Thinking Anglicans

About the "outing" of Church of England bishops

*Updated 9 August

There have been several media reports that Peter Tatchell is again considering “outing” some Church of England bishops who are believed to be partnered homosexuals, this time in connection with the issue of clergy who enter same-sex marriages.

This story began when Kelvin Holdsworth interviewed Peter Tatchell on this topic and reported on his blog: Peter Tatchell on Outing Bishops. (Tatchell had come to St Mary’s Cathedral Glasgow to deliver a lecture on human rights which you can see in full here.)

Media reports have ensued:
Pink News Peter Tatchell: I am considering outing bishops who discipline married gay clergy

Independent Peter Tatchell threatens to ‘out’ bishops he believes are gay after hospital chaplain Jeremy Pemberton has his license to preach revoked

Now, Paul Johnson has written a lengthy analysis in answer to the question: Do Church of England ‘gay bishops’ have a human right not to be ‘outed’?

…This subject will no doubt be discussed in detail by those learned folk over at Thinking Anglicans and Law and Religion, but one aspect that caught my attention was Tatchell’s interpretation of the bishops’ ‘right to privacy’:

Peter Tatchell: […] we are amassing the evidence right now. I’m not saying that we will use it, but we are certainly thinking about it – because people have a right to privacy so long as they are not using their own power and authority to harm other people and when other people are being caused harm and suffering we have a duty to try and stop it. If this is the only way, it is certainly not the preferable way, it’s not the first option but as a last resort I think it is morally and ethically justifiable.

This made me think: how would Tatchell’s interpretation of the ‘right to privacy’ stand up in the context of ECHR jurisprudence?

Could Article 8 protect Bishops from the practice of ‘outing’?

And he ends his analysis (which should be read in full) with this:

…Conclusion

From the Court’s existing case law it would appear that any complaint to the Court from a Church of England bishop about any failure of the UK to fulfil its positive obligations under Article 8 to prevent discussion of his private life would likely be unsuccessful.

This is because such a discussion would likely be judged to involve a public figure and to be an issue of general debate to which the public had a right to be informed. In short, it would be regarded as necessary in a democratic society to ‘override’ the rights of the individual subject to discussion.

The use of photographic ‘evidence’, however, would raise separate issues and any regulation of it by UK authorities may not be judged to violate Article 10.

As such, aside from its moral or ethical legitimacy, Peter Tatchell’s ‘outing’ of ‘gay bishops’ may be on safe legal grounds in respect of any complaint to the Court by an ‘outed’ bishop under Article 8 of the Convention.

There is a further discussion of the above at Law & Religion UK in “Outing” gay bishops and Article 8 ECHR.

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John
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John

I certainly believe Peter Tatchell to be an admirably moral person. This judgement is based on two things in particular: (1) his heroic attempts to arrest Robert Mugabe; (2) his concern with genital warts as a vector of cancer. As to (1), even ‘The Sun’ has come to regard him as heroic. ‘Outing’ is in general repugnant. But where such to be ‘outed’ bishops are imposing disciplinary action on people in identical situations to themselves, it seems to me entirely justifiable. It is of course absolutely crucial that such ‘outings’ can be substantiated.

James Byron
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James Byron

As I said over on Kelvin’s blog, I doubt outing would achieve anything (it didn’t in the 90s) and it could backfire. Most importantly, there may be no gay bishops to out.

Even if they somehow got past the Crown Nominations Commission, to prove hypocrisy, you’d have to prove they’re sexually active. Are liberals truly going to reduce themselves to the level of Labouchere blackmailers? Talk about the abyss gazing also into you.

JCF
Guest
JCF

As a Yank, my gut instinct and U.S. Constitutional right to free speech say “of course, no one has the right NOT to be outed, if someone else uses their freedom-of-speech to out them.”

…but you Europeans (especially in light of what I think is the ridiculous Google decision) are different about these things.

