Gay rights activist Peter Tatchell has put together a list of Anglican bishops he believes are in same-sex relationships and is threatening to out them publicly if they discipline homosexual clergy for marrying their partners.
The warning comes after hospital chaplain Jeremy Pemberton had his license to preach revoked last month by the acting Bishop of Southwell and Nottingham Richard Inwood after marrying his partner Laurence Cunningham earlier this year.
Mr Tatchell’s decision to compile a dossier of evidence echoes the tactic his campaign group OutRage! carried out 20 years ago when it exposed 10 Anglican bishops as being gay at the 1994 General Synod. He said his aim now, as it was then, is “self-defence” and that he wants to expose church hypocrisy and defend the homosexual community against bishops who endorse anti-gay discrimination.
Although he has not decided whether to reveal his evidence, the veteran campaigner is preparing the groundwork.
“There are names on the list already,” Mr Tatchell told The Independent on Friday.
“We’re still doing the research. People are sending us information which we still have to verify. This is in response to anger from people in the Church of England, and in particular to the Bishop of Southwell’s harsh decision. We are looking at the possibility of outing gay bishops who abuse their power to harm gay clergy and the wider gay community. There is no question of outing bishops who want to keep their sexuality private.”
Andrew Cain became the second priest to defy the Church of England by marrying his same-sex partner last month. Father Cain, vicar of St Mary's with All Souls in Kilburn, London, posted pictures of his wedding to Stephen Foreshew on Facebook.
He said he “fully expects” action to be taken against him following his decision.
Fr Cain told The Independent: “I am unsure that outing is ever helpful. Though if a bishop is living a double life, pretending or hiding their sex I would far rather see the gay bishops admit their sexuality. If there is truly no homophobia in the Church and they are abiding by their own rules - why are they scared?
“My suspicion is and all the evidence seems to suggest that I am right that the church is deeply homophobic and that the gay bishops know this as well as the straight bishops. If I am wrong then I would ask the gay bishops to come out and show the LGBT community that I am wrong.”
Canon Pemberton declined to comment. Labour councillor and prospective parliamentary candidate Wes Streeting, who has worked for Stonewall, attacked the veteran campaigner.
He said: “That’s not the right approach. It’s not necessarily hypocritical. One can be gay and not support same sex marriage.”
Mr Tatchell said in response: “If a gay bishop in a same sex relationship supports discrimination and discipline against gay clergy, his actions are homophobic and he deserves to be exposed. They have put themselves in the firing line.”
Debate over gay bishops has raged in the Church of England for 30 years. Jeffrey John, who had been in a long-term relationship with a male priest, was chosen to be Bishop of Reading in 2003. Despite stating that he was celibate he withdrew his appointment following the surrounding controversy and became Dean of St Albans Cathedral where he remains.
Last year the House of Bishops approved plans to allow gay men to become appointed as bishops if they were celibate, including those such as the Very Rev John who are in civil partnerships. It banned gay clergy from marrying in February despite the Government passing the same sex marriage law.
Mr Tatchell revealed that he was compiling evidence to the Very Rev Kelvin Holdsworth of St Mary’s Cathedral in Glasgow.
Referring to more possible outings of gay bishops the veteran campaigner said: “I believe people have a right to privacy so long as they are not using their own power and authority to harm other people and when other people are being caused harm and suffering we have a duty to try and stop it.
"If this is the only way, it is certainly not the preferable way, it’s not the first option but as a last resort I think it is morally and ethically justifiable.”
Rev Holdsworth supports the move. In a blog post he wrote: “It seems to me that it is perfectly legitimate for anyone with concrete evidence of a bishop who has supported an anti-gay policy such as the recent pastoral statement in the Church of England and who is in a same-sex partnership, to draw attention to that hypocrisy in public.”