Letters to the Editor

by
31 March 2017

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The Welsh Bishops on the Dean of St Albans and the see of Llandaff

From the Bench of Bishops of the Church in Wales

Sir, — The Bench of Bishops of the Church in Wales find it regrettable but absolutely necessary to respond to your leader comment, “Exclusive Wales” (24 March). We consider it to be ill-informed, unbalanced, and little short of grossly disrespectful of the episcopal electoral process of Church in Wales, to us as Bishops, and to the ongoing process for selecting a new Bishop for the diocese of Llandaff.

You caricature both our electoral system and us for neither electing nor appointing one particular candidate as Bishop of Llandaff. Without first-hand knowledge of our electoral process you allege that “something is seriously wrong.” What you see fit to criticise is a required process, set down in the Constitution of the Church in Wales, a democratic and proper procedure to be properly followed, and the requirement of a two-thirds majority is set by the Constitution precisely to ensure that the chosen candidate has widespread support.

This system that you deride has functioned well over the years, only failing to elect twice in its history. After each meeting of the College, its procedures, processes, and regulations are reflected upon, and adjustments to these have been made in the recent past.

In accordance with that pattern, we can assure you that there will be scrutiny of this College, too. The review carried out by Lord Harries and his two colleagues did, as you state, make recommendations for change, and these, along with all the recommendations in the report, have been both considered and prioritised.

Despite the highly regrettable reality that it has not always been fully respected, confidentiality has been, and remains, an important feature of our process. For candidates’ suitability to be considered and weighed, electors must be able to have discussions that are not only open and honest, but also respectful. The college is made up of laity and clerics who hold a range of theological views, and they must be allowed to express them, knowing that they can do so in such ways.

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As for any suggestion of fear that any one or all of us might have about being overshadowed, this demonstrates that you have neither knowledge nor sense of the collegial and friendly way in which a Bench of diverse people, with diverse views, can work harmoniously, as equals, and without rancour. It is something that we can rightly celebrate, and may even be unique.

We end by dealing with your accusation that a huge injustice has been perpetrated, and we reject it, as we do your hasty judgement that one candidate in particular failed to be elected and for one reason, namely his sexuality.

In matters of same-sex relationships, we strive towards inclusiveness and equality with initiatives deemed of sufficient national significance to be reported upon in the pages of this newspaper. In April 2016, the Bishops issued a pastoral and apologetic letter to the LGBT community and accompanied it with prayers approved by the Bishops for use with couples in same-sex relationships; LGBT chaplains are already in post in some dioceses; gay clerics and civil-partnered clerics are in post in the Church in Wales, where they exercise both welcome and affirmed ministry; in December 2016, the premiere of the LGBT+ film All One in Christ, produced by the organisers of the Iris Prize — the world’s largest LGBT short-film prize (News, 17 February) — was hosted at St Asaph Cathedral with the full blessing of the entire Bench of Bishops.

In response, a representative of Changing Attitude Wales (Trawsnewid Agwedd Cymru) expressed gratitude to the Church in Wales bishops who encouraged the project and the making of the film. Wales is clearly not “exclusive” as your headline snidely proclaims.

In a diverse Church of diverse theological opinions, homosexuality and civil partnerships are matters that some legitimately wish to consider; but neither of them is a bar to ordination or preferment in our Province. What is a bar to preferment to the office of bishop is a failure to secure a two-thirds majority of votes in the election process — nothing more; nothing less.

JOHN SWANSEA AND BRECON; ANDREW BANGOR; GREGORY LLANELWY; RICHARD MONMOUTH; JOANNA TYDDEWI

c/o Ely Tower, Castle Square

Brecon, Powys LD3 9DJ

 

From the Rt Revd Dr Barry Morgan

Sir, — The Dean of St Albans has accused me of blocking his nomination to the sees of Bangor and St Asaph in 2008 and 2009 (News, 24 March), and I object to these false allegations.

Since I am still bound by the oaths of confidentiality I took, I am unable to disclose any details of those elections. In an interview with The Sunday Telegraph just before the 2008 Lambeth Conference, however, I am on record as having said that I would have no problem in consecrating a person in a same-sex relationship, if such a person was elected by the electoral college.

I have also tried to be supportive of both clergy and laity in such relationships throughout my ministry, and have written in support of such relationships. Normally I am accused of being too liberal rather than too conservative on this issue.

When a vacancy occurs, any elector is at liberty to nominate any person he or she wishes, and the Archbishop of Wales has no power of veto. To suggest otherwise is untrue; for the ultimate decision is made by the electoral college.

