Anglican attitude to gays attacked

The Church of England's position on homosexuality was branded a “shambles” by a member of its own national assembly from Norwich.

The Church of England's position on homosexuality was branded a “shambles” yesterday by a member of its own national assembly from Norwich.

Susan Johns, who represents the Diocese of Norwich on the General Synod, said she could not understand the situation whereby gay clergy were punished for being open and honest about their sexuality, whereas it was acceptable if they covered it up.

She was giving evidence at an employment tribunal in Cardiff brought by former Diocese of Norwich youth worker John Reaney, who was turned down for the same position by the Bishop of Hereford, the Rt Rev Anthony Priddis, in July of last year.

Mr Reaney, a 41-year-old committed Christian from Colwyn Bay, north Wales, believes his sexuality cost him the job and is claiming unlawful discrimination against the Hereford Diocesan Board of Finance under the Employment Equality (Sexual Orientation) Regulations 2003.

His claim is being backed and financed by gay lobby group Stonewall.

Susan Johns, who has been an elected member of the Synod since 1990, has known Mr Reaney for 10 years since he became a youth worker at the Norwich Diocese.

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She described him as a “fantastic,” “inspirational' and a “tireless” man the church could not afford to lose. She said: “The Church of England has no coherent position on homosexual-ity: in my opinion it is a shambles.

“As a worldwide Anglican community, we are meant to be engaging in a listening process. Yet at the General Synod in February 2007, at the end of the debates on sexuality - there were two - one of the members specifically asked if it was possible not to discuss homosexuality for four years.

“While I can understand the sentiment, debating is not the ideal way to listen. I cannot understand how a faith that professes to be open, honest and truthful can condone a situation whereby if a member of clergy covers up their same sex relationships, it is acceptable but if they are open and honest and a person of integrity, there is condemnation and discrim-ination.'

Mr Reaney told the tribunal earlier this month how he was questioned by Bishop Priddis on his previous gay relationship during a two-hour meeting on July 19 last year after emerging

as the outstanding candidate for the job during the interview process.

He said the encounter was “embarrassing” and “humiliat-ing” and described how he had to pull over during his drive home from the Bishop's residence to break down in tears.

Three days after the meeting the Bishop telephoned Mr Reaney to say his application had not been successful.

During his evidence, Bishop Priddis said he had made it clear to Mr Reaney that a person in a committed sexual relationship outside of marriage, whether they were heterosexual, homosexual, bisexual or transgender, would also be turned down for the role which he said was a key appointment within the diocese.