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Posts Tagged "Sir Joseph PIlling":

Time To Call In Mycroft?


A Little Local Difficulty

The Church of England has had a difficult week (if you need a quick update, I recommend the summary and collation by Thinking Anglicans as well as the piece on St Laurence’s blog).

The problem is as old as organised society itself: quis custodiet ipsos custodes? Who oversees the overseers? Who shepherds the shepherds? In the case of the Church of England, one would hope that the answer is the Holy Spirit. The difficulty is that, since we have free will, the Holy Spirit can only intervene if asked, and then there remains the problem of interpreting any reply. Now, our bishops are of course men of God and do spend quite a lot of time listening out for the views of the Holy Spirit. The trouble is that sometimes when they should, they don’t. It seems no one asked the Holy Spirit (or understood the response) whether, in the light of the Pilling Report, the speech by Sir Joseph Pilling at General Synod and the Archbishop of Canterbury’s placatory words at synod, the following day was the best time to release the most unpastoral of Pastoral Statements.

Who on earth am I to judge whether this was the will of the Holy Spirit? Well, we have it on good authority that we should judge such actions by their fruits. In this case, the statement has caused pain, distress, exasperation, anguish, anger, fear and ridicule, both amongst the faithful and the ‘not yet churched’ amongst whom the Church is urging us to evangelise.


Papering Over The Cracks in the Anglican Communion

It has been said that the statement was aimed at those provinces in the Anglican Communion who have threatened to leave the Communion unless the Church of England takes the same line as they do on sexuality. In other words, twenty-four hours after the promises were made, all that the Church of England has already achieved in this area, and the ‘facilitated conversations’ that had been promised at February’s General Synod, have been jettisoned as so much useless ballast, in order to stay in the same lifeboat as the GAFCON countries, who had this to say about the Anglican Communion:

“the fabric of the Communion was torn at its deepest level as a result of the actions taken by The Episcopal Church (USA) and the Anglican Church in Canada since 2003. As a result, our Anglican Communion is currently suffering from broken relations, a lack of trust, and dysfunctional instruments of unity’.”

If we are picking lifeboats, I would rather be sharing mine with The Episcopal Church, the Canadians, New Zealanders etc etc. It may be pleasant to dwell in unity, but it comes at too high a price if it involves sacrificing what we believe to be the truth. Shakespeare put this thought elegantly into the often quoted words of Polonius, but the Book of Proverbs also has wisdom on the subject.

 Cherchez Une ‘Eminence Grise’

I do have one possible structural solution, an idea to help forestall some of the many self-inflicted wounds of the Church of England in future. That is, why not copy Cardinal Richelieu, a church politician par excellence?

An éminence grise (French for “grey eminence”) is a powerful decision-maker or advisor who operates “behind the scenes” or in a non-public or unofficial capacity. This phrase originally referred to François Leclerc du Tremblay, the right-hand man of Cardinal Richelieu. Leclerc was a Capuchin friar who was renowned for his beige attire (as beige was termed “grey” in that era.) The title “His Eminence” is used to address or refer to a Cardinal in the Roman Catholic Church. Although Leclerc never achieved the rank of Cardinal, those around him addressed him as such in deference to the considerable influence this “grey” friar held over “His Eminence the Cardinal”.

I even have a candidate, Sherlock Holmes’s brother Mycroft, described in “The Bruce-Partington Plans“:

The conclusions of every department are passed to him, and he is the central exchange, the clearinghouse, which makes out the balance. All other men are specialists, but his specialism is omniscience.

The elder Holmes … might claim to hold a minor position in the British Government, but the truth is, he IS the British Government. Well, when he’s not too busy being the British Secret Service of course, or the C.I.A on a freelance basis… You do not contact Mycroft Holmes, he contacts you… Should you ever meet him, he will likely be the most dangerous man you’ve ever met. He will never text though, not if he can talk… His powers of deduction equal if not supersede Sherlock’s own who has always been so resentful. Not that he has the time for any case that requires ‘leg work’. After all, he can’t possibly be away from the office for any length of time, not with the Korean elections so… well, you don’t need to know about that, do you?



It is such a shame that Mycroft is not available – he would have fitted admirably. Sir Humphrey Appleby would be another choice. Even the Dowager Countess of Grantham might have filled the role, at a pinch. What we really need is a smooth man (like Mycroft) to head the team, with two hairy men (say Malcolm Tucker and Alistair Campbell) as his assistants. Alistair Campbell describes himself on his website as ‘Communicator, Writer, Strategist’, which is almost an application for the job.

The other route would be to look amongst the Whitehall warriors, perhaps more likely to offer a safe pair of hands.


Code of Practice for Bishops

When soldiers go into battle, they are given a yellow card which summarises the rules of engagement. It might be a good idea to issue all bishops with a similar card to help them avoid engaging foot with mouth, perhaps along the following lines:


Men in Pink: The Church of England’s Gay Bishop Decision: Taylor Carey



One of the joys of the holidays is to wake up mid-way through the Today programme rather than at its opening six bleeps; the headline summary luxuriously accompanied by maternally-provided coffee and the gradual rediscovery of whatever book I fell asleep reading the night before.  Yesterday’s news that the church had lifted the moratorium on gay bishops thus proved the most effective alarm clock I’ve experienced in quite some time.

