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The Bishop of London, Richard Chartres, has suspended ("withdrawn from public ministry" in church speak) the Bishop of Willesden, Pete Broadbent, over remarks he made on Facebook about the engagement of Kate Middleton and William Windsor. Whatever view you or I take of the monarchy, the Church of England or the opinions of Pete Broadbent, this news raises some worrying questions.
Firstly, why exactly has Broadbent been suspended? He made some crass personal remarks about members of the Windsor family, which unfortunately undermined his more important comments about the problems with monarchy as an institution. Can the Church make clear that he has been suspended for the former, not the latter? Surely a bishop is not disciplined for supporting a republic?
Secondly, what effect did the Mail on Sunday have on the decision? The paper used its front page to launch an all-out attack on Broadbent and whip up his comments into a major news story. Have the Church of England authorities allowed a newspaper to pressure them into a decision that they would not otherwise have made? If this is not the case, it would be helpful if they were clear about how the decision was reached.
Thirdly – and perhaps most importantly - how have other bishops got away with making comments at least as offensive as Broadbent's without facing similar treatment? Comments made by bishops in recent years include the claim that married couples who choose not to have children are selfish (Michael Nazir-Ali, former Bishop of Rochester); that Muslims are creating “no-go” areas for non-Muslims in Britain (also Nazir-Ali); and that the Cumbrian floods were in part caused by God's judgment on civil partnerships (Graham Dow, Bishop of Carlisle). The Bishop of London's own comments about redundancy being "good for the soul" might also be borne in mind.
The Church of England has given the distinct impression that it regards insults to members of the Windsor family as a more serious offence than attacks on same-sex couples, childless couples, Muslims or unemployed people. This may not have been the Bishop of London's intention when he asked Broadbent to step down, but he is nonetheless left with a lot of explaining to do.Tweet