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Bishop in `outing' row retires to monastery

Clergyman denies decision to train as monk was prompted by gay protest. Andrew Brown reports `It's inevitable that people will make connections of that sort, but all I can do is deny them'
A bishop "outed" by militant gays is to retire to a monastery. But he denied last night that the public demonstration naming him last November had anything to do with his decision to retire. "It's inevitable that people will make connections of that sort, but all I can do is to deny them," the Bishop of Portsmouth, the Rt Rev Timothy Bavin, said yesterday.

But the Rev Richard Kirker, of the Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement, predicted more trouble ahead. "There will be more sudden resignations. The ones that are leaving, for whatever reason, have not done us any favours." There was another generation of homosexuals joining the Church who were receiving higher higher appointments, he said.

Mr Kirker said that the bishops had become much more willing to talk to his organisation since the OutRage demonstration last November, but that lesbian and gay ordinands were still being denied jobs because of their sexuality. David Allison of OutRage said the Bishop's decision gave "comfort to all those who want to drive homosexual clergy out of the Church".

Bishop Bavin, 59, said that he intended to spend his last years at the Anglican Benedictine monastery of Alton Abbey, which has seven monks.

Three left last year to become Roman Catholics or Orthodox after the Church of England ordained women priests.

Anglican monks are the product of the Anglo-Catholic revival of the 19th century. The communities are mostly shrinking and growing older: one, in Kent, has only two monks left.

Bishop Bavin has been a diocesan bishop for 20 years: he was bishop of Johannesburg for 10 years before he came to Portsmouth, and said that he had planned to retire to South Africa until the idea of monastic life took hold of him.

He was one of the Church of England's leading opponents of women priests: after the General Synod vote in their favour in 1992, there was speculation that he would either become a Roman Catholic or declare his diocese a "no-go" area for women priests.

But he said over the weekend that he had changed his mind on the issue. "I think it would be a great blessing to the Roman Catholic Church if they also decided to have women priests. In terms of ministry, they have everything to offer." He had consideredretiring to a Roman Catholic monastery. "But I decided I was not being led in that direction. I think God has a plan for the Church of England, and that the Church needs its monasteries."

The bishop will be accepted as a postulant (a candidate for admission to the order) when he enters the monastery in September. It will take two or three years of training before he makes his final vows.

"I shall be happy to make the beds, to dig the garden, or to work in the bakery," he said. "The physical demands of being a bishop are very considerable; and apart from anything else, I would quite like to have time to prepare for death."

"One of the joys of the monastic life is that you don't retire." Bishop Bavin, who has never married, added: "I love my home, and I love the bits and pieces in it, but I shall actually be very glad to be able to give them all away in person, rather than leave a list in my will.

"I shall have all my godchildren in next Thursday, and ask them to choose what I might have left them in my will."

"I don't know that I would have been happy simply to have indulged in my music, my reading, or walking the dog. There is much to be said for a more rhythmical kind of life where one doesn't die, but just prays away."