So Peter can come over here to the U.S. and out anyone he wants to.* And you Europeans can ignore U.S. media if you want to. So there you are.

* Provided he can prove it in a U.S. court, of course, should he be sued (for alleged “libel”).

Father Ron Smith
Guest

The real credibility gap here, of course, is whether a gay bishop in a partnership would be prepared to move unjustly against one of his clergy in the same situation but openly declaring their situation. The question of Same-Sex Marriage is an important one, which the State deems feasible, and which the Church needs seriously to consider – in terms of common human rights for bishops, clergy and laity alike. ‘Outing’ must surely be a very last resort! One should be able to rely on the personal conscience of any bishop to deal fairly with the clergy and laity under… Read more »

rjb
Guest
rjb

I have some respect for Tatchell, but this threat of ‘outing’ clergy is utterly repellent. Men’s consciences are their own; any real or perceived conflict between what a priest proclaims publicly and what he does in private is solely a matter for the priest, his confessor, and his God. Those of us who think that bishops should not pry into the bedrooms of their clergy should be especially emphatic on this point. We cannot defend the privacy of priests by threatening to demolish the private lives of bishops. And there is an even bigger problem here. Even if bishops are… Read more »

vince
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vince

Being gay in the UK in 2014 isn’t something that you need to hide anymore anyway. Tatchell’s previous campaign was in a time that was quite different to now. Saying someone is gay now isn’t really outing as it no longer has any legal restrictions or public shame. You are simply stating a fact which isn’t shocking any more. So I think PT in 2014 in the UK can say someone is gay without being accused of “outing” a person.

Martin Reynolds
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Martin Reynolds

On an earlier thread We were discussing the need for some radical way forward that might help rid the English church of the “guidance” on marriage. There was a suggestion that women were as like as their male counterparts to bend the knee to this obnoxious document when finally they are ordained bishops next year. While there was a complaint that women should not be “picked on” for something men have been so willing to accede to (with one honourable exception), my feeling is that the strategy should not yet (if ever?) move to outing but should focus on that… Read more »

Martin Reynolds
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Martin Reynolds

Specifically on outing. While at LGCM we were honoured to work with Peter Tatchell on a whole raft of topics. Peter is, without doubt, one of the greats in the UK in the battle for LGBT rights as well as other issues of freedom. He is a man apart. While LGCM never itself outed anyone, I am sure that members were part of the intelligence gathering operation Peter is good at mounting. My own view is that this is a deeply personal thing and I do not take the high moral ground we see in some of the comments here.… Read more »

Tristan
Guest
Tristan

RJB, your post is one of the best things I’ve read on TA in many years. Well said.

Alastair Newman
Guest

“Are liberals truly going to reduce themselves to the level of Labouchere blackmailers?”

No-one said anything about liberals (liberal Christians presumably) outing anyone? It is Peter Tatchell who has said he is thinking of outing people, and as far as I am aware he has no alliance with liberals/liberal Christians.

Jill Armstead
Guest
Jill Armstead

Peter Tatchell is not a public authority and that should be an end to the matter.
The bishop exercising ‘disciplinary action’ is acting with proper authority and to use the HRA to ‘punish’ him as an individual is probably unlawful, certainly cruel & inhuman and an act of discriminatory harassment.
Tatchell should take his grievance up with the CofE, not the easy target of a vulnerable individual.

Peter Ould
Guest
Peter Ould

As I wrote on Kelvin’s blog, outing a Bishop who is in an active same-sex relationship is less to do with homosexuality and more to do with hypocrisy. I happen not to believe such Bishops exist, but if they do then they are truly hypocrites. It is simply unjust to discipline someone for something you yourself are doing.

