Archbishop of Canterbury's letter to the Bishops of the Church of England

I have today sent the following letter to the diocesan and suffragan bishops.

Dear Brothers in Christ

None of us will need any persuading that the recent appointment of Canon Jeffrey John as Bishop of Reading has proved a controversial and challenging one. It has become a focus for a great deal of debate, in which differing views of the appointment and its significance have been widely aired, inside and outside the Church here, and indeed much further afield.

At this point in the debate - particularly since some of you have already voiced serious concerns - it is important that I try to clarify basic issues, in my capacity as Archbishop of Canterbury and Chairman of the House of Bishops.

First, about the appointment process. As you know, the appointment of a suffragan bishop is made by the Crown, on the advice of a diocesan as forwarded by the Archbishop of the province. And that is what has happened on this occasion. It is not for me to recount the diocesan process. But so far as my own involvement is concerned, you should know it is an appointment I have neither sought to promote nor to obstruct.

I was informed that Canon Jeffrey John was regarded as a highly gifted candidate, was acceptable to the diocese, that he had given explicit assurances on various matters, including his personal circumstances and his willingness to work loyally within the framework of doctrine and discipline as expressed in Issues in Human Sexuality. With these assurances, since repeated very publicly, and in keeping with the principle that the integrity of the process within the diocese should be respected, I raised no objection to forwarding his name.

Despite what some have claimed, I do not believe this overall process weakens the commitment of the House of Bishops to what we have declared as our common mind. Nor do I believe that Canon John's appointment either subverts current discipline or forecloses future discussion. It would certainly be deplorable if it were assumed that the existing approach has been abandoned by stealth, or that the forthcoming guide to the debate on sexuality that we have agreed to publish, was slanted towards a change in that policy. So, let us be clear: there can be no question of trying to pre-empt, undermine or short-circuit the reflection of the Church as a whole.

It is also important here, to stress to the wider Anglican Communion that we are not embarking on or colluding with any policy of unilateral local change, which I have more than once deplored elsewhere.

Two final and important points. The concerns of many in the diocese of Oxford are theologically serious, intelligible and by no means based on narrow party allegiance or on prejudice. They must be addressed and considered fully. Confidence in the ability of a new bishop to minister to those in his pastoral care is a centrally important matter, and it is clear that serious questions remain in the diocese. To consider these with prayerfulness and maturity needs time and a measure of calm. It is not for anyone outside the diocese to override or pre-empt what is obviously a painful and complex process, and I can only ask your prayers for the diocese as it struggles with this and tries to find a right discernment.

Finally, it would be a tragedy if these issues, in the Church of England and in the Communion, occupied so much energy that we lost our focus on the priorities of our mission, the priorities given us by Our Lord. What we say about sexuality (and not just on the same-sex question) is a necessary part of our faithfulness, but the concentration on this in recent weeks has had the effect of generating real incomprehension in much of our society, in a way that does nothing for our credibility. In the world where we are called to offer the Good News of Jesus, we need to reflect on this dimension of the situation - not to surrender to alien standards, but to keep our eyes on those central revealed truths without which other matters of behaviour and discipline will never make sense.

In a few weeks, I shall be making a pastoral visit to West Africa. Some of our local issues are there too, of course, but so are most of the greatest wounds of our age, afflicting millions - violent conflict, epidemic disease, instability and poverty. Faithful Christian witness shines through all this, and we are deeply thankful for it. It does us no harm to think about our own priorities against such a background, and perhaps to learn in some matters to give each other a little more time and space for thought as we try to find how we can walk in step as the Body of Christ - not falling over ourselves because of anxiety and suspicion.

+Rowan Cantuar

Lambeth Palace

23rd June 2003