In March 1995, the then Bishop of London, Dr. David Hope, called an impromptu press conference where he announced that his sexuality was a “grey area”. He claimed that he had been forced to make this announcement because he was being pressured and intimidated by Peter Tatchell of the gay rights group OutRage!, who had written to him in December 1994, urging him to be open and honest about his sexuality.
Later, however, a very different story emerged. In an April 1995 interview with the Sunday Times journalist, Lesley White, the Bishop of London admitted that he did not declare his sexuality in response to the OutRage! letter. He had, after all, received our letter two months prior to his decision to go public. What precipitated the Bishop’s sudden coming out was an approach from Clifford Longley, the Religious Affairs correspondent of the Daily Telegraph. Dr. Hope says that Clifford Longley gave him the impression that he was going to be exposed by OutRage! In fact, we had no plans to out the Bishop of London. Dr. Hope was effectively bounced into coming out by a journalist who gave him false information.
If we had wanted to reveal Dr. Hope’s sexuality, we would have done so last November at General Synod when we named the other 10 Bishops. We didn’t out him because we felt that it would be far more effective if Dr. Hope could be persuaded to come out of his own free will.
The final straw for Dr. Hope was possibly an article in the Independent On Sunday on 12 March, the day before he publicly declared his sexuality. Entitled “Why Gays Are Called To The Church”, this article by Andrew Brown referred to the large number of gay clergy in the London diocese. In the next sentence it cited the Bishop of London and his past rôle in running St Stephen’s House, Oxford, which it described as “the campest of all theological colleges, where he was known as Ena the Cruel”. The innuendo and insinuation was obvious. It seems the Bishop decided to jump before he was pushed.
The following extract from an article in the “Telegraph” dated 14-March-1995 by Clifford Longley and Ben Fenton serves to illustrate. —
Dr. David Hope said he had been “deeply distressed” by the group’s activities and the apparent attempt by Mr. Peter Tatchell, a spokesman, to persuade him to admit to being homosexual.
He described the atmosphere that had oppressed him since Mr. Tatchell had suggested three months ago that the group had detailed information about his personal life as “seriously intimidatory”.
The 54-year-old bishop denied absolutely that he was homosexual, but acknowledged there was more “ambiguity” about his sexual orientation than with some people.
He said: “With regard to the question ‘Are you a gay bishop?’, the answer to this is that I have from the beginning chosen to live a single celibate life. This is a positive way of life for me.”
Dr. Hope’s extraordinary openness followed a series of conflicts involving leading clerics and homosexual issues.
OutRage! named 10 bishops as alleged homosexuals during last November’s General Synod. The Bishop of London was not one of them. Then at a private meeting on Jan 4, Mr. Tatchell handed him a letter urging him to “come out”.
Mr. Tatchell, 43, denied yesterday that the letter had been threatening. He said: “It was a friendly and amicable meeting.” He said he later received an answer to his letter which was also published by the bishop yesterday.