Colin Slee’s J’accuse

My goodness, it has been a busy week for those concerned over the issue of gay leaders in the churches.

Monday saw the Church of Scotland making its welcome but tentative steps forward. Today it is the leaking from beyond the grave of an astonishing memorandum from the late Colin Slee, recently Dean of Southwark.

The C of S came out of Monday with its integrity very much intact. Indeed, there was a great deal of dignity, tact and care on display for all the world to see. However, the C of E does not come out of today’s revelations with nearly so much distinction. Just the opposite in fact and the two archbishops seem to have sunk even lower in their own mire than hitherto seemed possible.

Here’s today’s story – and it is a great coup for Andrew Brown at the Guardian. The Guardian did not cover itself with glory in covering the C of S on Monday, but today’s revelations are fairly significant.

The story comes from a leaked memo which was written by Colin Slee before he recently died. In an astonishing j’accuse from beyond the grave, his bitter disappointment in his near ecclesiastical neighbour along the Thames, Rowan Williams is laid bare. It is a description of hideous bad behaviour as a new bishop was chosen for the Diocese of Southwark last year. There were stories in the press at the time suggesting that Jeffrey John’s name was considered but rejected. The leaked memo (which has a kind of a gothic intensity to it) appears to show just how desperate the Archbishops in England were not to have either a gay man (Jeffrey John) or someone who had been married to a divorcee (Nicholas Holtham) as the new Bishop of Southwark.

Reading through Andrew Brown’s report of Archbishop Rowan and Archbishop John Sentamu’s behaviour one can but wonder what the American Church is to make of all this. Or any of us outside England for that matter. The Archbishop has interfered in the appointment processes of Anglican bishops far across the world and far beyond the bounds of any jurisdiction that he possesses. He has misused bonds of affection. It feels as though he has betrayed those who once would have been his greatest defenders.

Whilst good people have been made to abide by discriminatory “moratoria” against the nomination of gay candidates for the Episcopate, Rowan Williams appears to behave in his own processes in ways that are being described as those of the bully. Heaven knows, the American church followed due process in electing their bishops. Don’t they have a right to think that those in the Church of England will try to do the same?

Of course, this leak is one bit of paper amongst many. No doubt there will be others who may see things differently and from a more nuanced perspective. Let them speak and say their piece. Part of the problem in all this is the selection of bishops behind closed doors.

Notwithstanding that, I know that Colin Slee was a good man. His words from beyond the grave point towards an increasing feeling that there  is a strong odour surrounding Rowan Williams’s ministry as Archbishop of Canterbury. And it is not the odour of righteousness.


  1. Rosemary Hannah says

    Yesterday I was ashamed to be an Anglican – today I am just furious!

  2. FR John Harris-White says

    Ashamed and angry at the sad debacle in the selection of the new Bishop of Southwark. Obviously the good folk of Southwark Diocese were bullied into tears. The Archbishop Rowan loses his temper, and one John Sentamu, once a curate in that diocese holds court in the lavatory.
    The result one poor man is called by who? to be the new Bishop. He needs all Gods grace, whilst Williams and Sentamu should answer for their actions.

    I myself am retired living in Scotland with my partner. I was once part of the Southwark family, and respect Colin and Jeffrey.

  3. Whatever the merits of the various names put forward (or not put forward); whatever the political maneuvering (persuasion??) that took place, +Christopher is now the Bishop of Southwark and deserves our prayers as he undertakes the role to the best of his ability.

  4. Revd Ross Kennedy says

    Amen to Stewart.
    Kelvin, I think you are far too hard on the Archbishops and especially +Rowan. No matter which way they swing they will be condemned. Their task is well nigh impossible. Anyway, have you never lost your temper in a church meeting? He’s human, for goodness sake, with an unenviable job. Yes, the way the C of E chooses its bishops is odd but I can assure you there is consultation with congregations and clergy of the diocese. Please note it is not just evangelicals/ conservatives who would feel uneasy about having a bishop who lives with a same sex partner – many, many ordinary folk in the pews feel the same.

    Your comment ‘that there is a strong odour surrounding Rowan Williams’s ministry as Archbishop of Canterbury. And it is not the odour of righteousness,’ is unfair and judgemental in the extreme.

    And finally your reference to the American Church is of interest. We know what they make of all of this as they continue to drive out the conservatives from their midst whilst using the full weight of secular law to grab back the property and money for the TEC. I can’t help but conclude that the Presiding Bishop of that Church behaves more and more like a medieval pope. Give me +Rowan anytime.

  5. Jeremy Pemberton says

    @Ross Kennedy – far too hard? You have to be joking! What is shameful is the whole hypocritical attempt to make public statements that imply that being gay and partnered makes someone unfit for ministry – when only a handful of bishops really think this. If Rowan would stop tying himself in internal knots and start leading we could have a very different polity and culture quite quickly. But the denial and the double standards and the hypocrisy are death-dealing to the C of E – and so many ordinary people who have no investment in what the church does are revolted by this kind of behaviour.

