Diary Of A Gay Priest: – The Tightrope Walker – M. Johnson

TDOAGP(Not discussed by the group but written in a personal capacity.)

I read this in virtually one sitting at Christmas whilst my houseguests had to amuse themselves. I rarely say that I ‘couldn’t put this book down.’ It’s partly because I lived through roughly the same period as the author and partly because he is deliciously indiscreet and I know several of the people who were in his circle such as Jeremy Younger, my former vicar, Victor Stock, Nerrissa Jones and others in the early days of Affirming Catholicism.. (Though he misjudges one priest who is supposedly straight. I had a highly unpleasant experience of being chatted up by said priest in one of London’s Anglo-Catholic shrines. I found it difficult to get away from him.)

The author carried out his controversial ministry during a time of great change. He tried to follow George Macleod’s advice: unpopularity is OK, providing you don’t inhale.

Despite liberal attitudes gaining ground in secular society, the Church of England seems to have gone backward on ‘the gay issue’ and he, like many other priests, inside and out of the closet, have suffered depression and committed suicide. But the author’s ministry has been outstanding, not just to homosexuals but to the homeless. As a spiritual director, he has had as many as fifty people on his books at any one time.

Even a well-meaning liberal like Chad Varah, founder of The Samaritans, suggests that all he needs of a good woman. There was also a dose of psychotherapy, designed to turn him straight. A disastrous marriage lasted only for a year.

His early experience of Anglicanism seems to have been of the low church type: There was no incense, but another fragrance filled the air from fur coats, hence I later called the service ‘Mothball Matins’. We would emerge from this dismal service looking as though we had been at a memorial service for God.

His use of rent boys and his suggestion that a little infidelity is necessary for people in gay relationships annoyed me, though I am no prude. Maybe gay men reacted so strongly to having been repressed that they ‘went too far the other way’ and I suspect that young gay men who have grown up in a less repressive climate see things differently now.

One forgets how liberal the C of E had been compared to now. The Bishop of London, Robert Stopford, sought advice about the needs of gays and sought to fund the author by giving him light parish duties so that he could carry out a ministry towards them. This was the 1970s.

One feels that nothing has moved on when reading the recent Pilling Report and then comparing it to this: 1979. A Report on homosexuality is published today. Three of the members of the commission who wrote it are gay including the Revd Michael Day, but they have obviously had no influence on their confreres. The Report is an insult as it says that gay loving is ‘morally and socially’ not equivalent to heterosexual marriage. So we are second class and will behave accordingly. It says that gay clergy if they are open about their sexuality should resign. There is no mention whatsoever of civil rights, and the Daily Telegraph somewhat surprisingly says that young people will ignore it.

Despite the Church’s public face, the author enjoyed all the perks of establishment and I am astonished that many bishops happily came to dinner with him and his partner. Also that priests and partners were tolerated, despite the official line. This angers me because I think of many gifted people who would have made good priests but who never even thought of applying because they believed that they wouldn’t be accepted if they were honest. Why are we laypeople kept in the dark as to what is really happening?

The hypocrisy of the outward stance is show in: Michael Turnbull, Bishop Designate of Durham, is on the front page of the News of the World because in 1968 he was arrested and found guilty of having sex in a lavatory with a farmer. Three archbishops, Coggan, Carey and Runcie, say that he is forgiven so it must be so. They all knew about it. So our Church condemns gay clergy with loving partners and forgives blowjobs in lavatories. It is ironic because Michael, whom I have known since university, took a very hard line on homosexuality when I asked him to lunch at the Athenaeum.

The secrecy is sad, as in: sister, an evangelical Christian, is distraught not only at his death but at finding some explicit porn in his flat (sorting out the belongings of her brother after his death.)

There’s a delightful story of how a divisive issue was sorted out: A seated statue of the Virgin Mary was brought back from Walsingham earlier this year by the parish pilgrims led by David Randall. Half the congregation hated it and half loved it – Monica Rejman, a tiny dumpy Polish lady who lives at the local Salvation Army hostel and always comes to church in national costume with lace cap, decided she would ‘knit Mother some dresses.’ Trudie Eulenburg, our parish worker, calls the statue `ze doll on ze shelf,’ because as I didn’t know where to put it I placed it on a window sill. Today one of our crypt men threw it on to the floor breaking it into smithereens. Half cheered, half cried.

One prophecy has not come true, sadly in my opinion. Quite the reverse: 22 October 1977. A big shock as despite all my demands two girls turn up for a Service of Blessing, one wearing a suit and one a bridal gown attended by five bridesmaids. Their parents were also present. I rushed through the service which was just as well as a News of the World reporter arrived soon after they left asking if a wedding had taken place. Quite truthfully I said no and closed the door. I have about three of these services each month, so will make sure this never happens again. One day perhaps it won’t matter if some, probably only a few, gays and lesbians want to ape heterosexual marriage.

