BY ED WEST
PARISHIONERS at a church in east London are in dispute with their parish priest after he closed a parish hall and social club that was built with parishioners' money.
Fr Paul Bruxby, parish priest of St Augustine's of Canterbury in Barkingside, has been accused of acting in a "dictatorial" manner by parishioners, some of whom have stopped going to Mass as a result.
The church's social club was built in 1978 and has been a limited company since 2001. But in December last year Fr Bruxby met its directors and asked them to close the club on grounds of impending financial failure and health and safety concerns.
Parishioners claim the club has several thousand pounds in the bank and that builders hired by them said the building was not at risk and had the necessary safety certificates.
After the meeting on December 10 four of the directors received a letter from the company secretary stating that they had unanimously agreed to close the club — something that was repeated in the parish newsletter. Four of the directors 'denied this. Three of them were dismissed the following month, replaced by diocesan priests. Fr Bruxby said their term had ended in 2006, but that they had all been continuing in an unofficial capacity since.
Fr Bruxby has also dismissed Eucharistic Ministers and parish councillors, and parishioners also claim that Fr Bruxby had the club chained up
on March 31, locking out senior citizens' groups and children's dancing lessons. They protested to Bishop McMahon of Brentwood, but they say that he has not addressed the issues.
Parishioner Tony Harris, former chairman of the parish council, said: 'There was a meeting where 250 people were against the closure, but Fr Bruxby walked out when he noticed someone was taking notes, The club has £30,000 in the bank — it was making a profit. He gave only silly reasons. For example, there is a building next door with advertising, and one of his worries was that they could be putting up abortion clinics or condom adverts.
"There are a number of parishioners going to other churches, several not going at all. We've stopped putting in the collection. The collection has gone down but we have no way of checking these figures. If he had gone about it the right way he might have got his way. Now he just tries to crush opposition." Mr Harris claims he was sacked from the parish council for dissenting.
A spokesman for the Diocese of Brentwood said the social club had been closed "after consultations with the parish priest and the parish council". "The future of the club has been a matter of concern for some time, with a dwindling number of regular users, little success in attracting new members and a resulting lack of profitability to ensure financial stability."
Fr Bruxby refused to comment.