The appointment of a gay bishop does not violate the Church of England's current teaching on the highly divisive issue, Canterbury archbishop Rowan Williams said Monday, appealing to the church to not become obsessed with matters of sexuality. The Reverend Jeffrey John, appointed bishop of Reading, has said he plans to maintain his long-term relationship with another man but that the two have been celibate since the 1990s, in keeping with church teaching. Still, John's appointment has aroused heated debate in England's official church, and nine bishops signed an open letter last week opposing the move. The Anglican archbishop of the West Indies and the Anglican primate of Nigeria have called for John to step down. In a letter to English bishops, Williams said, "What we say about sexuality--and not just on the same-sex question--is a necessary part of our faithfulness. But the concentration on this in recent weeks has had the effect of generating real incomprehension in much of our society, in a way that does nothing for our credibility."
Adding fuel to the debate within the worldwide Anglican Communion have been the election this month of a gay priest, the Reverend Canon Gene Robinson, as bishop in New Hampshire and the decision in May by the western Canadian diocese of New Westminster to sanction the blessing of gay relationships. Williams had rebuked the Canadian diocese, but he has made no comment about the New Hampshire election. John's appointment was made by the government on the advice of Oxford bishop Richard Harries, Williams said. "So far as my own involvement is concerned, you should know it is an appointment I have neither sought to promote nor to obstruct," Williams said in the letter, which he read to reporters. "I was informed that Canon Jeffrey John was regarded as a highly gifted candidate."
Williams's own appointment was clouded by controversy over his acknowledgment that he had knowingly ordained a gay man. Despite his personal sympathy for the validity of stable and faithful gay
relationships, Williams pledged to uphold the Anglican Communion's teaching adopted at the Lambeth Conference in 1998, which condemned homosexual relations as "incompatible with Scripture."