Bishop of Llandaff electors issue complaint over ‘deeply inappropriate’ process

31 March 2017

DIOCESE OF LLANDAFF

Paid tribute to diocese: Bishop Wilbourne at a confirmation service in Roath Park, Cardiff, earlier this month

Paid tribute to diocese: Bishop Wilbourne at a confirmation service in Roath Park, Cardiff, earlier this month

FIVE members of the electoral college that tried, unsuccessfully, to appoint a Bishop of Llandaff have lodged a formal complaint about its conduct, asking that the college be declared invalid, and any further appointment halted.

A statement from the Church in Wales said that the complaint had been referred to the legal sub-committee, a body in the Church in Wales assembled to consider legal and governance matters. The sub-committee will investigate the complaint and advise the secretary of the college, who is also the Archbishop’s registrar.

It was “too early to say” whether the deliberations of this sub-committee would have any effect on the timing of an announcement from the Bench of Bishops, to whom the task of appointing a Bishop of Llandaff has passed.

The complaint refers to the raising at the college “of the matter of sexuality or civil partnership status, in direct contravention of the Church in Wales’s own policy that sexuality or civil partnership status is not a bar to appointment as a Bishop”. The signatories write that this was “deeply inappropriate, and prejudiced the electoral college proceedings so as to render them invalid”.

They have asked that the college be declared invalid, and any further appointment “stayed until such time as this complaint has been investigated and satisfactorily resolved”.

The complaint follows a claim by the Dean of St Albans, Dr Jeffrey John, that the Bishops were guilty of “anti-gay discrimination”, after he was informed that his name would not be taken forward as a candidate for the see (News, 24 March).

The Bishops have strongly defended conduct at the college in a letter to Church Times this week: “In a diverse Church of diverse theological opinions, homosexuality and civil partnerships are matters which 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.”

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The Bishop of Swansea & Brecon, the Rt Revd John Davies, told the Sunday programme on Radio 4 that the idea that the Church was homophobic was “frankly ridiculous”.

“Everybody present at the college acknowledged the very many gifts that Dr John has,” he said. “For anyone to suggest that there was an imbalance . . . is a distortion of the truth.”

He confirmed that the issue of Dr John’s sexuality was “clearly an issue before the college”, as was the sexuality of all the candidates, “because there were others present and nominated . . . who were also gay.”

He sought to delineate the ways in which the Church in Wales differed from the Church of England, citing the appointment of two LGBT chaplains and the issuing of prayers for those in same-sex relationships. “This idea that the Church in Wales is homophobic is quite frankly ridiculous”, he concluded.

Asked why the issue of Dr John’s sexuality was even raised, he replied: “Because I was asked the question about it.” Members were encouraged to be “honest” and “respectful”, he said, in discussions about the qualities and suitability of candidates. None of those present as support staff and advisers, including the head of legal services, had indicated that anything unfair had been said, he maintained.

Asked about Dr John’s claim that the only arguments against his appointment were directly related to his homosexuality and/or civil partnership, Bishop Davies said: “I can’t say that it was used against his appointment. It was raised by certain members of the college as a question of fact.” Confidentiality precluded him from commenting further.

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

He paid tribute to a diocese “teaming with life and hope”, and to the former Archbishop of Wales, Dr Barry 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”.

On Tuesday, Baroness Morgan of Ely, a member of the Welsh Assembly, asked the Business Secretary of the Assembly, Jane Hutt, "whether it would be appropriate to refer the Church in Wales to the Equalities and Human Rights Commission in order to investigate whether the Church in Wales is in breach of the Equalities Act 2010 relating to its employment recruitment processes". Mrs Hutt said in her reply that the Church in Wales was "not covered by the public sector equality duty under the Equality Act 2010". 

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