The Bishop of Hereford and the employment tribunal

The Bishop of Hereford
The Bishop of Hereford told an employment tribunal in Cardiff he was complying with Church teachings when he decided not to appoint John Reaney, 41, from Llandudno, to the position of a youth worker. It was his lifestyle, specifically that he was a sexually active man and not married that cost him the job, he said. Mr Reaney was approved for the job in July last year by an eight-man interview panel which included two vicars.

Bishop Priddis said at a staff meeting on July 19 last year, following the interview process for the youth worker position, he learnt that Mr Reaney had indicated on his application form that he was gay. Bishop Priddis then called him in for a discussion, during which he was asked about his private life. It emerged that he had not long come out of a five-year homosexual relationship. Mr Reaney said he had recently ended a five-year homosexual relationship and gave an undertaking that he would not have another.

But, said the bishop, giving evidence: “I had my misgivings. If he had remained celibate it would have satisfied this issue. The question was, did I have good reason for believing that was his position, and my conclusion was: no.” The Bishop said he concluded that Mr Reaney was not emotionally in a position to be making promises about his behaviour for the future. “Such sexuality in itself was not an issue but Mr Reaney’s lifestyle had the potential to impact on the spiritual, moral and ethical leadership within the diocese.,” said Bishop Priddis.

He said he made it clear to Mr Reaney that a person in a committed sexual relationship outside of marriage, whether heterosexual, homosexual, bisexual or transgender, would also be turned down for the job, which he said was a key appointment within the diocese. “What is at issue is the lifestyle, practice and sexual behaviour.” Bishop Priddis said that in other respects Mr Reaney was an outstanding candidate for the job. “We got on well. I liked him and it was with a heavy heart I made the decision I did.”

Mr Reaney comments
Mr Reaney, a committed Christian, claims being openly gay cost him the role of youth worker. He lodged a claim for unlawful discrimination against the Hereford Diocesan Board of Finance. The hearing was told Mr Reaney was one of four candidates short listed for the job. He claims he was told at interview he was successful in his application and that his homosexuality was the only reason he was turned down for the £25,000-ayear diocesan youth worker’s job, and says the bishop breached employment laws governing sexual discrimination.

Employment equality law
Mr Reaney’s case is hinged on the employment equality regulations passed in 2003 which aim to provide protection in the workplace for gay, lesbian, and bisexual employees. It is illegal to discriminate against people as a result of their sexual orientation. But the law contains an exemption for organised religion and the tribunal is the first test case of how it applies to the Church of England. Churches were given an exemption to the laws to allow them to turn down gays for clerical posts, but traditionalists have argued that the exemption should also apply to lay posts.

Church teaching
The Bishop said this view on sex outside of marriage was reinforced by leading bodies in the church including the Archbishop of Canterbury, the General Synod and the Lambeth Conference. The Bishop told the tribunal that the Church of England marks a difference between homosexual orientation and practice or activity. The Church requirement is that a holy lifestyle should be true for all regardless of whether they are homosexual, heterosexual or bisexual. He added that this requirement holds true of any lay person in a position of leadership and authority such as a youth worker. The Church of England does not discriminate against people because of their sexual orientation but it does object to certain lifestyle choices he said.

Cross-examining the Bishop, Mr Reaney’s barrister said that policy was discriminatory and in denying Mr Reaney the job he was in clear breach of human rights legislation. Bishop Priddis denied he had breached the equal opportunity policy of his own diocese. He said: “We didn’t discriminate against Mr Reaney on the grounds of sexuality. Had we done so we wouldn’t have called him for an interview.”

Financial constraints
The tribunal heard the job was not offered to anyone else after Bishop Priddis vetoed the appointment because of financial constraints within the diocese. Bishop Priddis said: “Even had Mr Reaney been appointed last summer, there would have been the possibility of him being made redundant and that could have happened sooner rather than later.”

The tribunal is expected to last four days. The case could have widespread repercussions for the employment of homosexuals in the Church of England. It will go a long way to deciding how far religious organisations must adhere to equality laws passed in 2003 which barred discrimination against workers because of their sexual orientation.

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