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Jeffrey John, Dean of St Albans, celibate homosexual and man of principle, twice denied a bishopric, may now sue the C of E: it would be a sad and secularist falling away

His non-appointment as Bishop of Southwark was a prime example of Anglicanism’s inability to think theologically

By on Friday, 20 January 2012

Dr Jeffrey John is apparently considering whether to sue the Church of England under the Equality Act (Photo: PA)

Dr Jeffrey John is apparently considering whether to sue the Church of England under the Equality Act (Photo: PA)

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.

  • Bob Hayes

    Thank you for an insightful analysis Dr Oddie. I believe you are right in suspecting that Anglicanism will always struggle with its inevitably conflict-ridden attempt at dual loyalty to God and secular institutions. This is probably inevitable given its foundation in what was essentially a matter of secular realpolitik for Henry VIII.

  • Anonymous

    I am pleased to see Dr Oddie make what appears to be an argument that it is wrong to discriminate against a chaste man purely on the grounds of his sexual orientation. Does this mean that he disagrees with Pope Benedict who ruled in 2005 that those who ” present deep-seated homosexual tendencies” should not proceed to ordination?

  • Romsbar

    What exactly qualifies as “deep seated homosexual tendencies”?

  • Bomber1037

    Once again our Catholic gatekeepers in the so called Catholic media fail us. All this compromise with know enemies of the CC is very disheartening and confusing to the faithful. Mr Oddie has fallen into the militant homosexual trap of using their own language on their own terms.
    If a man is a public figure (let along claiming to represent Christ) calls himself a homosexual and lives with another man even though he claims to be celibate it is still a scandal, creates public confusion  and compromises public morality. If he really loved Christ and put him first he would remove himself from all occasions of temptation and sin. Rather in this case, he chooses not only to remain with his ‘partner’ but in fact plans to sue the COE to boot to get the position of power he feels he deserves. It beggers belief that ANY Catholic should endorse this let alone a prominent Catholic in a so called ‘Catholic’ newspaper. Compromise with evil is everywhere it seems…..
    It’s very simple really. If a man experiences same sex attraction but does not wilfully act on it that does not make him a homosexual, it makes him a man with a disorder that can be successfully treated. However until he has overcome this disorder he is unsuitable for priesthood let alone the role of Bishop.
    This idea that homosexuals are made that way by God is simply a lie and part of the militant homosexuals agenda. A big part of this agenda is to get into schools (often under the guise of anti bulling strategies) to recruit new members. It’s a war Mr Oddie, a war for souls. Please think about this and stop compromising with the enemy….

  • Anonymous

    If you read the Instruction on this matter you will see that the Congregation for Education gives an explanation. It identifies three problem categories: those who commit homosexual acts; those with deep-seated homosexual tendendencies; and those who “support the so-called ‘gay culture’ “. Being a member of any of those groups absolutely disqualifies a man from the priesthood. 

    The first category, that of committing homosexual acts, is very clear; the last, support for the ‘gay culture’, is perhaps a bit vague. Guidance is given to help discern the second group.In order to decide whether or not the tendencies are deep-seated a potential candidate and his spiritual director are to use the three year rule. If it has been more than three years since the man had any homosexual tendencies, then they may have been just a transitory problem which has been overcome, and he might be able to proceed to the priesthood.

  • Romsbar

    Thank you for the link, however I am still slightly confused. Perhaps I should re-word my question, “what constitutes a homosexual tendency?” Does merely being tempted to homosexual acts/desires qualify or do you havet to actively ‘embrace’ being homosexual?

  • Kennyinliverpool

    The Catholic Church is entirely run by gay men. This isn’t a criticism just an observation. Who knows who is celibate or not? … the problem for Catholics may be that this issue is being spoken about publicly in the CoE rather than being ignored … which is a very Catholic position. 
    – Honestly in many ways is very destructive because it challenges us to think about things in a new way.

  • Bonaventure

    Who will he sue? The Queen? Constitutionally, it is the monarch who nominates all Anglican Bishops.

