What about gay priests who are quietly getting on with their ministry?
The degree of openness with which one lives one’s life is a very personal choice. I don’t think there’s any right or wrong about that. The question for any gay or lesbian person is: “Is the price that I’m paying for being quiet exceeding the benefit?” When the negative consequences of that secrecy begin to outweigh its rewards, then that’s a dilemma.
But it’s not just a personal consideration. It’s a political question.
I would say back to you, then: What is the cost to the Church of secrecy? And I think this especially true here in the Church of England. What does it say to the Church when a vicar gets into a pulpit and calls the congregation to a life of integrity, when it is so obvious to the congregation that the vicar is himself not able to grasp at that straw of integrity? There’s cost to the people themselves, and there’s a a cost to the Church.
I’ve met, what, probably 300 gay, partnered clergy here in the Church of England, and I could tell you stories that would make you weep about what life is like for them, and the fear with which they live: the difficulty in having their bishop come to dinner at their home, with their partner, have a lovely time, and the bishop be fully affirming of them — and to have the bishop say: “You know, if this ever becomes public, I’m your worst nightmare. I will see to it that you are punished.” Now that does something not just to the bishop and to the couple; that does something to the Church.
What about gay bishops? Have you had people talking to you quietly about their sexuality?
And what have you said to them?
Most of the people who have shared with me that they are indeed gay. These bishops are my age and older. Like me, they grew up in a [difficult] time — when I came out, I thought my life as an ordained person was at an end — they made their choices, and I honour those choices. I would be the last person in the world to out them. They come to me as a pastor.
How often does the issue of your sexuality come up in your normal ministry?
Oh, almost never. I keep saying to people: if you want to see what the Church is like after we’ve finished obsessing about sex, come to New Hampshire. We’re so over it. Really, we are getting on with the gospel, and this occupies almost none of it. It’s what keeps me sane.
So, 90 per cent of my time is just doing what a bishop does, and loving it. I just love this ministry. I feel like the most blessed person I know.