Revd Colin Coward MBE
6 Norney Bridge Mill Road Worton Devizes SN10 5SF
01380 724908 07770 844302 firstname.lastname@example.org
Most Revd and Rt Hon Dr John Sentamu
12 June 2018
Bishop of Maidstone’s letter about the Lichfield Ad Clerum
Thank you for letting me know that you have referred my letter to the Pastoral Advisory Group for advice. This suggests the you anticipate receiving advice back from the PAG as to what further action you or the Archbishop of Canterbury might take, if any.
I have looked at the terms of reference for the Pastoral Advisory Group that might be relevant to the Maidstone letter. The only responsibility the PAG might have been given for dealing with the Maidstone letter is that outlined in section 9:
“Requests from other bishops for advice on named cases with regard to areas of responsibility will need to be dealt with as reserved business by the bishops within the group. The bishops will however report to other group members that such reserved business has been discussed and will review with them any general issues arising from the review of particular cases.”
Was this in mind when you referred my letter to the PAG – that it is as a named case to be dealt with by the bishops within the group?
With this in mind I have looked again at the letter sent by the Bishop of Maidstone to the Bishop of Lichfield and the Lichfield College of Bishops. Bishop Rod Thomas writes about repentance, the Church of England’s official position in relation to marriage, ‘worthy’ and ‘unworthy’ participation in the sacraments, inappropriate ‘exclusion’ or intrusive questioning, and the possible requirement for “very gentle probing.” The letter is very carefully and subtly phrased.
My interpretation of what the Bishop of Maidstone is saying is as follows:
- Marriage between a man and a woman is the only kind of marriage God allows and of which the Church of England approves. This official position was last determined in 1987.
- The official position means there are limits to which people should be allowed to participate in the Sacraments.
- We want to discourage some people from participating in the Sacraments.
- Some lesbian and gay people will be unworthy because they have entered an equal marriage (same sex marriage in C of E speak)
- Unless they divorce this renders them permanently unworthy – thus says Canon B30, the 1987 Synod motion and BCP Article 25.
- The practice advocated in Reform churches is to let married gay couples know this and explain to them why they are unwelcome to receive communion.
- We leave the decision to them but we would prefer them not to receive communion until they have repented of getting married (and have divorced).
- We don’t like to ask or be seen to be asking intrusive questions.
Many people reading this would take as implicit in the last point a continuation of the bishop’s argument in his letter which might say: “but by opening the Bible with them we can manipulate them into seeing that our teaching is right through a process of gentle but determined probing because we are right – the Bible and God are clear about this.”
I believe the Maidstone letter describes and encourages pastoral practice that is homophobic and abusive.
Some people have suggested that action under the Clergy Discipline Measure might be taken against the Bishop of Maidstone. The Measure is tightly drawn and restrictive in who may bring an action and on what grounds; doctrinal and liturgical matters are excluded. I don’t think the CDM is applicable in this case.
I believe we are dealing with a safeguarding matter in which a bishop is the subject of concern. He is not the first bishop to be the subject of concern in the matters of safeguarding and abuse as the recent IICSA hearings into the Diocese of Chichester so chillingly revealed. The views and practices directly advocated by the Bishop of Maidstone to his clergy could, if acted upon, endanger the physical or mental well-being of adults who may well be vulnerable in their faith and sexuality. The bishop of Maidstone is advising his clergy to take action.
Historically, a number of bishops have been identified as perpetrators of abuse. Other bishops have been shown to be collusive in the protection of clergy and bishops who have been found guilty of sexual abuse or were reported as being abusive by their victims.
I believe the Bishop of Maidstone has questions to answer as a result of the pastoral practice advocated in his letter to the Bishop of Lichfield. The Church of England protocols are unclear, I suspect, about who is responsible for taking action when a bishop is thought to be advocating class action that puts a group of people at risk of abuse. I assume it is yourself as Archbishop of York and the Archbishop of Canterbury. This is a safeguarding issue affecting the practice advocated by a bishop and the implication for those clergy who put this teaching into practice in their parish and congregation.
With very best wishes,
Reverend Colin Coward MBE