  • Anonymous

    The instruction says  “If a candidate practises homosexuality or presents deep-seated homosexual tendencies, his spiritual director as well as his confessor have the duty to dissuade him in conscience from proceeding towards ordination. ”

    From that it seems clear that a man be disqualified by tendencies even if they do not lead to acts.

    For a further understanding of the Church’s views of homosexual tendencies you could read the letter dated 1986 which said,
    “Although the particular inclination of the homosexual person is not a sin, it is a more or less strong tendency ordered toward an intrinsic moral evil; and thus the inclination itself must be seen as an objective disorder. “

  • W Oddie

    I didn’t say anything about his proceeding to ordination. Think about  it.

  • Anonymous

    So you claim the church is anti-gay and is run by gays. Make up your mind?

  • bruno

    “deep seated homosexual tendencies”? I suppose Mr John displays this, he is after all the homosexual Dean of St Albans, rather than simply “the “Dean of St Albans”. He allies himself with the Gay lobby rather anything which is specifically Christian. Being Gay seems to be essential to a definition of who he is, rather than being, say, Christian.
    Although he claims to be celibate, he defines himself in terms which emphasise his sexuality, that I would suggest is a “deep seated homosexual tendencies”.

  • Nyankslawrence

    @0824d231fe0233a41d3f25688c3a48b9:disqus ,you have gone a stray because the issue is about Anglican church member,now you are attacking the the catholic church .
    I think it would be better for you to show the world your stance on homosexual.Do you support it or not.
    Who doesn`t know that the Anglican church supports those acts.
    Please mind about where you belong not where you do not.

  • Anonymous

    Dr Oddie bemoans the lack of intellectual powers of the average Anglican evangelical because of their opposition to the installation as a bishop of Dr John. He claims that they argue, “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.”

    Pope Benedict says that if a man is privately aware of unacted upon homosexual tendencies, “It would be gravely dishonest for a candidate to hide his own
    homosexuality in order to proceed, despite everything, towards ordination.” As far as I can tell this rule is an innovation by the present Pope, with no precedent for it in previous Catholic teaching or practice.

  • Poppy Tupper

    Not so Bruno. The Dean of St Albans does not occupy himself with a gay agenda at all. In fact he rarely mentions it. His contention is that civil partnerships, which are legal contracts and not same sex marriages, however much some would like to make them so, should not be a bar to holding office in the church. He is not the only Dean with a civil partnership, and in fact, there is already one church of England bishop living in a civil partnership. If civil partnerships are replaced by same sex marriages then it will be a different problem altogether.

  • LocutusOP

    Correct me if I’m wrong here…

    Celibacy is giving up marriage for continent service of God. In other words, those who feel they cannot get married cannot be celibate either, because they are not giving up anything they would be morally permitted to do.

    It is good that he is chaste, as we are all called to be, but chastity does not equate with celibacy. Furthermore, given the scandal and confusion that cohabitation brings (although I’m not sure it’s relevant in this case), all Christians are to abstain from it, nor are we to have long-term “partners”. …Both these things perhaps apply even more when dealing with same-sex attraction.

    So I’m with Patrick_Hadley on this one….Although this person’s sexual actions are (possibly) in keeping with the letter of 2359 of the Catechism, I don’t think we can claim that they are in keeping with the spirit of Catholic social teaching taken as a whole.

  • Anonymous

    Um, no, it isn’t.

    There is a 1961 document entitled Religiosorum Institutio which may be of interest to you in this connection.

    Issued by the liberal hero John XXIII, it was the basis for the 2005 document you aver was an innovation.

  • Anonymous

    Thank you for the link to that interesting document. In section 30, the first four parts deal with sexual acts, and the usual understanding was that the reference in 30.4 to “evil tendencies to homosexuality or pederasty” related to people who had sinned against chastity in that way. 

