Tom Butler (bishop)

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The Right Reverend
Tom Butler
Bishop of Southwark
Thomas Frederick Butler June 20, 2009 by Steve Punter.jpg
Butler at Southwark Cathedral in 2009
Diocese Diocese of Southwark
Installed 12 September 1998
Term ended 5 March 2010 (retired)
Predecessor Roy Williamson
Successor Christopher Chessun
Other posts Interim area bishop for Bradford (2014–present)[1]
Acting diocesan Bishop of Bradford (2014)[1]
"Mentor bishop" for the Diocese of Leeds (2014–present)[1]
Bishop of Leicester (1991–1998)
Bishop of Willesden (1985–1991)
Archdeacon of Northolt
Ordination 1964 (deacon); 1965 (priest)[2]
Consecration c. 1985
Personal details
Born (1940-03-05) 5 March 1940 (age 77)
Birmingham, West Midlands
Nationality British
Denomination Anglican
Spouse Barbara Butler
Children 2 adult
Occupation Academic and author
Alma mater University of Leeds

Thomas Frederick "Tom" Butler (born 5 March 1940) is a British retired Anglican bishop. He was the ninth Anglican Bishop of Southwark.[3] He was enthroned in Southwark Cathedral on 12 September 1998. He retired from this position on 5 March 2010. In 2014, Butler has been involved in the transition process for the new Diocese of Leeds as "mentor bishop" since February 2014, as acting diocesan Bishop of Bradford (February–20 April 2014) and as interim area bishop for Bradford since 20 April 2014.[1]

Early life and education[edit]

Born in Birmingham, Butler attended King Edward VI Five Ways school in Birmingham and the University of Leeds, where he obtained a first class honours BSc, an MSc and PhD in electronics. He trained for ordination with the Mirfield Fathers at the College of the Resurrection in Yorkshire.

Ordained ministry[edit]

After ordination in 1964,[4] he served three years as a curate in the Diocese of Ely and Diocese of Canterbury before spending 12 years as a lecturer in electronics and a chaplain at the University of Zambia and then at the University of Kent in Canterbury.[5] During this period he was on the staff of Lusaka Cathedral and Canterbury Cathedral respectively. From 1980 to 1985, Butler was the Archdeacon of Northolt in the Diocese of London.

In 1985, Butler became area Bishop of Willesden[6] until he was appointed diocesan Bishop of Leicester in 1991 (his election was confirmed on 1 July)[7] and translated to Southwark in 1998.

Butler has been active at national and international level. Until 1995 he chaired the follow-up to "Faith in the City", which published the controversial "Staying in the City" report. He chaired the General Synod's Board of Mission from 1995 until 2001 and is now vice-chair Public Affairs of the Mission and Public Affairs Council. He is also Chair of the Governors of Ripon College, Cuddesdon. He served as the General Synod representative on the Inner Cities Religious Council, an initiative set up by the Department of the Environment, until 2001. Since mid-2003 the Bishop has represented the Church of England on the central committee of the World Council of Churches. He entered the House of Lords in 1997.

Butler is a regular contributor to BBC Radio 4's Thought for the Day and has taken part in many other national and local TV and radio programmes. He has also co-authored two books with his wife Barbara: Just Mission and Just Spirituality in a World of Faiths. On 7 September 2009 he announced that he would retire on his 70th birthday, 5 March 2010.[8]


Views on homosexuality and irregular ordinations[edit]

Butler's beliefs were cited as the reason for some "valid but irregular" ordinations in his diocese. Andy Fenton, Richard Perkins and Loots Lambrechts were ordained in November 2005 at Christ Church, Surbiton, London, by Bishop Martin Morrison of the Church of England in South Africa. Bishop Morrison was brought in by the Revd Richard Coekin, minister of Dundonald Church in Wimbledon, due to a dispute with Butler over matters related to homosexuality.[9][10] Coekin subsequently had his licence to officiate revoked by Butler, but he was reinstated following an appeal to the Archbishop of Canterbury.[11][12]

Allegation of drunkenness[edit]

