Free Church at War over Control of [Pounds Sterling]100m; Congregations in Chaos as Fight over Assets Goes to Court
Byline: CHRISTINA STOKES
THE warring factions of the Free Church of Scotland went to court yesterday in a fight over [pounds sterling]100million of assets.
The Church split in 2000 after a senior minister was falsely accused of molesting a number of women.
Five years earlier, Professor Donald Macleod had been accused of sexual assaults involving four women. But a sheriff cleared him and said the entire case was a conspiracy against the professor by other members of the Church.
He added that a group of elders had tried to 'frame' him because of his relatively liberal views on issues such as women wearing hats in church and the singing of Christmas carols.
But a group of ministers refused to accept the verdict and insisted that the Free Church hold an internal inquiry into the affair.
When the Church's governing body, the General Assembly, refused, a group of 22 ministers and their congregations split and formed the hardline Free Church of Scotland (Continuing).
The split resulted in chaos, as warring groups changed the locks of their churches and set up rival congregations.
Ministers from the breakaway faction claim all the Church's property belongs to them - including more than 100 churches and manses - because they claim they are now the true Free Church.
However, this is disputed by the 161-year- old main body of the Church.
Yesterday, in front of Lady Paton at the Court of Session, Ruth Charteris, advocate for the Free Church of Scotland, described how, in 1995, Sheriff John Horsburgh QC found there was no evidence against Professor Macleod.
The General Assembly decided to accept that decision.
But a small group of ministers, calling themselves the Free Church Defence Association, found this unsatisfactory and tried unsuccessfully to get the case reopened. …