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Last Updated: Monday, 23 June, 2003, 21:39 GMT 22:39 UK
Williams: 'No objection' to gay bishop
Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams
The Archbishop of Canterbury is to ordain Dr John
The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, has said he raised no objection to the appointment of a gay priest as the new Bishop of Reading.

In a letter being sent to all diocesan and suffragan bishops in England, Dr Williams said: "It is an appointment I have sought neither to promote nor to obstruct."

It is the first time the archbishop has contributed to the debate on the decision to appoint Canon Jeffrey John, which has exposed a growing divide in the Church.

Dr John, due to be ordained as Bishop of Reading on 9 October, has been in a relationship with a man for 27 years but says he is now celibate.

'Highly gifted'

Speaking at Lambeth Palace, Dr Williams read out the text of his letter to the bishops, in which he said it would be tragic if the debate meant the Church lost its focus on its priorities.

It is an appointment I have sought neither to promote nor to obstruct
Dr Rowan Williams

It says: "I was informed that Cannon Jeffrey John was regarded as a highly gifted candidate, was acceptable to the diocese, that he had given explicit assurances on various matters, including his personal circumstances, and his willingness to work loyally in the framework of doctrine and discipline as expressed in issues of human sexuality."

Dr Williams said his appointment did not signal a change in the House of Bishops' attitude towards sexuality, or that it "subverts current discipline or forecloses future discussion".

He said it would be "deplorable" if it was assumed that the existing approach "had been abandoned by stealth or that the forthcoming guide to the debate on sexuality... is slanted to a change in that policy".

Traditional teachings

Canon Jeffrey John
Dr John's supporters want the issue resolved privately
Referring to his forthcoming pastoral visit to West Africa, which suffers from violent conflicts, epidemics, instability and poverty, he said: "It does us no harm to think about our own priorities against such a background."

Dr Williams said members of the Church should "give each other a little more time and space for thought" rather than "falling over ourselves because of anxiety and suspicion".

But other members of the church have spoken out against the appointment.

Dr Philip Giddings, lay minister at Greyfriars Church in Reading, used his Sunday service to tell about 300 worshippers why the appointment was wrong.

He made oblique references in his sermon, such as: "We are not free to discard what is said in the Bible, however unpopular... and no matter how some might say the world has moved on."

Dr Williams has previously argued for tolerance for homosexuals, and has admitted ordaining a gay priest.

But he has also insisted he intends to abide by the traditional teachings of the church, thus precluding the ordination of actively gay priests.

This is a premature appointment coming at a critical time in the life of the Church before a point of consensus has been reached
Rt Reverend James Jones

Almost half the church's senior bishops have voiced their views in the media about Dr John's nomination.

The newly-appointed Bishop of Bristol, the Right Reverend Michael Hill said such a public debate did nothing to help the Church of England's cause.

Bishop of Leicester, Timothy Stevens, said the time had come for the two factions to discuss the matter privately - a process which would take a long time.

He is one of eight Anglican bishops who wrote to Dr Williams saying the selection has their full confidence.


However, Dr John's appointment has been described as "catastrophic" for the Church of England by evangelical and conservative opponents.

The Right Reverend James Jones, the Bishop of Liverpool, said: "This is a premature appointment coming at a critical time in the life of the Church before a point of consensus has been reached."

His words follow intense media coverage of the row since a group of nine bishops wrote a letter to the Times at the start of the week, opposing Dr John's appointment.

On Friday, a group of evangelical and conservative Anglicans met the Bishop of Oxford, Richard Harries, who selected Dr John, in a final - but unsuccessful - attempt to try to change his mind.

The BBC's Robert Pigott
"Rowan Williams reprimanded bishops for undermining the church"

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