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Last Updated: Monday, 19 April, 2004, 16:43 GMT 17:43 UK
Gay cleric takes up senior post
Jeffrey John
Dr John is delighted with his new post as Dean of St Albans
The openly gay canon who felt compelled to withdraw his candidature as Bishop of Reading has been named the new Dean of St Albans.

Dr Jeffrey John has been approved by the Queen for the job - one of the most senior roles in the Church of England.

His nomination last May as Bishop of Reading provoked strong criticism from conservative evangelicals.

He was eventually persuaded to withdraw from the post by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams.

Liberals lobbied

Dr John also takes on the role of Rector of the Cathedral and Abbey Church of St Albans.

Dr John, who earlier said he was "honoured" to be appointed, said in a press conference after the appointment was confirmed that he backed the idea of same-sex unions.

"I support the state and the Church offering gay people a framework of living their lives. I hope that ultimately the Church will be able to bless that kind of relationship too.

He acknowledged the issue of gay weddings was like "red rag to bulls" to conservatives.

This is an outrageous appointment - it is a backdoor attempt to make homosexuality mainstream in the Church of England
David Virtue

Dr John - who has a long term partner - said he wouldn't be attempting to do anything in the Abbey "which goes against the canons of the Church of England".

The first openly gay Anglican bishop, Canon Gene Robinson, was confirmed as Bishop of New Hampshire in the US last month.

But his consecration in November threatened to split the worldwide Anglican Church.

And traditionalists have warned that following Bishop Robinson's ordination, this latest move would take the break-up of the Anglican Church a step further.

David Virtue, the evangelical commentator who runs the influential web site Virtuosity, said: "This is an outrageous appointment. It is a backdoor attempt to make homosexuality mainstream in the Church of England."

But liberals in the St Albans diocese are believed to have been lobbying for months for Dr John, 51, to replace Dean Lewis, who moved to Christ Church, Oxford, last October.

'Unfortunate timing'

The Bishop of St Albans, the Rt Rev Christopher Herbert, welcomed Dr John's appointment.

He said: "Jeffrey John has a well deserved reputation for being a good, caring pastor.

"He is an intelligent, courageous priest who will follow a long line of superb Deans of St Albans and will bring to the Abbey a wide range of gifts.

"He is a man of prayer, a preacher and teacher of real authority and grace."

Dr John he was not expecting a repeat of the "storm" over his appointment as Bishop of Reading last year, which "frightened the horses".

His nomination caused a bitter row within the Church of England and eventually led to him saying he feared his consecration would damage the "unity of the Church".

"I suspect that a good deal of the storm last summer was to do with the timing. It was unfortunate that it happened at the same time as events in New Hampshire," he said.

Dr John has been in his current post as Canon Chancellor and Bishop's Adviser for Ministry in the Diocese of Southwark since 1997.

A date is yet to be set for when he takes up his new role but a ceremony is expected to take place this autumn.


WATCH AND LISTEN
The BBC's Annita McVeigh
"There are plenty of people who will see this as a provocative development"



SEE ALSO:
Gay bishop takes up post
08 Mar 04  |  Americas
Priest's treatment 'homophobic'
26 Jul 03  |  Berkshire


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