THE laity of the Church of England learned yesterday that the new

Bishop of Durham was convicted of an act of gross indecency 26 years


But the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr George Carey, and senior church

figures gave support to the Right Reverend Michael Turnbull and made it

clear the past was forgotten and the popular bishop would be allowed to

stay in his post.

The Archbishop of York, the Most Rev John Habgood, said the offence

was ''entirely uncharacteristic of the man we know, and in whom we have

great trust''.

Other senior members of the church were shocked by the revelation,

especially as Bishop Turnbull had said gay clergymen were

''incompatible'' with the paid ministry.

The News of the World reported that the bishop, the fourth most senior

figure in the church, was convicted of an act of gross indecency with a

Yorkshire farmer.

The offence occurred on August 30, 1968, as undercover policemen kept

watch on public toilets in Hull. On September 13 at Hull magistrates,

Michael Turnbull, who at the time was chaplain to the Archbishop of

York, pled guilty and was given a 12-month conditional discharge and

ordered to pay costs of #6.30.

The bishop, who is married, took over from the controversial Dr David

Jenkins earlier this year.

At his home, Auckland Castle, a spokesman for Bishop Turnbull said:

''He has no comment to make whatsoever.''

The statement from Dr Hapgood confirmed the leading churchmen of the

time were aware of the matter.

''This incident was known to Archbishop Coggan, who was Archbishop of

York at the time; to the then Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Runcie; and

to the two present archbishops.

''I deplore the fact that something that happened 26 years ago is now

being publicised long after it had been forgiven and forgotten.

''Under present legislation, in any case, a conviction cannot be taken

into account in making an appointment after a limited number of years

has elapsed.''

Bishop Turnbull is due to be enthroned officially as the new Bishop of

Durham on October 22.

Last night, the Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement warned that unless

the church publicly acknowledged that it recruited, endorsed, and

promoted homosexuals, such incidents would recur regularly, causing

constant embarrassment.

In a statement, the movement said it estimated that up to one fifth of

Church of England bishops are homosexual

The Rev Richard Kirker, secretary of the group, said: ''The

rehabilitation of Michael Turnbull by church authorities after

homosexual conduct in his early career clearly shows that the church can

decide that it is in its own interests to accept homosexual behaviour as

compatible with Christian ministry.''

He called upon the Archbishop of Canterbury to affirm publicly the

value to the church of all people, irrespective of their sexual


''Once that is done, gay clergy will not have to revert to having sex

in public places and they can build up stable, loving relationships

which the whole Christian community, and society at large, will come to


Mr Kirker said that if the Church came out in favour of homosexual

behaviour it would end ''such hypocrisy''.