Comments: Reactions to yesterday's revelations about CofE bishops

This desperately sad affair shows not only that the C of E should be disestablished asap, and put on the same footing as every other church, but also that its bishops were ill-advised to block a section of (what is now) the Equality Act 2010 that would have defined for what posts, and to what extent, religious organisations are allowed to discriminate in ways that would otherwise be illegal.

If the C of E were not established, its hiring practices would come under the general law, to everybody's benefit.

If the "ministerial exemption" were statutory, then everyone would know how far, and for what posts, faith communities may discriminate in employment. The legal memorandum posted yesterday is as sad, in its very different way, as Colin Slee's own.

Posted by Iain McLean at Friday, 27 May 2011 at 3:48pm BST

I found Benny's post thoughtful and informative. I do wonder about the conclusion that the ABY is not a homophobic bully given detail's in Slee's memo. The ABY comes off very very badly in Slee's account.

Posted by John B. Chilton at Friday, 27 May 2011 at 4:06pm BST

Yesterday evening I watched a very powerful documentary film, "How To Die in Oregon" -- about the "death with dignity" law in that state.

I cannot help but think that the Church of England is suffering with a self-inflicted illness and is on the verge of downing a potion brewed by those who should be offering a healthier option. The cloud of duplicity and dysfunction is at best unedifying.

A clear reminder is in order that the motto of the Anglican Communion is "The Truth Shall Make You Free." Duplicity and counterproductive efforts at preserving unity by sacrificial offerings are neither the way to Gospel life nor even practical politics. Fear and manipulation are no substitute for truth. God desires not sacrifice but an honest loving heart.

Posted by Tobias Haller at Friday, 27 May 2011 at 7:47pm BST

If Dean John became Archbishop of Canterbury, as suggested on the next thread down, might I respectfully suggest Savi Hensman for York?

Posted by Edward Prebble at Saturday, 28 May 2011 at 3:42am BST

From one priest's perspective in TEC, Diocese of Los Angeles:
1. The +Rowan Williams described by Colin Slee is the +Rowan Williams we know. Having been on the receiving end of +Rowan's attempts to manipulate us, we are, sadly, not surprised by his behavior in the CNC. Rowan's recent attempts to bypass the designated representatives of General Synod in order to foist his plan on General Synod to accommodate the anti-female bishop contingent are of the same cloth. As is his acquiescence in the Dar Es Salaam statement. This is the same man who described TEC's elected bishops, who may not change our Constitution and canons without the agreement of the House of Deputies, as evidence of an "ecclesial deficit" in our Church.

2. The Covenant is toast. Burned toast. Does any rational person need further demonstration of the arrogance of power by bishops?

3. Rowan and his lawyers have defined the role of a bishop as the "focus of unity" in such a way as to drastically change the role of the CofE in the Anglican Communion. Evidently, your Church will move at the pace of the slowest large and powerful province in the Communion.

4. Rowan has set the CofE on a collision course with Parliament. Wait until same sex marriage passes and Rowan sets your Church up to refuse to bless the marriages of same sex couples.

5. As you may imagine, many of us in TEC no longer look to Rowan Williams or John Sentamu for any sort of moral leadership.

Posted by karen macqueen+ at Saturday, 28 May 2011 at 6:21am BST

I would like to contrast the election of Mary Glasspool, as Suffragan in Los Angeles, to this disgraceful Southwark nomination process. On the second day of our Diocesan Convention, two groups of voters emerged: those who wished to have a Latino bishop in the person of a fine priest from Los Angeles and those who were convinced that the best candidate in all respects was Mary Glasspool.

After several ballots demonstrated that neither candidate had a majority, you could sense some tension among the hundreds of delegates. Bishop Bruno asked for a pause in the voting. He called upon the Convention to enter a time of silent prayer to the Holy Spirit to guide us in the direction that She would have us go. After several minutes of prayer, you could sense the presence of the Holy Spirit in the convention hall. On the next ballot, Mary Glasspool was elected by a decisive majority.

