(Mail Online) A controversial gay dean has threatened to take the Church of England to court after he was blocked from becoming a bishop.
The Very Rev Jeffrey John, Dean of St Albans, has instructed an eminent employment lawyer to complain to Church officials after being rejected for the role of Bishop of Southwark.
Sources say the dean, one of the most contentious figures in the Church, believes he could sue officials under the Equality Act 2010, which bans discrimination on the grounds of sexuality. Such a case could create a damaging new rift within the CoE.
Dr John was at the centre of a storm in 2003 when forced to step down as Bishop of Reading by Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams after it became known that he was in a gay, though celibate, relationship. The furore fuelled a bitter civil war within the Anglican Church that has dominated Dr Williams’s decade in office.
The dean was again a cause of infighting in 2010 when he was a candidate for Bishop of Southwark. A respected theologian and former canon at Southwark Cathedral, he had strong backing from senior Church liberals and it was said even David Cameron was supportive.
But the Crown Nominations Commission, whose members are responsible for selecting bishops and include Dr Williams, appointed another candidate. Dr John was said to be furious and his supporters’ anger was stoked by a memo by another member of the commission, the late Dean of Southwark Colin Slee, claiming Dr Williams was one of those who tried to ‘wreck’ Dr John’s chances.
Dr John has instructed Alison Downie, partner and head of employment at London lawyers Goodman Derrick, to write to the Commission to suggest it risks breaching gay equality laws if it is blocking the dean over his homosexuality.
Challenge: Gay dean Dr Jeffrey John has said he will take action against the Church
Ms Downie previously acted for a gay youth worker who successfully sued the Church in 2008 after the Bishop of Hereford Anthony Priddis refused him a job.
It is understood there has been a lengthy correspondence between Ms Downie and Church lawyers in an attempt to resolve the dispute. No legal action has been launched but it is thought Dr John has not ruled out the possibility, although one source said Dr John suggested he would drop his legal threat if he felt he would not be ruled out for future posts.
Church lawyers published new guidelines last summer which said that under the Equality Act, candidates cannot be barred from senior Church posts because they are gay as long as they do not have sex. The guidance added that candidates could be blocked if they were regarded as divisive because their views or behaviour had angered a significant number of their flock.
Ms Downie refused to comment last night. A Church spokesman also refused to comment.