    This interpretation is supported by the fact that in section 30.5 novice masters and superiors are advised to give a special investigation in the case of someone free from formal sins against chastity, but with an abnormal sexuality, as to whether the requirement of celibacy would be too onerous. There would be no point in such an investigation if a tendency was enough to cause a ban. There is no reference to any special investigation of the candidate in the 2005 document: if the tendency had existed in the last three years then the candidate must not progress to ordination. 

    Church law and teachings, involving bans and penalties, should always be interpreted strictly, that is narrowly. It is a matter of history that novice masters and seminary rectors in the period from1961 to 2005 did not automatically reject, just on the grounds of homosexual tendencies, chaste candidates who were able to make a full commitment to celibacy.

  • Stewart

    There is nothing that has harmed the Catholic Church in America more than the homosexual predators that preyed on the young and the Church for quite sometime. Homosexuals are also in the process of destroying the mainline Protestant churches as well. The attack on Evangelicals shows exactly where  Dr Oddie’s sympathies lie. Which is of course part of the larger lie that homosexuals can function as clergy.

  • Paul Halsall

    It is both anti-gay and largely run by gays.

  • Stewart

    The idea that sodomy isn’t a sick and filthy act leading to hiv among other things but is merely a matter of just being gay is one of the most pathetic arguments about this mess.

  • Anonymous


  • Anonymous

    Yes, this is true. I think this guy does not understand the whole point of a vocation to begin with.

    This is what happens when theology is thrown out for gender politics, that view everything as a power struggle.

  • Anonymous

    The whole part about this mess is not being able to understand that a vocation is not a right that someone is entitled too. There is no right to become a priest or a Bishop.

    Theology is increasingly being confused with social politics that sees everything as a power struggle between men and women, gay and straight, etc etc.

    Pit one group against the other in order to destroy both.

  • Anonymous

    Frankly (and, pace Dr Oddie, I am going to use inverted commas) anyone who “desperately wants” (as per an article I read about him) to be an Anglican “bishop” ought not to be one, surely?

  • Anonymous

    “It is a matter of history that novice masters and seminary rectors in the period from1961 to 2005 did not automatically reject, just on the grounds of homosexual tendencies, chaste candidates who were able to make a full commitment to celibacy.”

    I’m sure they still don’t. It all hinges on the interpretation of “deep-seated”, doesn’t it?

  • Anonymous

    I am more alarmed by the notion that the civil law may presume to arrogate to itself any jurisdiction over who may or may not be preferred to any ecclesiastical office. I know Anglicanism is the national department of state for sanctification of whatever the state would like sanctified, but if a ruling in Dr John’s favour is made – no, not even only that, the idea that the court has the jurisdiction to pass such a ruling at all, whatever it decides – could set a dangerous precedent which the liberal maniacs could use to have a go at the Church itself.

  • Anonymous

    “that of committing homosexual acts, is very clear”

    Is it? Does it mean “has done so and cannot stop”? or does it mean “has done so in the past, once, yet never done it again”? or again, does it mean “has done it (more than once) in the past, but has now stopped”? Does the three year rule apply to it?

    I would argue that actually as with most pieces of law all three articles need to be read together, and that the first and the third have some bearing on the second.

  • Anonymous

    “support for the ‘gay culture’, is perhaps a bit vague”

    Actually that’s probably the least vague of the three, in my view. I read it as support for the gay political agenda and/or frequenting the scene or pride marches.

  • Anonymous

    Disqualified by tendencies which are “deep-seated”, however, and perhaps the other two clarify what this means to some extent.

  • Anonymous

    Since the doctrine, worship and Canon Law of the Church of England are determined by Parliament I am not sure why anyone should consider it a divine entity. No matter how fond I am of our rulers in Westminster I would not want to say that they have divine authority.

    Who can and cannot be ordained into the Anglican episcopate is a matter for MPs and Peers to decide. Parliament established the Anglican Canon Law, and if this law is found to be discriminatory on the grounds of sexual orientation, then it is for Parliament to put this right, and nothing whatever to do with God. 

