A married vicar who had an adulterous affair with a parishioner after she came to him to discuss her personal problems was today barred from being a priest for 10 years.
A five-strong church disciplinary tribunal ruled that father-of-three the Rev Dr Patrick Okechi, from the Church of the Good Shepherd with St John in West Bromwich, West Midlands, behaved in a manner "unbecoming or inappropriate to the office and work of a clerk in Holy Orders".
The judgment, which was handed down by tribunal chairman Judge Simon Grenfell, referred to a relationship with a woman known only as Mrs A.
In the judgment, Judge Grenfell said: "The complainant's case is that, following her approach to Dr Okechi about her personal problems and their becoming friends, their relationship developed into becoming a full sexual relationship as from about the spring of 2004 and continued until Dr Okechi ended it in early February 2006."
The judge said the vicar had argued that the relationship was nothing other than a "simple friendship" but Mrs A became obsessed with him and harassed him.
According to the judgment, Dr Okechi had been the incumbent of the church since 2002 and had been married to his wife, Rael Ong'ute Otosio, known as Rachel, since 1988. The hearing was told that the couple had three children and lived in the vicarage.
The judgment today at Leeds Crown Court referred to evidence heard at a behind-closed-doors session in Birmingham in October. It said Mrs A was a parishioner who had been separated from her husband for a number of years. She had not attended the church until she went to a marriage blessing in December 2003.
It said Mrs A had "personal problems with a history of unstable behaviour".
The judgment said Mrs A sought out the vicar after the church blessing because she wanted to talk about her problems.
She then began attending a regular Wednesday service conducted by Dr Okechi and they would go to each other's homes for coffee. The judgment said: "One Friday, as he left her house, he had put his arm around her and said he thought he loved her.
"She spoke of a feeling of shock but confessed to it being a good feeling, thinking that somebody actually loved her. The following Wednesday she went to the vicarage. No-one else was there. On the settee he put his arm around her and started to kiss her.
"She had pointed out she was 13 years older but he had said that did not matter. One thing led to another and 'we had sex'.
"After that he would visit regularly. Sometimes they would just talk. Other times 'we would have sex all the way'."
Explaining the 10-year prohibition from office, Judge Grenfell said: "High standards are required and expected of clergy.
"As a tribunal we have to have in mind the wider picture than just simply the concerns that relate to the individual clergyman and the tribunal must have regard therefore to the interests of justice for all who are affected by the faults, failings and shortcomings of the clergy."
The judge went on: "Undoubtedly this is a personal tragedy for Dr Okechi."
He said the tribunal had taken into account a range of strong mitigating factors, including evidence that the vicar had doubled the congregation at the church. The judge said he believed the vicar's marriage had been going through some difficulties but said this should "never be an excuse for unfaithful behaviour in clergymen".
He said the punishment would have a severe effect on Dr Okechi but added it would be "even more severe on his wife and children".
The hearing was told he had a child attending university, another at college and a third still at school, and struggled financially.
After the hearing, the Bishop of Lichfield, the Rt Rev Jonathan Gledhill, said: "I am extremely disappointed by Patrick Okechi's behaviour.
"The public, quite rightly, expect members of the clergy to behave with integrity and to be an example to others. Mr Okechi has let down not only himself but also his fellow clergy and his parishioners.
"And by denying the allegation, he has compounded his guilt and caused unnecessary suffering to a parish which has gone through a very difficult period over the past couple of years."
The bishop expressed his regret at how long the matter took to be resolved and said he would be calling on the General Synod of the Church of England to review the situation.
He added: "But that is in the future. For now, I will ask my colleagues, the Bishop of Wolverhampton and the Archdeacon of Walsall, to set in train the process of finding a new permanent minister for the Church of the Good Shepherd with St John so that they can put this whole sorry affair behind them and look to the future with renewed hope and optimism."