Priest Under Fire for ‘Liking’ Images of Naked Men on Twitter

The Church of England has handed a priest an official warning for ‘liking’ images of naked men and genitalia on Twitter after he claimed he was simply appreciating posts by his ‘naturist’ friend. 

The Rev Michael Todd, 59, argued there is a relationship between naturism and Christianity after superiors reported him to the church authorities.

The Anglican priest is the Children’s Society church engagement manager, and also a guiding light of online safety for the young people represented by the charity.

His fundraising work includes organising children’s Christingles and sharing a platform with the TV vicar Rev Kate Bottley, known for appearing on Gogglebox.

He had a large number of followers including his bosses at the Diocese of Southwark, which he had to accept as followers in 2019.

The description on his profile – which appears to have since been removed – read: ‘Anglican Priest working for a National Social Justice Charity. Interests in faith and spirituality, social justice equality and inclusion. Views entirely my own.’

The church’s PR officer was monitoring all local priests’ Twitter pages in an attempt to spread good news about what was happening in the Diocese.

So the Bishop’s press officer, the Rev Canon Wendy Robins, was stunned while checking the Diocese Twitter timeline in July 2019.

She spotted Rev Todd had liked four images of a naked man, referred to only by his initials AR, between May and July.

She showed them to the Rt Rev Jane Steen, now Bishop of Lynn, but then Archdeacon of Southwark.

Tribunal Chairman John Lodge said: ‘Within a short while, the Archdeacon made a complaint pursuant to the Clergy Discipline Measure and these proceedings were commenced.’

The priest was reported for ‘liking tweets that contained sexually explicit and/or offensive photographic material thereby sharing the said material with any person who could view it.’

Rev Todd, a friend of AR who lives some distance away, claimed the images were examples of naturism.

But Mr Lodge said: ‘The tribunal was unanimous in the view that the tweets showed nudity, including genitalia, with hashtags describing and highlighting that genitalia.

‘The tribunal concluded that the images were highly likely to be considered sexually explicit by those who viewed them, and highly likely to give rise to the risk that they would cause offence to those who came upon them inadvertently.

‘We concluded these were not naturist photographs. There is some discussion, particularly by the respondent, in the papers of the relationship between naturism and Christianity.

‘In the light of our findings in relation to the photographs, it was not relevant to our decision to consider this.’

Rev Todd liking the images automatically exposed his large number of followers to the pictures without them doing anything.

Mr Lodge continued: ‘This gave rise to a real and substantial risk that those who would consider the images sexually explicit and be offended and upset by those images would see them.

‘The fact that the respondent went ahead and took this risk amounted, in the judgment of the Tribunal, to misconduct.

‘It was a priest, who describing himself as such on his Twitter account, was exposing others to the risk of being exposed to images that they might find both sexually explicit and offensive.’

The tribunal found an official rebuke was needed, rather than any special training, since the posts happened two and a half years ago and there had been no repetition.

Mr Lodge added: ‘The tribunal noted and had some concerns about the haste with which proceedings were initiated and the absence of engagement before proceedings were started.

‘This aspect of the process remains regrettable and it is to be hoped that the conclusion of these proceedings will lead to active re-engagement between the parties.’

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