Comments: Choosing Bishops - The Equality Act 2010

I have said before and doubtless, sadly, will again. It is very important to have no truck with this kind of thing. Nobody should be drawn into a detailed discussion on what they did in their youth, or what they do currently.
In the case of divorce, I understand that those interviewing will want to know: ‘What were the mistakes made, and do you accept some of them were probably yours’ but do you know, even there, I have my reservations. Breaking down blame is a very tricky thing, and anybody with any sense knows the ‘winning formula’ is ‘There were faults on both sides’ followed either by ‘in the end things were damaged beyond repair’ or ‘in the end my partner left but I would have been only too willing to try for a fresh start.’
But nobody I think should discuss sins, or possible sins, in detail with a committee. If one were going down that route, it would need to be all aspects of one’s possible sins. Plainly that is no way to select anybody for anything.
No, what one might fairly ask is ‘What are your views on ...’ (same sex partnerships, divorce, women bishops) because this is relevant to the job and applicable to all candidates. It would be interesting to see what effect that had. It would be very very interesting to see all clergy selection become Equal Opportunities interviews.

Posted by Rosemary Hannah at Monday, 20 June 2011 at 10:37am BST

I think this report is not acceptable and is in fact insulting to gay people.We want both women bishops and gay bishops on equal terms with heterosexual men bishops. Does anyone ask them if they sleep with their wives? Has Rowan Williams been asked to repent of his treatment of women in Oxford before his marriage?

Anyway who is to monitor the celibacy of gay bishops? Will there be hidden cameras in their bedrooms ?
Jean Mayland

Posted by Jean Mary Mayland at Monday, 20 June 2011 at 10:46am BST

Isn't the publication of this document an act of discrmination itself? Unless any selection criteria are couched in such a way as to apply to all candidates equally then they are illegal. From my memories of selecting and appointing staff the person and job specifications had to be applied equally to all candidates, and at interview all candidates had to be asked the same questions, although the follow up questions were obviously different depending on the answers. The Church cannot assert that is it not discriminating against GLTB people per se and then publish a document such as this which effectively is designed to eliminate almost all of them from preferement.

Posted by Richard Ashby at Monday, 20 June 2011 at 10:54am BST

I hope this doesn't sound cynical, but this sounds like an exercise by which the C of E can say "we don't discriminate against gay and lesbian people" whilst at the same time doing precisely that. This distinction between orientation and behaviour is entirely bogus, as most people accept and is the church's way out of pretending it is not prejudiced and discriminatory. It is not a distinction heterosexuals would accept for themselves. I don't think it will convince anyone somehow.

Posted by sjh at Monday, 20 June 2011 at 2:09pm BST

I still find the language of "focus of unity" to be troublesome. First of all, it is not what the ordinal says, which is "to guard... the unity." That is a very different thing. To make the bishop the personal focus of unity is not only practically impossible (does the Archbishop meet this objective standard, for example?) but vaguely and perhaps unintentionally blasphemous, since our true unity is in Christ and Christ alone. To single out current "hot topics" as this legal opinion does is far too much an example of being married to the spirit of the age. There was a time when a priest who advocated the chasuble would have been considered unelectable on the grounds of inability to be "a focus of unity" and in contradiction to the extant rules and policies.

Posted by Tobias Stanislas Haller at Monday, 20 June 2011 at 2:57pm BST

Thank you for making this document readily available. Having now read it I can see that the 'advice' may contain within it more problems than it is designed to solve. - The understanding of the bishop as 'focus of unity' that is presented here is flawed. It seems to imply that the 'unity' is based on agreement rather than the individual being the source of Holy Order. But if this novel view is accepted, it must mean that no woman should ever be consecrated and that PEV's must cease to be consecrated. For both there are significant numbers of Anglicans who object. Did Dr Williams consider this when he acted to create, on his sole authority, two new PEV's?

