Jeffrey John: Pressure mounts on Church in Wales after allegations of homophobia

Pressure is mounting on Welsh bishops after they were accused of homophobia by a senior gay cleric on Sunday.

Dr Jeffrey John, Dean of St Albans Cathedral, narrowly missed out on being appointed Bishop of Llandaff, despite strong support from local church figures.

Senior bishops in the Church in Wales then blocked him after 'a number of homophobic remarks' were made against Dr John in the appointment process. He was told bishops were 'just too exhausted' to deal with the problems they believed his appointment would cause.

Dr. Jeffrey John outside St Albans Cathedral.

Dr John's own cathedral issued a statement on Monday condemning the decision amid calls on bishops to reconsider.

'The fact that it appears Jeffrey's sexuality and civil partnership have been used against him in the selection process is wholly wrong and it is only right that the bishops in Wales review the process before making an appointment,' it read.

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An LGBT pressure group, One Body One Faith, added to the pressure by accusing the Church of 'unjust and discriminatory behaviour'. They called on bishops to apologise to Dr John and reconsider his name in the appointment process.

'The bishops' behaviour is a very clear example of the instability and inconsistency of the institutional practices of this Anglican church in the way it treats LGBTQ+ people.

'The open integrity of Jeffrey John causes them more psychological disturbance than gay clergy who are closeted or semi-closeted, certainly far more than a heterosexual man who was divorced and remarried, and they have been unable to act with professional and pastoral integrity themselves.'

Prominent General Synod member and human rights campaigner Jayne Ozanne also joined the criticism. She told Christian Today: 'Jeffrey is already a bishop in many of our eyes – he has been the "chief pastor" to those of us who have felt discriminated against and vilified for the sake of our sexuality, and has led and taught us how to respond in grace.

'His treatment at the hands of the Church – both in England and Wales – has been despicable, and is one of the clearest examples yet of the high levels of institutional homophobia. He has constantly been told privately one thing while another story has been given publicly, I therefore salute his courage and dignity in bringing matters into the open, so to avoid the use of "confidentiality" as a cloak for injustice and deception.' 

It comes after Dr John was strongly supported by locals in the area and won more than half of the votes in the initial election body, Christian Today revealed. But his sexuality and long-term civil partnership to fellow Anglican priest Grant Holmes meant he was barred by a handful of opponents meaning he failed to secure the two-thirds necessary.

The decision was then passed to senior bishops in the Church in Wales who asked for views across dioceses. Dr John said despite local church leaders being 'unanimous' in support and hundreds writing to back him, the bishops ignored their views and barred his name from the new shortlist.

Details of the appointment process were leaked to Christian Today and One Body One Faith praised the source saying they exposed 'shameful and homophobic behaviour' in the Church.

'Far from showing a lack of integrity or faith in the process, what they have exposed is just the tiny tip of an iceberg in terms of injustices which are meted out to 'rank and file' LGBTI+ people by bishops on a weekly basis, behind closed doors, and under the cloak of "confidentiality".

'Such behaviour – lack of accountability and transparency – is shameful and homophobic. It does not belong in the processes of any organisation and certainly not a Christian church.'

The pressure is growing after Dr John made the highly unusual move or writing publicly to a senior Welsh bishop following his rejection to accuse the Church of homophobia.

'The only arguments adduced against my appointment – in particular by two of the bishops - were directly related to my homosexuality and/or civil partnership – namely that my appointment would bring unwelcome and unsettling publicity to the diocese, and that it might create difficulties for the future Archbishop in relation to the Anglican Communion,' he wrote.

'To ride roughshod of the very clearly expressed, unanimous view of a diocese in this way is extraordinary, unprecedented and foolish,' he told Bishop Davies.

'You decided, arbitrarily, to ignore the submissions that you had asked for, and to declare that those who were discussed at the Electoral College were now, in fact, no longer to be considered. This is a clear and ludicrous breach of process, and a further insult to the people of the diocese, and very many others who took the trouble to contribute their view.

'I trust there will now be an open and honest examination of this process in the light of day, and that you will not attempt to appoint a bishop for Llandaff until it is complete.'

A Church in Wales spokeswoman strongly denied allegations of homophobia.

'At the recent meeting of Electoral College no one candidate secured the necessary two-thirds majority to be elected Bishop of Llandaff,' she said.

'The appointment will now be made by the Church's bishops. After a process of consultation they have drawn up a shortlist of names which is confidential. However, the Bishops strongly deny allegations of homophobia.'

The spokeswoman added that neither homosexuality nor participation in a civil partnership were a bar to any candidate being either nominated or elected as Bishop of Llandaff.

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