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MPs join row over Llandaff election

24 March 2017


Hands-on: Bishop David Wilbourne at a confirmation at Christ church, Roath Park, Cardiff, on Sunday (see story, below)

Hands-on: Bishop David Wilbourne at a confirmation at Christ church, Roath Park, Cardiff, on Sunday (see story, below)

WELSH MPs have joined a growing campaign to challenge the method of appointing the next Bishop of Llandaff, in the wake of the rejection of the Dean of St Albans, the Very Revd Dr Jeffrey John, despite unanimous support from Llandaff representatives in the electoral college.

An open letter from the MPs to the Church in Wales College of Bishops was co-ordinated by Madeleine Moon, MP for Bridgend. The letter, signed by nine MPs, suggests that the process has been “flawed” and has produced “con­­siderable disharmony, anger, and confusion”. It refers to allegations of homophobic com­ments made at the electoral college, and recom­mends a pause in the process and a new elec­tion, “open to past and new can­­didates”, to produce an “open and transparent decision”.

The Bishops produced a shortlist of candidates at a meeting last week, which does not include any of those discussed by the electoral college in February, thus excluding Dr John, who received the unanimous support of the 12 Llandaff representatives. At the weekend, Dr John accused the Bishops of “anti-gay discrimination”.

The President of the College of Bishops, the Bishop of Swansea & Brecon, the Rt Revd John Davies, said that its unanimous view “was that to consider further all or any of the candidates nominated at the College, none of whom achieved the required majority of votes to be elected, would call into question the integrity of the Electoral College process, and that, were any one of the candidates offered to the College to be subsequently appointed, that would be unfair to the other candid­ates”.

An statement issued on Wednes­day by the Church in Wales com­­mun­ications team said: “We are satisfied that the Electoral College process was carried out properly and fairly. . . We strongly deny allega­tions of homophobia in the process.” The Bishops were “acting carefully in full accordance with the Constitu­tion . . . The appointment process is underway and we see no reason to halt it.”

These assurances were offered to Dr John in a letter from Bishop Davies written on Friday, and were rejected by him in his reply, made public on Saturday. They were “hy­­po­critical and untrue”. In his letter to Dr John, marked “strictly private and confidential” (and addressed in error to the “the Right Reverend J John”), Bishop Davies describes as “utterly deplorable” the “speculation fuelled by significant breaches of confidentiality”.

He offers Dr John his “categorical assurance” that, as president of the electoral 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 set out 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 phone call that 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 Chamberlain’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”.

It is now understood that in 2008 and 2009, the then Archbishop of Wales, Dr Barry Morgan, blocked the putting forward of Dr John for the vacant sees of St Asaph and Bangor, advising the electoral colleges that Dr John’s civil partner­ship to the Revd Grant Holmes made him ineligible. This was despite a statement by the Welsh Bishops in December 2005 that they “would not wish to prevent what the law allows for church members, both lay and clerical”; but also after pressure from the 2008 Lambeth Conference.

On Tuesday, the chair of OneBodyOneFaith (formerly the LGCM), Canon Jeremy Pemberton, and its chief executive, Tracey Byrne, wrote an open letter to the Bishops: “It is entirely unacceptable to prob­lematise a gay man in the way you have. Indeed, it is an insult to him and to every other LGBT+ person in your church. . . The capacity of churches to throw talent away because it doesn’t come packaged in easily manageable forms is not a reason to discard both the gift and the bearer of the gift, nor does it make that an acceptable policy option.”

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’s receiving enough votes — two-thirds — to be declared Bishop-Elect. Besides the diocesan bishops, the college com­­prises six members elected by each diocese (three lay members and three clergy), and 12 members elected by the diocese whose vacancy is under consideration. The pro­ceedings are confidential.

After it failed to elect a Bishop of 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 Revd Martin Reynolds, a priest in the diocese of Monmouth, said this week that “enormous an­­­xiety and anger” had been caused by the bench’s failure to nominate Dr John to the vacancy, “or indeed to pro­­­­perly consider him on his merits”.

“It now appears that the only qualification necessary to be­­­come Bishop of Llandaff is that no one has considered you worthy of mention before today.”


Pressure on Bishop. THE Assistant Bishop of Llandaff, the Rt Revd David Wilbourne, has announced his intention to step down on Easter Day, days after speaking of a cam­paign to force him to resign.

Bishop Wilbourne (pictured, at a con­­­­­­­­firma­tion in Cardiff last weekend) was appointed eight years ago to help run the diocese in order to release the then Bishop of Llandaff, Dr Barry Morgan, to spend time on his duties as Archbishop of Wales. Archbishop Morgan retired at the end of January.

Speaking to the Church Times this week, Bishop Wilbourne said: “Over the past 18 months, I have been under considerable and in­­creas­ing pressure to relinquish my post and leave Wales.” In one recent con­versa­tion, he had been strongly ad­­vised to resign before Easter.

He said: “Whilst I can fully see that the next Bishop of Llandaff deserves the space to be their own person, for the moment I remain upbeat about serving in this thriving diocese, and carrying out the role I was called here and consecrated to fulfil.”

Bishop Wilbourne’s open support for Dr John’s candidacy has not im­­proved his prospects. He said this week: “Ever since I knew that Jeffrey was in the frame for Llandaff, I thought it would speak mountains about our policy of inclusion. Wales has led on that; so I can’t under­­stand why the Bishops aren’t of the same mind.”

After the electoral college ended, Bishop Wilbourne organised a prayer vigil in Llandaff Cathedral. He described it as “the most remarkable of my ministry”.

On Thursday, he wrote to priests in the diocese announcing his intention to step down. 

"Increasingly I realise it is time to hand over the baton to the newly appointed Bishop of Llandaff, so he or she can run free, enabling the Church which I have cherished these past years to flourish," he wrote. "I therefore intend to finish my time as Assistant Bishop on Easter Day 2017, just before the Sacred Synod approves our new bishop. I do so with the greatest gratitude for all the faithful parish priests and people here, whose marvellous ministry I am daily humbled by. I pray that you are given the bishop you so richly deserve, one who, in the words of Cardinal Basil Hume, simply comes to where people are and takes them to places they never dreamt of going."

He paid tribute to a diocese "teaming with life and hope" and to Dr Morgan, "whose hallmark has been a remarkable reaching out to the lost and forsaken and those on the margins of society, making them feel truly welcome in the name of Christ".

In a letter published in the Western Mail on Thursday, the Revd Professor Thomas Watkin, a priest in the diocese of Llandaff, suggested that Bishop Wilbourne be appointed Bishop of Llandaff.


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