It is also worth commenting that the document 'Choosing Bishops - The Equality Act 2010', sets out the considerations for 'Divorce and Re-marriage' in a completely different way from 'Homosexuality and Civil Partnerships'. There is no explicit reference in the former to enquiries needing to be made of the candidate's adherence to Church teaching on sexual activity outside marriage. He is not be questioned about this nor is consideration given to the fact that sexual relations prior to their marriage with his present wife would be considered a barrier. These questions are explicitly raised in relation to homosexual candidates. Where is the equality in that?

And I must confess to being hard pressed to imagine just what is meant by 'whether he had expressed repentance for any previous same-sex sexual activity' would look like. And why is that not included for the heterosexual candidate and any previous sexual activity he may have engaged in?

I do hope that the members of General Synod will have an opportunity to ask questions that seek clarification of this dubious document.

Posted by Commentator at Monday, 20 June 2011 at 3:32pm BST

Further to Richard Ashby's point, the document would seem to be an attempt to exclude even abstinent gays who are open about their sexuality from being considered as bishops, and is likely in my view to promote indirect discrimination.

Posted by Savi Hensman at Monday, 20 June 2011 at 4:09pm BST

Not only is sjh spot on in arguing that this is a document pretending not to discriminate against gay and lesbian people while doing exactly that, but the way this was covered yesterday, with simultaneous Sunday afternoon headlines in the Telegraph and on BBC Online, makes it pretty obvious that some Church House Press Office has been working very hard to make sure that it was perceived that way.

Wonder what the odds are that a fair proportion of General Synod delegates will read it that way too, having been softened up by the press reports?

Posted by Gerry Lynch at Monday, 20 June 2011 at 4:44pm BST

I cannot imagine why you think the Church House Press Office would be capable or desirous of influencing the BBC and the Telegraph to act in concert, let alone actually have done so.

The BBC coverage was little short of a scandal, with a reporter being sent out to chase the story who was incapable of uttering the surname of the Dean of St Albans correctly, and simply regurgitating the earlier Telegraph story which was, it appears, written in ignorance of the coverage given to this topic in both the Guardian and the Church Times some three weeks ago.

Posted by Simon Sarmiento at Monday, 20 June 2011 at 6:04pm BST

It is also worth noting that the final clause effectively prohibits anyone who advocates full inclusion of LGBT people in the Church, whether lay or ordained, from holding office. Such advocacy can be seen as inherently divisive and therefore the advocate cannot be a 'focus for unity' since 'the appointment of the candidate would cause division and disunity within the diocese in question, the Church of England and the wider Anglican Communion.'

This document is an attempt to fix forever the position of the Church of England and to enshrine diecrmination at its very heart.

Posted by Richard Ashby at Monday, 20 June 2011 at 7:10pm BST

So, does this mean we can soon expect an announcement that the admirably qualified Dean of St. Albans has been appointed as the next Bishop of Winchester?

Posted by Father David at Monday, 20 June 2011 at 9:03pm BST

I presume this has been noted umpteen times before (when the matter was first leaked), but these criteria seem to have been designed precisely to exclude Jeffrey. But if that cuts too close to impugning other people's motives (which I probably shouldn't do), it does seem an incredible coincidence.

Posted by Joe at Monday, 20 June 2011 at 10:01pm BST

Are heterosexual candidates interrogated on their sexual history?

Posted by Malcolm French+ at Monday, 20 June 2011 at 11:19pm BST

A linkage from the U.K. Times has already appeared in the Christchurch Press, N.Z., stating that, quote: "Paired, celibate gay men get bishop nod".

Whether this is just the local 'Press' headline, or the actual 'Times' header; the fact remains that it would seem to exclude 'celibate gay women'. This would still distance the Church of England from The Episcopal Church in the U.S., which has already ordained a lesbian woman bishop. So no equality for women in the Church of England then, even if men get the 'nod' at York?

And the other question might be raised on this: "Do heterosexuals have to be celibate in order to enter the episcopal ministry of the C.of E.?

