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Bishop: No extra-marital sex for leaders

12 April 2007

by Bill Bowder

Dispute: John Reaney arriving at the tribunal last week PA

Dispute: John Reaney arriving at the tribunal last week PA

HAVING SEX outside marriage should disbar anyone from a position of “spiritual, moral, and ethical leadership”, regardless of sexual orientation, the Bishop of Hereford, the Rt Revd Anthony Priddis, told an employment tribunal in Cardiff last week.

The Bishop had been called to appear after John Reaney, a 41-year-old youth worker from Llandudno, took the diocese to the tribunal. He said that he had been refused a job as a youth worker, at a salary of £25,000 a year, solely because of his homosexuality (News, 5 April).

It is illegal under the Employment Equality Regulations 2003 to discriminate on the grounds of sexual orientation. Religious organisations are allowed certain exceptions, but it is not clear whether these apply to lay workers, as distinct from those who are ordained.

Mr Reaney, who has worked as a youth officer in other dioceses, and now works for the charity Weston Spirit, told the tribunal he had been unanimously approved for the job by an eight-person interviewing panel. But he was not offered the post, after a two-hour meeting with the Bishop in July, during which he was asked about his relationship history, he said.

“I said I was not in a sexual relationship, and was not looking for one, and that I was able to exercise self-restraint. The Bishop put it to me that this situation could change. I made it very clear to the Bishop that I was not seeking a relationship, and would adhere to his wishes if I were under his authority. I would communicate with him if I was struggling.

“He asked me ‘What would you do if you met someone?’ I told him that, if I felt a relationship might develop in the future, I would discuss it with him. However, I reiterated to him that I was not in a sexual relationship, and I did intend to remain that way. And I explicitly told him that I was certainly happy to remain celibate for the duration of the post,” Mr Reaney said.

The diocese has denied discrimination. Bishop Priddis said that he had concluded that Mr Reaney was not emotionally in a position to make promises about his future sexual behaviour. “Such sexuality in itself was not an issue, but Mr Reaney’s lifestyle had the potential to impact on the spiritual, moral, and ethical leadership within the diocese,” the Bishop said.

The tribunal is scheduled to meet again next Monday, and is expected to deliver a verbal response on Tuesday, followed by a written judgment in six weeks.

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