» Jonathan Bishop & The Daily Mail

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In some cases appearing a number of times and in some as full features.







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Bishop Jonathan (hereafter +J) issued a claim for damages against Associated Newspapers Limited after two articles appeared in the Daily Mail concerning +J' appearance on the nationwide daytime television programme, 'This Morning', presented by Richard Madeley and Judy Finnigan. The programme had decided to pioneer new ground by marking Valentine's Day, 2001, with a gay blessing and had asked +J to conduct it.

The following day the Daily Mail published an article headed "A gay 'wedding' conducted by a self styled bishop, with Richard and Judy as witnesses…" In the article it referred to "Jonathan Blake, a self styled bishop in costume mitre and cloak". In terms of +J's present ministry it referred alone to the Society for Independent Christian Ministry (SICM) which the article stated "...he helped establish."

Two days later, the paper's comment column carried an article headed "Rites and Wrongs", which stated: "This week's most repulsive stunt shown on TV….was the 'marriage' of two particularly cheesy homosexuals…...officiating was an imitation bishop….a former clergyman…. The one thing that surprised me about this disgusting event was that the producers couldn't find a real bishop to do it.'

+J complained of these two articles, and said they were defamatory. He alleged that the first article meant that he, though not a validly consecrated bishop and not entitled to be called a bishop, publicly styled himself a bishop and publicly masqueraded as a bishop in a bishop's costume. He alleged that the second article meant that he, though not even a clergyman, publicly and dishonestly imitated a bishop, an office for which he had no qualification whatsoever, and thereby set out to deceive the public.

After various preliminary procedures and hearings before Master Leslie and The Honourable Mr Justice Eady, a date was set in December 2001 for a one day hearing before His Honour John Previte QC to hear an interlocutory Application on behalf of the Defendant for relief under CPR Part 24.


This resulted in Judge Previte making the following Order on March 1st 2002.

That the words complained of in the Particulars of Claim are capable of being understood to bear the meanings complained of:

The question whether or not the claimant is a "real" bishop is a matter of religious law or doctrine and is not justiciable in a civil court;

No order on the Defendant's application for summary judgement, save that summary judgement be entered for the defendant on the Claimant's plea of malice;

The Defendant's application for permission to appeal is refused;

Unless the parties are able to reach agreement on proposed directions for the future management of the case by 28th April 2002 the defendant to apply for the Case Management Conference to be restored to a High Court Judge;

The Defendant pay the Claimant 75% of his costs of its application to be assessed if not agreed.

In his Judgement Judge Previte JUDGED:

The Claimant's principal complaint about both articles is that the readers were misled and were given a false impression by those articles because neither article referred to the fact that the Claimant had been consecrated a bishop within POEM ( The Province for Open Episcopal Ministry and Jurisdiction.) The Claimant accepts that if the articles had referred to his consecration as a bishop within POEM then it is open to the Defendants, or anyone else, to comment that the Claimant is not a "real" bishop.

In my judgement a reasonable reader could reasonably understand the words complained of in the first article, in the context in which they were published, to bear the meaning that the Claimant is not a Bishop and is "masquerading as a Bishop". The words complained of state that the Claimant is "a self styled Bishop" in "costume mitre and cloak" and depict the Claimant in the regalia of a bishop. It is stated that the Claimant "now practices with the Society for Independent Christian Ministry, an organisation he helped to establish, it operates outside the conventional church" but it does not inform the reader that the claimant has been consecrated according to the rites of POEM. In my view the omission of any reference to the Claimant having been consecrated according to the rites of POEM is capable of giving a reader the impression that the claimant has not been consecrated a bishop but is masquerading as a bishop.

The second article tells the reader nothing about the basis on which the claimant claims to be a bishop…..the reader would not be informed of the basis upon which the claimant maintains that he is a bishop, namely his consecration according to the rites of POEM. The sting is not just in the word "imitation". That word has to be considered in the context of the whole article, in particular in the context of it being said of the Claimant that he is a "divorced former clergyman". In my view a reasonable reader could reasonably understand the article to mean that the Claimant had ceased being a clergyman, possibly for some reason connected with his divorce, and that there is no basis for the claimant's claim to be a bishop. The inference which such a reader could reasonably draw is that the Claimant is an impostor who is pretending to be a bishop when he has no basis for calling himself a bishop.

The meaning that the claimant "masquerades as a bishop" is plainly defamatory. ...the "impostor" meaning is plainly defamtory.


The defendant then asked for permission to appeal Judge Previte's Order to the Court of Appeal and on May 15th 2002 Lord Sedley refused the appeal, without an oral hearing. Included in his reasons were:

-There may be no obligation to publish the facts on which a comment is founded so long as ( subject to s.6 ) these can eventually be proved; but neglecting to do so creates the risk that the comment will be taken for fact. That is what the judge was properly concerned about here.


The defendant then applied for an oral permission to appeal hearing which was also refused on July 9th 2002


...the claimant was ordained a priest of the Church of England but left it and is now a member of a non-established church known by the acronym POEM, by whose rites he has been consecrated a bishop.

