HOSTILITY to the appointment of the Dean of St Albans, the Very Revd Dr Jeffrey John, to the see of Llandaff began with the Welsh Bench of Bishops before the electoral college met, it was revealed this week.
Despite the unanimity of the Llandaff diocesan representatives at the electoral college in March (News, 24 March), Dr John failed to gain enough votes overall, and was excluded from the slate when the Welsh bishops reconsidered shortly afterwards. The Dean of Salisbury, the Very Revd June Osborne, was appointed Bishop instead (News, 5 May).
In an exchange of letters after the electoral college with the senior Welsh bishop, the Bishop of Swansea & Brecon, the Rt Revd John Davies, Dr John accused the Bishops of blocking his appointment purely on the grounds of his homosexuality, in spite of his avowed celibacy. He wrote: “To ride roughshod over the very clearly expressed, unanimous view of a diocese in this way is extraordinary, unprecedented and foolish.”
Using the Freedom of Information Act, Dr John has now obtained partially redacted emails sent between the Welsh bishops in the run-up to the electoral college. An email dated 8 February, which appears to be from Bishop Davies, states: “My instinct is that JJ’s stance on the matter of same-gender relationships and his own situation might be unwelcome to many in the Diocese who would suspect that Barry’s [the former Bishop of Llandaff and Welsh Primate, Dr Barry Morgan] evident liberal agenda was being perpetuated by his election. It would probably do the perception of the Bench, at home and elsewhere, no particular good either.
“Personally, I also think that his election would be an immense distraction in the Province at the wrong time.”
In another email, another author, presumably the Bishop of St Asaph, the Rt Revd Gregory Cameron, writes: “If, in the end, God wants Jeffrey to shake us up and the entire Anglican Communion, then so be it, but he has still got to get 32 votes. . . I don’t think he has any episcopal vote (?), and he certainly doesn’t seem to attract the St Asaph electors. . .
“However, I think we have to stand back and try not to manage the process, even if we can be honest with our electors.”
In an email dated 17 February, Bishop Davies takes this advice to influence his own diocesan representatives. “I will be meeting with my electors in Cardiff, probably on Monday evening, and expressing my anxieties.”
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He also writes: “I am still of the view that JJ’s election could set off a media circus.” He returns to the state of the Llandaff diocese: “Whilst neither sexuality nor age are conclusive factors here, I think that the depth of problems in Llandaff has yet to fully emerge. . . Getting to grips with all this, becoming known and trusted and turning things around will take a deal of time, possibly more than JJ has given his age.”
Dr John is 64. So is Dean Osborne.
Bishop Davies concludes the email: “I am not sufficiently anxious to think that, at the College, I would need to say that there are anxieties or cautions which need to be taken into account. I tend to think that those who might have these are better at sharing them privately with our electors.”
Two hours later, he again writes to the other bishops that he has heard of Llandaff’s continued support for Dr John: “What is clear is that, if there are to be candidates proffered by other dioceses, the homework on them needs to be well done and that they need to be well presented as very credible. Heigh-ho!”
The electoral college met from 21 to 23 February. Afterwards, having been given an account of the confidential meeting, Dr John attracted significant press interest when he accused Bishop Davies of colluding with “anti-gay discrimination”. The accusation was firmly denied by the Welsh Bench of Bishops in a letter to the Church Times (Letters, 31 March).
Two days after their letter’s publication, on 2 April, Bishop Davies writes to a correspondent about the “mind-numbingly grotesque” public fallout, but concludes: “As for the Jeffrey John saga, I (and a number of people, not least some C of E bishops) am of the firm view that we have had a lucky escape and that the Holy Spirit spoke (at least to some!).”