House of Bishops divided on keeping out homosexuals

by
25 May 2011

by a staff reporter

A CHECKLIST has been drawn up that makes it virtually impossible for an openly gay person to become a bishop in the Church of England.

At the same time as the Church of Scotland was opening the door to gay ministers, the C of E’s House of Bishops met in secret to discuss, among other things, legal advice on how to continue to exclude homosexuals from the episcopate in the wake of the Equality Act 2010.

A press spokesman confirmed that the Bishops discussed “issues concerned with episcopal appoint­ments this week, and commissioned further work”. It is understood that the bishops were unable to agree.

It appears that the legal advice was first requested by the Archbishop of Canterbury when the name of the Dean of St Albans, the Very Revd Dr Jeffrey John, was put forward for the see of Southwark in spring 2010. Subsequently, Dr John’s name was put forward for Salisbury and Lincoln. The House of Bishops’ debate seems to have been an attempt to justify retrospectively his effective exclusion from all three.

Dr John was nominated as Area Bishop of Reading in 2003, but had to withdraw after Lambeth Palace capitulated to conservative pressure, despite Dr John’s statement that he was in a stable, celibate partnership.

The advice, from the Church House Legal Office, warns that the body that nominates to diocesan sees, the Crown Nominations Commission (CNC), is bound by the Equality Act: “It is not open to them to take into account the mere fact that someone is gay by sexual orientation.” It is also generally unlawful, it says, “to discriminate on grounds of religion and belief”.

Nevertheless, exemptions written into the Act accept that the C of E “does not draw the same distinction as most secular employers between a person’s work life and his or her private life”.

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The key factor is the requirement of a bishop to act as a focus of unity. The advice states: “Where someone is in a civil partnership and/or is known to have been in a same-sex relationship, even though now celibate, it is for the CNC . . . to come to a view whether the person concerned can act as a focus for unity because of these matters.”

There follows a checklist of “factors that can properly be taken into account:

• whether the candidate had always complied with the Church’s teachings on same-sex sexual activity;

• whether he was in a civil partnership;

• whether he was in a continuing civil partnership with a person with whom he had had an earlier same-sex relationship;

• whether he had expressed repent­ance for any previous same-sex sexual activity; and

• whether (and to what extent) the appointment of the candidate would cause division and disunity within the diocese in question, the Church of England and the wider Anglican Communion.”

Under these conditions, a gay candidate must have been celibate all his life or have repented of his former lifestyle. It is not enough to live blamelessly with or without a partner. No attempt is made in the advice to equate these conditions with those required of a heterosexual candidate, particularly with reference to his sexual past.

No mention is made of expres­sing the view that homo­sexuality is compatible with Christianity — a charge that was levelled during the Reading affair. This could, none the less, be met with the objection of disunity if enough critics could be assembled.

The legal advice also considers the possibility of a candidate who has married again after divorce from a partner who is still living, or a candidate whose spouse is divorced from a former partner who is still living — a question thought to have been triggered by the listing of the

Revd Nick Holtam, Rector of St Martin-in-the-Fields, in London, alongside Dr John on the Southwark list of candidates. Mr Holtam’s wife, Helen, had been married before.

The document quotes the Bishops’ statement of 18 June (two weeks before the Southwark CNC met): “Marital history is one of many considerations which may properly be taken into account in discerning who God is calling to such office in his Church.”

Mr Holtam knew that he was being considered for Southwark, not least because he and Mrs Holtam were questioned by the Bishop of London about her pre­vious marriage. But, he said this week, “I didn’t apply, I wasn’t interviewed, there was no debrief, and so I know nothing.”

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He underwent two sessions of interviews for the see of Salisbury, for which, he says, he was delighted to be chosen. “I felt they took me seriously. All the literature says that bishops are supposed to be leaders, but in the old appointment system they were completely passive.”

He feels that a process that leaves a diocese without a bishop for 20 months or more is in need of more reform. “The length of time is a clue that the system isn’t working.”

