Breaking – Changing Attitude claim that Chichester Diocese not operating National Policy

In an exchange of blog comments with Colin Coward of Changing Attitude this afternoon, Colin alleged that Bishop Mark of Chichester Diocese (and current acting Diocesan) did not ask David Page of Winchelsea for any assurance that he was not in a sexually active relationship. Colin wrote,

There is NOTHING in the press statement from which you might infer that David Page was asked about his sex life by Bishop Mark and NOTHING that infers David agreed to be celibate. David wasn’t asked and was not required to give any assurances. Yes, Peter, like it or not, I am seriously saying, not suggesting, saying that Bishop Mark didn’t ask for assurances.

My response was as follows,

So let’s be absolutely clear. Neither at the “interview” or before-hand were any assurances given. Neither was there any communication between the parties that the prior offering of assurances to Wally Benn when the PTO was first reapplied for earlier this year was to be taken as given?

This is an important clarification as it is possible that an exchange of correspondence occurred before the meeting during which the necessary assurances were requested and given. Such an occurrence would allow Colin to quite truthfully state that “David wasn’t asked” and have that just refer to the formal meeting itself.

So we now await one of two responses. Either Colin replies in the affirmative to my final question in which case he is clearly alleging that Bishop Mark did not practice the agreed guidelines in the 2005 House of Bishop’s pastoral statement on Civil Partnerships. Alternatively, such a correspondence did take place before the meeting and Colin is being disingenuous in his replies to me.

Over to you Colin.


Colin’s response is in.

Peter, I’ll be clear with you – neither at the CDM interview nor before the interview were any assurances asked for or given. Neither was there any communication between the parties that any parts of the earlier interview with Bishop Wallace Benn could be taken as given. David Page refused to answer Wallace Benn’s inappropriate questions at the interview.

Which almost answers the question as the assurances were given by Page in a letter to Wally Benn and not in an interview. But let’s take it as read that Colin intends to refer to that letter as well as not being under consideration when David Page met +Mark.

Congratulations Colin – you’re the first person I know of in the Church of England to publicly accuse a specific named Bishop of not following through on the 2005 House of Bishop’s Pastoral Statement.

Let’s see where this one goes…

15 Comments on “Breaking – Changing Attitude claim that Chichester Diocese not operating National Policy

      • Are bishops required to ask questions about sex in civil partnerships, or is the policy merely that clergy in civil partnerships should reasonably expect to be asked such questions? Just to be absolutely clear: are you accusing Colin of (albeit implicitly) claiming +Mark has definitively broken an actual rule/order? Isn’t ‘guidance’ exactly that?

  1. Peter, you are being deliberately malicious in what you are writing. I’m surprised to find you stooping to such depths. I have not publicly accused Bishop Mark of not following through on the 2005 House of Bishops Pastoral Statement. I have reported accurately what happened. The words of accusation are yours, not mine.

    • The national policy is to ask for assurances about sexual activity from those clergy in civil partnerships. You claim quite explicitly that such assurances were not asked for (I asked several times to be absolutely sure). You are therefore implicitly claiming that +Mark did not follow the agreed national policy.

      If that is not so then you are more than free to publicly state that you understand that +Mark DID ask for assurances from David Page and that such assurances were given. Otherwise I am not misrepresenting you.

  2. I’m a bit reluctant to shove my oar in here, since I’m not a member of the Church of England. Nevertheless, here is the wording of the House of Bishops Pastoral Statement:

    “Members of the clergy and candidates for ordination who decide to enter into partnerships must therefore expect to be asked for assurances that their relationship will be consistent with the teaching set out in Issues in Human Sexuality.”

    “Must therefore expect to be asked”, not “must be asked”. I’ve expected all sorts of things in my life which have never happened. Taking the statement au pied de la lettre, the wording seems to leave any bishop free to decide that, even though the clergyperson or candidate for ordination must expect to be asked for such an assurance, he, at any rate, would prefer to dispense himself from asking for it and would not, strictly speaking, be breaking the rules by granting himself this dispensation. Obviously I have no idea whether this has any application to the present case.

  3. Sigh! ‘Don’t ask, don’t tell’ was so much better. Until gay activists insisted on telling, bishops had no need to ask. They brought all this on themselves. It has put the bishops in a very uncomfortable spot.

