The Southwark CNC – recollections by Colin Slee, Dean of Southwark

September 13th 2010

Previous ‘leaks’ – a few examples:

When +Tom Butler was appointed, I was invited to Number 10 to discuss why the diocese was ‘still in ferment’ a couple of months after the then CNC had met; and I was asked to “calm it down”, not least by implied permission to say the CNC had met and the process was happening. The reply was simple: the diocese did not know officially the CNC had met, so why should it calm down? The Bishop’s Staff Meeting had, however, noted our mysterious absence without explanation. The diocese wanted Rowan Williams and believed ++George Carey would somehow interfere, and the information (and much more besides), so obviously came from George’s breakfast table, the question was ridiculous. That the diocese wanted Rowan Williams was not a fully accurate picture but it made Tom Butler’s arrival extremely difficult for him and was an example of the Press using modern reporting techniques and nearly getting it right.

When Rowan Williams was appointed Archbishop of Canterbury, The Times had the information well before they published, because they were checking. They still had time to publish in advance as a ‘scoop’. Ruth Gledhill may be regarded as a vixen by the establishment of the CofE but she is a very good journalist.

Likewise, when Jeffrey John was so appallingly treated by Rowan Williams on July 3rd 2003, he (Jeffrey John), told me at 9:00 p.m. that evening. At 7:00 a.m. the next morning I was at my desk writing the statement I would make to the congregation when the ‘phone rang. “If you are at your desk this early on a Sunday morning, Colin, it means it is true that Jeffrey John has been forced to resign from Reading”. Ruth knew within hours of Jeffrey being at Lambeth.

On May 4th this year I was in a crematorium vestry in Tunbridge Wells when my mobile went off and there was a text from Stephen Bates: ‘The House of Bishops has blocked Nick Holtam’s election to Chelmsford. You know I did not get that from you. Any comment?’ (that was a matter of days after the CNC). I already knew of the embargo, indeed I had known since November/

December and had denounced it at the Chelmsford CNC. My confidentiality is therefore not in question.

There are numerous other examples of the Press obtaining stories the Church does not wish them to publish.

The problem is endemic, it is essentially created by a system of overwrought confidentiality which no commercial organisation would use for the very simple reason that most confidentiality creates its own difficulties and because ‘candidates’ are treated in a more grown up way. In churches with an electoral system (which I do not advocate), not only are the candidates sent all the papers of themselves and of the other candidates and their references (as I was for two dioceses in New Zealand), but the entire electoral synod receives the papers. That obviates unnecessary confidentiality.

In appointments to Southwark we usually give all the candidates lunch, or at least coffee, together. People can handle that better than secrecy.


