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Gay dean praises city's welcoming tradition

GAY Canon Jeffrey John, the new Dean of , this week praised the city for being "an inclusive place with a tradition of welcoming everybody".

Dr John, whose appointment last year as Bishop of Reading caused a massive row in the Church, was confirmed as ' new dean by Downing Street on Monday.

Speaking this week at a hastily arranged press conference at Abbey, Dr John said he was particularly looking forward to working in , which had a heritage of welcoming everybody "whoever they are and whatever label is attached to them something for which I have obvious reason to be grateful today."

But he courted fresh controversy by saying he hoped the Church of England would one day bless same-sex unions.

Although in a long-term relationship, Dr John is now celibate but was forced to withdraw his acceptance of the Reading bishopric last July amid fears of a schism within the Church of England over homosexuality.

And it is feared that his promotion to Dean of one of the top jobs in the church will re-ignite the row between Anglican liberals and hardliners who say homosexuality is a sin.

Replying to questions on his beliefs on gay marriages, he said it was his hope that the Church would one day "offer gay people a framework in which to live their lives." But when asked if he would conduct gay marriage ceremonies he said he would not do anything against the edicts of the canons of the Church of England.

The Bishop of , the Rt Rev Christopher Herbert, said Dr John's appointment was "imaginative and creative" and described him as a priest of great resilience and Christian forbearance a reference to the storm of controversy which broke around him last year.

The bishop said Downing Street had first mooted the appointment of Dr John to the Deanery several months ago and confessed that he accepted the recommendation after much "thought and prayer" but without discussing it with anyone else, in accordance with the rules of appointment.

He added: "My prayers have been a touch lonely but the more I prayed the more I felt that this appointment was both right and good."

The bishop also rejected suggestions that liberal lobbyists had been working for months to secure Dr John's appointment saying he had not received any letters or e-mails urging him to accept the nomination.

Dr John, the Canon of Southwark Cathedral, is expected to take up his post in the autumn. The former Dean, the Very Rev Christopher Lewis, was appointed Dean of Christ Church in Oxford in October.

Dr John will be responsible for abbey life, focusing on worship, education and community service.

5:50pm Wednesday 21st April 2004

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