I always found Archbishop Donald Coggan to have been as dull as ditchwater so I was surprised to learn of the author’s liking of him.

There is a delightful story of the Queen holding a conversation with a tramp.

Archbishop Richard Holloway comes out with one of his typically risqué phrases during an HIV/AIDS awareness session: who at the end of the day said that his vocabulary had been widened — ‘until now I thought that rimming and frottage were West Country solicitors.’

David Hope comes across as the nice person I always thought he was and, as other commentators have said, he didn’t deserve the Peter Tatchell treatment (though the other bishops almost certainly did.)

he person who comes out worse in this book is the odious George Cassidy, now a retired bishop in this diocese. One of my friends tells me that he is a ‘lovely bloke’ but I have seen no evidence that he has ever changed his inability or unwillingness to listen to anyone with a point of view different from his own.

There is an interesting contrast in: There is an obituary in The Times today of Cardinal Alfonso Trujillo, President of the Pontifical Council for the Family. For two decades this man has pedalled his conserv­ative views against divorce, abortion, contraception and homosexuality. Amongst his horrific views was that condoms couldn’t prevent AIDS because the virus was small enough to pass through them, and he reckoned that same-sex couples who adopt are jeopardising the child’s future, and that this amounted to an act of moral violence against the child. Good riddance to Trujillo. On the same page as his obit was one for Pushpa Anand, a Hindu guru, whose whole life was devoted to alleviating suffering of families in India. What a contrast.

I enjoyed Jane McCulloch’s: ‘The observance of the Church concerning feasts and fasts are tolerably well kept; the rich keep the feasts and the poor keep the fasts’; ‘There are three sexes, men, women and clergy’; ‘Marriage resembles a pair of shears, so joined that they cannot be separated, often moving in different directions, yet always punishing anyone who comes between them’.

I also enjoyed: The Queen Mum as Patron comes on a private visit at 5pm to St Katharine’s with only the staff and governors present. I had phoned Clarence House to ask what tea she prefers, and there was a long silence then, ‘Is there anything stronger on offer?’ Three parts of gin to one of martini is the royal tipple, so I mix it in a rather large glass and hold it for her.

And: I went to Desmond Tutu’s book launch today, and he said that when he reaches the Pearly Gates he will be sent to Hell, but two weeks later the Devil will be at the Pearly Gates asking St Peter for sanctuary.

 Also: Ian Hislop came to interview me today for a TV programme I was a bit low. He asked me about the C of E, and I said that it is like an elderly maiden aunt whom you would like to strangle for most of the time, but comes up trumps at Christmas and Easter. She lives in a large house too big for her and beyond her means, and dislikes talking about sex or politics. ‘Or God,’ said Hislop.

And: Runcie on the Church Times – ‘It’s a duty to read it and a sin to enjoy it.’

I always thought that the Bishop of London is more than just a Tory: Richard seems able to deliver the smuttiest of innuendos with apparent innocence, keeping the humour rude but rarely offensive. Often I have wondered if he realises what he is saying, and yes, he does. At his first huge gathering in the Stepney Area he referred from the pulpit to his predecessor, Jim Thompson. ‘You called him Big Jim so I hope you will not know me as Big Dick.’ At the Induction of Katharine Rumens, the first woman incumbent in the City, at St Giles, Cripplegate, a large number of women priests were robed and in the sanctuary. Richard, looking at the effigies around the walls of famous parishioners like John Milton and John Speed the mapmaker, climbed into the pulpit and said, ‘There are some substantial busts in church tonight.’

Insightful: Lunch at the Garrick with Bruce Kinsey, chaplain of Downing College, Cambridge, who makes the point that people with a very low self-esteem get ordained because they think that they will get status and affirmation. Then they find that they belong to an institution which specialises in making them feel guilty and worthless.

My view was confirmed in: I was in Great Yarmouth… which sits like a boil on England’s eastern cheek. It plays host to the poorest and least sophisticated of Britain’s stay-at-home holidaymakers. It gives them food to feed a pig on and a wind from the Urals.

I don’t think this is right: Professor of the History of the Church at the University of Oxford since 1997, and Fellow (formerly Senior Tutor) of St Cross College, Oxford (since 1995). Though ordained as a deacon in the Church of England, he declined ordination to the priesthood for political reasons. (My understanding is that Bishop Rogerson refused to ordain him priest because he wouldn’t toe the line post Higton.

The author is a freemason. I need to learn some tolerance too as I don’t give these folk the time of day with their silly rituals.

I had to Google ‘Leander Pink’ (‘Cerise….. a deep, vivid pinkish-red” and therefore a colour in its own right.’)

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