Bishop urges tolerance for gay clergy

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The Bishop of Durham, the Rt Rev Michael Turnbull, yesterday urged gay clergy who had been dismissed for sexual misconduct to ask for a review of their cases if they felt they had been unfairly treated.

Dr Turnbull, 58, who is married with three children, became Bishop of Durham two weeks ago despite being convicted 26 years ago of gross indecency in a public lavatory in Hull. In his first interview since the case was made public, Dr Turnbull told BBC Radio 4's Sunday programme that he had seriously considered resignation, but had come to the conclusion that it would have been ``a denial of the gospel and a victory for the forces of darkness''.

On the question of other priests who had lost their ministry for a similar offence, he said: ``I would want to encourage people who still feel a sense of injustice to go back to the bishops and say: `Look, this happened to me, and I want it reviewed.' ``

He said he was disappointed with the lack of progress made on the issue of homosexuality in the three years since the House of Bishops produced a compromise report which would allow committed homosexual relations among the laity, but not among the clergy.

Concerted efforts should be made, Dr Turnbull said, to bring together theologians, parishes, gay rights groups and gay priests ``to earnestly listen to each other and discover what the next stage is''.

However, the Rev Richard Kirker, of the Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement, said that there could be no such discussion without an amnesty for gay clergy who would otherwise be too frightened of the consequences to speak honestly.

``A recognition by church authorities that gay people, clergy included, are entitled to enter into a loving gay relationship would ensure that the church began its long-overdue re-examination of homosexuality with essential facts and helpful truth at its disposal,'' he said.

Peter Tatchell, of the lesbian and gay rights group Outrage, said: ``The bishop is still prevaricating. Merely calling for a rethink of church policy is not good enough.''

Plea for tolerance, page 3