When Mary and her partner Becky were informed of the results of the vote, they asked that the announcement be delayed so that they could go to the other candidate and his wife and pray with them. The four prayed together, embraced each other, and the announcement was made.

This is my idea of a bishop as "a focus of unity" in the Church. +Rowan imagines that the systematic exclusion from consecration of a sincere and loyal community among the members of the CofE must be done for the sake of "unity." What a weak and political concept of "unity" that is. There is nothing spiritual about it.

Posted by karen macqueen+ at Saturday, 28 May 2011 at 6:32am BST

Perhaps one may ask just how bishops are supposed to be a focus of unity. The Bishop of Chichester and both suffragans are opposed to the ordination of women and their consecration as bishops and at least one, the Bishop of Lewes, has trenchant views about homosexuality. How can they be a focus of unity for me or many others? Again the ideas seems to be about constructing a magisterium in the Anglican Church which it just cannot bear.

Of course the whole thing stinks. The disgraceful actions of the ABC regarding Jeffrey John have well and truly come home to roost. No wonder he is angry. Eight years ago the appointment of JJ would have been a nine day wonder. Now the failure to do so is poisoning the church at the highest levels. God help us all.

Posted by Richard Ashby at Saturday, 28 May 2011 at 9:31am BST

Thanks, Edward Prebble, but fortunately for me, my calling has always been as a layperson! In the wider voluntary sector, in which I work, and in the public sector, where I have occasionally helped with recruitment, selection processes may not be always perfect, but I have never come across anything quite like the Southwark situation.

Posted by Savi Hensman at Saturday, 28 May 2011 at 10:14am BST

How wonderful that Colin Slee still speaks to us from (beyond) the grave. A gift indeed.

Posted by Sara MacVane at Saturday, 28 May 2011 at 12:02pm BST

Thank you Karen. The notion that a bishop is a focus of unity is blasphemous. God is the focus of unity, and bishops at their best point the people to God, not to themselves.

The inclusion of this notion in the proposed Covenant 3.1.4I is perhaps not its death-knell, but it is among the clauses requiring immediate amendment, if only for the sake of rationality in the light of so much evidence!

Posted by Tobias Haller at Saturday, 28 May 2011 at 2:42pm BST

I don't agree with Hazlehurst that the two archbishops aren't homophobes - in my book you are what you do. Eichmann claimed he wasn't an anti-semite. It all depends on definition.

Posted by Sara MacVane at Saturday, 28 May 2011 at 5:01pm BST

"Eight years ago the appointment of JJ would have been a nine day wonder. Now the failure to do so is poisoning the church at the highest levels. God help us all."

Indeed (and well-said, RA). Can anyone imagine that the AC/CofE would be in any WORSE shape today, had John's appt been carried through? The *traditional* provincial autonomy of AC member churches would have been underscored, and each member church would be perfectly free to develop in its own way (I think the attendance at Lambeth '08 probably would have been LARGER, not smaller, too!)

Posted by JCF at Saturday, 28 May 2011 at 7:43pm BST

ABC believes his highest calling is preservation of the Anglican Communion as a worldwide body. The reason that he behaves in the way now revealed is that his office does not bring the powers needed to achieve this goal.

So he has become a politician and has embraced the methods of politicians, not those of pious priests.

The Pope on the other hand is a reigning absolute monarch. His office brings strong central power. No bishop can threaten to break away; indeed no bishop can threaten him as the Africans and other have threatened the Anglican Communion. There can be no schism in the Roman Church today.

The tragedy for us Anglicans is that the religious man who might have been the intellectual and spiritual leader of a century has been forced by his view of current events to waste his gifts on purely earthly concerns.

+++Rowan Williams will surely be seen in the history of contemporary Christianity as the right man at the wrong time. Even if he succeeds in keeping the Communion intact, and maintaining establishment of the CoE, there will be those who look at his early writings and wonder what he might have done if not so burdened in middle age.