Posted by Father Ron Smith at Tuesday, 21 June 2011 at 12:52am BST

I am bound to agree with Tobias Haller's comment about the idea of The Bishop being The Focus of Unity. If even Saint Paul had to say "It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me", then surely no Bishop - not even the Pope - ought imply that he/she is the focus of Unity.

'En Christo' is our identity, not 'en episcopos'

Posted by Father Ron Smith at Tuesday, 21 June 2011 at 2:16am BST

I bow to all of you who so much more polite than I am. I cannot imagine why +RW asked for this legal opinion, except to continue to prevent the appointment of gay persons as bishops. The list of elaborate qualifications for a gay person to become bishop in the CofE would be laughable if it was not another tragic reminder that the CofE has no "out" gay bishops, and those who are gay are clearly afraid to come out.

The CofE is not a safe place, even for bishops. Does anyone think that Parliament will not see through this tissue of deception? I cannot imagine anyone looking to most of the bishops of the CofE for moral leadership, when they are straining at gnats to exclude their brothers and sisters from the episcopacy in a vain attempt to avoid appearing like the weak and self-protecting characters that too many of them seem to be.

So, we in TEC should sacrifice our democratic polity and accountable episcopacy to be in the first rank of "communion" with this? You've got to be kidding.

Posted by karen macqueen+ at Tuesday, 21 June 2011 at 8:21am BST

Ron, this matter is not on the agenda for the York meeting next month. Or any other agenda. And, as Andrew Brown reported back in May, when the House of Bishops discussed the topic then, they failed to reach an agreement. Yesterday I asked William Fittall to confirm that report. He declined to comment on what the HoB might have done, but in a way that led another reporter present to say aloud "I'll take that as a Yes, then".

Posted by Simon Sarmiento at Tuesday, 21 June 2011 at 8:40am BST

"I cannot imagine why you think the Church House Press Office would be capable or desirous of influencing the BBC and the Telegraph to act in concert, let alone actually have done so."

In a different context, in a comment on Bishop Nick Baines latest blogpost Doug Chaplin writes:

"What I want to know is why Lambeth wasn’t ahead of the game. “Archbishop uses New Statesman to open a big conversation on big society. After several embarrassing U-turns by the government caused by inadequate consultation, Dr Rowan Williams called on politicians to spend longer listening.” Or something along those lines. Even if that was the release which only served to send the speech to all MPs, it might have done a significant amount of prophylactic spinning before the Telegraph got the hares running."

The principle is sound and should be applied to all church communication, especially in an age in which experience has shown that most reporting on faith matters gets distorted in the press.

Posted by Erika Baker at Tuesday, 21 June 2011 at 8:52am BST

And precisely how are PEVs a focus of unity, if this is now a key criterion for episcopal appointments?

Posted by Hilary Cotton at Tuesday, 21 June 2011 at 9:13am BST

I wonder why 'Reform' bothered. It's not going to happen under these guidelines anyway.

Posted by Richard Ashby at Tuesday, 21 June 2011 at 10:31am BST

So the Church of England can have Deans in civil partnerships but not bishops and closeted not openly gay bishops.How can anyone take this seriously in an institution which claims in a number of the Synod papers to be " a sign, instrument and foretaste of the Kingdom"!!!

Posted by Perry Butler at Tuesday, 21 June 2011 at 11:29am BST

The 'focus of unity' requirement would appear to be a judgement of whether an element of a candidate's present or past personal history constitutes an obstacle. This is, in turn, based on the 'strongly held religious convictions of a significant number of those to whom the person would be ministering'.

What proportion of the laity constitutes a significant number? Or is 'significance' measured by the level of opposition aroused by the 'lifestyle' of the prospective bishop? Is significance tested with the same scrutiny as the candidate's marital history, or history of sexual abstinence outside of marriage.

How can a bishop, as a 'focus of unity' (for which lifestyle is considered as only one element), ever seriously challenge strongly-held religious convictions that are wrong, and still manage to 'avoid conflicting with the strongly-held religious convictions of a significant number of the religion’s followers.’?

