THE Dean of St Albans, the Very Revd Dr Jeffrey John, has accused the Bishops of the Church in Wales of “anti-gay discrimination”, after he was informed that his name will not be taken forward as a candidate for the See of Llandaff.
The president of the College of Bishops, the Bishop of Swansea & Brecon, the Rt Revd John Davies, wrote on Friday to Dr John to assure him that “neither homosexuality nor participation in a civil partnership were a bar to any candidate being either nominated or elected”. In his reply to the Bishop, made public this weekend, Dr John rejected this assurance as “hypocritical and untrue”.
The appointment of the next Bishop of Llandaff fell to the Bench of Bishops — comprising the six diocesan Bishops — after a meeting of the Electoral College in February ended with no candidate receiving enough votes — two-thirds — to be declared Bishop-Elect. In addition to the diocesan Bishops, the College comprises six members elected by each diocese (three lay members and three clergy), and twelve members elected by the diocese to which the Bishop is being elected. Its proceedings are confidential.
After it failed to elect a Bishop for Llandaff, a consultation was carried out across the dioceses, with the promise that the Bishops would consider as potential candidates all the names suggested to them. The Bench of Bishops met on Tuesday last week, after which there were reports that Dr John’s candidacy would not be taken forward.
In his letter to Dr John, marked “strictly private and confidential”, Bishop Davies says that the unanimous decision of the Bench of Bishops was that candidates nominated at the Electoral College should not be considered further. It was agreed that, as none had achieved the majority of votes required, it would “call into the question the integrity of the Electoral College . . . Were any of the candidates offered to the College to be subsequently appointed, that would be unfair to the other candidates.”
He describes as “utterly deplorable” the “speculation fuelled by significant breaches of confidentiality”. He also offers Dr John his “categorical assurance” that, as president of the college, he had informed its members “that neither homosexuality nor participation in a civil partnership were a bar to any candidate being either nominated or elected. Please be in no doubt that this is so.”
In his reply, Dr John writes that he does not intend to treat the letter as confidential, and expresses admiration for those who breached the Electoral College’s confidentiality, given that “in these matters, bishops and other ecclesiastical authorities routinely abuse confidentiality as a cloak for injustice and deception”.
He goes on to share his understanding of what occurred during the meeting of the Electoral College:
“In the course of discussion, a number of homophobic remarks were made and were left unchecked and unreprimanded by the chair. Much more importantly, the only arguments adduced against my appointment — in particular by two of the bishops — were directly related to my homosexuality and/or civil partnership — namely that my appointment would bring unwelcome and unsettling publicity to the diocese, and that it might create difficulties for the future Archbishop in relation to the Anglican Communion.”
Dr John also refers to a telephone call he received on 3 March, during which, he writes, one of the bishops present “confirmed to me that these were the only objections adduced, and explained that the bishops were ‘just too exhausted’ to deal with the problems they believed my appointment would cause. I put it to you that this is not a moral or legal basis on which to exclude me.
“The injustice of the arguments about publicity and the Anglican Communion was pointed out to you several times in the college by the Llandaff electors and by others. This is precisely the way that anti-gay discrimination always works.”
Dr John writes that his situation is “exactly similar” to that of the Bishop of Grantham, Dr Nicholas Chamberlain, who revealed last year that he was in a long-term relationship with another man (News, 9 September). All of those involved in Dr Chamblerlain’s appointment, including the Archbishop of Canterbury, were fully aware of his personal situation when they appointed him, and were unanimous in their support. The Secretary General of the Anglican Communion, Dr Josiah Idowu-Fearon, said that Dr Chamberlain’s “lifestyle would make him acceptable to serve the Church at any time in its history”.
Dr John asserts that, “from very early on in the proceedings of the College the Llandaff electors were unanimous in my support, and they have remained so since then.” He accuses the bishops of having taken “no account” of this. “To ride roughshod of the very clearly expressed, unanimous view of a diocese in this way is extraordinary, unprecedented and foolish.” He writes that many people wrote to support his candidature, during the consultation. Not to consider those candidates discussed at the Electoral College was a “clear and ludicrous breach of process”.
He ends the letter: “I trust there will now be an open and honest examination of this process in the light of day, and that you will not attempt to appoint a bishop for Llandaff until it is complete.”
On Monday, OneBodyOneFaith described the events in Wales as “just the tiny tip of an iceberg in terms of injustices which are meted out to ‘rank and file’ LGBTI+ people by bishops on a weekly basis, behind closed doors, and under the cloak of ‘confidentiality’. Such behaviour — lack of accountability and transparency — is shameful and homophobic. It does not belong in the processes of any organisation and certainly not a Christian church.”
The statement recalled the appointment of Tony Crockett as the Bishop of Bangor, despite the fact that he was divorced and had married again, and had failed to receive a two-thirds majority for his election (News, 7 May, 2004).
A short statement from a Church in Wales spokeswoman on Monday said: “The Bishops strongly deny allegations of homophobia.”
“The fact that it appears Jeffrey’s sexuality and civil partnership have been used against him in the selection process is wholly wrong and it is only right that the bishops in Wales review the process before making an appointment,” said a statement from the Chapter of St Albans.