Slee: tears shed after angry talks

THE Southwark Crown Nominations Commission, which met on 5-6 July last year, was a deeply unhappy affair, say notes made by the late Colin Slee (above), who was Dean of Southwark and a central member of the CNC.

Dean Slee records that, by the time of the final vote, “certainly two, possibly three, members of the CNC were in tears”. Dr Williams, who chaired the meeting, “made no acknowledgement of this but carried on regardless”, he writes.

Dean Slee is critical of both Arch­bishops. He describes Dr Williams as “bad tempered throughout. . . ++Rowan started the meeting by be­having ‘like a primary school head­master’ (that is another member’s description). He didn’t join us for tea, and then we entered the room to silent anger.”

The cause was a report in The Sunday Telegraph the day before that Dr John and Mr Holtam had been nom­inated. Dr Williams told mem­bers that he had lost his temper when the leak was published.

“He then told us he had written to the lawyers at Church House about Nick Holtam and Jeffrey John,” Dean Slee writes. He infers from this: “The Archbishop himself was telling us that he was the leaker. . . He had no permission to ask the lawyers. He was a member of the CNC under oath like the rest of the membership.”

In Dean Slee’s view, the request for legal advice indicated Dr Williams’s attitude. “We were bound to conclude the Archbishop was hunting for reasons to deny them appointment.”

The CNC considered four can­didates in detail: Dr John, Mr Holt­am, an unknown candidate, and the Rt Revd Christopher Chessun, who had impressed the diocese during his four years as Area Bishop of Woolwich. His was the first name sent to the Prime Minister, though the voting appears to have been close. “At a critical point in the voting,” Dean Slee writes, “++Sentamu and three other members simultaneously went to the lavatory; after which the voting pattern changed.”

THE Very Revd Colin Slee, who died in November last year, was a cham­pion of liberal causes, especially when Dr Jeffrey John, then one of his canons at Southwark Cathedral, was manoeuvred out of his appointment as Area Bishop of Reading in 2003 because of objections to his homo­sexuality.

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THE Southwark Crown Nominations Commission, which met on 5-6 July last year, was a deeply unhappy affair, say notes made by the late Colin Slee (above), who was Dean of Southwark and a central member of the CNC.

Dean Slee records that, by the time of the final vote, “certainly two, possibly three, members of the CNC were in tears”. Dr Williams, who chaired the meeting, “made no acknowledgement of this but carried on regardless”, he writes.

Dean Slee is critical of both Arch­bishops. He describes Dr Williams as “bad tempered throughout. . . ++Rowan started the meeting by be­having ‘like a primary school head­master’ (that is another member’s description). He didn’t join us for tea, and then we entered the room to silent anger.”

The cause was a report in The Sunday Telegraph the day before that Dr John and Mr Holtam had been nom­inated. Dr Williams told mem­bers that he had lost his temper when the leak was published.

“He then told us he had written to the lawyers at Church House about Nick Holtam and Jeffrey John,” Dean Slee writes. He infers from this: “The Archbishop himself was telling us that he was the leaker. . . He had no permission to ask the lawyers. He was a member of the CNC under oath like the rest of the membership.”

In Dean Slee’s view, the request for legal advice indicated Dr Williams’s attitude. “We were bound to conclude the Archbishop was hunting for reasons to deny them appointment.”

The CNC considered four can­didates in detail: Dr John, Mr Holt­am, an unknown candidate, and the Rt Revd Christopher Chessun, who had impressed the diocese during his four years as Area Bishop of Woolwich. His was the first name sent to the Prime Minister, though the voting appears to have been close. “At a critical point in the voting,” Dean Slee writes, “++Sentamu and three other members simultaneously went to the lavatory; after which the voting pattern changed.”

THE Very Revd Colin Slee, who died in November last year, was a cham­pion of liberal causes, especially when Dr Jeffrey John, then one of his canons at Southwark Cathedral, was manoeuvred out of his appointment as Area Bishop of Reading in 2003 because of objections to his homo­sexuality.