For instance, deep-seated convictions on religious grounds might also preclude inter-racial marriage. Since this is prejudice, surely, the phrase 'focus for avoiding probable confrontation with significant levels of prejudice' would be more consistent with the sense of the document.

The fact that an idea has become entrenched on the basis of popular notions about religion is not a ground for capitulation to it, unless it is properly discussed, argued and decided. The statement abdicates with partiality from the even-handed application of thoughtfulness and authority.

Posted by David Shepherd at Tuesday, 21 June 2011 at 12:16pm BST

I don't which is more farcical...

Posted by DI at Tuesday, 21 June 2011 at 1:39pm BST

I've obviously worked with Press Offices in very different contexts. I thought that sort of thing was a core part of their job (and the ones I worked with would almost certainly have been paid less than those at Church House).

Posted by Gerry Lynch at Tuesday, 21 June 2011 at 1:54pm BST

@Erika Baker, quoting Doug Chaplin: ""What I want to know is why Lambeth wasn’t ahead of the game." I'd like to know that, too. As Simon has pointed out, there have been several disastrous lapses recently in the handling of the press, and this latest episode suggests that reporters are smelling blood in the water.

Wasn't George Pitcher+ brought on precisely to clean up the problems at the Church House Press Office? Or has the ossified culture there been too much for him? Can someone tell Church House that the front page of The TImes no longer consists solely of advertisements? Does the Countess of Wessex have a sister in orders?

Posted by Charlotte at Tuesday, 21 June 2011 at 2:24pm BST


You've lost me. What exactly are you saying here?

As a 'liberal' (etc.), I think this document stinks. The double standards, the sheer mean opportunism reek. The selectivity, the incessant focus on genitals, seemingly regarded as the only significant site of disagreement. God help us. It is all completely disgusting. All the more so, because Williams, Sentamu, et al. don't actually believe it.

Best wishes (not ironic, because I regard you as 'straight' [inappropriate term here!].


Posted by John at Tuesday, 21 June 2011 at 9:01pm BST

I was Assistant Press Officer at Church House in 1964 and 1965, under Edgar Holt, the Press Officer (a retired Times subeditor), and Col. Hornsby, Chief Information Officer. Col. Hornsby brought his experience as an army information officer at the time of the Suez crisis to Church House. His method was to answer all questions promptly, and, in case of scandal, to flood the questioner with all relevant information. This somehow made the matter seem less interesting, whereas withholding information encouraged enterprising reporters to continue digging.

Posted by Murdoch Matthew at Tuesday, 21 June 2011 at 9:17pm BST

I see that Reform is opposed to even the slight possibility that someone in a civil partnership might become a bishop, in part because 'A bishop vows to protect the church’s teaching both by what he says and by the way he lives.' Yet, as far as I am aware, Reform itself is vocally opposed to the Church of England's teaching on penal substitutionary atonement set out in the Doctrine Commission's reports of 1938 and 1995. Would it campaign with equal vigour for its own members to be excluded from being considered as bishops?

Posted by Savi Hensman at Tuesday, 21 June 2011 at 11:41pm BST

"If the Church no longer wants bishops to support the Bible’s teaching on marriage and sexual relations, it is not up to a legal office to hint at it. It must be decided by the House of Bishops and affirmed by the General Synod."

"The Bible's teaching on marriage" surely includes that of polygamy. Also, in the matter of the conception of Jesus: Mary wasn't actually married at the time! How can we possibly speak of the definitive 'teaching of the Bible' on marriage and sexuality? What century (and moral universe) is Rod Thomas living in?

Posted by Father Ron Smith at Wednesday, 22 June 2011 at 2:59am BST

Here is the Reform Covenant on marriage and sex...

The vital importance of monogamous life-long marriage for the care and nurture of children, and the well being of human society.
The rightness of sexual intercourse in heterosexual marriage, and the wrongness of such activity both outside it and in all its homosexual forms.

Note how they avoid the issue of divorce and re-marriage as they can't agree whether it is alllowed or is it a sin.