BARRY MORGAN

Crud-yr-Allt

Westbourne Crescent

Whitchurch

Cardiff CF14 2BL

 

The BBC’s outsourcing of Songs of Praise

 

From Mr Nigel Holmes

Sir, — How hard it must be for the few remaining specialist producers in BBC Religious Television to see the final regular in-house religious series Songs of Praise outsourced to independent production (News, 17 March).

Their department was moved from London to Manchester in 1994 with assurances in relation to both the quantity and the quality of future output. Ever since, it has become increasingly sidelined and marginalised.

As Private Eye put it, at the time of my General Synod Private Member’s Motion in 2000: “How to make a Bakewell Tart: 1. Put her programme on very late at night. 2. Leave there for 12 years until Bakewell boils over. 3. Remove from television and allow to simmer.”

Joan Bakewell had resigned from Heart of the Matter, criticising the BBC’s “neglect” of religious broadcasting. Until the 1990s, that series and Everyman ran for 48 weeks of the year, covering topical matters from a religious, moral, and ethical standpoint. In 2000, there were still 26 editions a year.

To coincide with that Synod debate, the BBC said that religious broadcasting would “develop a broader documentary portfolio” as one of the BBC’s own surveys showed that 78 per cent “recognise Christianity as the backbone of their spirituality”. That portfolio, however, has become ever slimmer.

Why, then, unlike BBC radio, is television ignoring religion? Is there a lack of imagination and understanding? This is what the Church of England Director of Communications, Arun Arora, asserted in an article in The Times bemoaning the limited television coverage last Christmas (23 December 2016).

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It would be good were the Bishops to back their Director more vociferously and shame our principal public-service broadcaster over its indefensible spiritual deficit. In a “post-truth” era, in which religion is so significant on the international stage, moral and ethical understanding ought to loom larger on the airwaves. Broadcasters have a responsibility to ensure that listeners and viewers are offered balanced analysis.

Religious leaders should speak strongly with one voice and with wisdom. The BBC is deft at deflecting criticism. The Church Times television reviewer Prebendary Gillean Craig, ended his review of last year: “Why have I not mentioned explicitly religious programmes? Because there was of these, alas, an even greater dearth than ever before” (23/30 December 2016).

NIGEL HOLMES

Woodside, Great Corby

Carlisle CA4 8LL

 

Church of England guidance on domestic abuse

 

From Margaret Wilkinson and Dilys Stone

Sir, — It is good to know that the Church (of England) remains committed to those who are survivors or victims of domestic abuse (News, 17 March), and that such abuse can take place in clergy marriages.

While the Guidance recognises that members of the clergy may face particular problems in acknowledging that they are in an abusive relationship, there is, however, no recognition of the difficulties facing their spouses or partners.

It has been noted previously that clergy marriages tend to breakdown later than other marriages. This is not solely because of ordination vows.

Broken Rites has been supporting separated and divorced spouses and partners of the clergy for more than 30 years. Many of them have remained in an abusive situation because of their marriage vows and also through fear of homelessness.

Unlike other couples who have a mortgage, there is an imbalance of power in a clergy marriage, as clergy spouses and partners have no right to remain in the marital home in the event of a separation. We look forward to learning how the Church’s commitment to supporting and healing those who have been victims of domestic abuse while married to a member of the clergy will translate into practice.

Broken Rites can be contacted at www.brokenrites.org, or you can find us on Facebook

MARGARET WILKINSON

DILYS STONE

Co-chairs, Broken Rites

27 River Grove Park

Beckenham

Kent BR3 1HX

 

European judgment concerning religious signs

 

From Mr Keith Porteous Wood

Sir, — The European Court of Justice ruling about discrimination on political, religious, or philosophical signs (News, 17 March) concerned the criteria for judging direct discrimination.

If the Bishop of Leeds, the Rt Revd Nick Baines — and, indeed, President Erdogan — had read further in the judgment, they would have seen that it noted that prohibitions passing the direct test, however, “may constitute indirect discrimination if it is established that the apparently neutral obligation it imposes results, in fact, in persons adhering to a particular religion or belief being put at a particular disadvantage”.

This would require the employer to prove that the restriction was in pursuit of a “legitimate aim” and was “appropriate and necessary”. It is most unlikely, therefore, that the restriction of signs on any significant scale would pass this test and therefore be ruled unlawful by any court, certainly in the UK.

KEITH PORTEOUS WOOD

Executive Director

National Secular Society

25 Red Lion Square

London WC1R 4RL

 

From Canon John Goodchild

Sir, — Christians might heed the second-century letter to Diognetus: forgoing any distinctive dress, but having distinctive morals — not abandoning children, sharing meals, loving all, poor and yet making many rich, blessing those who abuse them.

We should then campaign for the right for others to dress distinctively. The secularists might have to devise some ornament to distinguish themselves from Christians.

JOHN GOODCHILD

39 St Michaels Road

Liverpool L17 7AN

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