  • Anonymous

    You are certainly right that no individual has a right to become a priest or a bishop. However that does not mean that excluding an entire class of people might not be discriminatory. While no black man has right to be ordained as a priest, a bishop who refused to ordain a candidate simply because he was black, would be guilty of the sin of racial discrimination.

  • Anonymous

    The C of E got itself into this mess, by letting gay clergy enter into civil partnerships provided they are celibate. 

    Now, civil law has got into this mess of who should be ordained.

  • Anonymous

    Why o why do we give credit to people who seem to support a sexual act that goes against God and Nature. Sodomy is a sick and filthy act. The homosexual predation that has been rampant in the CC was obviously protected by many Bishops. And we call it Gay?

  • Hank Classe


    I see little reference to scripture in this chain of messages, Remember, St Paul was called by God during the early church. He was, before the miraculous appearance of the Lord before him, a Jew and murderer of the faithful during Roman times. St. Paul became one of the greatest leaders and a great author of the New Testament, despite his horrible past. How great was Paul’s evil, and lo, how greater God’s mercy and grace!

    Why are we hung up on the issue of clergy serving in our Church in leadership positions who have in the past lived as homosexuals and now chose to live in chastity as a living sacrifice for His namesake? I propose that we should judge less and pray harder.

  • Margaret

    Jesus gave the template for marriage, ie between a woman and a man as was Adam and Eve. Are you inferring that he was wrong? That man’s desires are superior to the precepts of God?When people reject the tenets or instructions of God, they are revealing hearts which despise Him and do not serve Him. Jesus is either the head of the church or not and challenging His authority infers that He is not the head of the chuch and has been replaced by sinner man.

  • Anonymous

    Celibacy is a man made rule, and why is it that one has to be celibate, in other words, what does abstaining from sex have to do with giving your life to God? The answer is: nothing. I agree with an earlier comment that the Church is run by gay men. I believe the celibacy provision was put in place to hide their (the pastors, preachers, priests) homosexuality, because in other profession if you do not have a girlfriend or wife people think you are gay. The celibacy rule gives gay priests some cover. I’m not saying all priests are gay but I bet most are. I should state that I think gay people are gay because they are born gay, and don’t choose their orientation. On another subject: if God created this wonderful planet, all the species, how it all works (down to the atomic and sub-atomic level) and the entire universe, why couldn’t he create a simple manual for us to live by? I mean, God created human beings in all their glory, but yet he couldn’t create a simple book. Why was the Bible written by men who were inspired by God,  instead of by God himself? My personal answer is because I believe the Bible was written by men, political men, as a way of controlling people, and if there is a God I don’t think it has anything to do with Christianity (but if Jesus did exist then he was probably a very good and kind human being). In closing I would like to say that for those who do believe, I respect your beliefs, and hope you find comfort in following what you believe.

