Gay candidate looms over clergy gathering to choose bishop

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The process to select the next Anglican Bishop of Bangor begins today.

The 46 people, including four diocesan bishops, who make up the electoral college will be aware that if they choose one of the men reportedly shortlisted for the job it could have ramifications far beyond Wales.

Church officials have tried to play down suggestions that Jeffrey John, a Welsh speaker, a highly-regarded theologian and the Dean of St Albans, could be chosen.

Dr John was forced to withdraw after being named Bishop of Reading in 2003 by the Archbishop of Canterbury after conservative Anglicans objected to the fact that he was in a gay relationship.

He entered into a civil partnership with another Anglican clergyman, the Reverend Grant Holmes, in October 2006.

Under House of Bishops guidelines, clerics are allowed to enter into a civil partnership as long as they are not engaging in sexual relations.

However, since the election of an openly gay man as Bishop of New Hampshire in 2003, the worldwide Anglican communion has been bitterly divided over the issue of gay clergy

Last month a Church of Wales spokesperson said:

“The issue of homosexuality is one which is, sadly, threatening the unity of the worldwide Anglican Communion – of which the Church in Wales is a part – at the moment.

“In order to preserve that unity and prevent members leaving, the Archbishop of Canterbury has asked for a moratorium on the consecration of bishops in same-sex partnerships to allow time for differences to be discussed and, hopefully, resolved.

“The bishops of the Church in Wales respect this request and will discuss it with the electoral colleges concerned during the coming months.”

The confidential selection process starts today. A candidate must receive two-thirds of the ballots to become bishop.

The issue is complicated by the fact that the Archbishop of Wales has previously indicated that he supports gay clergy.

In July Barry Morgan said that if his bishops chose to consecrate a gay man as a priest he would back them.

“It would be my job to say ‘you have to vote according to your conscience, but I’m duty bound to tell you that it will have repercussions as far as the wider Anglican communion is concerned,'” he told The Sunday Telegraph.

“If they said they want to do that well so be it.

“If a priest had a partner and someone nominated them that wouldn’t be a bar to them becoming a bishop.”

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, has had a turbulent year trying to lead the communion towards some sort of common position on the issue of gay clergy.

At the Lambeth Conference in August, more than 200 bishops boycotted the meeting of Anglican leaders held once a decade.

Earlier in the summer more than 300 evangelical and conservative bishops instead attended their own meeting, GAFCON.

At the conference the Archbishop of Canterbury asked for a moratorium on the consecration of bishops in same-sex partnerships to allow time for the Church to agree on a common position.

In a sermon on the final day of the Conference in Canterbury, Dr Williams said: “In these days together we have not overcome our problems or reinvented our structures: that will still take time.”

But despite there still being “many questions” on the issue, a Covenant to bind the Communion together is needed, he said: “We may not have put an end to all our problems – but the pieces are on the board.”

The Covenant could mean churches with new gay bishops could be expelled from the Anglican Communion.

Correspondence between an evangelical Christian and Rowan Williams uncovered earlier this year revealed his support for gay marriage.

Archbishop Williams quoted Dr John to back his theological position.

The letters were written in 2000 and 2001, when Dr Williams was the Archbishop of Wales, and confirm his liberal stance on homosexuality.

He stated in his correspondence with Deborah Pitt, an evangelical who lived in his then-Archdiocese, that parts of the Bible relating to homosexual acts are not aimed at people who are born gay but “heterosexuals looking for sexual variety in their experience.”

“I concluded that an active sexual relationship between two people of the same sex might therefore reflect the love of God in a way comparable to marriage, if and only if it had about it the same character of absolute covenanted faithfulness,” he wrote in one letter.