A high-profile Catholic priest has been suspended after an investigation discovered he was in a sham ‘gay marriage’ to help a Pakistani immigrant stay in Britain.

Father Donald Minchew – a former Anglican who converted to Catholicism after attacking the Church of England’s loss  of traditional values – admitted entering into a civil partnership as a favour to a family friend desperate to work in Britain.

Last night the Home Office said it was ‘determined to crack down on immigration offenders’ and Mustajab Hussain now faces an investigation and possible deportation.

The priest initially told The Mail on Sunday he would resign, but after a meeting with senior Church leaders, he has now been ‘withdrawn from public ministry’ pending  an investigation.

Mr Hussain corroborated Father Minchew’s version of events when The Mail spoke to him outside Croydon furniture store Beds4U, of which he is a director.

He said: "He helped me. That’s it. There is nothing more."

He said he had recently been in Islamabad where his wife lived, but he refused to comment on his immigration status.

However he later backtracked, suggesting there had been a gay relationship between him and the cleric, though he produced no evidence for this.

Father Minchew admitted he had not told the Catholic Church that he was in a civil partnership, adding: ‘That is an omission on my part and I will have to pay the price for it.’

He added, however, that he was not ashamed of what he had done, saying it had ‘no bearing on my ministry’.

Father Minchew made headlines in 2012 when he criticised the Church of England before defecting with about 70 members of his congregation from St Michael and All Angels in Croydon to St Mary’s Catholic Church, a few minutes’ walk away.

The priest branded the Church of England as ‘banal’, criticised progressive policies such as women priests, and said ‘you can pick and choose which doctrines you follow’.

The Church of England allows its clergy to enter civil partnerships if they assure their bishop their relationship is celibate, but the Catholic Church ‘strongly opposes’ same-sex unions. The scandal follows the jailing of several Church of England clergy for conducting sham marriages to help immigrants get round the law.

A statement from Monsignor Keith Newton, who oversees Anglican vicars who convert to Catholicism, is to be read at Father Minchew’s Croydon church today.

It says: ‘Father Minchew has informed me that this partnership involved no sexual relationship. He deeply regrets his action. He apologises unreservedly for any harm or embarrassment he has caused.’

Father Minchew could also face prosecution for assisting unlawful immigration for entering the sham ‘marriage’ in 2008, while he was still a Church of England vicar.

The civil partnership certificate shows the event at the  register office in Cheltenham, Gloucestershire, was witnessed by David Nicholas and Edward Minchew, the priest’s brother.

Confronted by The Mail on Sunday last week Father Minchew said: "You are talking to a ruined man. I am finished. End of story."

The 66-year-old widower and father of four insisted he was not homosexual and claimed  32-year-old Mr Hussain, a Muslim who also has a wife, had been a long-standing family friend as their fathers served together during the Second World War.

The priest claimed his father, the late Harry Minchew, who was in the Royal Marines, met Muhmmad Sadiq, now a retired Pakistani government official, when he was posted to India in 1940. But when

The Mail on Sunday spoke to Mr Sadiq in Islamabad, he said he had never met Mr Minchew nor served in the army.

Speaking about the civil partnership at his comfortable home in Croydon, South London, the priest said: ‘It was the only way I could see of getting him in the country.’

Under Home Office rules, immigrants in civil partnerships have to show they are in a genuine relationship before they are granted rights to stay in the UK.

Yet Father Minchew said he and Mr Hussain had not seen each other for ‘donkey’s years’.

The priest initially told The Mail on Sunday he would resign, but after a meeting with senior Church leaders, he has now been ‘withdrawn from public ministry’ pending  an investigation.

Mr Hussain corroborated Father Minchew’s version of events when we spoke to him outside Croydon furniture store Beds4U, of which he is a director. He said: ‘He helped me. That’s it. There is nothing more.’

Father Minchew could also face prosecution for assisting unlawful immigration  

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