  1. I wrote to Rowan to say I intended to nominate Jeffrey John and Nick Holtam as mandatory candidates (16 March 2010 attached). I had no intention whatsoever that either should be hurt and therefore I would seek their permission and I wished to know if he had any objection. I received a characteristically opaque reply, ‘…mandatory is mandatory…’. Note: he had the chance to say ‘Please don’t’.
  2. I gradually learned that I was not alone in nominating these two candidates. They were widely wanted throughout the diocese.
  3. The Guardian published an article about Nick Holtam in May; I was amused because there seemed to be no ‘sniff’ that JJ’s name was in the pool. Other articles followed.
  4. On Saturday, June 26th I was at our house in Oxfordshire when my mobile ‘phone rang and my wife expressed surprise that I rapidly walked off down the garden into our field. It was a journalist to say there was unchallengeable information that Jeffrey John and Nick Holtam were candidates for Southwark: would they be welcome? The journalist ‘guessed’ the fact that it was known would not be welcome news to the hierarchy of the CofE. I asked for time for a reply on the grounds that I was in a field in Oxfordshire and not able to respond easily. It is very significant the other two shortlisted candidates were not mentioned. The journalist agreed to try to hold off publication if I could give a convincing reason.
  5. I rang Lambeth (basically, a useless exercise). It would be a newspaper story in itself if anyone published the total lack of availability of senior episcopal staff in the CofE at weekends. Thank goodness deans are available. If there was still a ‘Bishop at Lambeth’ that problem would be met.
  6. I did not have the Bishop of Derby’s number, I fully expect that, anyway, like (all) bishops he is XD at a weekend, which is highly questionable as a matter of pastoral care.
  7. I left a message on the Lambeth Wash House number (I think) or it may have been an email in the hope that, like many of us, she picks them up remotely, to inform Caroline. I rang Peter Crumpler after I got the number of the duty press officer from the Lambeth security staff. Peter Crumpler rang back some hours later (he had been in an area where his mobile phone had no reception).
  8. The journalist rang back. On the basis that I am a close friend of them both, I pleaded that the paper should not publish; there was no point in doing anything else, I was convinced the information was complete, the journalist knew far too much; I think the source was described as ‘impeccable’. No doubt my pleas confirmed the story, but I later realised (see 13-19 below), I had absolutely no need to have confirmed anything, the description was accurate. I have checked with my wife, who says there were two calls from the journalist several hours apart and no response from those whom I had called for assistance in that period; no reply was forthcoming until after the journalist’s second call. In desperation, I tried my ‘own’ press officer as well but she was in hospital.
    The principal anxiety was that other papers had the story and would publish. I persuaded the reporter to ask the news editor not to publish, which gained us at least a week.
  9. I make the point that the CNC is constantly told to guard confidentiality and that the Press ‘try all sorts of tricks’. We are asked to contact the Wash House or the Press Office at Church House if anything happens. I did. In fact, I deal with the Press regularly and am accustomed to their ‘signals’, but there was no help at hand at all. If it had been another member of the CNC, they would have been in an impossible position.
  10. I trusted that Peter Crumpler, and even more so Caroline Boddington, would take immediate action as necessary when they had learned of the situation. I was wrong.
  11. The Sunday Telegraph published on July 5th.
  12. The same day ++Sentamu was at St Albans for the ordinations (his daughter was being ordained).
    He made an extremely telling remark to Jeffrey John in the hearing of several witnesses: “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”.
    Quite apart from the strange assumption within this statement, there is a manifest breach of confidentiality. He was confirming, in the hearing of others not on the CNC, that Jeffrey John’s name was on the list.
    The assumption itself is hard to describe because it is so manifestly naive. One St Albans person said to me: “He’s lucky the Dean didn’t punch him.”
    Personally I regard the remark (especially in St Albans), as meaning that ++Sentamu assumed, from the outset, that I was involved.
  13. The CNC met on July 5th. I arrived and was astonished to breeze in (where I am well known) and be met with no additional security. I observed that the (unknown) Southwark Diocesan Six were subjected to no additional security checks. I observed other people entering on the same door release and going on into the building. The garden is readily accessible. Clearly, no additional precautions were ordered by Lambeth for a conference a mere half a mile away from the modern ‘Fleet Street’. The date of the meeting was public knowledge (and I assume the location would not be hard to discover). Two days later, my wife remarked: “Well, they couldn’t have made it more convenient could they?”
  14. ++Rowan started the meeting by behaving “like a primary school headmaster” (that is another member’s description). He didn’t join us for tea and then we entered the room to silent anger. He told us he had lost his temper when the leak was published (where? with whom? where did they then report it? – these are all pointless questions, as the answers will be lost to memory). ++Sentamu endorsed this statement (so confirming he witnessed it). We then had a lecture about confidentiality.
  15. We were asked if we wished to proceed. I deeply regret now, that I agreed with the rest to go ahead. In agreeing, however (and vitally), I did offer, there and then, to explain to them how I thought it had occurred. ++R refused me permission.
  16. He then told us he had written to the lawyers at Church House about Nick Holtam and Jeffrey John. He actually said he had asked if there was any reason he should decline their nomination. He read, quickly and without dates, passages of the reply. So quickly we could not really take them in.
  17. I make the following points:
  • He had no permission to ask the lawyers, he was a member of the CNC under oath like the rest of the membership; there is no special dispensation for the chairman.
  • There are three reasons only that are valid if a candidate does not fulfil them, and one referee, a judge, had named them in his reference: male; ordained priest for six years; in good standing with the Church.
  • There are no others, we were bound to conclude the Archbishop was hunting for reasons to deny them appointment.

The Archbishop himself was telling us that he was the leaker. No wonder the Press described the source to me as ‘impeccable’. There is only one source; everything else is a consequence of that breach of trust.

18.   I met the Archbishop on the staircase during the break before evensong. There were two witnesses: one downstairs and one (unknown) upstairs.
I said: “When I reported that I knew of the leak ten days before it was published and had warned your staff, you looked as though you didn’t know that, am I right?”
“Yes, I did not know; in fairness to them, I was on retreat with the ordination candidates and could not be reached”.
“Would you like me to tell you how I think it happened?” “No!” (he was shouting). “Then who am I to tell?”
“If you think you know, go and confront him yourself!”
–   and he went off down the stairs. The witness in the corridor, who had stopped, dissolved away. I never found out who it was.

19. I am bound to ask if the Archbishop realised at that point he was the leak. I felt like Nathan confronting King David, but in Hebrew scripture, King David listens and realises.

10. The Archbishop was not incommunicado. He was not on retreat and he was not on retreat for ten days. He may have wished to identify with the candidates, but he was not being ordained. It is entirely a matter of poor communication within the staff that the Archbishop could not be disturbed.

