A FORMER Christchurch priest sacked from the church faces a tribunal over allegations relating to funeral fees.

Reverend Andrew Hawthorne, former minister of St George’s Church, was dismissed by the Diocese of Winchester last year after being put on gardening leave in 2011 before an official suspension.

Relations between the priest and the church began to break down in 2011, after a number of incidents involving Christchurch Parochial Church Council and the Diocese.

He was suspended in 2012 and investigated over what, he says, are false claims of financial irregularities relating to thousands of pounds of funeral fees the church says he should not have kept.

Parishioners have campaigned for his return, holding demonstrations in Christchurch.

Father Andrew, who is now a member of the Catholic Church after he claims he was told to stay away from the parish of Christchurch, believes his initial removal was due to his opposition to chancel repair liability as well as a refusal from St George’s parishioners to pay a 95 per cent increase in parish funds.

The police investigation into the allegations involving funeral fees was concluded last year with no action taken against Mr Hawthorne, who still faces a Bishops’ tribunal into the matter in October.

Mr Hawthorne claims he was accused of keeping around £22,000 from funeral fees the Diocese believe should have gone to parish funds.

But he says he had a verbal agreement with former Priory priest Hugh Williams to keep them, a move allowed under the Church of England’s diocesan handbook.

“There hasn’t been a definitive conclusion to this. I just want to clear my name”, he said.

“I want the tribunal to be in public.

“The process has been so horrible and so hard for Ceri, my wife.

“It’s like I’ve lost my identity.”

Ceri added: “I come from a church family and it’s been a very big part of my life.

“It’s taken away a lot of my foundations.”

The Diocese of Winchester said Mr Hawthorne remained subject to the Church of England disciplinary procedures, because he remains ordained in the Church of England.