Posted by Andrew at Saturday, 28 May 2011 at 11:40pm BST

Thank you, Karen, for your insightful reflection on the possibility of a bishop becoming a focus of unity in a diocese. With Mary Glasspool's selection and eventual election as a Bishop in Los Angeles, there was evidence of the invocation and working of the Holy Spirit. One cannot but wonder whether the process was called upon at Southwark recently - at least, on the part of the two provincial Archbishops. TEC still has much to teach us all - about openness to God's Spirit.

May Colin Slee's memorandum become part of the strategic learning process for would-be electors in the Church of England.

Posted by Father Ron Smith at Sunday, 29 May 2011 at 3:46am BST

I believe Andrew is correct. That, and his burning hope for a greater unity on a wider front seems to be motivating him now, combined with his philosophical approach (well explained by the Anglican Curmudgeon reporting Giles Fraser here: ) helps account for most of all this. Mind you, I think his own character flaws don't help!

On a personal level, I found this deeply moving.

One point of interest was to read Colin's attempt to get Rowan's approval for his actions - some years ago Colin told me a similar story of Rowan's steadfast refusal to either give encouragement or discourage a proposed action he had consulted him about. Rowan was ever thus - I am surprised Colin expected something to change!

Sentanamu's vile comment to Jeffrey exposes the man for what he is. Jeffrey remains aloof from these machinations - though they (York and others) clearly see JJ ought not to allow his name to go forward - while Jeffrey asks nothing of his friends and believes God's will ought to prevail. He is head and shoulders above them.

The "legal opinion" is (as others have said) no such thing. It seems to be the answer to the command:
"Give me any way of keeping Jeffrey John out of the episcopate." It makes these men look ever more beastly.
What about this from the Dromantine Communique:
"The victimisation or diminishment of human beings whose affections happen to be ordered towards people of the same sex is anathema to us." - there seems little use for this high principle in the Church of England!!

Peter Ould writes wisely.

Posted by Martin Reynolds at Sunday, 29 May 2011 at 9:35am BST

"There can be no schism in the Roman Church today"

Um, Society of St. Pius X?

Posted by Bill Dilworth at Sunday, 29 May 2011 at 7:29pm BST

At the risk of proof texting, I point towards 1 Timothy 5:19: "Never accept any accusation against an elder except on the evidence of two or three witnesses" and ask again -- has anybody else who was a party to the events described in the memo come forward to corroborate them? I'm not making a stand on principle here so much as pointing out that there are problems with taking one source as proof of a certain type of behavior. It seems rash.

Posted by Bill Dilworth at Sunday, 29 May 2011 at 7:36pm BST


Why let a little sanity cloud our preferences (prejudices?) for believing what suits us?

There are people who were present at the CNC who have a very different take on proceedings from that recorded by Colin.

Posted by abbeymouse at Monday, 30 May 2011 at 12:38am BST

Isn't it now time to start a frieze of 21st century martyrs in addition to the ten 20th century martyrs on the west front of Westminster Abbey?
I would suggest that the first to occupy such a niche should be Dr. Jeffrey John - for what the church has put him through is little short of persecution. His dignity in the face of it all is a great example of Christian fortitude and perseverance.
For God's sake - give him a bishopric!

Posted by Father David at Monday, 30 May 2011 at 6:09am BST

Dear Abbeymouse, May I ask how you know that there are people who have a very different take on the Southwark CNC? Were you there? Would you care to 'put the record straight'? But may I ask whether or not in the light of Jonathan W-J's contribution, Baroness Fritchie will review her report to the Archbishops of Canterbury & York? Colin Slee has had his name cleared. Another has had the finger pointed at him. If it was necessary to investigate in the first place, does not new material call for a re-opening? But I fear that their (Dis)Graces will not actually want to know anything that might cloud their (was the word you used 'prejudices'?) view.

Posted by commentator at Monday, 30 May 2011 at 9:22am BST

Mr Dilworth and abbeymouse raise good points; but I seem to remember that the members of the Commission, including the Archbishops, agree to keep its proceedings confidential. This is partly for the very good reason that it protects the identities of those who are considered but not chosen.

