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UK: The Dean of St Albans, Dr Jeffrey John is a vote away from first gay bishop

UK: The Dean of St Albans, Dr Jeffrey John is a vote away from first gay bishop

By Ruth Gledhill
December 8 2013

The Church of England is on the brink of appointing its first gay bishop. The Dean of St Albans, Dr Jeffrey John, came within one vote of being recommended as the new Bishop of Exeter, The Times has learnt. The successful candidate to succeed the Right Rev Michael Langrish is to be announced soon.

This is thought to be the first time that Dr John has made the shortlist for a diocesan post, although he has been longlisted several times. It means that he is back on the "list" of candidates for bishoprics. Senior insiders believe that it is only a matter of time before he gets a diocesan post, with the money being on the liberal-catholic diocese of Europe.

Exeter has a strong conservative evangelical tradition, which is a key reason why he lost out in the meeting to a more traditional candidate.

At least one bishop is understood to be "furious" that Dr John, 60, did not get the post and pressure is growing for the Church to prove that it practises what it preaches and does not discriminate against homosexuals who live according to its guidelines.

Although he is in a civil partnership with the Rev Grant Holmes, Dr John is understood to live by the Church's guidance, which is that gay clergy should remain celibate.

The Crown Nominations Commission met in October to choose the new diocesan bishop for Exeter. The meeting was chaired by the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Rev Justin Welby, who would have had the casting vote in the event of a deadlock.

There are already meetings scheduled to choose the bishops to fill sixdiocesan vacancies next year. These are Europe, Hereford, Liverpool, Guildford, St Edmundsbury and Ipswich, and Southwell and Nottingham. Besides Europe, Hereford and Guildford also have liberal traditions that might make Dr John an acceptable candidate.

This year the Church of England dropped its prohibition on gay clergy in civil partnerships becoming bishops. That was the change that allowed Dr John to be considered again after effectively being banned from the episcopacy since 2003, when his appointment to the suffragan see of Reading in the Oxford diocese was blocked by Dr Rowan Williams, then the Archbishop of Canterbury. Conservative evangelicals had argued that his appointment would divide the diocese.

He was longlisted for Bishop of Southwark in 2010 but rejected. He was also longlisted to succeed Archbishop Welby at Durham, but again failed to make the shortlist.

For the Exeter post, Dr John was interviewed and made a presentation - like all the shortlisted candidates. A source said: "He was outstanding in every way." The Church is trying to progress from a stance on homosexuality that is seen as increasingly out of step with modern mores and which young people in particular find alienating. It announced recently that clergy would soon be free for the first time to mark same-sex relationships with blessings services, although no authorised liturgy will be provided.

The report, by a working group chaired by Sir Joseph Pilling, a retired civil servant, admitted the need for "repentance" over the way in which homosexuals have been treated for centuries but failed to recommend any change to traditional anti-gay doctrines, based on Bible texts.

Europe is seen by many as the best diocese for Dr John. The source said: "He is multilingual. He and Grant have no children so don't have to worry about putting anyone through universities in England. The Diocese of Gibralter in Europe stretches from Portugal to Siberia.


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