Updated again, at bottom, with Andrew Brown column.
I don’t know whether the Very Rev. Jeffrey John, dean of St. Albans, is about to be elected Bishop of Southwark by the Crown Nominations Commission. And I don’t know how Jonathan Wynne-Jones of the Sunday Telegraph learned that John had made the shortlist for this position, or that neither Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, nor John Sentamu, the Archbishop of York, had objected. Further, I don’t know why the archbishops held their tongues. In fact, I know very little with reportorial certainty about what will transpire when the committee meets today and tomorrow.
With those disclaimers in place, here are three things I think I know:
1. Dean John could be elected.
2. There is at least one other strong candidate in the field. (Ruth Gledhill names this person as the Rev. Nick Holtham of St. Martin in the Fields in London, and I think that’s right.)
3. If Dean John is elected, I don’t think there is much the Archbishop of Canterbury can do to stop him from becoming the Bishop of Southwark.
I think it is too early to speculate intelligently on whether Williams and Sentamu let John be included on the shortlist because a) they didn’t think he could be elected and saw this as a low risk way to give the impression that they had thrown us lefties a bone; b) they are about to make a big deal about the difference between sexually active and sexually inactive gays and lesbians; c) because they have had a legitimate change of heart, or some other reason I have not considered.
I dearly hope the answer is not b, because if sexual inactivity becomes a criterion for judging the worthiness of a gay or lesbian candidate for bishop, then demands for proof of sexual inactivity will not be far behind, and people who still take the Anglican Communion seriously will have trouble continuing to do so.
That said, I do wonder, as I have always wondered why the election of a celibate man of any sexual orientation should trouble conservatives. And there seems to be at least one conservative clergyman in the Church of England who agrees with me.
Andrew Brown seems to think that Williams really wants John to be elected, a scenario I had not seriously considered.