Thinking Anglicans

Choosing Bishops – The Equality Act 2010

Updated twice on Monday evening

There has been an outburst of media reports yesterday all based on the release by the Church of England of a legal opinion prepared by the Legal Office, with this title. Many of them are wildly inaccurate.

The document was officially published here, and an html version is now available here.

As the cover note shows, this is published to synod members for information only. No synodical action is planned in respect of it.

I attach for the information of Synod members a copy of a note on the Equality
Act prepared by the Legal Office in connection with episcopal appointments for
members of Crown Nominations Commissions and diocesan bishops and their
Advisory Groups.

The document is identical to the one leaked over three weeks ago to the Guardian and published in full by them. See the links in this report on TA dated 26 May: House of Bishops tied in knots over gay bishops and in particular this link to “legal document”.

Updated paragraph

The regular pre-synod press briefing is scheduled for this morning. There may be more to report following that event. took place this morning. It was confirmed that this document is being issued for information only (due at least in part to having been previously leaked by the Guardian) and that it presages no synodical action and proposes no change from recent past practice in selecting bishops.

Second update

Reform has issued a press statement: Reform calls for legal advice on Bishops’ Appointments to be withdrawn.

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Rosemary Hannah
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Rosemary Hannah

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… Read more »

Jean Mary Mayland
Guest
Jean Mary Mayland

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

Richard Ashby
Guest
Richard Ashby

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… Read more »

sjh
Guest
sjh

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.

Tobias Stanislas Haller
Guest

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… Read more »

Commentator
Guest
Commentator

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… Read more »

Savi Hensman
Guest
Savi Hensman

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.

Gerry Lynch
Guest

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?

Simon Sarmiento
Guest

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.

Richard Ashby
Guest
Richard Ashby

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.

Father David
Guest
Father David

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?

Joe
Guest
Joe

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.

Malcolm French+
Guest

Are heterosexual candidates interrogated on their sexual history?

Father Ron Smith
Guest

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:… Read more »

Father Ron Smith
Guest

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’

karen macqueen+
Guest

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… Read more »

Simon Sarmiento
Guest

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”.

Erika Baker
Guest
Erika Baker

Simon “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… Read more »

Hilary Cotton
Guest
Hilary Cotton

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

Richard Ashby
Guest
Richard Ashby

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

Perry Butler
Guest
Perry Butler

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”!!!

David Shepherd
Guest

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,… Read more »

DI
Guest
DI

I don’t which is more farcical…

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zrzMhU_4m-g

Gerry Lynch
Guest

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).

Charlotte
Guest
Charlotte

@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… Read more »

John
Guest
John

David,

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!].

John.

Murdoch Matthew
Guest
Murdoch Matthew

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.

Savi Hensman
Guest
Savi Hensman

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?

Father Ron Smith
Guest

“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?

Robert ian Williams
Guest
Robert ian Williams

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… Read more »

David Shepherd
Guest

John, 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… Read more »

John
Guest
John

David,

Thanks.

Simon Sarmiento
Guest

“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… Read more »

David Shepherd
Guest

Simon,

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.

Martin Reynolds
Guest
Martin Reynolds

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: http://www.sarmiento.plus.com/cofe/opinion2.html 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… Read more »

Father Ron Smith
Guest

” 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… Read more »

Father David
Guest
Father David

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?