Appointing gay bishop 'risks splitting Church'

image captionDr Jeffrey John entered a civil partnership in 2006

A leading conservative Anglican has warned the Church of England could split if an openly gay man is appointed Bishop of Southwark.

Dr Jeffrey John, the Dean of St Albans, is said to be among a number of clergy nominated for the post.

His supporters say Dr John is the right man for the job in a liberal diocese.

But traditionalist Canon Chris Sugden said his appointment would lose the allegiance of orthodox parishes and clergy.

The conflict over homosexuality and the ordination of gay clergy has threatened to split the Anglican Communion for years, with critics saying it may cause a similar breakaway to that in the US Episcopal Church.

Conservatives insist the Bible unequivocally outlaws homosexuality, while liberals believe the Bible should be reinterpreted in the light of contemporary wisdom.


The argument has been reignited after it was revealed Dr John is on a list of candidates being considered by the Crown Nominations Commission (CNC) to replace the Right Reverend Dr Tom Butler, who retired earlier this year as Bishop of Southwark.

In 2003, Dr John, who entered a civil partnership in 2006, was forced to step down from becoming Bishop of Reading because of his sexuality after protests from traditionalists.

Speaking to the BBC Radio 4's Today programme, Canon Sugden said there were important reasons why Dr John, originally from Tonyrefail in south Wales, should not be the Bishop of Southwark.

"He is in a registered civil partnership. Now the Church of England does not believe civil partnerships are the equivalent of marriage.

"Secondly, Dr John, by his own admission, was in an active gay relationship a number of years ago. And he is now said to be celibate, that is fine, one takes that at face value.

"However think of the parallel, say somebody was nominated to high government office, say the cabinet, and they had been involved in fiddling their expenses a number of years ago and never, never apologised or said it was wrong.

"It is breaking the law of the Church in the sense of Christian teaching... the teaching still is that active homosexual practice is not compatible with the teaching of scripture," he said.

But Dr Giles Fraser, canon chancellor of St Paul's Cathedral, said it was "outrageous" to compare "something like fiddling expenses with the way people love each other".

"There is absolutely no respect in a comparison like that - this gets to the heart of the problem... the way in which gay and lesbian people love each other has to be honoured and respected," he said.

Dr Fraser conceded there were international issues and "maverick figures", but said the appointment of Dr John would not split the Church of England and "he might well be the right person for the job".

"If you look at the job spec that the diocese of Southwark has put out, it says they want someone willing to honour the ministry of lesbian and gay clergy.

"And they describe the diocese - rightly so, I was there for [nine years] - as a diocese which has become a place where ministry of lesbian and gay clergy can flourish in response to God's call," he said.

The CNC is due to decide on two names, in order of preference, to submit to David Cameron as the new Bishop of Southwark.

The prime minister then submits a name to the Queen who formally nominates the candidate to the post.

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