Recent appointments to the House of Bishops raise a question for Changing Attitude. What type of gay priest is acceptable to be appointed as a bishop in our Church?
There are clearly categories which are not acceptable and another category which is acceptable.
The acceptable categories
- A priest who presents himself to the Church as single and asexual and not apparently gay is acceptable. To be gay is who you are existentially, not what you do sexually. The gay priest in this category does not have a partner and is not sexually active in any way (at least as far as those making the appointment are concerned).
- A priest who is partnered and lives with his partner and is widely known to be gay.
- A priest who has identified in the past as bisexual but who was sexually active as a gay man and may still be involved in a relationship with a gay partner.
The unacceptable categories
- A priest who conforms to the rules laid down by the House of Bishops, who is partnered and celibate and in a Civil Partnership, and open about being gay, partnered, celibate and in a civil partnership – I’m writing about Jeffrey John, of course.
- A priest who is partnered and is open with his bishop and congregation, and who is affirmed by both and is licensed as an incumbent is not acceptable as a bishop despite being an outstanding parish priest.
- A priest who is gay and lives with his gay partner who is said to be his lodger. This priest denies when asked by parishioners and his bishop that he is gay or sexually active.
What’s the difference?
As I thought about the categories, I realised that there are not two distinct sets of categories, which could be used to predict with confidence which gay priests are likely and which unlikely to become bishops.
The 14 bishops who are gay in the Church of England all fall into one of the first three categories with the majority in the first category.
It’s the first category which the culture of the House of Bishops and the systems at Church House maintain – a studied denial that any bishop is actually gay. This illusion is maintained by the gay bishops themselves, of course.
Why is this such a sad state of affairs?
- Because there are no gay bishops available as role models to the wider Church
- Because everyone colludes in the secrecy
- Because it maintains a culture of dishonesty in the Church
It’s depressing that yet another has been added to their number.