The Church of England's minority Anglo-Catholic fringe congregates in the most deprived areas of the country, according to new research by a traditionalist grouping that suggests priests with Catholic leanings are disproportionately represented in the poorest boroughs.
Parishes associated with The Society, a highly conservative organisation within the CoE, make up just three per cent of the Church's 12,600 parishes but they make up nearly one-fifth of the poorest one per cent of parishes across the UK.
The vast majority of Anglo-Catholic parishes are in deprived areas and almost half of priests linked to The Society are in the poorest 10 per cent, according to the government's deprivation index. The research suggested that despite their overall minority, Anglo-Catholic priests congregate in poorer areas.
Anne Gray, the projects officer to The Society's Council of Bishops, said Catholic-leaning Anglican parishes had a 'starkly different' make-up to the broader CofE when it came to deprivation.
'Ministry and mission to the poor and deprived in Anglo-Catholic parishes is as much a hallmark of their commitment today as it was in the past,' she said.
'Most striking of all is when the spotlight is turned onto the one per cent most extremely deprived of all parishes – 126 of them nationally. Of these 126 parishes, 23 (18 per cent) are Society Bishops' Resolution parishes,' she added, speaking at The Society's National Assembly in central London on Saturday.
Father Ian McCormack, a vicar in the ex-mining parish of Grimethorpe in South Yorkshire, criticised the Archbishop of Canterbury's focus on numerical growth and said working in deprived areas was 'among the privileges of our priesthood, even though they may be immensely challenging at times'.
He said: 'But there are frustrations as well: we are no longer threatened with riots for lighting the candles on our altars, or with suspension for preaching the Real Presence in the Eucharist, as our Anglo-Catholic forebears were; but we are faced with a demand for 79.17 per cent of our income in parish share; with the need for a portfolio of policy documents so large that we've had to find new shelf space just to fit them all in, in a parochial setting where the reality is that some of the people I meet cannot read; and an ecclesiastical culture which sometimes seems to value numerical growth as the only possible gauge of success.'
He added: 'The Church of the poor must live up to her name and her birth-right, and work for the spiritual and physical well-being of the poor.'