The following bald statement appeared on the Church of England website on Tuesday:
Statement in relation to weekend press reports
24 June 2014
“The recent press report that the Bishop of Norwich has been asked to keep a blacklist of clergy who marry same sex partners is untrue. The House of Bishops agreed in February to establish a small informal monitoring and reference group which is available to diocesan bishops who may wish for information or advice. The group has no formal powers. The Archbishops of Canterbury and York asked the Bishop of Norwich to chair the group and for the Bishops of Sheffield and Willesden to be members.”
Changing Attitude has been aware for some months of the rumours that the Bishop of Norwich had been asked to perform some kind of role in response to any lesbian or gay clergy who might marry following the introduction of equal marriage. One rumour suggested that his role was to prevent any married lesbian or gay clergy from securing a future appointment in the Church of England.
Yesterday on the Thinking Anglicans comment thread about the statement, Pete Broadbent, Bishop of Willesden and a member of the group, wrote:
“As Andrew Brown says, the role of the Group is to advise. Only the Diocesan/Area Bishop with whom the priest holds licence or PTO has the role of pastoral care and discipline in relation to that priest (or another bishop in the Diocese to whom discipline has been delegated under the Clergy Discipline Measure).”
David Walker, Bishop of Manchester, posted the following comment this afternoon:
“I’m very grateful that +Pete, who writes clearly above, and other wise and experienced colleagues, stand ready to help me reflect on the exercise of my responsibilities in what could be new and testing circumstances.
“But outside of this site I have heard no mention of a list, nor can conceive of circumstances in which I would want to have access to any such list, or to add names onto one.”
Pete Broadbent lets the cat out of the bag when he refers to the pastoral care and discipline of priests. The statement denies that the Bishop of Norwich is keeping a blacklist. But the disciplining of priests who marry is clearly in the frame, even if such discipline is the responsibility of the Diocesan/Area Bishop. The group’s role may be only to advise, as Pete says, but advice on the disciplining of priests seems to be one of its roles.
Of equal value are the comments by the Bishop of Manchester.
- He has shown that the members of the House of Bishops were not told about the existence of the “informal monitoring and reference group which is available to diocesan bishops who may wish for information or advice.”
- He has revealed the incompetence of whoever is responsible for communication with the House of Bishops.
- He is aware that the new circumstances, in which two priests have already contracted marriages, are testing – and I interpret him to mean testing for the way in which the House of Bishops respond as much as a test for individual bishops and the whole Church.
- He has said he can conceive of no circumstances in which he would want to access a list or add names to one.
Pete Broadbent as a member of the Norwich group is clearly an insider so far as information is concerned and the Bishop of Manchester an outsider.
I feel curiously encouraged by this revelation. I’m encouraged by the independent voice of the Bishop of Manchester and his commitment to withhold names from the Norwich group.
I’m encouraged by the discovery of yet more incompetence from Lambeth Palace and Church House.
I’m encouraged that in campaigning for LGBTI equality, for the freedom of gay clergy to marry and for all clergy to bless lesbian and gay relationships in church we are dealing with a Church that doesn’t have the competence to communicate and doesn’t really know what it’s doing any longer.
We in Changing Attitude have our feet on the ground and we know what we are doing – campaigning for justice truth and love and dealing with a House of Bishops who live in a bubble of unawareness and incompetence.
The Reverend Colin Coward MBE
Director of Changing Attitude England