BY FREDDY GRAY
BRITAIN'S LARGEST Catholic bookshop has raised fears over a powerful new investor in the Christian publishing industry.
Staff at St Paul's Bookshop, London, have expressed concern about the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge (SPCK), Britain's secondbiggest Christian retail organisation, which has been saved from financial ruin by the St Stephen the Great Charitable Trust (SSG), a British-registered Orthodox Christian charity with links to America.
SSG's American sister charity's website — which was taken offline last Friday after reports of its anti-Catholic content appeared in the British Christian press — claimed that people who convert to the Catholic Church were ignorant of Christian history.
It said: "In their misguided belief, they assume that this is the nue Church of Christ. They know nothing of the changes made to their faith for political or man-made purposes, or the schism when the Roman Catholic Pope broke from the rest of the Catholic Church."
The website also denounced all non-Orthodox Christian denominations as "false prophets".
Stephen Moseling, operadons coordinator of St Paul's bookshop in Westminster, said his organisation was troubled by SPCK's new partner. "I am deeply concerned that an organisation holding this philosophy should be investing in the Christian book trade in the UK," he said.
"This is a matter which should be of concern to all Christian publishers and retailers. St Paul's is currently reassessing [its] business relationship with any organisation that has links to the St Stephen the Great Charitable trust."
Web-users looking for details of the American SSG have, since last Friday, been diverted to the United Kingdom SSG site, which offers a markedly calmer summary of Orthodox beliefs.
"The St Stephen the Great Foundation seeks to make this 'Orthodox experience' more widely known in Britain," it says. "The trust is committed to the widest possible dissemination of Christian literature."
Mark Brewer, the American chairman of SSG Trust, was at pains to point out that the SSG in America was a "separate juridical entity" to the SGG charitable Trust in Britain.
However, Mr Brewer, who sits on the boards of both charities, said that visitors to the US charity site had been redirected to the sister UK SGO site in an attempt to "avoid confusion" following a report in the Church Times which quoted from theAmerican SSG site.
He played down allegations that SSG organisations were hostile to Catholicism. "There is nothing anti-Catholic about the Society of St Stephen the Great, there's nothing antiCatholic about Orthodoxy," he said.
Nicholas Chapman, a consultant for SSG in Britain, suggested that the contrasting language on the two sites reflected the "cultural difference" between publishing in America and Europe. He said: "In America there is a tendency to employ hyperbole in publishing, that's something you don't get over here."
Simon Kingston, SPCK's senior executive officer, said he was confident that the SSG had no intention of narrowing the ecumenical outlook of SPCK. "There was never the slightest hint of anti-Catholicism," he said. "They are anxious to be inclusive and retain the breadth of publishing that SPCK offers. From the very outset, in fact, they emphasised their commitment to this."
Mr Chapman agreed that SSG would not hinder SPCK's publishing policy. "SSG has made a commitment to that and will not go back on it," he said.
The SSG charitable trust has made considerable investments in Britain, having bought a large church in Bradford, West Yorkshire, and Poole, Dorset.
The combined value of both properties is more than £12 million