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Another traditionalist chosen for Chichester

03 May 2012

by Madeleine Davies



THE new Bishop of Chichester, Dr Martin Warner, has praised the diocese for being “brave and bold” in nominating a traditionalist.

Dr Warner said that his appointment, announced yesterday, would give the diocese “an opportunity to model how we live with difference, finding a place for everyone within the life of the diocese, without any detriment to the strongly held theological views and consciences of people who could appear to be opposites”.

Describing the “mixture of terror and huge excitement” he felt upon learning of his appointment, the Bishop said he hoped to make a contribution to the national scene in the Church of England, which “perhaps needs to recover a voice that is a little bit more generous . . . more compassionate . . . more confident about proclaiming God’s love for everybody”.

Dr Warner, aged 53, arrives from the diocese of York, where he has served as Suffragan Bishop of Whitby since 2010. He was ordained in 1985 in Exeter Cathedral, and worked as Assistant Curate of St Peter’s, Plymouth, before moving to be Team Vicar in the Parish of the Resurrection, Leicester. From 1993 to 2002, he was Priest Administrator of the Shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham, before being appointed a Residentiary Canon of St Paul’s Cathedral.

Leaving his post in Yorkshire was “heart-breaking”, he said this week. He had learned about the tenacity of people in bearing fruit in the midst of the challenges of unemployment and deprivation, and, in chairing the board of education, about the “importance of education as the key that unlocks doors of deprivation”.

The Archbishop of York, Dr Sentamu, said that the diocese was handing to Chichester “a treasure”, a “people person” bringing a commitment to young people, liturgy, and the arts.

Asked about his position on the ordination of women, Dr Warner said that he had always been “one of those who is unable in conscience to receive the sacramental ministry of women”. The previous Bishop of Chichester, Dr John Hind, shared this position. WATCH, a pro-women campaign group, said today that this choice of his successor would cause “widespread disappointment”.

“The message this gives to the wider Church of England is that it still acceptable for women to be seen as a problem that some people feel they need to be protected from rather than a gift to the Church. We wonder how the ordained women of Chichester will feel supported with a Bishop who does not recognise their orders? We wonder how the lay women and men of Chichester will feel seeing their female priests compromised in this way?”

Dr Warner said that he hoped to build “the trust and respect that I have found possible to build elsewhere”, citing the “huge privilege” of working alongside women priests in his previous posts in York and at St Paul’s.

The Bishop spoke warmly of his excitement at inheriting a diocese with a long history of engagement with the arts. He hopes to “re-energise a conversation between Christians and artists”.

He inherits a diocese that is currently subject to an archiepiscopal visitation investigating the operation of its child-protection policies. And in 2010 the diocese appointed Baroness Butler-Sloss to carry out a review of its handling of allegations of sex abuse by two priests. Her report identified “a lack of understanding of the seriousness of historic child abuse”, and said that senior clergy, including bishops, “were slow to act on the information available to them and to assess the potential risk to children in the diocese”.

Dr Warner said he was confident that the diocese had “made strides” towards ensuring that it is “an entirely safe diocese in terms of its care of young people”. “My sense is that here is a diocese which takes all of this very seriously, which is hugely sensitive to the damage that has been done, and very alert to the need for care in future.”

The police are currently investigating historical allegations of abuse (News, 9 March). Dr Warner said that there was a “fine balance” to strike between “guarding against the sense of a witch hunt” while “creating an environment in which it is entirely safe and proper and easy for people whose lives have been damaged . . . to come forward”.

In the wake of the Government’s announcement of its intention to legalise same-sex marriage and the Bishop of Salisbury’s suggestion that it was a “disaster” that the Church of England was perceived as the opposition to this (News, 27 April), Dr Warner suggested that the Church of England had “somehow got on to the wrong side of this debate” because the terminology of the debate, centering on marriage, had been “an unhelpful starting point”.

“I’m not sure who is pushing for this and I’m not sure that it has been the wisest way of raising serious questions about how we value people who are in same-sex relationships.” It had, he said, done “damage” to those “of good conscience and intention” who “want to ask important questions about an inherited understanding [of marriage]”.

It was “absolutely fundamental” that the Church make “a very clear statement of God’s love for all people, irrespective of race, sexual orientation, or gender.”

A former author of the Church Times’s Sunday’s Readings column, Bishop Warner said that the regular practice had shown him the importance of being responsible and accountable for his preaching of the gospel. Twitter, on the other hand, was “a fantastic discipline”, because its limit on characters “stops me talking.

“The gospel has to go where people are communicating. . . It’s very important for us to be there, not just as a gimmick, but just because I learn more from Twitter than I ever contribute to it.”

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