The problem with (gay) bishops and the CNC

I want to revisit Colin Slee’s posthumously published memorandum about the Southwark CNC process in the light of the subsequently published paper Choosing Bishops – The Equality Act 2010 issued by the Legal Office at Church House and the conversations I had at General Synod in York.

The Church of England may not be as corrupt as Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation but it is certainly manifesting signs of deep and endemic ill health. The House of Bishops is divided and some would say, deeply dysfunctional. Both Archbishops have been accused of behaving abusively. The policy of the Church towards LGB&T people is a mess and Changing Attitude has no patience with a system that wants us to wait a further two years before progress can be made, nor with recent developments.

The Equality Act document is a disgrace. The gulf between the holy, healthy and affirming attitudes of the majority of people in this country towards LGB&T people and the pathetic lack of courage and progress towards full inclusion in the Church of England is intolerable and reaching breaking point.

I’m waiting for the tsunami created by the movement of the tectonic plates in the media industry, the police and government, to impact on our church. Are there early signs in George Pitcher’s resignation, poisonous little Church Ferret’s rumour on Facebook that Archbishop Rowan may resign in Summer 2012 and a rumour of a new openness to homosexuality in the evangelical world?

Colin’s memorandum revealed information about the culture of the CNC process and the attitude towards two outstanding candidates for the episcopate, one of whom, Nick Holtam, has now been appointed to Salisbury, thanks be to God. The other, Jeffrey John is now the subject of an attempt to permanently block his preferment by the position outlined and the relevant factors listed in the Equality Act document. It is designed specifically to block any further attempt to nominate and appoint Jeffrey.

Colin Slee’s memorandum about the Southwark Crown Nomination Commission

Colin Slee’s memorandum provides an inside perspective on the effect of the secrecy of the CNC process. Colin complied with the rules but was as open as possible with the candidates he nominated and with the Archbishop of Canterbury. He wrote to both Jeffery John and Nick Holtam telling them he had nominated them as mandatory candidates for Southwark in March 2010. The Archbishop replied but did not say, please don’t nominate either of them. Other people had nominated both candidates.

I have subsequently learnt that both Jeffrey and Nick have been deliberately blocked, one for Southwark and the other for Chelmsford. Who does the blocking? Lambeth staff at the Archbishop’s request?

The Archbishop of York was among those who broke the confidentiality of the Southwark CNC process, commenting to Jeffrey John in the hearing of several witnesses at an ordination in St Albans: “I don’t know why your friends have leaked the fact that your name is on the list for Southwark. It won’t do you any good”. He confirmed in the hearing of others not on the CNC that Jeffrey John’s name was on the list. The remark was spiteful.

The CNC met on 5 July 2010 at Lambeth Palace. A member described the Archbishop of Canterbury as behaving “like a primary school headmaster” when he opened the meeting. They entered the room to silent anger. He told them he had lost his temper when the leak was published and gave them a lecture about confidentiality.

The Archbishop told them he had written to the lawyers at Church House about Nick Holtam and Jeffrey John asking if there was any reason he should decline their nomination. He was a member of the CNC under oath like the rest of the membership; there is no special dispensation for the chairman and he had no permission to ask the lawyers. Colin concluded that the Archbishop was hunting for reasons to deny them appointment.

As a result, wrote Colin, the CNC then had two very horrible days during which both archbishops behaved very badly. They were intent on wrecking both Jeffrey John and Nick Holtam equally, despite the fact that their CVs were startlingly in an entirely different and better league than the other two candidates, and probably every one of the new bishops Colin can recall in the past fifteen years. The Archbishop of Canterbury was bad tempered throughout.

When it came to voting, certainly two – possibly three – members of the CNC were in tears. The Archbishop of Canterbury made no acknowledgement of this but carried on regardless. It was an extraordinary example of a lack of pastoral concern.

At the meeting of General Synod in York in July a diocesan bishop made it quite clear to Colin that he thought the entire system is rotten and badly administered from the chairmanship down.

Colin’s opinion was that the whole system stinks. He thought the time for genuine honesty was long overdue.

Letter to the Archbishop of Canterbury

In a letter to the Archbishop of Canterbury in March 2010 he said he was utterly horrified at the treatment meted out to Nick Holtam by the House of Bishops, which was nothing short of a scandal. If the Church resolved against divorcees, or spouses of divorcees being considered as bishops, there would be a national outcry. The Church of England’s reputation and standing nationally with regard to Human Rights is in tatters anyway. There was a huge groundswell of support in both Chelmsford and Southwark for Nick’s candidature.

Colin knew a lot more about what went on in Lambeth Palace on July 3rd 2003 when Jeffrey was forced to withdraw than most people. Jeffrey had been told he would be put back into a bishop’s job after he had been Dean of St Albans for five years or so. Colin’s view was that the Archbishop had been ambushed by nine diocesan bishops, several – but not all – of whom, were intent (successfully) on undermining his authority.

Colin wrote that the only thing of which Jeffrey is guilty is honesty, while there are bishops who unquestionably have been less than candid about their domestic arrangements.

This brings me to my final thoughts. As I have indicated in previous blogs, Changing Attitude is aware that 14 of the 114 bishops are gay, and variously married gay, celibate (the majority) or partnered. All are closeted, none has come out to me since they were ordained bishop, but some known to me were enjoying an actively gay life in earlier years. Changing Attitude is not going to out anyone. That has to be left to the courage and integrity of each individual.

The problem is not that there are gay bishops. The problem is that none of them is able to be open about their sexuality. This results in additional problems; inappropriate patterns of behaviour, a reinforcement of the culture of secrecy criticised by Colin Slee, ignorance in the House of Bishops, an unhealthy culture of collusion, disbelief in society at discrimination, dishonesty and homophobia in the church.

Changing Attitude will work to destabilize the culture and maintain pressure on the Church to achieve change in a shorter timescale than that to which the House of Bishops is working.

Comments

  1. clairejxx says

    I quote Hannah Barr, 19, first-year theology student at Exeter University, ‘The Christian life is not an easy life to live. It is a life which condemns you to mockery, ridicule, persecution and isolation.’ A winner in the senior section of fhe archbishop’s essay competition; but it is worth following to justice.

  2. Malcolm Macourt says

    Thank you, Colin. Please keep going – I pray that eventually sense will emerge and the Church will regain its sanity

  3. Dave says

    How many Colin? last October it was “3 gay Primates and the 10 to 13 gay CofE bishops” now it is 14. If you won’t name the 14 perhaps you will name the 9. In view of the past and current opposition Chelmsford and Southwark are the last places Jeffrey John would be a focus of unity. As you said a suitable place has been found for Nick Holtram. May his conversations with Graham Kings be productive.

    The memorandum reveals bullying, secrecy, party splits etc. etc. Is this just around the gay issue or do they always behave like that? What will they be like when women are available? Some will want the next half dozen suffragans to be women, others will find any excuse not to appoint then and finally they will have to start appointing them if they are to have any credibility. Can we expect preferment on merit in the near future? Does the appointments procedure seek to clone the present incumbent apart from archbishops who alternate. You say there may be a new one next year. Are there any suitable candidates?

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