Pope Benedict XVI has made his offer to self-proclaimed ‘traditional’ Anglicans, but Colin Coward and George Pitcher, amongst others, have pointed out an anomaly: some ‘traditionalist’ clergy, opposed to the ordination of women as priests, and their consecration as bishops, are also gay and in partnerships. Their attitude to women’s ordination means that they may wish to transfer their allegiance to the Holy See, but their ‘personal morality’ – to use that quaint euphemism from the 1980s – would seem to be totally out-of-step with the demands of Roman obedience.
As Colin noted in an earlier blog, these priests are usually in the closet to some degree; it is difficult for them to be open about this aspect of their life and to join our struggle for the full inclusion of LGBT people in the Church, which, if successful, would be to their benefit. Other clergy, parishioners, even their bishop, may suspect, or know for certain, that they are gay, and very likely, partnered, but these things are rarely acknowledged by the priest himself. Instead, they tend to be communicated in coded ways that often resemble the role and significance of ‘camp’ behaviour that was common among homosexual men in the days prior to the de-criminalisation of homosexuality between consenting adults back in 1967.
Fr Kenneth Leech has encapsulated this phenomenon in the striking phrase, ‘gin, lace, and back-biting’ – a curious parody of femininity by Anglo-Catholic male priests who are hostile to women and yet aware, sometimes uncomfortably so, of their own femininity. What do we, in Changing Attitude, feel about this sub-culture? Anger and frustration sometimes at its brittle, bitchy misogyny; amusement at other times, because camp can be genuinely funny and entertaining; but, above all, compassion, that people have become caught in this particular bind.
Surely, for all their reservations about the priestly ministry of women, these clergy would be better staying put in the Church of England, and working with organisations like Changing Attitude to secure the full inclusion of people like themselves, partnered gay priests, in the ministry of the Church? For them to go over to Rome would seem to involve enormous compromise and lack of self-awareness.
Would we, though, in Changing Attitude, welcome them? Of course we would. We are an organisation committed to dialogue. The ethos of Changing Attitude favours women’s ordination as priests and bishops, but we are always more than ready to begin a conversation with those who hold different views on this and other matters.
The temptation to ‘out’ partnered gay clergy who condemn other gay people, or who attack what Changing Attitude is working for as ‘political correctness’, is real enough, but we are not that sort of an organisation, nor would we rob people of the power of ‘coming out’ to themselves, to God, and to other people. Instead, we desire to extend the hand of friendship to LGBT clergy and laity in traditionalist organisations, be they Catholic or Evangelical. And with Anglo-Catholics uppermost in our mind just at the moment, we look forward to working alongside men in lacy cottas with attitude – Changing Attitude.