On 5 December 2006, Butler returned home from a function at the Irish embassy in London with a head injury, which he claimed to be unable to remember sustaining.[13] He contacted the police claiming that he had been mugged. However, it was subsequently suggested in the media that Butler, apparently under the influence of alcohol, had sustained the injury while being removed from a stranger's car into which he had apparently climbed and had begun throwing out the children's toys from the back seats.[13] On being questioned about this behaviour, he is alleged to have responded, "I'm the Bishop of Southwark, it's what I do."[14] A cathedral spokesperson admitted that the incident was "not unusual.[15]

In an interview with John Humphrys on BBC Radio 4's Today Programme on 19 December 2006, Butler reiterated his statement that he had not been drinking heavily and contended that someone who was greatly intoxicated could not have negotiated the complex tube route to his home from the reception location. He also stated that he was very worried that he still could not account for three hours of the evening in question and was undergoing medical tests. He gave the Thought for the Day on the same date.[16]

The episode proved to be very embarrassing for him, as he was known in the church as a strong disciplinarian, particularly when dealing with junior clergy caught under the influence of alcohol. Ruth Gledhill in the Times Online said:

"One issue, as far as I can see, is how this reflects on him given his own treatment of clergy in the Southwark diocese. As someone who has worshipped for the past 15 years at the very least at three different churches in the diocese, and who meets clergy from Southwark and neighbouring dioceses regularly at General Synod, I have been witness to the effects of Bishop Tom's inimitable pastoral approach to his own errant and indeed inerrant clergy. Put simply, as one lay person said to me when they telephoned yesterday: "Ruth, I feel sorry for the man but let's face it, if my vicar had done this he probably would not have survived."[17]

Alan Craig, head of the group known as the Christian People's Alliance on Newham Council in east London, is reported by The Independent to have said:[18]

"If it's true he was drunk he ought to resign. He can be forgiven, but he can't carry on as Bishop. He's supposed to be a role model and being drunk in a gutter he can't be a good example. It's not comical; it's sad for him, and for the church."[18]

Marriage and family[edit]

Barbara Butler, his wife, is the executive secretary of Christians Aware, a charity that is involved in education and development. They have two grown-up children and four grandchildren.


  • Tom Butler Esq (1940–?)
  • Dr Tom Butler (?–1964)
  • The Revd Dr Tom Butler (1964–1980)
  • The Ven Dr Tom Butler (1980–1985)
  • The Rt Revd Dr Tom Butler (1985—present)


  1. ^ a b c d Diocese of Bradford – Former Bishop of Southwark to be 'Mentor Bishop' (Accessed 8 November 2013)
  2. ^ Church of England – Dr Tom Butler
  3. ^ "Southwark Diocese". Retrieved 21 November 2010. 
  4. ^ Crockfords online – accessed 19:12 19 May 2008
  5. ^ Who's Who 2008: London, A & C Black, 2008 ISBN 978-0-7136-8555-8
  6. ^ Debrett's People of Today London, Debrett's, 2008 ISBN 978-1-870520-95-9
  7. ^ "London has a bishop again (Archived; subscription only)". Church Times (#6699). 5 July 1991. p. 1. ISSN 0009-658X. Retrieved 22 February 2016. (subscription required (help)). 
  8. ^ Bishop Tom to Retire, Diocese of Southwark press release, 7 September 2009. Retrieved on 20 October 2009.
  9. ^ Petre, Jonathan (4 November 2005). "Evangelicals defy bishop by holding 'irregular' ordinations". The Daily Telegraph. London. 
  10. ^
  11. ^
  12. ^
  13. ^ a b David Smith (10 December 2006). "Drink row bishop facing calls to quit". London: Guardian. Retrieved 21 November 2010. 
  14. ^ ""Bished" as a Newt". 9 December 2006. Retrieved 21 November 2010. 
  15. ^ ""Bished" as a Newt". 9 December 2006. Retrieved 21 November 2010. 
  16. ^ "Bbc Tftd". Retrieved 21 November 2010. 
  17. ^ The Times Online – comments on the drunken Bishop episode
  18. ^ a b The Independent Online