The Anglican Bishop of Newcastle stood before the angry congregation of Terrigal parish on Sunday and explained to them why he had fired and defrocked their priest, John Gumbley. When Bishop Brian Farran finished talking, the parishioners deluged him with complaints. They scorned the procedures of the ecclesiastical court which sacked Gumbley. One man said he was questioning his faith in the Anglican church. Three or four people walked out and a couple of elderly women got the shakes from all the commotion. It was as close as the Holy Trinity congregation has ever got to the set of The Jerry Springer Show. ''The congregation virtually took over and tore the bishop apart,'' says a parishioner, Trevor Williams. ''Everyone was in favour of John.''
Gumbley was stood down after the Anglican professional standards board found he had engaged in sexual liaisons, one with a woman from his parish. But he will not go quietly. The 40-year-old has briefed lawyers to investigate launching a Supreme Court challenge to his defrocking, on the grounds he was denied natural justice. Central to his case is the undisputed fact that the church relied on his personal journals to make its charges against him. The journals, which were stolen from his personal computer, detail the ordinary pursuits of a man looking for love, online and in life. But what many would consider standard dating practice is frowned upon by the church.
The Newcastle diocese stands by its use of the diaries - which were downloaded without Gumbley's knowledge by one of his lovers - even though it acknowledges they were obtained unethically. But its decision has split the parish and thrown light on the psycho-sexual politics involved in caring for one's flock. As a single man, was Gumbley entitled to date? Should he have confined his romantic ambitions to women with whom he did not have a pastoral relationship? If not, where was he supposed to meet women - in a bar? And is a modern Anglican minister even supposed to have sex?
COMMENT: So what do you think?
Should a minister date a person in his or her own congregation?
Should a minister have sexual relations outside of marriage, if he or she is single?
What are the acceptable ways to look for romance if you are an unmarried minister of religion?
How naughty was the Diocese of Newcastle in the way they conducted this investigation?
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