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Bishop of Chelmsford responds to transgender row

07 June 2019

THE Bishop of Chelmsford, the Rt Revd Stephen Cottrell, has denied that the Revd John Parker was forced to resign as both Rector of Fordham and as a school governor in Essex, after voicing his views on the gender transition of a pupil.

Mr Parker stood down last week as the governor of the C of E primary school (unnamed to protect the pupil), after expressing concern over its handling of the pupil’s wish, earlier this year, to return to school as a girl, not a boy (News, 31 May).

Mr Parker, who also wrote to the Bishop resigning his incumbency, has accused both the school and the diocese of silencing his concerns.

Bishop Cottrell responded in an ad clerum sent to all clerics in Essex and east London on Tuesday. “The story, which has been energetically promoted by a pressure group, centres on a vulnerable child going through an extremely difficult and sensitive period in their life,” he wrote. “I am acutely aware that everything said in public on this matter has the potential to cause harm to this child.

“For this reason, I intend to limit this message to clarifying areas which would otherwise be damaging to ongoing pastoral relationships.”

Bishop Cottrell had had a “warm relationship” with Mr Parker, he wrote, and was sad to receive his letter of resignation. “I certainly did not, as has been claimed, ask or imply that he should leave the Church of England on account of his views on the matter in question, or that he was not welcome.”

He had not met Mr Parker since 2018; nor had the cleric asked for a meeting. “It is important to state these things — not to further exacerbate the issue, but to reassure you, whatever your views on these issues, that the diocese of Chelmsford has not forced a priest from office.”

Bishop Cottrell supported both the actions of the diocesan board of education —– which stated that all church schools should comply with the requirements of the Equality Act and the Church’s own policy on transphobia — and the school.

“They have done right by the child. This does not mean that I or they do not understand and respect the concerns raised by John and others, and we will continue to work with schools about their use of external training providers. This reflection had begun before the story became news.” 

Mr Parker had secretly recorded a training session at the school led by the transgender education charity Mermaids. In a letter to his congregation explaining why he had resigned, Mr Parker said that he could no longer remain in the Church, because he believed that it was teaching and promoting a “false” and “unscriptural” message on gender.

Bishop Cottrell said that his letter had been sent “in the spirit of reconciliation”, and that the public debate and “false claims” had done “no good” for the Church. “My door remains open for John to come and speak to me. I have been in touch with him to let him know this. But I am distraught that, because of the way this story has played out, a vulnerable child and their family are hurting more than they need to be.”

He urged the diocese to pray for the child and family.

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