  • StAlbansPaul

    Marriage:  Matthew 19, verse 4, Jesus tells us that God made Man and Woman and in verse 5 that they shall be one flesh.  But in verse 12, Jesus goes on to say that there are people that are born eunuchs, some that have been made eunuchs and others that become eunuchs. 
    Its worth pointing out here that the word ‘eunuch’ did not meant the literal sense, but simply meant those that voluntarily abstained from marriage.
    In verse 11 Jesus clearly states that all men cannot receive this saying (what he just said about marriage), only those to whom it is given.
    In verse 16, Jesus is questioned on what it is necessary to do to have eternal life and Jesus’ simple answer is ‘Keep the Commandments’.  Listing those he is referring to as ‘thou shalt not murder, commit adultery, steal or bear false witness.  Thou shall honour thy mother and father and love thy neighbour as thyself.’
    So there we have it.  In a nut shell, men and women should get married if it is meant for them, but marriage isn’t for all people.  To enter the kingdom of God follow the Commandments mentioned above.  What could be simpler?
    As for homosexuality…  I hear so many people say something along the lines of ‘the Bible tells us that it is a sin for a man to lay with a man as he would a woman’ ergo homosexuality is wrong.  This statement generally comes from Leviticus 18 and 20, but references are also made in Paul’s first letter to the Romans and Paul’s first epistle to the Corinthians. 
    Let’s start with Leviticus:
    1) A book that reached the state we recognise today around 400 BC and is erroneously attributed to Moses. 
    2) A book written by men centuries before Jesus was born. 
    3) A book that says we should have slaves (and we’ve wasted centuries abolishing it!)
    4) A book that lays down strict rules of cleanliness – so ladies, before during and after your monthly period, don’t even think of going into a church if you take Leviticus as gospel.
    Isn’t it funny how people pick and choose verses from the bible to suit their needs and conveniently overlook those that don’t?
    Before we look at Romans or Corinthians, let us look at the author Paul, born 5 years after Jesus crucifixion, or Saul of Tarsus as he was known when he actively persecuted the early Christians and even admits to participating in the murder of proto-martyr Stephen in Acts 7.  Paul clearly had the gift of the gab as reflected by his overly large contribution to the New Testament.  But just because Paul said it, does not make it the word of Jesus/God.  If Jesus had wanted to say it he had 30 odd years in which to do it, and he didn’t.  But it appears we are quite happy to take the word of a murderer, because he says he had a vision from God.  I’m surprised inmates on death row aren’t having visions left right and centre – and if they did, would you listen to what they said and take their word as gospel?  Probably not.
    I’ve yet to find a reference for Jesus referring to 2359 of the Catechism.
    Jesus said: ‘Keep the Commandments:  Thou shalt not murder, commit adultery, steal or bear false witness.  Thou shall honour thy mother and father and love thy neighbour as thyself.’ 
    If only we could keep it this simple, just imagine how the world could be.

  • Anthony Miller

    Ah … the clobber passages … I particularly like the way nobody enforces the affinity laws any more either.

    Of course 2359 of the Catechism is a very modern addition to the faith.  Previously the latest version of the Cathechism the church did not call homosexual men to a life of chastity but encouraged them into disasterous heterosexual marriages (I suppose it’s a sort of progres that they know better than to do this any more).  This section of the CCC replaced the previous less politically acceptable section of the famous Penny Cathechism which read

    212 Are masturbation, fornication, pornography andhomosexual practices forbidden by the Sixth Commandment

    Masturbation, fornication, pornography andhomosexual practices forbidden by the Sixth Commandment

    Here we see the main previous theological basis for banning homosexual acts.
    THE SIXTH COMMANDMENT. Thou shall not commit adultery

    By defining marriage as exclusively between a man and a woman all homosexual sex is immediately classed as adultery as it sex outside of marriage.  And by classing together all homosexual relations with inherantly promiscuous activities the church insinuated that all homosexual relationships are inherantly promiscuous.  This is the backdrop to the campaign for gay marriage.  If gay marriage becomes politically accepted the church’s argument that all homosexual sex is an adulterous violation of the 6th commandment also starts to melt away…

    The church had to start including 2359 when it no longer became politically acceptable to try and force homosexual men into sham heterosexual marriages because psycologists had pointed out that such practices were obviously silly.

    However, never one to make one step forwards without two steps backwards the RCC also recently bolted on the 2005 ban on even non sexually active gay priests – a fairly modern addition to the faith although they did manage to cherry pick a document from 1961 to retroactively “justify” it.  I’m just waiting for someone to challenge this under the Equality Act 2010.  Previously the church was quite happy to fill the priesthood with homosexual men in the past until it became the object of satire and accusations of double standards for the practice.  The more fundament problem the RCC has with homosexual priests is they are more likely to have empathy with homosexual people and understand their problems and, heaven forbid, advance their political needs.  Exactly how the 2005 ban is supposed to mesh with 2358 of the catechism banning discrimination against homosexually orientated people is …erm …

    …the Catholic Church is a large heterosexual lobbying organisation designed to advance heterosexual people’s needs above homosexual ones.  It really is, has been and always will be that simple.  Like most lobby groups …as long as you have no opinions of your own and certainly dont express them in public …you’ll fit right in.

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