Having read the contents of the articles, it is sufficient for me to say that I entirely agree with what the judge has made of their capacity to convey certain meanings.

In brief, the legal fact that it is not for a court to say who is and who is not a true bishop does not necessarily mean the person can freely be called a false bishop. It may well mean the converse, namely that a person who has been consecrated a bishop, albeit not by the rites of an established church, is entitled at least to have that fact stated if a newspaper is to exercise its freedom to disparage him. Further, the newspaper takes the risk that if it does not do so a jury may consider that what it has published is neither justified in point of fact nor, so far as it is comment, fair or honest. This much at least is in my judgement sufficiently arguable to make the claim suitable for trial.


At the Case Management Conference on November 22 2002, Mr Justice Gray ordered among other things that:

-There shall be tried by judge alone the following preliminary issue, namely:

Whether and , if so, to what extent, in order to determine the issues in this action, it is necessary to determine maters which are non justiciable; and,

If the answer to question 1 is 'yes', whether the action should be stayed.


Shiranikha Herbert, Legal correspondent for The Church Times wrote in The Church Times, by way of report of the case, on August 15th, 2003

" The claimant asserted that Bishop Palmer, following the Augustinian principle maintained in the Western Church, retained the power to ordain him as a priest. As to his consecration , he relied on the fundamental principle, enshrined in all the codes of canon law of Catholic Apostolic Churches, that only a bishop can consecrate a bishop, thereby, by logical process, securing the succession. He contended that there was a Mandate for his consecration and he relied on the "self-evident historical facts" that he had been ordained a priest and consecrated a bishop within POEM and that he and those who attended his consecration, and those to whom he had ministered since, believed him to be a validly consecrated bishop. He made the point that the readers of the Daily mail were kept in ignorance of these "historical" facts, and that the impression was given that " one day I had decided to pop in to Wippell's and purchased a purple cassock to con the public into believing I was a bishop".

Mr Justice Gray judged , " The essence of the Claimant's complaint is that the Daily Mail articles, which came after 20 years of trying to help people through his ministry, attacked his integrity."

Revd Dr Kenneth Leech, an Anglican priest since 1965 and a community theologian at St Botolph's Church , Aldgate, in the city of London, who holds degrees from the Universities of London and Oxford, and was awarded a Doctorate of Divinity by the Archbishop of Canterbury and who has studied issues of episcopacy and episcopal orders for over forty years submitted an expert's report on behalf of +J.

In it he stated:

the key issue for this case, it seems to me, is whether Jonathan Blake can claim to be a bishop within a recognisable and theological meaning of the word. The answer is clearly Yes.

In terms of factual accuracy, it is clear that he was consecrated by a bishop within a historic succession, that deriving from the Old Catholics. To claim that his orders do not exist is therefore totally false and based on a serious misunderstanding.

The issue is whether Jonathan Blake was, in historical fact, consecrated as a bishop. On the historical evidence, this is clearly the case. If the question is then asked whether he was consecrated within a valid historical succession, the answer is also Yes. Other churches may not recognise this. This has been the case for hundreds of years (….thus for example, the Roman Catholic Church recognises the orders of the Old Catholic churches, who broke away from Rome in the 18th and 19th Centuries, but does not, in general, recognise the orders of Anglicans. ) ...but there is no doubt that Jonathan Blake was consecrated a bishop within an actual church.

Even the defendant's expert Mark Hill, a barrister specialising in ecclesiastical law who is a Chancellor in the Diocese of Chichester accepted that legitimate yet differing views might be held with integrity and that there was no forum or expert anywhere worldwide which could make an objective determination as to who was or who was not a validly consecrated bishop.

The legal correspondent for the Church Times continued:

"The Judge said that the claimant's claim to validity could not be adjudicated upon by the court as it would involve a detailed and painstaking examination of questions of doctrine, theology and ecclesiology, combining an assessment of history and a full understanding of contemporary and emergent theology and ecumenism.

There was past legal authority that established that the court would not venture into doctrinal disputes or differences and would not regulate issues as to the procedures, customs and practices adopted by religious bodies.'

THE HONOURABLE MR JUSTICE GRAY JUDGED "that the Claimant has represented himself at this hearing in a dignified and persuasive manner".


There be no order as to costs.

All further proceedings be stayed in the Action.

The trial date of the 17th November 2003 be vacated.


The prospect of costs being awarded against me had always been alarming in the extreme. I had chosen to represent myself not least because I have modest means and it would have been impossible and irresponsible to have done otherwise.

However, as the case wove its tortuous route the spectre became ever more daunting that should the case go against me I faced financial ruin, with all the defendant's costs placed against me. Before the final July hearing the Defendant's solicitors wrote to me warning me in the following words:

" You will appreciate from earlier hearings that the costs being incurred by our client in this litigation are very significant and well in excess of six figures. It was apparent in the course of the last hearing before Mr Justice Gray that you are also concerned about the costs implications of this litigation."