Savi Hensman
Guest
Savi Hensman

Am with James Byron and rjb, though I understand the frustration about the C of E’s policies. It should also be noted that, four years after the last set of bishops being outed, the 1998 Lambeth Conference took place – a major step backwards – so outing is no guarantee of greater equality and could be counter-productive. However it would be great if some of the gay and bisexual bishops were to come out of the closet voluntarily. And if anyone feels that a bishop he knows (gay, bisexual or heterosexual) is being unjust and inconsistent, it might be helpful… Read more »

Erika Baker
Guest
Erika Baker

Leaving aside the moral aspects of outing someone, outing a gay bishop is completely irrelevant unless this bishop is in a sexual relationship and there is proof of that and you are willing to publish the proof.
Without that proof any bishop can simply say that his relationship is celibate and that would be that.

cseitz
Guest
cseitz

A hypocrite would have to be someone who is punishing someone for something they themselves are doing. No one is ‘punishing’ anyone because they are ‘Gay’ simpliciter. So what would the point be of establishing that a Bishop is ‘gay’?

This thing smacks of crude power maneuvering. I agree with the arguments/concerns of RJB and Byron.

John
Guest
John

‘I happen not to believe such Bishops exist, but if they do then they are truly hypocrites. It is simply unjust to discipline someone for something you yourself are doing.’ Indeed, Peter Ould. I don’t know where or not they exist. I am sure there are ‘naturally gay’ bishops, but do they do anything? If they do, and if they then discipline a priest for doing the same, I think ‘outing’ justifiable. I also think the ‘threat’ of it might have some deterrent value. It would certainly be nice to know if the constant assertions of Martin and Colin C… Read more »

James Byron
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James Byron

Exactly so, Erika.

I don’t think Peter Tatchell gets the church’s distinction between accepting a person’s sexuality, but condemning its expression. I don’t blame him in the slightest, as it’s nonsense, but that figleaf would defeat any new outing campaign, as it defeated the last one.

Even if you came up with proof that a gay bishop had consummated his relationship (which I’ll leave to the imagination), all he’d have to do is repent, and he’d be accepted by traditionalists with open arms. If anything, he’d become the poster boy for their tolerance.

This isn’t the way.

Richard Ashby
Guest
Richard Ashby

But why does everyone assume that same sex partners whether married or not are in sexually active relationships. CPs are premised in the CofE on the basis that the partners are celibate. But how does anyone know? The Church of England’s problem with same sex marriage is that it preaches that marriage is the only proper place for sexual activity and so assumes that all marriages are sexually active. How does it know? So why does it matter if a bishop in a CP or other same sex relationships is sexually active or not? The fact is no one knows… Read more »

Andrew
Guest
Andrew

I think we’ll find that the number of bishops prepared to make a move against their married clergy are few and far between. Those that do so are obviously prepared to put their head above the parapet, or have nothing to lose, as they were just holding the fort until a successor is appointed (as in Southwell). The point is that the bishops, en masse, supported the pastoral statement. And it really isn’t any excuse for the suffragans to say they had nothing to do with it, as they were all, to a man, appointees of their respective diocesans. So… Read more »

scott
Guest
scott

Perhaps because I am of a certain age, I view outing with great horror. But, on the other hand, it is not now the horror that it was in the ’80s or ’70s. And to the extent that Bishops live in relative ease and little discomfort, to the extent that that state of being depends on the unjust treatment of others, surely that is a greater evil. A bishop living in a same sex relationship (and I don’t think its any thing to do with anything if they are celibate or not) is at least by sins of omission, having… Read more »

Susannah Clark
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Susannah Clark

Nobody should ‘out’ another person’s sexuality, it’s repellent.

Two wrongs don’t make a right.

Jeremy
Guest
Jeremy

“[H]e’d be accepted by traditionalists with open arms. If anything, he’d become the poster boy for their tolerance.”

I do not think the point of the proposed outing would be to persuade the traditionalists that they are wrong.

The point would be to expose the CofE’s institutional hypocrisy, and to increase the pressure from moderates within the Church, and from politicians, the press, and the public outside it.

