Reconsider Jeffrey John, Welsh MPs tell Bishops

22 March 2017

Speaking out: Dr John

Speaking out: Dr John

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 on 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 produced “considerable disharmony, anger and confusion”. It includes reference 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 short list of candidates at a meeting last week, which does not include any of those discussed by the Electoral College, in February. This includes Dr John, who received the unanimous support of the 12 representatives from Llandaff. 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 official statement said: "We understand the disappointment felt by all the candidates considered by the Electoral College who did not secure enough support to be elected as Bishop of Llandaff. However we are satisfied that the Electoral College process was carried out properly and fairly.

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“The meeting was confidential and we will not comment on speculation about the nomination and discussion of candidates. However, we strongly deny allegations of homophobia in the process. Neither homosexuality nor participation in a civil partnership are a bar to any candidate being either nominated or elected as a Bishop in the Church in Wales. Moreover, this was made clear to members of the Electoral College by its President, the Bishop of Swansea and Brecon.

“The Constitution of the Church in Wales requires that an electoral college meets for up to three days and that if the college fails to elect, the decision passes to the Bench of Bishops. The Bishops are now acting carefully in full accordance with the Constitution. Unlike the Electoral College process, there is no fixed timetable for an appointment process, however, the Bishops would wish to announce any appointment made as soon as all necessary formalities are finalised. The appointment process is underway and we see no reason to halt it.

“The Bishops have stressed during the whole process that whoever becomes Bishop of Llandaff, whatever their circumstances, will receive their full support.”

The assurances that neither homosexuality nor participation in a civil partnership were a bar 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” and the Bishops guilty of “anti-gay discrimination”.

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 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 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”.

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.”

It is now understood that in 2008 and 2009, Dr John was left of the slate of candidates for the vacant sees of St Asaph and Bangor, after the then Archbishop of Wales, the Most Revd Barry Morgan, reminded the electoral colleges of the moratorium on the consecration of those in a same-sex relationship, recommended at the Lambeth Conference in 2008. 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”.

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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, drawing a parallel to the appointment of the Bishop of Burnley, the Rt Revd Philip North to the see of Sheffield (News, 3 February).

“Those examples demonstrate starkly that the churches need bishops in whose leadership people can feel confident, regardless of the process for their appointment,” they wrote. “As a candidate, Jeffrey John displays the integrity required in offering such leadership and had strong local support; it is a tragedy your people have been denied that opportunity. With the choices you have made, you risk weakening the authority of your personal and your collective episcopal office if people do not believe that there has been fair treatment or integrity in this process.”

The letter went on: “The dissonance between the views of individual bishops and their actions collectively is at best puzzling and at worst unhealthy for them, and for the church. . . False collegiality militates against accountability and transparency. . .

“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.”

An earlier statement recalled the appointment of Tony Crockett as the Bishop of Bangor, despite the fact that he was divorced and had married again (News, 7 May, 2004). OneBodyOneFaith is calling for a halt to the appointment process.

Dr John also received support from the chapter of St Albans. “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,” a statement said. This was later backed up by the chapter at Ely Cathedral.

Jeffrey was then, and still is, held in the highest regard both within and beyond the Cathedral community as a person of deep wisdom, the highest integrity and startling honesty.  His willingness to live within the requirements laid down by the House of Bishops of the Church of England, and the public assurances that he does so, has not stopped him being rejected as a candidate for episcopal ministry.

On Thursday, a statement from the chapter of Southwark Cathedral, where Dr John was once Canon Chancellor, said that the Church was "failing to recognise the God-given abilities from which we as a community benefited", as a result of a lack of integrity, wisdom and honesty. "We pray for Jeffrey and for Grant, for the Church in Wales and for a future in which discrimination on the grounds of sexuality, gender or ethnicity will cease."

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 12 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.

Changing Attitude Trawsnewid Agwedd Cymru wrote an open letter to the Bishops on Monday, echoing concerns about the appointment process and pointing out that the bishops had given “no indication, when calling for names to be submitted during the consultation period, that candidates already considered by the Electoral College would not be included in the bishops’ new shortlist”.

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