Reaction to gay British clergyman's appointment

April 20, 2004

Right Rev. Richard Inwood
ST. ALBANS, England — A gay clergyman who declined a bishop's post after an outcry from Anglican conservatives has been appointed dean of an English cathedral, the British government said Monday.

Prime Minister Tony Blair's office said Queen Elizabeth II had approved Canon Jeffrey John as dean of St. Albans cathedral, the shrine of England's first Christian martyr.

The appointment was welcomed by some figures on both sides of the controversy over John's thwarted nomination to a bishopric last year.

John, a gay but celibate clergyman, had been appointed bishop of Reading, but withdrew in July after protests about his sexual orientation – even though his declared celibacy conformed to the church's teaching.

John's nomination triggered protests from conservatives within the Church of England and in the wider Anglican Communion – a controversy soon overshadowed by the confirmation of the Rev. V. Gene Robinson, who has a male partner, as bishop of New Hampshire in the United States.

The Right Rev. Richard Inwood, suffragan bishop of Bedford in St. Albans diocese, had signed an open letter opposing John's nomination as bishop. But on Thursday, he welcomed John's commitment to mission and his reputation as a preacher and teacher.

"Jeffrey John has made certain undertakings to the diocesan bishop on the (Church of England) bishops' statement, `Issues in Human Sexuality.' This assures me that none of the issues that caused concern last summer to so many people, including myself, will arise," Inwood said.

Inchwood did not specify what the undertakings were, and could not immediately be reached for comment. John was asked at a midday news conference whether he had made any different commitments this time, and replied, "No, I haven't."

The bishop of St. Albans, the Right Rev. Christopher Herbert, said John "has a well-deserved reputation for being a good, caring pastor."

"He is an intelligent, courageous priest who will follow a long line of superb deans of St. Albans and will bring to the abbey a wide range of gifts."

Unlike bishops, cathedral deans are "not called to be a focus for unity in the diocese," Herbert said.

Following the controversy over John's nomination as bishop, Herbert had written to clergy and lay ministers in the diocese calling for them to "repent, and renounce, all forms of bullying." "In the guise of a desire to speak the truth, the exercise of power by many on all sides of this debate has not been edifying or helpful," Herbert wrote at the time.

John's appointment to St. Albans drew criticism from one outspoken Church of England conservative, Rev. David Holloway, a parish priest in Newcastle.

"Any public endorsement of immorality is an attack on marriage ... The church is seen with this appointment to be institutionalizing, as it were, what I would call decadence," Holloway said in an interview with the British Broadcasting Corp.

John said Monday that what matters is "that we build a church where everyone really does belong, where everyone is equally welcome...."

John was asked his views on blessing same-sex unions – an issue that has caused severe divisions within Anglicanism.

He said he had changed his mind on the issue "more than once," but said, "I support the state and the church offering gay people a framework of living their lives. I hope that ultimately the church will be able to bless that kind of relationship, too."

But he added, "I won't be attempting to do anything in the abbey which goes against the canons of the Church of England."

Asked whether he had received support last year from gays and if thought he was a figurehead in the gay community, he said he was " very reluctant to be seen as some sort of figurehead or icon. ...

"It's not the main thing I'm about," he said. " Until last summer, it wasn't a very big part of my ministry." – Sapa-AP

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Gay British clergyman earns controversial promotion [19/04/2004]



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