COMPLAINTS about the conduct of those charged with finding the next Bishop of Llandaff have been rejected by the legal sub-committee of the Church in Wales, which has defended the right of the Church’s Bench of Bishops to appoint to the See in accordance with the law, “and the exercise of their own judgment”.
In a 16-page document, members of the sub-committee conclude that all three complaints are “without merit”, and assert that the proceedings at the electoral college in February were “clearly valid”, saying: “They do not cease to be so because the result of a vote is not what some members hoped for.” The ruling concludes that “the attempt to constrain the Bishops is ungrounded in the law of the Church”.
The members of the sub-committee, chaired by Andrew Keyser QC, conclude in the judgment, published on 31 March, that “the proper course is for the Bishops to proceed to fill the vacancy”.
In effect, this allows the Bishops to continue to exclude the Dean of St Albans, the Very Revd Dr Jeffrey John, from their deliberations, despite his being the unanimous choice of the 12 electors from the from the diocese of Llandaff (News, 31 March).
The first complaint, made by five of those electors, objected to “the raising at electoral college of the matter of sexuality or civil partnership status” which had “prejudiced the electoral college proceedings so as to render them invalid”.
The ruling dismisses this complaint as “without merit”, stating that the electoral college meeting was “in accordance with the requirements of the Constitution”, and that confidentiality precludes any investigation of what happened during it. It argues that, if people present at such a meeting have “serious concerns that remarks made in the course of a meeting are improper (rather than merely disagreeable to the person hearing them), the proper course is to challenge the remarks to which they object and, if they think appropriate, to seek a ruling from the chair”.
The president of the electoral college, the Bishop of Swansea & Brecon, the Rt Revd John Davies, has said that no such complaint was made.
The ruling speaks of “the impracticability, as well as the incoherence, of supposing that the validity of proceedings in [the] Electoral College might turn on retrospective investigation”. Members voted, it says, “and must therefore have considered that they were participating in valid proceedings. The proceedings were clearly valid; they do not cease to be so because the result of a vote is not what some members hoped for.”
The ruling also states that the first complaint’s suggestion that the raising of the matter of sexuality or civil-partnership status was in contravention of the Church in Wales’s policy (that sexuality or civil partnership is not a bar to appointment as a Bishop) is “plainly incorrect”. Whether such a policy even exists is “doubtful”, they say, and, in any case, “what prevented election was insufficiency of votes, not a sexuality-based prohibition”.
As evidence, it cites the fact that Dr John, one of two gay candidates, appears to have received a “substantial proportion” of votes. It also argues that the “supposed policy” does not suggest that “matters of sexuality are either irrelevant or improper to be mentioned or considered . . . it could not properly be said that the mere mention that someone was gay or in a civil partnership was pejorative or prejudicial.”
The other two complaints came from wider within the diocese of Llandaff, and challenged the Bench of Bishops’ decision to consider only new candidates for the post. Both are rejected on similar grounds: that the decision about whom to appoint is a matter for the Bishops “in the exercise of their own judgment”, and that the constitution “does not confer upon any person or body within the Church, including the Provincial Court, a supervisory jurisdiction over the Bench of Bishops”.
The ruling rejects the suggestion that the Bishops’ decision not to take forward previously considered candidates is “unreasonable” or “unfair”. The Bishops may have concluded that none of them were “suitable”, the ruling argues, and it would be “unrealistic” to insist that those considered by the college be taken forward. It concludes that “the attempt to constrain the Bishops is ungrounded in the law of the Church”.
The ruling states that the sub-committee was “not privy to any information concerning the proceedings of the meeting of the Electoral College that has not already been placed in the public domain”. It also draws attention to the rules governing the meeting of the electoral college, including the commitment to confidentiality, which all members signed.
Responding to the advice, the provincial secretary of the Church in Wales, Simon Lloyd, thanked the legal sub-committee, and confirmed that the “proper procedure has been followed, and there are no grounds for the complaints submitted.
“This means the Bench of Bishops can continue its task of appointing the new bishop without further delay.”
But a priest in the diocese of Llandaff, the Revd Martin Reynolds, spoke on Monday of his disappointment.
“Legal opinion tells us that there is no way to put this right, and no way to stop people saying awful and disgusting things,” he said. It was his understanding that people had raised concerns about “abusive language” used during the meeting, at the time. “As no investigations can be made to say what happened, how can they say that nobody complained at the time?”
The process was “broken”, he said. “We hoped the Bishops would be brave and sensible enough to see that they had made a grave mistake. Unfortunately, because they insist on acting together, all that does is make their mistake louder.”