THE former Bishop of Bristol, the Rt Revd Mike Hill, has withdrawn from all public ministry while a charge of racism is being investigated.
Bishop Hill is living in retirement in the diocese of Bath & Wells. On Wednesday afternoon, the Bishop of Bath & Wells, the Rt Revd Peter Hancock, wrote to his clergy that Bishop Hill had agreed to relinquish the post of honorary assistant bishop in the diocese with immediate effect, “and will withdraw from all public ministry while the appeal into the case against him is heard”.
The case involves the Revd Alwyn Pereira, Vicar of St Michael’s and the Ascension, Aldershot, in the diocese of Guildford. Mr Pereira was ordained in Bristol diocese in 2011, but struggled to find a post after serving a curacy at St Edyth’s, Sea Mills. While looking, he was ministering in a non-C of E project and sought permission to officiate (PTO) in the diocese.
The Revd Alwyn PereiraOn 5 July 2016, Bishop Hill, then still in post, wrote to a senior priest in the diocese asking him to supervise him, “to give him one last chance of being rehabilitated into the Church of England”.
In his letter, Bishop Hill writes that he likes Mr Pereira “immensely”, but that “he finds structures of accountability a constraint rather than a liberation.”
He goes on: “I think the only other thing I need to say, having worked very closely with people from the Indian sub-continent in my past, is that I think there are cultural differences in the way people like Alwyn communicate, and actually handle issues of truth and clarity.” Mr Pereira was born in Kenya of Indo-Portuguese parents and was educated mostly in England.
Mr Pereira obtained a copy of the letter when he asked to see his file. He also uncovered an email trail from 2014, in which Bishop Hill announces to the senior team in the diocese that he is “at a loss” about Mr Pereira’s inability to secure an incumbency. He writes: “Lee [Rayfield, Bishop of Swindon] mentioned to me that his application was culturally eccentric, but this is slightly dangerous as of course Alwyn is a minority ethnic Anglican (whose cause, according to the National Church, we should be promoting).
“Cultural from our point of view might well be interpreted as racist by others. . . I judge this to be a difficult and potentially harmful situation for us.”
Mr Pereira first complained in October 2017. He telephoned again in January 2018 and was told to write to the Archbishop of Canterbury. This he did on 4 March 2018. He received several holding replies, including, from the Bishop at Lambeth, the Rt Revd Tim Thornton: “I am afraid it has taken me longer that I had hoped to get some advice about possible ways forward.”
When he attempted legal redress, an employment tribunal in November 2019 ruled that his application was out of time. A later complaint against the Bishop at Lambeth for causing the delay was dismissed on similar grounds, and because Mr Pereira had failed to mention the 2003 Clergy Disciplinary Measure when making his first complaint.
Appeals this year against both rulings were dismissed, but last week the deputy president of the CDM process wrote to say that Bishop Hill had been given until 1 July to comment.
In a statement, Bishop Hill accepted that he had used “racial stereotypes which were unacceptable and offensive. . . I deeply regret the incident and I wholeheartedly apologise.”
Speaking on Friday, Mr Pereira said that this was “not a case of just one bad apple. It’s not just about Mike Hill.” None of the others in the diocese’s senior leadership team challenged his remarks. “This is a current issue. It didn't happen ten years ago. They were defending this in February.”
The issue, he said, was that any judgements about him and his character were untrustworthy, “tarnished with racial stereotypes which have now been exposed”.
Writing to the Church Times earlier this year, he said: “For someone of a minority-ethnic background I cannot describe the sense of hurt, betrayal, and humiliation felt when one discovers that of all people, a bishop, someone who had been greatly respected and held in high regard as a spiritual Father, should harbour racist stereotyping.
“This was further compounded in that to my face and even to my Training Incumbent, we were told one thing but behind the scenes, in private to senior leaders, something different.”
He believes that the same prejudices undermined his attempts to find a post. A minute of a meeting in November 2015 about an application to a parish reads: “the congregation said they did not want an African priest as they would be lazy. +M [Bishop Mike Hill] and staff spoke to them about racism. +M does not think that people who meet AP would know that he has a minority ethnic background.”
The present Bishop of Bristol, the Rt Revd Vivienne Faull, said in a statement this week: “I have made the commitment to address institutional racism and to recruit and support more BAME clergy. I stand behind these and my other commitments. This work won’t be easy but I will be relentless in my dedication to bringing about change.”
Bishop Hancock writes: “In this diocese, as in the Church of England as a whole, there is so much we have to do to address institutional racism. We have failed in the past and it is clear we are still failing now. We pledge ourselves to both listen and act to address racism and inequality in our diocesan structures and our church communities.”