His non-appointment as Bishop of Southwark was a prime example of Anglicanism’s inability to think theologically
Earlier this week, the Daily Mail ran a story about someone I used to know, many years ago, quite well:
A gay senior clergyman who claims he was blocked from becoming a bishop has threatened to take the Church of England to court.
Church sources say the Very Rev Jeffrey John, Dean of St Albans, believes he could sue officials under the Equality Act 2010, which bans discrimination on the grounds of sexuality.
He has instructed a leading employment lawyer after being rejected for the role of Bishop of Southwark in 2010.
One of the first Catholic Herald blogs I wrote in 2010 was about Dr John, who is certainly homosexual but is also (so he very clearly declares, and there is no reason to doubt him) a celibate Anglican priest, who has for years been at the centre of controversy over homosexuality in the Church of England. He had just failed to be appointed Bishop of Southwark, having apparently been told that he was going to be appointed (incidentally, I know perfectly well what the Catholic Church teaches about Anglican orders and I of course accept and believe it: but I’m not going to write about Anglican prelates as being – in quotes – “bishops”, or Anglican priests as, by implication, “priests” – it’s just offensive).
I wrote at the time that this was yet another example of a consistent (and I suspect ineradicable) 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.
But this kind of thing lies way outside the normal intellectual processes of the average Anglican, who either thinks that active homosexuality just doesn’t matter, nothing to do with him, or alternatively thinks (especially if he is your average Anglican evangelical) that if you have homosexual inclinations, whatever you actually do you are steeped in sin and will infect others if you are allowed anywhere near them.
This wasn’t the first time Dr John had been at the centre of controversy over the appointment of known homosexual clergy to senior posts in the Church of England: he was, indeed, the first example of it. In 2003 he was appointed Bishop of Reading. There was opposition to this appointment from a minority of bishops and he was persuaded to withdraw by the then newly enthroned archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams. Other bishops, however, thought the archbishop was wrong, supported Dr John, and he was subsequently installed as Dean of St Albans (ie, as adminstrator of St Albans Abbey, the cathedral church of that diocese). That then led to controversy in the diocese, and some evangelical churches in the Diocese of St Albans decided that they would withhold their statutory financial contributions to the diocese until further notice in protest. So, one way or another, Jeffrey John has had a pretty rough time of it.
As it happens, I used to know him quite well: we were both trained together for the Anglican priesthood at the Anglo-Catholic seminary, St Stephen’s House, Oxford, which in those days was still one of the centres of the Anglican internal Counter-Reformation, since defunct. He is, I am quite sure, a man of considerable ability and integrity.
And, so far, he appears to me to have been a man of unbending theological principle. Now, however, he has for the first time made a major error precisely where he has thus far been so surefooted; he has fallen into the morass of secularism which in the end is inseparable from the Anglican mind: he has, in other words become – or so it seems – the kind of Anglican he would once have recoiled from with horror. He has decided to invoke an entirely secular conception of human rights against what still claims to be part of the one, Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church. Presumably he still believes that it is, since unlike many of us who left it and became Catholics on precisely the ground that we no longer believed that it was, he is still a member of it. So against what still he believes to be a divine entity, he now, it seems, proposes to deploy the Equality Act 2010. It is a very sad falling away, and I am sorry to see it.