Williams attempts to shift focus of bishops
The Archbishop of Canterbury yesterday appeared to rebuke bickering bishops and try and focus attention on other issues, apart from the churches apparent obsession with homosexuality.
In his strongest public statement since his enthronement earlier this year, Dr Williams said the credibility of the Church of England had been damaged in a debate which was regarded with ìreal incomprehensionî outside the Church.
The Archbishopís letter, e-mailed last night to the 116 diocesan and suffragan bishops in England, addressed to his fellow bishops or ìBrothers in Christî, was a vivid expression of his frustration at the Churchís apparent obsession with gay sex.
But his intervention failed to calm the acrimonious debate.
The Archbishop immediately came under fire from evangelicals who accused him of ìnot giving the leadership we were hoping forî.
Dr Williams said: ìWhat 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.î
He attempted to focus attention onto others issues including poverty, war and injustice.
His letter came a week after nine senior diocesan bishops criticised the appointment in an open letter.
The nine, including the fifth most senior in the hierarchy, the Bishop of Winchester, the Right Rev Michael Scott-Joynt, said that despite reassurances that Dr John was now celibate, they were concerned by his history of being in a homosexual relationship for 20 years.
Dr Williams looked relaxed as he walked to a lectern set up in the Lambeth Palace courtyard to read his letter, but the row is unlikely to go away.
Dr Williams said: ìI've sent a letter to the bishops, but because this is an issue which has clearly generated a great deal of interest and controversy I took the opportunity to share it more widely.î
He said it was important to clarify basic issues and insisted that the appointment had been done by the book, with no interference from him.
He had been assured that Dr John was both personally and publicly prepared to stand by the controversial 1991 document Issues in Human Sexuality which demands celibacy from gay clergy.
Insisting there was no hidden agenda, he said: ìLet 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.î
He also made clear that he was taking seriously the objections of the evangelicals.
He said: ìThe 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.î
However, evangelicals were disappointed.
The Rev Rod Thomas, of Reform, the conservative evangelical movement, said: ìThe statement was carefully constructed to be even-handed to all parties, but crucially, it has not given the leadership we were hoping for."
"He says that at the end of the day it is a matter for the Oxford diocese, but it is not, as if Jeffrey John is appointed it will set a precedent that cannot be reversed.î
The Bishop of Winchester said: ìIf the Archbishop has issued a substantial letter, it is my calling to reflect on it. That is what I will be doing before I can give any kind of view.î
The Bishop of Oxford the Right Rev Richard Harries, who appointed Dr John, said last night he had indentified 11 parishes in the Reading episcopal area where there were serious concerns about him.
Evangelicals have issued a call for an emergency debate on the issue at the General Synod in York next month.