Yet in tyhe same Covenant they say:

The infallibility and supreme authority of "God's Word written" and its clarity and sufficiency for the resolving of disputes about Christian faith and life.

Just shows you they can't even agree about heterosexual sin and what constituts adultery.

Posted by Robert ian Williams at Wednesday, 22 June 2011 at 3:15pm BST


While the church enjoys the privilege of religious exemption from the Equality Act, the document is an attempt at rationalising the evolution of position statements regarding marriage, divorce and sexual orientation.

By limiting its scope to 'protected characteristics', it generates more questions than answers. Beyond lifestyle, what other aspects of a candidate's background might compromise their prospective role as a 'focus of unity'? Given ABC's recent critique of government policy, I would assume political persuasion isn't one of them.

What's needed is an open, authoritative and decisive debate followed by a ballot that clarifies the strength of convictions held by laity and clergy regarding these matters. The result may be unsatisfactory for many, but a proper debate and ballot provides a clear basis for defining our future (united, or otherwise) as it relates to scripture, tradition and reason, instead of the nebulous stipulation that a bishop should be a 'focus of unity'.

Posted by David Shepherd at Wednesday, 22 June 2011 at 5:28pm BST



Posted by John at Wednesday, 22 June 2011 at 7:00pm BST

"While the church enjoys the privilege of religious exemption from the Equality Act"

I wish people would stop making remarks like this. The exemptions granted for religious organisations are in fact quite limited in their scope. The vast majority of the provisions of all the recent equality acts (2006, 2010, and the 2007 regulations made under the former) do apply to "the church" and to all religious organisations.

That is not to say that the exemptions which are provided are not quite generous, some would say too generous, but nevertheless they are limited.

It shouldn't be assumed, either, that this CofE legal opinion is totally correct in its interpretation of the law. At the very least, it would appear to be pushing at the boundaries.

Posted by Simon Sarmiento at Thursday, 23 June 2011 at 9:37am BST


Thank for clarifying. My point is that, even if the vast majority of those provision of all recent equality acts apply to churches, the requirements for preferment are only allowed because of these limited exemptions.

We agree that limited exemptions exist.

Posted by David Shepherd at Thursday, 23 June 2011 at 11:40am BST

While this opinion solicited by LGCM some years ago may need updating to take on board the 2010 Equality Act I still think it deserves an outing:

23. A cleric cannot be disciplined for entering into civil partnerships or for refusing to divulge to his or her bishop any private information that affects his or her human rights. Synodical opinions are of a low order of law where both Lambeth Conference Resolutions and statements of both bishops and primates only have persuasive moral force. They do not command respect and observance as in the case of Measures Canons and Orders.

Posted by Martin Reynolds at Thursday, 23 June 2011 at 8:08pm BST

" Here the Privy Council decided that “the oath of canonical obedience does not mean that every clergyman will obey all the commands of the Bishop against which there is no law, but that he will obey all such commands as the Bishop is by law authorised to impose”. On this basis a refusal to give information about a lawful Civil Partnership is not conduct unbecoming." - LGCM Legal Note -

Thanks, Martin, for this link. I, certainly, had not been aware of this little gem of information - about the legal status of clergy who might elect to embark on some action that might not please their bishop - but which is not contra-indicated by the law of the land! Very useful! But then, I wonder where the promise to 'obey one's Ordinary' come into the picture?

Posted by Father Ron Smith at Friday, 24 June 2011 at 12:44pm BST

Thinking about choosing new bishops I did notice from the photographs taken at the consecration of the two new "Flying Bishops" in Southwark cathedral that they were both wearing red chimeres. I seem to remember that not so very long ago bishops who were being consecrated wore black chimeres. I believe that at consecrations in the Northern Province at York Minster new bishops still appear as magpies. When, I wonder, did this innovation of wearing red rather than black begin in the Southern Province?

Posted by Father David at Monday, 27 June 2011 at 11:59am BST
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