The C of E has done it again. “An openly homosexual cleric has been nominated to become a senior bishop, in a move that threatens to provoke a damaging split in the Church of England,” reported the Telegraph on Sunday. Dr Jeffrey John, Dean of St Albans, was the leading candidate to become Bishop of Southwark. No longer; after considerable dithering, the Crown Appointments commission has caved in: Dr John is not to have Southwark.
Now, one is tempted to see this story as yet another example of a consistent Anglican incapacity to think theologically. The point about Dr John is that he is “celibate”: and by that he means that he and his long-term partner are chaste, that they abstain from any kind of sexual act. In other words, his behaviour is entirely consistent with article 2359 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which teaches that “Homosexual persons are called to chastity” and that “By the virtues of self-mastery that teach them inner freedom… they can and should gradually and resolutely approach Christian perfection.”
In other words, his behaviour is an example of chastity for other homosexuals to follow, not an encouragement to clerical promiscuity. Dr John is a man of integrity: as it happens, I was trained for the Anglican priesthood with him and speak from personal knowledge; when he was chaplain of Brasenose College, Oxford, I even preached from his pulpit and would have done so again when he moved to Magdalen had my reception into the Catholic Church not supervened.
Dr John’s appointment to Southwark will not now take place: and the C of E has not even escaped being “split from top to bottom” by his non-appointment: the fact is that Anglicanism is intrinsically divided by its theological incoherence, but now there is an increasingly unpleasant edge to its divisions. Not that English Catholics have any right to feel superior over this issue, so long as the Soho Masses continue with the full consent of the bishops of the Westminster diocese. But that is another story, for which, watch this space.