new regulation of the funeral industry.

The warning came during a question-and-answer session at the Church's General Synod in York.


The Revd Canon David Banting, vicar of St Peter's Church, in Harold Wood, Essex, raised concern about the increased use by funeral directors of independent funeral celebrants "some of whom may be suspended Church of England clergy".

Bishop Butler replied: "Like Canon Banting, I have become aware that clergy who have been refused permission to officiate due to safeguarding offences have sometimes been permitted to officiate at funerals by external commercial funeral directors."

Dr Peter Rouch, the Archdeacon of Bournemouth, part of the Diocese of Winchester, said: "We have very good relationships with the vast majority of funeral directors, but there are a few and those few not only have more lax procedures on this but on other matters as well.

"We have some funeral directors [who], even though advised by the police of an individual with sexual offences against children, continue to use that person for funerals."

Philip Spicksley, president of the Association of Independent Celebrants, said he had "no doubt" that the fears about former priests with sex offence convictions conducting funerals were well founded.

He emphasised that his association had its own code of conduct and bars anyone with convictions or allegations from membership.

But he added there is no legal requirement for celebrants to have a DBS (Disclosure and Barring Service) check so it can only encourage members to have a background review.

"Any family engaging a celebrant through a funeral director should ensure they ask questions of the funeral director that the person is a member of a reputable and regulated association with proper insurance," he said.

Mr Spicksley said grieving families are increasingly turning to celebrants rather than local clergy, often because they are more readily available.

In some areas, he said up to 70 per cent of funerals are conducted by celebrants.

He said: "One vicar often has six churches, if the funeral director calls the parish secretary sometimes it is three days before they ring you back to say we have got the Rev so-and-so."