21. That evening I asked Caroline Boddington if she had, indeed, failed to tell the Archbishop. “I told Chris Smith” was her response. I found that amazing. Caroline asked me what had happened and I told her what I thought, I named a clergyman who was being strongly hinted at in the press. I am not willing to engage in that speculation now for two reasons: first we heard it from the Archbishop himself that it was he who broke the oath of confidentiality and all flows from that; second, I was subjected to similar finger pointing myself at the General Synod and I realise how inaccurate it can be, and how partial my remarks to Caroline that evening were, I was only then beginning to digest the enormity of the Archbishop’s admission.

22. As a result, we then had two very horrible days during which I would say both archbishops behaved very badly. The meeting was not a fair consideration at all; 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 I can recall in the past fifteen years.

23. The Archbishop of Canterbury was bad tempered throughout.

24. At a critical point ++Sentamu denounced the Diocese of Southwark, which was fairly breathtaking disloyalty to the diocese in the presence of six members elected as its representatives.

25. When it came to voting, certainly two – possibly three – members of the CNC were in tears and the ABC made no acknowledgement of this but carried on regardless. It was an extraordinary example of a lack of pastoral concern over which we had expressed great importance in all the candidates whom we were considering. As I went round (which I always do), with the voting papers I had a brief word with each of them.

26. At a critical point in voting ++Sentamu and three other members simultaneously went to the lavatory; after which the voting pattern changed.

27. We were asked, in accordance with the protocols, if the CNC had been fairly conducted. I was the only person to say: “The rules have been kept, but, as I have said before, the entire system stinks”. So the recommendation went ahead as ‘authorised’.

28. It was not made plain to us at all, at any time, that only one name would be submitted to the new Prime Minister. I know Southwark members and some central members were clinging to the hope that the two names were so incomparably different in achievements that the PM would recognise what had happened. I now know we were misled.

29. On both days the flip charts were clearly visible from the garden, with or without a telephoto lens. The names were on them; Adrian and someone else clearly noticed something on the final day because, suddenly, they covered the names – but that was after 24 hours’ display when their relative ‘positions’ were clear (two on chart and two on wall).

30. There were people in the garden at all times, quite a lot of people at several points, and some sitting on a bench clearly within earshot and sight of the room. If they could not hear with the naked ear, they certainly could with the most rudimentary microphone.

31. HOWEVER it was, and it remains, my sincere belief that the article that appeared in the Press two days later was written before the CNC even met. The fact that the ABC was intent on blocking Jeffrey John and Nick Holtam was manifestly known to the journalist who rang me ten days beforehand (and the ABY). The suggestion has been made, since, that the ABY was even more intent on blocking Nick Holtam, judging from his stand in the House of Bishops; the bad temper was clearly public on several occasions. Those were the main points in the Press reports which were ‘news’. I suggest that it was a matter of modern speculative reporting with sufficient background certainty.

32. There was a Southwark Diocesan Synod meeting on the Tuesday evening, I didn’t go, I know some others did and some didn’t, but we shall never know if anyone was ‘observing’ them.

33. On the day after the CNC, I had my usual morning meeting with the Cathedral Administrator, he walked in to the room, looked at the Sub Dean and me, and said: “What’s wrong? I’ve never, ever seen you two looking like this”. We replied that we couldn’t tell him, so he knew immediately. I simply indicate that any of at least eight CNC people could have had a similar appearance and if any reporter wished to satisfy their theory, it would have been transparent to them.  Following that meeting I was at the Bishop’s Staff Meeting all day. My mobile erupted with texts when I turned it on after 4:00 p.m. Just about every journalist I know, and several I do not, wanted to speak to me. They were all on the scent. The BBC rang and left three voicemail messages as well as a text. They did not get replies from me for the most part and those who did got: “You know I am not allowed to talk to you”.

34. At about 9:00 p.m. I was cooking supper and carelessly picked up the house phone next to the cooker when it rang. It was Ruth Gledhill who asked if I had seen the next day’s Telegraph. I said no; she asked if the story was correct, I said I couldn’t possibly tell her since I hadn’t seen it. I turned on my computer and had just accessed the website when Jeffrey John rang and asked if it was true. I told him it was.

35. I cannot remember when Nick Holtam contacted me – that night (I think it was that night), or possibly early the next morning. He had the story off the Web as well, but from a blog site.

36. I did not go to General Synod at York on the Friday as I was preaching for the Guy’s Hospital Nurses’ League final service on Saturday. I travelled to York immediately afterwards.

37. I detected ‘something’ when I arrived because some people were particularly caring and others were clearly ‘looking’. I was soon told that ‘…They are saying you leaked the CNC to the papers’. ‘They’ rapidly became identified as ‘the Archbishops’ – with or without justification, I do not know.

What became very evident was the anger of many people at the stupidity of the concept and at the slur, indeed slander, against me personally.

I was deeply depressed by it (which is unusual), and I wondered if it was all a smokescreen to deflect reflection on the true source. I still wonder if that is true, it has credibility. I was deeply touched by the way the Press left me completely alone so that I was not ‘seen with them’. This was confirmed to me by the one reporter who did speak to me in a bar.