They suggested that to continue was to set myself on a " course which seems to us to have such serious implications potentially for you."

From the start I had known that the journey would be fraught with danger and difficulty but I believed that I had no other choice because it was not my integrity only that depended on the outcome but that of the whole church to which I belonged. If my orders were being ridiculed then so would all orders transmitted within the Church. This was unthinkable.

I believe that the defendant began to realise through the litigation that it had picked on the wrong person, not just because, as a man of principle, I was willing to resist their defamatory articles and risk all in doing so, but because I believe it became apparent that the ministry with which I was involved had integrity and genuinely brought help and succour to people.

I say this because when His Honour Justice Gray passed down his judgement and stayed the proceedings, the defendant stated that they were making no application re the costs which mirrored what HH Justice Gray then said had been his intention anyway which was to make no order for costs. This was a moment of profound joy.

Some have asked whether I could have appealed the judgement. I could have applied for permission to appeal and I think the defendant expected that I would, but I had never been interested in the damages side of it and I had achieved what I set out to achieve and enough was enough. Nearly three years of considerable resource, attention and prayer had been poured into the litigation and I was eager now to turn my full attention to the building up of the church and for things associated with the light.

Nothing more would have been gained than had already been.

In future publishers would realise that if they defamed a cleric by not printing the relevant facts about them they would leave themselves vulnerable to litigation.

In future publishers would realise that if they chose to defame a cleric without the facts that the courts would not necessarily be sympathetic to their action and they could not be certain about costs being awarded, if the action was stayed.

The defendant's defamation had been contested by a wealth of historical facts, expert testimony all placed on the court record in justification of my Orders and those of the church.

It was noted that I had represented my case in a dignified and persuasive manner.

After the case had finished, to their credit, the Defendant's solicitors approached me and said that they regretted having to be involved in the litigation and were glad that it was now over. They asked if I wanted to agree with them a set of words to be published about the case. Having taken advice from Bishop Stuart I thanked them for their generous offer but suggested it would be better to leave well alone.

I said my great concern had been that the defendant would take advantage of the closure of the case to publish some revenge style articles attacking me but wording it all carefully to remain within the law. I was assured that they had no intention of doing anything like that and would watch carefully over the coming years that no such article appeared.

True to their word, and I felt, perhaps naively but I think not, that it was done deliberately as a disguised apology, the following weekend The Daily Mail published a two page article ( August 2nd page 16-17 ) about the difficulties my family had faced fostering two 16 year old Kosovan boys who turned out to be Albanian men of 21. In it their headline, beside a picture of my family, began "This devoted Christian…" referring to me and giving biographical details about me including " Jonathan Blake, now a bishop in the Open Episcopal Church.."

When the case was over I received this email from Archbishop Richard who had attended one of the days of the hearing.

+Liz has updated me on the final outcome of the Court Hearing.

I must say you were very courageous to endure all that right from the beginning, and you demonstrated a tenacity of spirit in commitment to your cause. But essentially it was a fight for the recognition of that which we all hold dear and precious, the reality of the grace of the apostolic ministry upon which all our work is contingent.

You entered into the energy of episcopal saints like Becket, and Oscar Romero, who strove to maintain the integrity of the Office of Bishop against a prevailing secular antagonism and ruthlessness. You believed uncompromisingly that the grace of the episcopal order had been conveyed to you, and the very fibre of your being proclaimed this in the face of criticism and ridicule.

You do most certainly follow in the train of all who defended the Apostolic Succession against the bitterness of indifference and insult.

As the Archbishop of The Province for Open Episcopal Ministry and Jurisdiction, and on behalf of the College of Bishops, may I say, thank you -and well done thou good and faithful servant of the Catholic Church.

With all love and blessings to you and to your dear loving and supportive family.


Bishop Liz, who had attended throughout then sent this email

Amen to all that the Archbishop has said. It was my privilege to sit beside you as you conducted your case with dignity, conviction and grace.

I was proud to be associated with you.

You were every inch a bishop and I think that everyone in court saw that.

+ Liz

I believe that Archbishop Arnold Mathew began litigation with a
national newspaper in his time. He wasn't successful.

Praise be to the God of heaven then for his grace over these past years bringing this endeavour to a successful end and may it avail in vindication of that vision +Mathew held, bold in his time; the seeds from which much has blossomed since even to our own church. May it bring glory to God's name and may we each rise up in greater confidence to fulfil the calling entrusted to us and to bring the gospel of love, reconciliation and unity to all, without exception.

A very beautiful thing took place as we left the High Court on that last day. As we emerged into the sunlight a man called Anthony came and knelt before me and asked for a blessing. My wife and my daughter felt compelled to remove their shoes, this was holy ground. Bishop Liz and I prayed for Anthony. We all felt as though Jesus had met us in Anthony. The High Court behind us, my Episcopal ministry ahead.

Bishop Jonathan.

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