Savi Hensman
Guest
Savi Hensman

While senior (and other) clergy should not be put on a pedestal, going to the other extreme and putting them in the stocks simply because of their role is not helpful either! It would be more constructive to focus on the weakness of the official theological case against equal marriage, based on the idea that a fundamental difference between men and women (which is left vague) is essential to being married, and an organisational culture that makes it very difficult even for celibate gay bishops to come out.

Concerned Anglican
Guest
Concerned Anglican

Of course Peter Tatchell’s threat is his nuclear option, that is to say it is best threatened but not used. I’ve been thinking about this and my guess is that in practice there will be very little direct action taken against clergy who marry in same sex partnerships. In one sense it will just become yet another practice in the C of E that is ‘illegal’ but largely ignored. However, there could be quite a lot of behind the scenes intimidation and lack of preferment to new jobs, not least as a result of the very odd and creepy ‘Advisory… Read more »

Kelvin Holdsworth
Guest

As the person who was interviewing Peter Tatchell at the time he made his comments, I’ve been struck that where this story has appeared since, there seems to be a general but not universal feeling that outing is inappropriate amongst church people responding online but a general but not universal feeling that outing can be appropriate from non-churchy people making comments. I find myself wondering if the conversation would have proceeded in the same way if I had used different language and rather than referring to outing people, asked Peter T whether he had plans to expose hypocrisy in the… Read more »

James Byron
Guest
James Byron

Savi, the crucial thing is to persuade some open evangelical heavy-hitters: as they bankroll the church, change won’t come until people like Pete Broadbent, Tom Wright, and Nicky Gumbel are on board. Particularly Wright: if he can be persuaded, it’ll be a game changer.

Evangelicals who take a traditional position have no time for pro-gay hermeneutics from liberals, as they suspect they’re driven by eisegesis at best, dishonesty at worst. We need the help of affirming evangelicals whose credentials, and abilities, are beyond reproach.

Working on that will be a whole lot more productive that outing people.

John
Guest
John

Bishops have a choice about how they respond to people such as Jeremy P, do they not? In his case, one bishop behaved well (or OK), one did not. The prospect of Tatchellism might help them to make a more informed choice. That’s the goal, isn’t it? The prospect might also give pause to institutional bullies such as Sentamu, might it not? If the proverbial hits the fan, the official church will lose big-time. That concentrates minds.

David Runcorn
Guest
David Runcorn

‘… outing people who might be shown to be acting hypocritically’. Please help me here – where in the gospels do we find our guiding principles for this kind of action within the Christian community? I hope that we moving towards a point of change in all this but the way forward feels fraught and vulnerable. I think the focus here on the hypocrisy of senior leaders in the church who are gay for staying silent about it is actually colluding with a much greater hypocrisy. What is right and expected for one group in the church is surely right… Read more »

Laurence Cunnington
Guest
Laurence Cunnington

“The Church of England’s problem with same sex marriage is that it preaches that marriage is the only proper place for sexual activity and so assumes that all marriages are sexually active.” Richard Ashby That’s not what the Pilling Report says: 383. This is a question on which our group is not of one mind – not least since a willingness to offer public recognition and prayer for a committed same sex relationship in an act of public worship would, in practice, be hard to implement now for civil partnerships without also doing so for same sex marriage (which, like… Read more »

Joseph Golightly
Guest
Joseph Golightly

Is Peter Tatchell a member of the Church of England or indeed any other sort of religion. His seems to be an attack on religion. We all suffer with hypocrisy – let he who is without sin cast the first stone. But perhaps he is without sin?

Matt Wardman
Guest
Matt Wardman

I think human rights is the wrong end of the wrong stick here.

I’d say that Tatchell’s offence is more to do with criminal conspiracy to blackmail. One point is whether there is an offence about exerting pressure to force an action rather than make a financial gain/cause a loss.

Equally, if the reports are accurate, Tatchell may well already have committed a criminal offence by under the laws about causing ‘alarm, harassment or distress’.

