Many congregations in the Diocese of Chichester this morning will be attending mass at which their presiding priest is a gay man who may or may not be in the closet, may or may not be sexually active or celibate, may or may not have a partner. Eric Kemp, the previous diocesan bishop provided a refuge in Chichester for priests opposed to the ordination of women, many of whom, inevitably, were and are gay. I’m told that Eric Kemp was naive and failed to realize how many gay men he brought into the diocese.
The present bishop, John Hind, is not naïve and presumably knows better than his predecessor that he pastors many gay priests and until recently, an area bishop who is gay. The Church of England nationally and at diocesan level plays a game of ‘let’s pretend’ about its LGBT clergy (and there are many bisexual priests). Let’s pretend they don’t exist, let’s pretend they’re all celibate, let’s pretend there are no partnered lesbian and gay members of conservative evangelical congregations let’s pretend the catholic ones are all celibate.
Many priests in the dioceses of Chichester and London who are members of Forward in Faith are gay and closeted. Bishop Gene Robinson would say they are "bearing false witness", denying and condemning their own sexuality and their own core self, the self God created and gifted to them, a self they suppress. There is a sickness of the self and the soul in these people, the risk of acting out in inappropriate ways and they want to join a church slowly recovering from the scandal of child abuse. (For a vivid description of what happens in a church where gay men are encouraged to deny their identity, read Michael Arditti’s Easter, based on his knowledge of the diocese of London).
The discomfort which follows when an organization in the church contains so many people who live in denial of their sexual identity is evident everywhere, and not just in those who are gay and closeted.
This morning, Bishop John Broadhurst, the chairman of Forward in Faith, wriggled his way uncomfortably through an interview with Roger Bolton on Radio 4s Sunday Programme. Asked whether he personally would leave for Rome, he didn’t answer directly but said Forward in Faith will have to decide what to do “together” and then said it’s clear and always has been, that the members of FiF will never come to a common agreement about what to do.
When Roger Bolton put it to him that he would have to be reordained, Bishop John said there is a question of doubt - he thinks Rome has got it wrong.
The Bishop of Chichester, John Hind, is also wriggling uncomfortably, and so he should, presiding over a constituency with so many non-celibate gay men. He is reported as saying he would be "happy" to be reordained into the Catholic Church and that divisions in Anglicanism could make it impossible for him to stay in the church (Jonathan Wynne-Jones, Daily Telegraph). He is willing to sacrifice his salary and palace residence. However, he “stressed that this would depend on his previous ministry being recognized” - note the conditionality.
Both John Broadhurst and John Hind and the flying bishops of Ebbsfleet and Richborough, know that they pastor many gay male Anglican-catholic priests. The Pope’s move is as likely to prove divisive for them as for the Anglican Communion. It throws a harsh spotlight on the lack of integrity of their priests and leaders who tolerate corruption and dishonesty.
Changing Attitude offers a home to those gay clergy who wish to repent of their dishonesty. Come and join a group of people, lay and ordained, straight and gay, who are committed to uphold the highest Christian values of honesty and integrity. Come with your partners, as long as you are faithful to them and honest about yourself.