By proposing Jeffrey John and Nick Holtam for the diocesan see in Southwark, Dean Slee knew that he was going to make the hier­archy uncomfortable. But in a letter to Dr Williams he wrote that appointing Dr John “would remove a real stain on the Church’s reputation”.

By proposing Jeffrey John and Nick Holtam for the diocesan see in Southwark, Dean Slee knew that he was going to make the hier­archy uncomfortable. But in a letter to Dr Williams he wrote that appointing Dr John “would remove a real stain on the Church’s reputation”.

The news of the names leaked out, as did the fact that they had not been nominated, and an internal inquiry was set up under Baroness Fritchie to investigate the leak. Dean Slee was disturbed by accusations that he had been the source, especially since he felt that the leak had damaged Dr John’s chances.

The news of the names leaked out, as did the fact that they had not been nominated, and an internal inquiry was set up under Baroness Fritchie to investigate the leak. Dean Slee was disturbed by accusations that he had been the source, especially since he felt that the leak had damaged Dr John’s chances.

He was sceptical of the terms of reference of the Fritchie inquiry, particularly the statement that it would “make any recommendations necessary to improve the con­fidentiality in the work of the Commission as it seeks to open up its processes”. He none the less agreed to be interviewed by Lady Fritchie, and compiled a set of notes of his recollections. It is these that the Church Times has seen.

He was sceptical of the terms of reference of the Fritchie inquiry, particularly the statement that it would “make any recommendations necessary to improve the con­fidentiality in the work of the Commission as it seeks to open up its processes”. He none the less agreed to be interviewed by Lady Fritchie, and compiled a set of notes of his recollections. It is these that the Church Times has seen.

In them, he says that he first heard of the leak when a journalist phoned him on a Saturday in June, a week before the Southwark CNC was due to meet, saying that he had had the names of Nick Holtam and Jeffrey John from “an impeccable source”. From remarks made at the CNC, Dean Slee infers that the leak came from the Archbishop of Canterbury himself. He is also critical of the Archbishop of York, quoting a remark he made to Dr John in St Alban’s Abbey “in the hearing of several witnesses: ‘I don’t know why your friends have leaked the fact that your name is on the list for Southwark. It won’t do you any good, you know.’”

In them, he says that he first heard of the leak when a journalist phoned him on a Saturday in June, a week before the Southwark CNC was due to meet, saying that he had had the names of Nick Holtam and Jeffrey John from “an impeccable source”. From remarks made at the CNC, Dean Slee infers that the leak came from the Archbishop of Canterbury himself. He is also critical of the Archbishop of York, quoting a remark he made to Dr John in St Alban’s Abbey “in the hearing of several witnesses: ‘I don’t know why your friends have leaked the fact that your name is on the list for Southwark. It won’t do you any good, you know.’”

Dean Slee writes: “Quite apart from the strange assumption within this statement, there is a manifest breach of confidentiality: he was confirming, in the hearing of others not on the CNC, that Jeffrey John’s name was on the list.”

Dean Slee writes: “Quite apart from the strange assumption within this statement, there is a manifest breach of confidentiality: he was confirming, in the hearing of others not on the CNC, that Jeffrey John’s name was on the list.”

He concludes that the problem of secrecy is “endemic: it is essentially created by a system of overwrought confidentiality which no commercial organisation would use.”

He concludes that the problem of secrecy is “endemic: it is essentially created by a system of overwrought confidentiality which no commercial organisation would use.”

In answer to a question in the Synod last November, the Arch­bishop of Canterbury said that the Fritchie inquiry had been con­cluded. “It would not be appropriate to give this a wider cir­culation.”

In answer to a question in the Synod last November, the Arch­bishop of Canterbury said that the Fritchie inquiry had been con­cluded. “It would not be appropriate to give this a wider cir­culation.”

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