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A gay London vicar has fled his parish after an online liaison turned into a blackmail attempt.

The Reverend Neil Follett, 50, struck up a friendship with a German academic over the Internet. This resulted in the German visiting him at his Victorian vicarage in London's exclusive Knightsbridge district.

But the relationship soured, according to today's Times newspaper, after the two bickered over an alleged credit-card bill. The academic decided to play his trump card, and threatened to reveal the Rev's sexuality secret to the tabloids.

Follet, who has three kids and is separated from his wife, revealed details of the blackmail to churchwardens and members of the parochial church council and told them he was gay, before doing a bunk on police advice.

The scandal came just days after churchwarden Captain Ian Powe - who commanded HMS Yarmouth during the 'Cod War' - was arrested for alleged anti-gay harassment against Follet. Captain Powe, who has denied any wrongdoing, is out on bail.

Yesterday, ageing Pope John Paul slammed a gay rights march in Rome as an "offence to Christian values". Those taking part, including drag queens who stripped to leather thongs and stilettos, were deemed "against natural law" by the pontiff. ®

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