A RETIRED bishop has been formally rebuked and told to undergo unconscious-bias training for suggesting that a priest handled “issues of truth” differently because of his ethnic background.
The Rt Revd Mike Hill, who was Bishop of Bristol from 2003 to 2017, was given a penalty of a rebuke under the Clergy Discipline Measure (CDM) last month for “racial stereotyping, whether intentional or not”.
Bishop Hill wrote in a letter in 2016 to a senior cleric in the diocese of Bristol about another priest, the Revd Alwyn Pereira, who had been ordained in 2011 but struggled to find a post after serving a curacy.
Bishop Hill asked the senior priest to supervise Mr Pereira “to give him one last chance of being rehabilitated into the Church of England”.
He also wrote: “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. He discovered the letter when he asked to see his file, which also revealed an earlier email, in 2014, from Bishop Hill to his senior diocesan colleagues: “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).”
Bishop Hill agreed to give up his post as honorary bishop in the diocese of Bath & Wells, and withdrew from all public ministry last summer when his comments first emerged (News, 19 June 2020).
“He has apologised and accepted a penalty under the Clergy Discipline Measure,” a spokeswoman for the diocese said this week. “He will now undertake unconscious-bias training, as directed in the ruling.”
Once the training is complete, he can choose to reapply for permission to officiate in the diocese.
The remarks emerged at the same time as a separate incident, when a black ordinand — Augustine Tanner-Ihm — was turned down for a curacy in the diocese of St Albans, and told that he would have felt “uncomfortable” serving in a “monochrome white working class” parish (News, 26 June).
Mr Pereira, who is now the Vicar of St Michael’s and the Ascension, Aldershot, said that Bishop Hill’s rebuke was a “historic watershed” moment. “It is the first time a senior cleric in the Church of England has been rebuked for racism.
“On the one hand, I feel a sense of vindication, but, on the other, I am particularly uncomfortable about two aspects: the level of systemic racism present in recruitment processes exposed in this case that remains unaddressed, and the restoration of Bishop Mike Hill.”
He also questioned whether a programme of unconscious-bias training would be effective, and why no reconciliation efforts had been made between him and Bishop Hill.
“I would love to journey with Mike Hill, living in reconciliation and demonstrating God’s grace to us all. [Nevertheless,] I feel it is reasonable, with all my family and I have been through, to expect some form of reparation.”