On 20th December 2012, the House of Bishops (the Episcopal portion of Synod responsible for church teaching) heard an interim report from a group set up in 2011 to consider ‘the Church of England’s approach to human sexuality’. The panel, chaired by Sir Joseph Pilling, continues to consider a wide range of issues concerning civil partnerships, in the wake of a moratorium imposed on the elevation of homosexual clerics to the episcopate after conservatives threatened schism in 2011. One of its key reference points is the pastoral statement which the House of Bishops promulgated in 2005 in response to the Civil Partnership Act. The document decreed that, whilst homosexual clergy were free to enter into civil partnerships, the church’s teaching remained that ‘sexual relationships outside marriage, whether heterosexual or between people of the same sex, are regarded as falling short of God’s purposes for human beings’.  Therefore homosexual priests, denied the institution of marriage, were expected to remain celibate. Quite how this applied to bishops was left unspoken and unclear, not least due to a perception that the issue would be fatally weakening for an already fractured church.

The 2011 freeze on gay bishops effectively promulgated the already implicit doctrinal stance that civil partnerships – or even homosexuality more generally – were incompatible with episcopacy. The December announcement effectively marks a rejection of this tacitly accepted position in confirming that

‘the requirements in the 2005 statement concerning the eligibility for ordination of those in civil partnerships whose relationships are consistent with the teaching of the Church of England apply equally in relation to the episcopate’.

In other words, the House of Bishops appear to have aligned themselves with the view that civil partnerships need not be a bar to the episcopate for homosexual clergy who wish to live a companioned life and enjoy a legally recognised relationship, albeit on the condition of continued celibacy. The standards imposed on priests across the church can now be applied to and expected of those who lead them. As the Rt Rev Graham James, Bishop of Norwich, stated:

‘The House has confirmed that clergy in civil partnerships, and living in accordance with the teaching of the Church on human sexuality, can be considered as candidates for the episcopate. The House believed it would be unjust to exclude from consideration for the episcopate anyone seeking to live fully in conformity with the Church’s teaching on sexual ethics or other areas of personal life and discipline’.

Of course ‘the Church’s teaching on sexual ethics’ is, for homosexuals, far from clear. After considerable debate during the 1970s and 1980s, the House of Bishops produced Issues in Sexuality in 1991, which broadly affirmed the moral legitimacy of the homosexual orientation, whilst concomitantly opposing sexual intimacy outside of a heterosexual marital arrangement (see a useful discussion document here). But the dominance of anti-inclusive voices in the wake of the publication of Issues in Sexuality was made shockingly visible in 2003, when the Rev Dr Jeffrey John, besieged by a tirade conservative evangelical opposition, was forced to withdraw his candidacy for the bishopric of Reading. John, although living with a partner, remained faithful to the standards decreed in 1991; a fact that was well known in 2003. Yet the prospect of gay bishops quickly invoked ‘culture wars’ in the Church of England, fuelled by a language of mistrust which found an echo in the response of conservative evangelical groupings to yesterday’s announcement.

The mainstream media were quick to pick up on a narrative of injustice, inequality and exclusion. Giles Fraser’s valiant charge against the grotesque Lynette Burrows on BBC Radio 4’s Saturday PM (exchange begins at 18 minutes) made for amusing but also frustrating listening. The former Canon Chancellor of St Paul’s Cathedral is, in my opinion, correct to bemoan the church’s stance on homosexuality as a travesty – and to acknowledge that there is very little by way of sound theological argument against homosexual bishops – yet I can’t help but feel that we are seeking a scandal where there isn’t one. The House of Bishops hasn’t promulgated any further inequalities; it has actually lifted at least one – the exclusion of gay men from the episcopate.  I stand very much dissatisfied with the inequalities which remain – the exclusion of women, the continuing inequality between the enforced celibacy of homosexual clergy and the freedom of sexual expression of heterosexual clergy – but these have not been uniquely generated by the decision taken by the House of Bishops in December.  Indeed, yesterday’s announcement marks a cautious step in the right direction.

So where does that leave us? In the short term, pending further clarification from the House of Bishops, who are due to vote on the final report delivered by Sir Joseph Pilling later this year. But if the message emerging from yesterday marks a genuine change of direction, then prospects are looking up for a Rt Rev Dr Jeffrey John sometime soon. And, as we say a fond farewell to perhaps the most iconic and inspirational gay cleric the Anglican Communion has ever had, in the form of Gene Robinson, that might just constitute a ray of light appearing on the horizon.

The situation seems ripe for yet another reproduction of one of my favourite hymns by Donald MacLeod:

‘Courage, brother! Do not stumble,

though your path be dark as night;

there’s a star to guide the humble:

trust in God and do the right.

let the road be rough and dreary,

and its end far out of sight;

foot it bravely; strong or weary:

trust in God and do the right.’


The illustration is by Toby Melville courtesy of  Reuters, via The Guardian article by Riazat Butt on 29 July 2008
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