    • Jill, are you saying that you have no problem with gay clergy per se? I’d be pleasantly surprised if so! but don’t ask don’t tell was the Clintonian fudge that arguably pleased no-one – it didn’t stop gay people from joining the army (upsetting the right), but it did stop gay people from being honest (upsetting the left). I’d be interested (not being a C of E member!) if its don’t ask/don’t tell era was/is more fondly regarded :-).

      • Ryan, that has always been my opinion. I have told this story so many times, but perhaps you have not read it – when I was in my early teens my vicar was a single man – he seemed quite old to me but he probably wasn’t. He was a dear and lovely man and a wonderful parish priest, loved by all. Who knows what his sexual preferences were? He never talked about them, and nobody asked him. Looking back, it was highly likely that he had same-sex preferences. But who cares? That was between himself and God. It would only have become a problem if he had confronted us with it all and demanded that we approve, which would have caused havoc in the congregation – a microcosm of what is happening today.

        You might regard it as being dishonest, but I don’t. I would just call it private, like any other person’s sexual fantasies. You wouldn’t like a married vicar owning up to having sexual fantasies about young women (or even having affairs with them) and insisting his flock approve, would you?

        • HI Jill, I don’t have a problem with private lives remaining exactly that, but don’t ask don’t tell (at least in the military context) meant that normal conversation was impossible without a degree of dishonesty. For example, if someone asked you what you did at the weekend, it would be perfectly natural to refer to spending time with your husband. A gay person asked the same question would find it trickier to answer honestly. A straight person referring to “we” (i.e. them and spouse) doing something is not discussing their sex life – the same thing is surely true of a gay person who, when asked, refers to going to the pub, cinema (or church!) with their same sex partner. Singleness might be valued in Anglo-Catholic churches, but given the toxic, Driscollian, sex-obsessed culture of evangelical churches, I do not think a gay-but-celibate person would be able to permanently avoid questions on why he hasn’t got a wife yet. Obviously it’s hardly ideal when clergy (or anyone), who might be otherwise highly moral and scrupulous, are forced into lies and obfuscation.

          The traditional, privacy respecting view on homosexuality is surely “as long as they don’t do it in the streets and scare the horses” – quite distinct from the days when homosexuality was actually criminalised, and that some conservatives seem to view as a golden age.

          I quite agree with your hypothetical example, but someone saying “I’m heterosexual” does not mean “I regularly fantasise about sex with women”, and the same thing is surely true about coming out as gay. Indeed, one impetus for coming out is to negate stereotypes about gay people being sex crazed drug takers.

          • Ryan, I’m not completely sure you understand what Jill means by Don’t Ask Don’t Tell. She doesn’t really want simple silence – she wants complete disappearance. It’s the same line of thought as the lady who said to Prebendary Ron Swann when he was Warden of St Katherine’s ” I could not possible receive the body of Christ from the hands of a homosexual”. He asked me. “How would you answer that?”

          • Nobody I know of would think it necessary for a ‘gay but celibate’ clergy person to hide the fact. It is just one temptation amongst many. On the other hand, it is not always appropriate in all circumstances to be open with everyone about the temptations we face. Some common sense is in order.

        • Yes, Jill, but that was then; this is now. You say “Who cares?” but you know perfectly well that back then, if it had somehow become KNOWN that he was gay, he would have been cruelly hounded out of his parish, and the fact that he was living a celibate and exemplary life (which he presumably was) would have made not the slightest difference.

          Nowadays, as long as a clergyman is not engaged in sleazy activity, e.g. soliciting in cruising areas or picking up rent boys, who cares if he is actually KNOWN to be gay? The answer is very few people. And that does NOT mean that he needs to confront his parishioners with it and demand that they approve. A clergyman is only likely to make a public announcement on this matter if some malicious busybody has been trying to cause havoc in the congregation by campaigning against him, thus placing him in an otherwise untenable position so that he simply has to cut the Gordian knot, and in such a case I think that today, except possibly in very backward, rural areas, most of the congregation would come down unequivocally on his side. It just means that he can live a normal human life without the constant worry of what will happen if people know. Would you really want to go back to the status quo ante? Well, even if you would, it’s not going to happen, thank God

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