The other Commission members are thus unable to say anything, even though their account of events might lead to a more rounded picture. It is hardly fair on them for people to criticise them when we do not know - and are not able to hear - what the other sides of the story might be.

Posted by Philip Hobday at Monday, 30 May 2011 at 9:55am BST

Peter Ould's second piece slips from analysis into rhetoric. I am sure the "advice" does not deal at all with a confident gay man who has never found Mr Right and who is keeping himself for the day .... can he be a bishop under these new "Nuremberg Laws"?

I think this case from the UK Supreme Court gives an interesting perspective to these discussions - I am surprised that a legal opinion sought by the Church in 2011 would not reference it:

As far as how people saw what happened at the Southwark CNC, Lambeth, I understood, has already said they saw things differently to Colin's report.

Has Sentamu said he didn't utter these vile words to Jeffrey?

Posted by Martin Reynolds at Monday, 30 May 2011 at 6:05pm BST

Since that judgment is 55 pages long, Martin, would you like to elaborate a little on why you think it is relevant?

Posted by Simon Sarmiento at Monday, 30 May 2011 at 8:43pm BST

Well, I think that might take some time.

But in the first place I would say that this judgment reverses a previously held understanding that gay people had an obligation to live "discreetly" to avoid persecution. I would say that this discretion included living a lie and living without any sexual contact if it meant you would be safe.

This discretion even related to where one might live so that if there were safer places one might reasonably be expected to move to the safer places.

I understand that this judgment puts these firmly aside and establishes that gay people are not required to live discreetly or move to a safer space - they deserve protection from persecution without pursing such devices.

Now I would maintain that this change has significance in a much wider context and that what is now recognised for gay people in determining their right to claim asylum has already begun to touch on domestic policy.

Of course there is a startling theological critique within it.

Posted by Martin Reynolds at Monday, 30 May 2011 at 9:55pm BST

The piece by Church Mouse casts Dr Williams constantly in a favourable light. Whilst I may choose to applaud CM's christian charity, I would also ask him to look at Dr Williams' record in relation to the issue of Dr John's vocation to the episcopate. We have it from a variety of sources, not simply the late Colin Slee, that Dr Williams has actively sought to block this vocation. Given this the Slee account is extremely believable.

It remains true that the real issue is the invention of regulations, other than those already in place, that will block candidates in Civil Partnerships. For a homosexual candidate entering into a Civil Partnership is the best that s/he can do to found their relationship upon the principles of being permanent, faithful, and stable. It is this desire for the best and most christian witness in their relationships with their partners that the hierarchy of the Church of England seems to find so offensive. Casual relationships that nobody has to know about are apparently no bar to preferment.

Elsewhere on this thread, it has been assumed that the legal advice which has been presented to the HoB is of the highest quality. That, I venture to say, is questionable. There are many lawyers who would not agree with it; not least in that it allows for individual interpretations of the nature of a 'requirement' under the Sexual Orientation Regulations (SOR's). That is simply illogical. - It also misinterprets what is the the nature of a bishop's role as 'a focus of unity'. This is so by virtue of their Orders being the source of all ordained ministry in their diocese & jurisdiction. It is not down to whether or not any individual agrees with the opinions held by his/her Diocesan/Area/Suffragan bishop.

Please, will somebody somewhere bring the full rigour of the Law to address these matters.

Posted by commentator at Tuesday, 31 May 2011 at 1:31pm BST

Talk about history repeating itself! George Carey blocked Rowan Williams appointment to Southwark because he wouldn't sign up to the "Issues in Human Sexuality" report at their Lambeth fireside chat. Now Rowan blocks Jeffrey John's appointment to the same diocese. Perhaps Rowan has forgotten the hurt he must have felt when he was denied oversight of the diocese of Southwark and had to go to Monmouth instead. But that's nothing compared to the hurt Jeffrey John so stoically must contend with having been denied both Reading and Southwark. Surely the pastoral and scholarly Dean of St. Albans is the ideal candidate for the vacant diocese of Durham, although Archbishop Sentamu like Archbishop Williams seems to have it in for him! Where's the justice in that?

