House of Bishops divided on keeping out homosexuals


Slee: tears shed after angry talks

THE Southwark Crown Nominations Commission, which met on 5-6 July last year, was a deeply unhappy affair, say notes made by the late Colin Slee (above), who was Dean of Southwark and a central member of the CNC.

Dean Slee records that, by the time of the final vote, “certainly two, possibly three, members of the CNC were in tears”. Dr Williams, who chaired the meeting, “made no acknowledgement of this but carried on regardless”, he writes.

Dean Slee is critical of both Arch­bishops. He describes Dr Williams as “bad tempered throughout. . . ++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.”

The cause was a report in The Sunday Telegraph the day before that Dr John and Mr Holtam had been nom­inated. Dr Williams told mem­bers that he had lost his temper when the leak was published.

“He then told us he had written to the lawyers at Church House about Nick Holtam and Jeffrey John,” Dean Slee writes. He infers from this: “The Archbishop himself was telling us that he was the leaker. . . He had no permission to ask the lawyers. He was a member of the CNC under oath like the rest of the membership.”

In Dean Slee’s view, the request for legal advice indicated Dr Williams’s attitude. “We were bound to conclude the Archbishop was hunting for reasons to deny them appointment.”

The CNC considered four can­didates in detail: Dr John, Mr Holt­am, an unknown candidate, and the Rt Revd Christopher Chessun, who had impressed the diocese during his four years as Area Bishop of Woolwich. His was the first name sent to the Prime Minister, though the voting appears to have been close. “At a critical point in the voting,” Dean Slee writes, “++Sentamu and three other members simultaneously went to the lavatory; after which the voting pattern changed.”

THE Very Revd Colin Slee, who died in November last year, was a cham­pion of liberal causes, especially when Dr Jeffrey John, then one of his canons at Southwark Cathedral, was manoeuvred out of his appointment as Area Bishop of Reading in 2003 because of objections to his homo­sexuality.

By proposing Jeffrey John and Nick Holtam for the diocesan see in Southwark, Dean Slee knew that he was going to make the hier­archy uncomfortable. But in a letter to Dr Williams he wrote that appointing Dr John “would remove a real stain on the Church’s reputation”.

The news of the names leaked out, as did the fact that they had not been nominated, and an internal inquiry was set up under Baroness Fritchie to investigate the leak. Dean Slee was disturbed by accusations that he had been the source, especially since he felt that the leak had damaged Dr John’s chances.

He was sceptical of the terms of reference of the Fritchie inquiry, particularly the statement that it would “make any recommendations necessary to improve the con­fidentiality in the work of the Commission as it seeks to open up its processes”. He none the less agreed to be interviewed by Lady Fritchie, and compiled a set of notes of his recollections. It is these that the Church Times has seen.

In them, he says that he first heard of the leak when a journalist phoned him on a Saturday in June, a week before the Southwark CNC was due to meet, saying that he had had the names of Nick Holtam and Jeffrey John from “an impeccable source”. From remarks made at the CNC, Dean Slee infers that the leak came from the Archbishop of Canterbury himself. He is also critical of the Archbishop of York, quoting a remark he made to Dr John in St Alban’s Abbey “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, you know.’”

Dean Slee writes: “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.”

He concludes that the problem of secrecy is “endemic: it is essentially created by a system of overwrought confidentiality which no commercial organisation would use.”

In answer to a question in the Synod last November, the Arch­bishop of Canterbury said that the Fritchie inquiry had been con­cluded. “It would not be appropriate to give this a wider cir­culation.”

About kiwianglo

Retired Anglican priest, living in Christchurch, New Zealand. Ardent supporter of LGBT Community, and blogger on 'Thinking Anglicans UK' site. Theology: liberal, Anglo-Catholic & traditional. regarding each person as a unique expression of Christ, and therefore lovable.
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1 Response to House of Bishops divided on keeping out homosexuals

  1. kiwianglo says:

    This article – from this week’s ‘Church Times’ – gives evidence of the subterfuges that have taken place within the Church of England’s House of Bishops in order to outlaw the episcopate to gay clergy. The fact that this news has been published in the Church Times – the more liberal of the Anglican newspapers in the U.K. – bespeaks the credibility that has been given to the late Colin Slee (recently Dean of Southwark) in his revelation of the odd goings-on at the recent meeting to discuss the appointment of a new Bishop of Southwark.

    It is well-known that the two clergy suggested by the Southwark Archdeaconry – Dean Jeffrey John, of Southwark, and The Revd Nick Holtam – Rector of St.Martin-in-the Fields, London, were thought to be favourably-placed candidates for the Inner City Diocese of Southwark’s new bishop. However, by the time the meeting ended, it appears that the only name that was sent to the Prime Minister for ratification was that of the finally elected candidate – both Jeffrey John’s and Nick Holtam’s names having been taken out of the running by the two provincial archbishops.

    As it happens, Fr. Nick Holtam has, more recently, been elected Bishop of Salisbury, so it would appear that whatever held him back from being commended to the Prime Minister for Southwark was no longer an inhibition against his Salisbury appointment!

    The fact remains that Canon Jeffrey John has now been ‘de-selected’ by Archbishop Rowan Williams for two different bishoprics – Reading and Southwark. One needs to question why – given his documented acceptance of Gays in ministry (publication – ‘The Body’s Grace’) the ABC continues to use his considerable influence in the House of Bishops to deny them (and Jeffrey John, in this instance) preferment to the role of a Bishop in the Church of England. The fact that influential conservative bishops – like the Bishop of Winchester – continue to make their presence felt in the Church of England, on issues of gender and sexuality (but not necessarily on divorce), is no doubt the most likely factor in the ABC’s move to consolidate their position on gay ordination.

    After this present publicising of the events surrounding episcopal appointments within the Church of England, there will no doubt be some soul-searching undertaken on what can be done about the future prospects of the ordination of Women and Gays – upon which subject the Communion is already divided and uncertain.

    Father Ron Smith, Christchurch

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