Simon Butler has today made a response to my claim that he ‘lied to Synod’ about me and, though I don’t think that public exchanges of statements are the best way to resolve things, his statement requires that I clarify further than I have already done. (My first explanation and his statement can be found in the comments on the previous post.)
In his speech on Synod, Simon made several claims.
- He stated that he had been sent a text. He had not; I had sent him a long and detailed message via Facebook messenger.
- He strongly implied that this had been a one-off message. It had not. It was part of a correspondence which had been continuing for the previous 8 days.
- He also implied that it was unsolicited. The conversation has in fact been initiated by Simon, and had been moved by him onto issues related to the Synod debate.
- He claimed that it was asking intrusive personal questions about his private life. It did not. It did list the public statements Simon himself had made on his own initiative.
- He claimed that it was ‘borderline harassment’ and mentioned the question of safeguarding. In fact, I specifically gave Simon the option to question anything I had said, and included these paragraphs:
I am not oblivious to the challenges of the situation that you are in, and can quite understand why you have made the decisions you have—not least to move to a diocese like Southwark, where it is probably the easiest context to be partnered as you are.
Do please come back to me if I have misrepresented the facts of your situation in any way.
6. Simon further claims that he had not named me, but that I had identified myself. In fact, Simon went on to identify the person who sent the message as the person he had first come out to as gay; since he first said this in public on my blog, it is reasonably well known that this identifies me, including I think to the Archbishop.
So rather than receiving an unsoliticed, brief text intrusively demanding information about Simon’s personal life, he had received a factual message, based on his own public statements, in the context of a long conversation which he himself had initiated, with an invitation to correction. I think Simon’s comment is a serious misrepresentation of the truth, and I don’t think the word ‘lie’ is inappropriate in this context. I am hopeful that Simon might offer an apology for such a serious misrepresentation and withdraw the allegations he has made about me.
The reason why Simon might have felt so strongly about the message was that it was highlighting the lack of transparency in Simon’s own statements about his own situation. In his speech on Wednesday, Simon mentioned that he met his partner 15 years ago. At the EGGS meeting last July, he (for the first time in public to my knowledge) stated that he was ‘gay and partnered.’ But in the previous Synod he had described himself as gay and ‘not called to celibacy’ which suggests that any relationship was in the future not the past or present. From his own subsequent statements, it is not unreasonable to infer that he was in fact already partnered, and he has stated that he is unwilling to answer any question about whether his relationship does or does not conform to the current teaching of the Church as articulated by statements from the House of Bishops. If Simon’s later public statements had been known at the time, I think there is a good chance it would have affected the outcome of the election of Simon as Prolocutor.
To put this in a wider context, I also need to make clear that I have never once asked Simon any questions about his own life and relationships. When we had a conversation in July following his statement in EGGS, I specifically reminded him of that, and stated that it was none of my business to make any enquiries about his personal life, since that was the business of his ordinary (his bishop). The statements Simon had made both to me and in public have been entirely of his own choosing and without any prompting from me
However, the statements he has made do put those of us working with him on Archbishops’ Council in a very difficult position. By his own testimony, he is gay and partnered and has said he is not willing to state to anyone whether he is living in accordance with Church teaching. It means we are having to work together in a context where we feel some of our number are seriously undermining the integrity of the Church and its witness at this difficult time. Simon mentions this difficulty in his Wednesday speech.
This highlights a serious problem that is felt more widely by many who want to uphold the Church’s teaching and the House of Bishops in their support for this. A significant number of those contributing to the debate in Synod were people who are living in defiance of the Church’s teaching, and are therefore not in good standing with their bishop but under discipline. It makes the commitment to future discussion ‘excluding no-one’ difficult inasmuch as the views of those not in good standing appear to be given equal weight with those who are in good standing. Even worse, many in the debate wanting to maintain the Church’s teaching felt intimidated and bullied by the atmosphere at Synod, and this was significantly shaped by Simon’s forthright denunciation of my statement and its reinforcement in the Presidential Address.
This whole episode illustrates the extremely difficult situation we are now in. Simon raises the question of ‘emotional intelligence’ in our debate; I venture to suggest it is not emotionally intelligent to make private correspondence public, to identify someone clearly without naming him, to mislead his hearers as to the nature of a message, or to use the power of the platform (Simon spoke twice about me; I was not called to speak on either occasion and so had no right of reply) to make an emotional point. But what is perhaps more worrying is the idea that emotional intelligence is either equal or superior to the question of whether a statement is actual true, and whether someone has been honest in their own public statements.
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