The Sunday Times and Mail on Sunday report today that the Very Rev Jeffrey John, Dean of St Albans, has instructed Alison Downie, partner and head of employment at London lawyers Goodman Derrick, to write to the Commission to suggest it risks breaching gay equality laws if it is blocking the dean over his homosexuality after his appointment to Southwark was blocked.
Sources say Jeffrey John believes he could sue officials under the Equality Act 2010, which bans discrimination on the grounds of sexuality. Both newspapers report that there has been a lengthy correspondence between Ms Downie and Church lawyers in an attempt to resolve the dispute. No legal action has been launched but it is thought Dr John has not ruled out the possibility. It has also been suggested Jeffrey would drop his legal threat if he felt he would not be ruled out for future posts.
In 2010 when a new Bishop of Southwark was appointed, Jeffrey John was one of the preferred candidates by the diocese. The Crown Nominations Commission appointed another candidate. The Dean of Southwark, Colin Slee, wrote a memorandum about the Southwark CNC process which was published following his death.
I revisited Colin’s memorandum in the light of the subsequently published paper Choosing Bishops – The Equality Act 2010 issued by the Legal Office at Church House.
“The Church of England … 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.
“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.
“Colin (Slee’s) memorandum revealed information about the culture of the CNC process and the attitude towards two outstanding candidates for the episcopate. 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.”
The Choosing Bishops paper issued by the Legal Office at Church House, presided over by William Fittall, concludes:
29. Relevant factors which can properly be taken into account include:
- whether the candidate had always complied with the Church’s teachings on same-sex sexual activity;
- whether he was in a civil partnership;
- whether he was in a continuing civil partnership with a person with whom he had had an earlier same-sex sexual relationship;
- whether he had expressed repentance for any previous same-sex sexual activity; and
- whether (and to what extent) the appointment of the candidate would cause division and disunity within the diocese in question, the Church of England and the wider Anglican Communion.
I can’t imagine any bishop being prepared to ask of a candidate and make public his response to these questions. Is Jeffrey John going to be humiliated by being asked whether he had always complied with the Church’s teaching on same-sex sexual activity and express repentance for any previous same-sex sexual activity?
The position of the Church of England legal paper on Choosing Bishops is risible and I hope and pray that Ms Downie continues to pursue the lawyers at Church House and forces them to withdraw. Six months on, the paper looks even more obnoxious. It needs to be binned.