Diocese of Portsmouth

    Archbishop of Canterbury's statement about Canon Jeffrey John

    8 July 2003

    As most of you will know already, Canon Jeffrey John has announced his intention of withdrawing from his appointment as Bishop of Reading. The road that has led him to this point has been extremely arduous; and I must pay the warmest public tribute to the dignity and forbearance he has shown throughout, often under the most intrusive and distasteful personal scrutiny. The Bishop of Oxford and the people of the diocese have also had to endure difficult times, and there too there has been much patience and graciousness in the heart of the controversy. All involved will need our prayers.

    The announcement must give us all pause for thought. I hope that there will be proper opportunity to reflect on all this in depth. We have to grasp that Canon John's appointment has brought to light a good deal of unhappiness among people who could by no means be described as extremists, many of whom have willingly testified to their personal respect for Canon John. They are convinced, however, that there is a basic issue at stake relating to the consistency of our policy and our doctrine in the Church of England -- and that this issue has arisen in this particular case in a way for which there are no obvious parallels. Such unhappiness means that there is an obvious problem in the consecration of a bishop whose ministry will not be readily received by a significant proportion of Christians in England and elsewhere.For the divisions we have seen do not exist only at diocesan and national level but internationally as well. The perspective of the Anglican Communion demands careful consideration here. The estrangement of churches in developing countries from their cherished ties with Britain is in no-one's interests. It would impoverish us as a Church in every way. It would also jeopardise links with other denominations, weaken co-operation in our shared service and mission worldwide, and increase the vulnerability of Christian minorities in some parts of the world where they are already at risk. Any such outcome would be a very heavy price to pay.Much of the doubt expressed over the appointment was in terms of accountability to biblical teaching. Two weeks ago, I warned against interpreting the appointment as an illegitimate attempt to 'short-circuit' the Church's continuing obedient engagement with that teaching. I must be equally clear now. Canon John's withdrawal should not be taken to mean that the Church can now stop being concerned about how it discerns the will of God in this area of ethics. Later this year, a significant study guide to the debate in the Church of England on Issues in Human Sexuality will be published. I hope that this will be fully used to deepen our understanding. Whatever the difficulties, we cannot afford to ignore or foreclose the necessary work. And this will involve people at every level in the Church's life. Let me add that some of the opposition expressed to Canon John's appointment has been very unsavoury indeed. A number of the letters I  received displayed a shocking level of ignorance and hatred towards homosexual people. Our official policies and resolutions as Anglicans commit us to listening to the experience of homosexuals and recognising that they are full and welcome members of the Church, loved by God. Not everyone, it seems, takes equally seriously this element in the teaching of the Anglican Church; and some letters that came from non-believers suggest that the level of foolish and hurtful prejudice in our society is still uncomfortably high. Christians who collude with this are simply not living out their calling.This has been a time of open and painful confrontation, in which some of our bonds of mutual trust have been severely strained. As I said earlier, we need now to give ourselves the proper opportunities honestly to think through what has happened and to find what God has been teaching us in these difficult days.

    Dr Rowan Williams

    Archbishop of Canterbury

    6th July 2003