On Thinking Anglicans, Martin Reynolds has posted an alternative scenario for the Jeffrey John story which the Mail on Sunday and Sunday Times reported. Martin speculates about when it happened, how the story arrived in the public domain and who might have released news about the exchange of correspondence.
Martin thinks it wasn’t made public by Jeffrey John or anyone connected with him but by someone with an interest in further damaging his chances of becoming a bishop. In other words, a conservative opposed to the presence of gay people in senior positions in the church.
He says has been unable to trace any reference to The Mail on Sunday’s first headline ‘I’ll sue Church of England if it bars me from being bishop,’ says gay dean which implied that Jeffrey John was being directly quoted. The headline was later changed to Church of England faces court battle by gay clergyman who claims he was blocked from becoming a bishop: Church sources say the Very Rev Jeffrey John, Dean of St Albans, believes he could sue officials under the Equality Act 2010. Church sources become the origin of the leak, a leak intended to be damaging to Jeffrey John but which is now far more likely to damage the church hierarchy.
Martin thinks this is not, as everyone assumed, a recent exchange of letters, let alone a recently uttered quote from Jeffrey. He thinks it reports an exchange of letters which took place some time ago, after the Southwark CNC meeting on 5 July 2010 and the fiasco which followed.
Colin Slee wrote his memorandum on 13 September 2010 reporting that Archbishop Rowan Williams had browbeaten Commission members into rejecting Jeffrey as a candidate for Southwark, reducing some to tears. The memorandum wasn’t made public until 26 May 2011.
It seems clear that it was a conservative member of the Southwark CNC, hostile to the candidacy of a gay priest and a man married to a divorcee, who revealed that Jeffrey John and Nicholas Holtam were on the shortlist in an attempt to sabotage the appointment of either. Jeffrey John would later have discovered that although he had previously checked that he wasn’t wasting time allowing his name to go forward for Southwark with Rowan Williams, he was nevertheless ruled out as a candidate – by Rowan.
There is a suspicion that the same person has now revealed the existence of the exchange of letters between Alison Downie and Church lawyers.
The paper GS Misc 992, Choosing Bishops: the Equality Act 2010 was issued on 16 June 2011 by William Fittall. It was the work of the Legal Office, meaning John Rees. It was produced, thinks Martin, in response to the correspondence from Jeffrey John’s lawyers questioning the actions of the Southwark CNC in an attempt to clarify any future process.
The lawyers sought to justify what had already happened by issuing the legal opinion claiming gay people had to prove they were celibate, confess if their relationship was previously sexual and repent if they wanted preferment.
If this is a more accurate account of the story, it reinforces Changing Attitude’s view that senior officials in the Church are attempting to prevent any progress that might result in a change in attitude and practice in the church. They are blocking appointments, inhibiting discussion, overruling General Synod’s right to determine policy and ensuring slow to no progress in reviewing House of Bishops’ policy.