Posted by Father David at Tuesday, 31 May 2011 at 3:50pm BST

Years ago, when visiting a museum of the history of Black America in one of the Southern states, I remember seeing a jar of dried beans amongst the exhibits. When I asked the guide what they were there for, he explained to me that, during the period of segregation, if a black person presented him/herself at the polling station and asked to vote, then the election staff would ask the black voter (and only a black voter) how many beans were in the jar. When the black person said they didn't know, then the election officer stamped "innumerate: disqualified" on the ballot paper.

The experience of gay people in the C of E is becoming ever more similar to that of the black person seeking a vote (and a voice) in segregated America. Our jar of beans is the ever more Byzantine checklists created to keep us out, or at least swept firmly under the carpet and thus segregated - out of sight and out of mind - from decent people like the rest of you, so you can be left in peace without the disturbance of having to acknowledge that we are created essentially good too, just like you, in fact.

The principalities and powers in charge in the Church - people like John Sentamu who thinks he's so cool for cutting up his dog collar in an easy gesture of protest at distant Mugabe, yet complicit in this gross injustice in his own patch - should be ashamed and repent. Really, they should. They ought to know better by now.

Posted by Fr Mark at Tuesday, 31 May 2011 at 5:52pm BST

Why are we just going for the jugulars of the ++ types? There are surely a lot of pointy hats who fall foul of the new categories of episcopal acceptability (being either pro-gay - whatever that means, I apologise for the shorthand - or gay themselves) - they all seem to be remarkably quiet, don't they?

I've never really liked Peter Tatchell's 'Outing' tactic, but a bit of me is wondering whether he's got a point....

Posted by david rowett at Tuesday, 31 May 2011 at 6:25pm BST

"For a homosexual candidate entering into a Civil Partnership is the best that s/he can do to found their relationship upon the principles of being permanent, faithful, and stable. It is this desire for the best and most christian witness in their relationships with their partners that the hierarchy of the Church of England seems to find so offensive. Casual relationships that nobody has to know about are apparently no bar to preferment."

- Commentator, on this thread -

This is the real nub of the problem many people have with the official hypocritical stance of the Church on who is/is not acceptable in ministry.

It would seem that a gay person who seeks to order their life in a monogamous, committed same-sex relationship is 'persona non grata' in ministry; but if that person 'appears' to practise the state of celibacy (while yet enjoying promiscuous sex) - if he/she does not admit to this, she/he can still be ordained/offered preferment in the Church.

In this case, honesty may not be the best policy - a situation that can only be called hypocritical at the very least, and a source of dangerous duplicity - not only in the life of the closet gay, but also to the witness of the Church.

How can such a situation possibly be accounted preferable to openness, honesty and acceptance of
the ministry of monogamously-partnered gay clergy?

Posted by Father Ron Smith at Thursday, 2 June 2011 at 11:35am BST

Fr Ron "It would seem that a gay person who seeks to order their life in a monogamous, committed same-sex relationship is 'persona non grata' in ministry; but if that person 'appears' to practise the state of celibacy (while yet enjoying promiscuous sex) - if he/she does not admit to this, she/he can still be ordained/offered preferment in the Church."

Quite: I know this to be the case from experience. There are current bishops of the C of E who are professedly celibate, trapped in denial about their orientation (because if the obloquy which would otherwise rain down upon them from conservative quarters), yet who have long been prone to "wandering hands," let us say charitably, to my certain knowledge. So by preventing the more honest Jeffrey John types from ever achieving preferment, the Church ends up instead with the most screwed up of all gay people as its bishops, people who can't be effective role models for anyone... way to go, C of E!

Posted by Fr Mark at Thursday, 2 June 2011 at 8:32pm BST
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