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Anglicans consider promoting gay priest

Move would be policy shift for church in UK

The Rev. Jeffrey John, a gay priest, said he’s been celibate. The Rev. Jeffrey John, a gay priest, said he’s been celibate.
By Robert Barr
Associated Press / July 7, 2010

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LONDON — The Church of England is considering whether to promote a gay priest to bishop, a step that would widen the split over sexuality in the global Anglican Communion.

If that happens, it would appear to be a significant turnaround for Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, spiritual leader of the Church of England and the world’s Anglicans, who recently imposed sanctions on the US Episcopal Church for electing a lesbian bishop.

According to newspaper reports, Williams is prepared to back the elevation of the Very Rev. Jeffrey John, who withdrew seven years ago from an appointment as a suffragan (assistant) bishop in the face of a heated controversy about his homosexuality. Williams’s office will not comment.

“I think the strength of the opposition is much weaker this time,’’ the Rev. Canon Giles Goddard, the chairman of Inclusive Church, said yesterday. His group was founded by people disappointed that John did not become a bishop in 2003.

John, now dean of St. Albans Cathedral, might be viewed as a more acceptable candidate than the US bishop because he has declared he is celibate — and therefore not in violation of church teaching.

A Crown Nominations Commission, composed of 14 Church of England representatives, including Williams, met in secret Monday and yesterday to choose two nominees to become bishop of Southwark Diocese, the half of London that is south of the River Thames.

Prime Minister David Cameron, who has spoken strongly in favor of equal rights for gays, will have the final decision about whom to recommend to Queen Elizabeth II, who will make the formal appointment. Southwark Diocese said a decision may not be announced before October.

Williams has said nothing publicly about the issue.

After the Episcopal Church elected Mary Douglas Glasspool as an assistant bishop in Los Angeles, Williams moved to bar Episcopalians from representing the Anglican Communion on international ecumenical bodies. “This is simply to confirm what the Communion as a whole has come to regard as the acceptable limits of diversity in its practice,’’ Williams said in a letter to the global church.

John, 57, has claimed celibacy despite being in a civil partnership. Neither Glasspool nor Bishop V. Gene Robinson of the New Hampshire Diocese, has claimed to be celibate.

The Rev. Paul Dawson, media officer for Reform, an evangelical grouping, objects that John has defended sexual gay relationships that are “Permanent, Faithful, Stable,’’ as the title of one of John’s books puts it.

“If you have a bishop who is effectively teaching what is against the Bible’s clear teaching and what the Church of England says is its doctrinal position, if you have someone at the highest level saying this is a ‘blessing,’ this is a ‘gift,’ that raises all sorts of questions for the average churchgoer,’’ Dawson said.

Appointments of bishops are the battleground in the Anglican debate about the role of women and homosexuals in the church.

Agonizing over sexuality has dogged Williams since 2002, when he became spiritual leader of the Church of England and of the Anglican Communion.

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