Gay bishop has support of half his clergy

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The appointment of the Church of England's first homosexual bishop has won the support of more than half of the clergy who would work under him, according to a survey.

The majority questioned expressed their support for the appointment of Canon Jeffrey John, who has lived with his partner for 27 years, as the new Bishop of Reading. However, many clergy in the Reading area also voiced concerns that the move would lead to a deep rift in the Anglican Church.

Dr John, who is currently canon theologian at Southwark Cathedral in south London, is due to be made Suffragan Bishop in the Oxford diocese in Westminster Abbey next October. However, his appointment created a rift at the most senior level of the Anglican Church that is swiftly spreading through the ranks.

The survey, conducted by The Times, revealed that 29 of the 52 clerics questioned supported the appointment, while 20 were opposed and three had not yet made up their minds.

Among the supporters of Dr John becoming bishop was the Rev Louise Brown, from All Saints Church, Dedworth. "We need a man of vision who is caring and compassionate," she said. "Just because it is a homosexual relationship does not matter. Any loving relationship is in line with God's will."

Some opponents, however, said the Bible condemned homosexuality while others voiced fears that his appointment would split the church.

The Rev John Staples, rector of Pangbourne, Tidmarsh and Sulham, who would become Dr John's parish priest if he takes on the role, claimed that the appointment would inflict lasting damage.

"I have no doubt that he has a good reputation and standing with some members of the community," he said. "But I think there is a general concern of quite a lot of people, which I do not detect to be homophobic, but a general concern for his position and about his sexuality.

"There are certain expectations of leaders of the Church which are maybe greater than those expected of ordinary members of the public."

The findings follow the high-profile opposition of nine bishops who wrote an open letter condemning Dr John's appointment because of his partner. Their public opposition prompted Dr John, 50, to reveal that although he remained loyal to his partner, they no longer had a physical relationship.

Despite his avowal of a platonic relationship, senior members of the Anglican church have continued to voice their disapproval. Yesterday, the crisis threatened to spill into the worldwide Anglican community, when a church leader warned of the dangers of Dr John becoming bishop.

Archbishop Peter Akinola, who leads a 17.5 million-strong church in Nigeria and has declared homosexuality to be an abomination, said that the appointment would spark a global schism in the church.

"We cannot be seen to be doing things clearly outside the boundaries allowable in the Bible," he told BBC radio. "This is only the beginning, We would sever relationships with anybody, anywhere ... anyone who strays over the boundaries, we are out with them. It's as simple as that."

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