In the end he wasn't chosen and it was apparently not direct cause and effect but it still makes Rowan look terrible. Not once but now twice have Jeffrey's hopes been raised, only to be dashed. What a terrible atmosphere there will be as we gather amid the duck poo at General Synod at York university campus this weekend.
Dr Jeffrey John, the openly gay but celibate Dean of St Albans, has been blocked from becoming a bishop once again. He has not been chosen as the next Bishop of Southwark. Liberals will be dismayed that the Church has lost its nerve – but there is no reason for evangelicals to celebrate, either. This is bad news whichever way you look at it:
It is also bad news for Rowan Williams. Although he is only one of 14 members of the Commission, liberals will be perplexed as to why he allowed John’s name to be included on the shortlist if it was only to be rejected at the last minute. To be fair, he didn’t know that this fact would be leaked to me, and he is said to have been livid with the Commission that it was. But, given what happened in 2003 and his apparent distress at forcing his old friend to stand down from becoming Bishop of Reading, it will surprise many that he didn’t use his influence to try and sway the few undecided members who could have secured his selection.
- The Church has missed an opportunity to show that it is inclusive of homosexuals.
- Jeffrey John has gained a reputation as a gifted preacher and effective pastor at St Albans cathedral and would have been a popular bishop.
- It indicates that the Crown Nominations Commission is afraid of appointing any bishops who might bring a bit of colour.
- A dignified and talented cleric has been embarrassed again.
- The row over homosexual clergy could have been brought to a head, but will now fester until a gay priest is finally made a bishop.
The Archbishop has appeared increasingly resolute and self-assured over recent months, but liberals will be left wondering why he loses his backbone when it comes to fighting their corner. Even conservative evangelicals made clear that there was no reason to object to the dean’s appointment this time round, pointing to the fact that he has stressed that his homosexual relationship is celibate.
The opportunity has gone however, and with it probably John’s hopes of ever being made a bishop. If he can’t get Southwark, the most liberal of all the Church’s dioceses, there is little chance he’ll be promoted elsewhere. It also may represent the Archbishop’s last chance to oversee the appointment of an openly gay bishop and to advance the liberal cause that he championed before moving to Canterbury.
Instead of being remembered as the radical pro-gay archbishop the evangelicals feared, Dr Williams appears far more conservative than anyone could ever have imagined.