Erika Baker
Guest
Erika Baker

Laurence, the CoE submission to the Civil Partnership review process states: “Whilst civil partnership and marriage confer effectively the same legal standing upon a relationship, there remain important differences. The differences are especially important for many Christians who accept the churches’ traditional teaching both on marriage and on sexual behaviour. As civil partnership is not marriage and also involves no presumption that the relationship is sexually active, it offers an important structure for the public validation of the relationship of a same sex couple who wish to live in accordance with the church’s traditional teaching. If civil partnership was to… Read more »

Kelvin Holdsworth
Guest

David Runcorn asks the question: “…where in the gospels do we find our guiding principles for this kind of action within the Christian community?” Maybe he is reading one of those gospels which just presents Jesus as a nice kind teacher who goes about healing people. It seems to me that there’s quite a lot in the gospels about challenging corrupt and/or hypocritical religious authority. One might begin by looking at what John the Baptist had to say to those who came out to see him (you brood of vipers etc) or think about what he had to say very… Read more »

Richard Ashby
Guest
Richard Ashby

Thank you Laurence. Perhaps what I should have said is ‘heterosexual marriage’.

Commentator
Guest
Commentator

The outing of Cardinal Keith O’Brien blows the anti-outing case out of the water. Does anyone seriously wish that his behaviour hadn’t been revealed? Where should genuine Christian compassion be directed? To the powerful who make the rules, or those who are at the receiving end of them? However much one may pity O’Brien as an individual, his exposure was a thoroughly good thing, not only for the passage of the Equal Marriage bill, but also for the Church itself. The systematic habit of lying about homosexuality is deep and age old, but it has to be challenged for everyone’s… Read more »

Jeremy
Guest
Jeremy

“Please help me here – where in the gospels do we find our guiding principles for this kind of action within the Christian community?”

Which “kind of action”? Preventing Christian people from lawfully marrying?

robert ian williams
Guest
robert ian williams

The most sad aspect of the O’Brien affair was the way in which he was treated as a pariah once outed.

We all make wrong decisions in our lives, but he at least knew what was right and wrong. He genuinely believed gay marriage was wrong, even though he had struggled with homosexual tendencies. For every out gay, there are probably thousands of people who struggle with their sexual identity and temptations, but wish to live to their faith community ideal.

I pray that those anonymous persons who “outed” him, can live with themselves.

Erika Baker
Guest
Erika Baker

It really depends on what Peter means by outing. IF there is a sexually active gay bishop who also happens to punish gay married clergy, and IF there is proper evidence of him being sexually active, then there is a case for exposing him. But if all we get is rumours and assertions that can simply be denied, or if this bishop has never actively done anything to harm lgbt people, then absolutely no. But even that exposure can backfire. Or does anyone really believe that exposing a corrupt gay man will suddenly make all the conservative straight bishops realise… Read more »

James Byron
Guest
James Byron

Commentator, my objections to outing bishops are pragmatic above all else. It didn’t work in the 90s, and there’s no reason to think it’d work now. Squeamishness has nothing to do with it.

The O’Brien case is different in kind, as there were multiple allegations that power had been abused. If anyone has well-founded allegations of that sort against a bishop, they’re free to make them, and I’d agree with them being made.

Savi Hensman
Guest
Savi Hensman

The offence for which Keith O’Brien was exposed was misusing his power, which is quite different from a truly consensual same-sex relationship. With regard to Jesus, he denounced groups of people who acted unjustly but does not seem to have singled out individuals to reveal their secrets in ways that could humiliate them and their families or result in them losing their jobs. Far from being comfortable, bishops are in one of very few occupations left in which no-one is unapologetically gay or bisexual, even if currently celibate or heterosexually married. While some bishops have pushed to hold the door… Read more »

Susan Cooper
Guest
Susan Cooper

‘Is Peter Tatchell a member of the Church of England or indeed any other sort of religion. ‘

If Peter Tatchell lives in England, then in one sense he is a member of the Church of England. The church exists for the pastoral and sacramental care of all people in its geographical territory.