  6. Rosemary Hannah says

    Yes – it is the hypocrisy, the arm-twisting and the double standards which are revolting. The behaviour described is not professional or acceptable, not at any level.

  7. Revd Ross Kennedy says

    Jeremy the real issue is not whether being gay and partnered makes a person ‘unfit for ministry’ ( I am fairly certain that is not the Archbishops’ opinions.) The problem is whether the appointment of such an individual would be a focus of unity or disunity. .

    • The idea of a bishop being a focus for unity is somewhat ironic when thinking about England where we have suffragan bishops, area bishops, flying bishops, forces bishops, bishops who are working as deans etc. The idea (heresy?) of choosing your own bishop according to your prejudices appears to be alive and well in England.

      Worth noting that the consecration liturgy in Scotland does not state the bishops are to serve as a focus for unity in their diocese, unlike the liturgy in England. When we’ve talked about what bishops do (which we do seldom enough) we’ve tended to emphasise their role as leader in mission rather than focus of unity.

  8. Revd Ross Kennedy says

    ‘The idea (heresy?) of choosing your own bishop according to your prejudices appears to be alive and well in England.’
    Kelvin, I think we are all guilty of that – at least to some extent. Don’t our prejudices (and we all have them) inevitably influence our preferences.

    • Of course our prejudices influence our preferences, but in some parts of the church we just get one bishop and have to enjoy their gifts, whatever they are. It is an entirely curious notion that you have one bishop running a diocese and another who is of a different tradition who sorts out some of the parishes who are of the same persuasion and another bishop who drops by unannounced to minister to those who don’t like the others because of the’ve ordained women. That, as some of us have been saying for a very long time now, is a far, far greater departure from catholic order and the traditions handed down to us than having a bishop whose significant other happens to be male rather than female. In the grand scheme of things, that issue is merely domestic. Multiple bishops and having some bishops that some people think are not really bishops and some priests that some people think are not priests is not.

  9. This whole episode is somewhat ironic given that the new flying bishops are to be consecrated at Southwark Cathedral on 16 June.

  10. Rosemary Hannah says

    One does not get unity by avoiding controversy.

  11. Revd Ross Kennedy says

    Oh dear what a mess! And to think all this has happened just because the church decided to start ordaining the ladies.
    (Better get down behind the parapet!)

  12. pax58 says

    I stand by your comments Kevin. AC is a big boy, if he can’t take the heat….. As a member of TEC I can tell you that our house of bishops got a first hand task of his rudeness and arrogance a few years back. I suppose that keeping with Anglician tradition, I have no right to complain about how the C of E elects it bishops, as long as they don’t interfere with the way TEC elects bishops. Maybe I am just to Amercian, but the whole election of bishops in C E does seems a bit medival. I have a priest friend from England that told me once, most bishops are pulled from the aristocracy. The average non-churched English person is just so turned off by this kind of thing.

  13. Rosemary Hannah says

    No, it has happened, not because of women in the priesthood, or as Bishops, or because of gays in those roles either – it has happened because the archbishops are holding to a top-down governing style. ‘We know best, so you, bishops, priests, deacons and MOST ESPECIALLY laity will sit down and shut up and do as you are told.’

    Sure very duff decisions can be made by ANY style of government. But this kind of bullying is a feature of a particular kind of top down model.

  14. Revd Ross Kennedy says

    Not at all, Rosemary – they simply wouldn’t get away with it. After all both Archbishops were voted down at a recent General Synod. Moreover, there are two sides to every story – as I’m sure there is in this case. Colin Slee obviously wrote his memorandum when he was very upset at his friend’s possible preferment being sidelined. So I believe Kelvin’s previous comment is apposite:
    ‘Of course, this leak is one bit of paper amongst many. No doubt there will be others who may see things differently and from a more nuanced perspective.’

  15. Gordon says

    I’m not an Episcopalian (yet!) tho watch the goings on in the Church with interest. All I can say is that the Archbishops of Canterbury and York seem to be behaving here with the same arrogance, conceith and bully-boy tactics that the Bishops of the Roman Church are so expert in. Maybe they should both just join the Ordinatiate and leave us all in peace to get on with life.

  16. Martin Ritchie says

    Seems that even Rowan Williams and John Sentamu are human too! Maybe they should be pondering “let he who is without sin cast the first stone”on the issue of sexuality…..

  17. william says

    If we have heard disturbing words from “beyond the grave” the following words this side of the grave “there is a strong odour surrounding Rowan Williams’s ministry as Archbishop of Canterbury. And it is not the odour of righteousness” are not uniquely applicable to poor Rowan!!

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