I was also deeply touched by the various people who made a point of caring for me, not least deans, but a significant number of former ordinands and students, diocesan bishops – two ensured they sat close to me at the Minster on the Sunday morning, another walked all the way back with me to the University making it quite clear that he thought the entire system is rotten and badly administered from the chairmanship down. One or two indicated why, most said nothing about why but were solicitous and sensitive.

Glynn Harrison had a good discussion with me walking beside the lakes; his concern was the breach of trust within the CNC. It is my most fervent concern because I see how it was created. April Alexander told me she had spoken to the ABC. Others told me the ABY was unapproachable.

38.   I have reflected a lot on the entire saga.

My opinion that the whole system stinks is confirmed beyond contradiction. I was amused to hear the Presiding Bishop of the USA’s Chaplain say to me a few weeks later: “When there’s a leak, Colin – and we get them too – it’s always from the top that you find they have come, either by mistake or intentionally”.

39.   I was appalled by the arrangements for the ‘inquiry’ and wrote a memo to Chris Smith which I
attach. He telephoned with some – but not all – reassurances a couple of weeks later.

The oxymoron within the Terms of Reference will be a delight to me for years to come; it exhibits the chaotic unreality that prevailed from the very beginning. Chris encouraged me to say more than list the facts, I have done so. I have not used this to list everything that I believe is wrong with the process; it would make this document far too long and diffuse. In the spirit of transparency to which we have been asked to acquiesce, however, I submit these reflections and trust they will in their entirety be contained in the eventual report, alternatively I will circulate them myself.

Colin Slee.

Appendix 1.

The Most Revd and Rt Hon The Archbishop of Canterbury
Lambeth Palace
SE1 7JU                                                                                                                                                 16th March 2010


In sending in my mandatory and discretionary names to Caroline Boddington, I have also written two additional pages. The first points out that Christopher Cocksworth’s name should have been removed ages ago; Michael Sadgrove tells me he has asked for his name to be removed more than once. There are at least half a dozen names that are not in play, let alone the ones about whom I know nothing. I noted also that Richard Burridge’s name has been removed, so why not the others?

I also sent Caroline a list of names that should be included, and expressed my pleasure that Tom Butler, at least in part, clearly has done as I requested and sent in names before retiring.

The most important thing to say to you, however, is that I have included both Nicholas Holtam and Jeffrey John as mandatory names for Southwark CNC. I do not regard nominating them as a matter of confidentiality in that I have their agreement.

This will not be good news for you but the time has come for some ‘courageous wisdom’ as the Rochester papers put it. Personally I believe the time for genuine honesty is long overdue.

Nicholas is, as you know, a candidate for whom I have long expressed support. I remain utterly horrified by the treatment meted out to him by the House of Bishops which is nothing short, in the full meaning of the word, of a scandal; especially since I know the extent to which the Archbishop of York defended Richard Frith and then voted the opposite way at the HoB in December. You have told me the matter should be resolved in May one way or the other. If it is resolved against divorcees, or spouses of divorcees being considered, there will be a national outcry. The Church of England’s reputation and standing nationally with regard to Human Rights is in tatters anyway, this will be the final nail in the coffin because it is so manifestly unjust; the Press will have a field day. I hope and pray, therefore, that the matter is resolved by clearing the way without further delay or debate. I am well aware from my Chelmsford contacts what a huge groundswell of support there was in that diocese for Nick’s candidature; the same is true in Southwark.

Jeffrey’s name has enormous support within this diocese. He also has the manifest calibre to take on a major role without being at all dismayed either by the profile of the senior staff team he would inherit, or by the size and nature of the diocese, where he is already something of a hero and worked outstandingly in two posts. He combines the theological capacity as well as the urban familiarity that the diocese is seeking in its statement.

As you know, I know a lot more about what went on in Lambeth Palace on July 3rd 2003 than most people, and definitely more than has been published. I have always been aware, for example, that one of your staff (I recall it was Jeremy Harris), told Jeffrey he would be put back into a bishop’s job after he had been Dean of St Albans for five years or so, and recent developments have made that more urgent. We corresponded at the time, and I remain of the view that you were ambushed by nine diocesan bishops, several – but not all – of whom, were intent (successfully) on undermining your authority. I still believe that had you stood your ground at the time, all that has followed would have been a short-lived blip instead of a deeper and deeper morass. This diocese offers you the chance to step out of that corner, perhaps better than any diocese in the country ever could. (If Jeffrey is not successful this time, I shall continue to put his name forward, however.)

It remains true also that the only thing of which Jeffrey is guilty is honesty, which I have always believed to be a Christian virtue. The danger, several years down the line, is that there are bishops who unquestionably have been less than candid about their domestic arrangements.

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