Church in danger of double split over bishop

Times Online (England), June 25, 2003
By Ruth Gledhill, Religion Correspondent and Helen Rumbelow

Pressure mounted yesterday for a synod debate on the appointment of the gay theologian Dr Jeffrey John as Bishop of Reading as Anglo-Catholic priests consider leaving the Church of England over the row.

The Church has received representations for an emergency debate at the General Synod, though a decision is not expected until shortly before its meeting in York next month.

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David Williams, clerk to the synod, said: “If there was an emergency debate at the synod, then clearly this would have quite an impact on a very crowded agenda and some very difficult decisions would have to be taken as to what would be squeezed.

“I can say that there have already been representations to the archbishops and also to the chairman of the business committee that there should be an emergency debate, but clearly there have been some representations against.”

His comments came as dozens more Anglo-Catholic priests consider leaving the Church for the Roman Catholic Church if evangelicals are successful in forcing Dr John to stand down.

The Catholic Church still has a special dispensation to allow married Anglican clergy to be ordained as Catholic priests. The dispensation was granted after the ordination of women priests in the 1990s last threatened to split the Anglican Church.

But insiders said that there were unlikely to be defectors to Rome if the ordination of Dr John by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, goes ahead as expected at Westminster Abbey on October 9.

Most of those opposed to his ordination are evangelicals who are unlikely to want to join the Catholic Church. The Anglo-Catholic wing of the Church, which supplied most of the defectors to Rome in the debate over women priests, is the part of the Church that is broadly in sympathy with Dr John.

Although the Church of England has many gay clergy, most of them are not openly so or live celibate lifestyles.

They would not consider his ordination a problem that would make them consider a journey to Rome. However, they might in the long term reconsider if Dr John’s ordination was blocked and the Church turned into a conservative evangelical ghetto.

There is no obvious new home for evangelical clergy who wish to leave the Church if Dr John is consecrated. Some could seek to become Baptists or to join one of the rapidly expanding evangelical new church movements.

Pressure for a public debate over the appointment is growing.

A group of traditionalist bishops from around the world has travelled to Britain for a meeting to discuss the implications of Dr John’s appointment and how to respond.

While some want to break communion, the Anglican Church is such a loose network of ties that it is difficult to see what this would mean in practice.

The true extent of any rift will probably not become clear until the 2008 Lambeth Conference in Cape Town. Bishops or archbishops who boycott that will then be making it clear that they no longer consider themselves part of the Anglican Church.

Heads of the Anglican Church in Africa yesterday reacted angrily to Dr Williams’s refusal to denounce the appointment of a gay bishop.

The Anglican Church in Africa could split with the Church of England over the issue, which one African bishop compared to the bad publicity created by the exposure of paedophile priests in the Roman Catholic Church. But this is unlikely because many provinces are dependent on Western funding, particularly for telecommunications.

The Dean of the Province of West Africa, the Right Rev Dr Tilewa Johnson, who is also Bishop of The Gambia, said that the situation in England was “mind-boggling”.

“One must be out of one’s mind to want to have sex with another man,” he said. “I know that . . . we in Africa are denigrated as conservative and backward and the West think we are all heathens here, but to us it is unnatural.

“Many of us have got our placards ready, we are ready to protest until someone takes notice. The Archbishop of Canterbury is going to come to Gambia in the next four weeks, and I would love to talk to him about it then.”

The Archbishop of Uganda, Livingstone Mpalanyi-Nkoyoyo, said that Dr Williams’s statement was a great disappointment. “It’s sad to hear that the Church of England can be thinking of appointing such a person.”


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Religion News Blog posted this on Wednesday June 25, 2003.
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