Peter Tatchell may choose to reject the ministrations of the C of E, but the C of E cannot reject Peter Tacthell!

David Runcorn
Guest
David Runcorn

Susan
To follow your logic then all the Muslims and Hindus who ‘live in England’ are members of the Church of England?
To exist to reach out to the whole community is one thing – to speak of them all as members – committed disciples in the faith – is simply not true.

Jeremy
Guest
Jeremy

“[I]f this bishop has never actively done anything to harm lgbt people….”

Consider the “pastoral statement.” (Cough!)

Linda Woodhead
Guest
Linda Woodhead

Speaking of ‘what would Jesus do?’, wasn’t he quite willing to ‘out’ people about their personal lives? E.g. the Samaritan woman at the well (people must have been listening – we have the story). Also Mt 23 springs to mind: Then spake Jesus to the multitude, and to his disciples,Saying the scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat: All therefore whatsoever they bid you observe, that observe and do; but do not ye after their works: for they say, and do not. For they bind heavy burdens and grievous to be borne, and lay them on men’s shoulders; but… Read more »

Linda Woodhead
Guest
Linda Woodhead

David, what is the test of ‘a committed disciple of the faith?’

Presumably not being baptised and confirmed into the CofE? Living within a parish boundary? Being on the electoral roll?

That is all that law and tradition require.

As for the things necessary to salvation – that is for the eye of God, not man.

Why do you wish to disenfranchise a majority of Anglicans past and present with your dangerous innovation!?

JCF
Guest
JCF

“rather than referring to outing people, asked Peter T whether he had plans to expose hypocrisy in the church.” Self-aware of you to make that distinction, Kelvin (yes, I wish it had come to you earlier, but Lord knows I make my share of mistakes too). *** “The most sad aspect of the O’Brien affair was the way in which he was treated as a pariah once outed”: I won’t say that’s a singular view, RIW. But it is undoubtedly the view of a truly miniscule minority. Far more of us are praying Pope Francis has a big enough broom,… Read more »

Andrew
Guest
Andrew

Perhaps a better example of a public figure who was a victim of outing but turned it to his advantage and that of lgbt people in industry is Lord Browne, former oil industry chief. He’s written a book about the experience and been the subject of numerous profiles in the media. Could the captains of industry set an example to captains of the saintly band? It’s this kind of leadership the Church so desperately needs. It will not be provided by the Archbishops, who ducked the issue during the inevitable line of questioning following the women bishops vote at Synod.… Read more »

Jeremy
Guest
Jeremy

“The Archbishops would then be forced to create clear blue water between GAFCON and UK legislation.”

I hope this happens soon. But I’m also highly conscious that it’s the very last thing the Archbishops will do. They will try to escape this necessity by any means necessary.

What is the good of the Anglican Communion if it prevents the Church of England from ministering to England?

Savi Hensman
Guest
Savi Hensman

Linda Woodhead, the community in which the Samaritan woman at the well lived clearly knew her story – presumably that was why she was drawing water when other women were not around (and at any rate in a first century village it would hardly have been a secret as to who was married to whom). Indeed Jesus changed her status for the better rather than trying to use her vulnerability to hurt her. As for the Pharisees, he denounced them collectively rather than exposing the secrets of individuals. Andrew, it would be great if a bishop were to come out… Read more »

David Runcorn
Guest
David Runcorn

Kelvin Thank you for responding to my question – which was a serious one. No I have not found a gospel in which Jesus is just nice and cuddly to all (is it available on Amazon?). But nor do not think you have found a gospel which only demands judgement, confrontation and outing for all sinners and hypocrites. You offer some helpful texts for this discussion – but not the one in which Jesus pronounces a severe health warning on those who presume to spot the failings of others while unable to recognise their own – and thus live and… Read more »