Welsh ‘never trust a Tory’ bishop retires due to ill health

Dr Joanna Penberthy will retire after being off sick for two years - Wales news service
Dr Joanna Penberthy will retire after being off sick for two years - Wales news service

The Church of Wales's first female bishop - who sparked a row by writing "never trust a Tory" on Twitter - has stepped down after two years on sick leave with a "constant migraine".

Dr Joanna Penberthy apologised after posting the tweet in March 2021 and vowed to delete her social media account. The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, later said he was "deeply embarrassed" by her post and Conservative MPs called for her to resign.

Church of Wales leaders have now said Dr Penberthy, 62, will step down in July on the grounds of ill health.

At the time of the politics row, Dr Penberthy at first took a one-month leave of absence; however, this was extended to four months. The diocese then announced that Dr Penberthy would make a "phased return to work", but again in August 2022 a further period of sick leave was announced.

This week Dr Penberthy stated that her ill health is affecting her ability to carry out her demanding role within the diocese.

“This is not a decision I have taken lightly,” she said in a statement. “The migraine, with which I have been living constantly, has adversely affected my ability to function at the level required to fulfil my role.”

Announcing her retirement the Archbishop of Wales, the Most Rev Andrew John, said that Dr Penberthy’s contribution to the Church in Wales had been significant.

“She has contributed significantly to areas of church life, in particular on environmental matters and with our social-responsibility network,” he said. “A decision like this is never easy to make.”

Dr Penberthy had previously expressed her anti-Brexit and anti-Conservative views with her 3,287 Twitter followers.

Her Twitter handle includes the acronyms GTTO and FBPE - which stand for "Get The Tories Out and Follow Back Pro European".

Dr Penberthy wrote: "Never, never, never trust a Tory" in response to a Tweet about Welsh devolution and the future of the Welsh parliament.

In a later statement, she said: "On Mar 25 2021 I put out a private tweet about Conservative Party supporters which has caused offence and for which I sincerely apologise.

"The tweet was in response to another tweet which claimed that the Conservative Party was planning to abolish the Senedd.

"I acknowledge that while there may be those within the Conservative Party who oppose Welsh devolution, it is not the policy of the Conservative Party to abolish the Senedd and I should have checked all the facts before tweeting.

The tweet from Dr Joanna Penberthy that caused a storm
The tweet from Dr Joanna Penberthy that caused a storm

"I, of course, trust and have trusted many Conservatives and know there are many honourable people in that party. I further apologise for other tweets I have posted which have caused upset and offence.

"While I hold strong political views, I have expressed them on Twitter in a way which was both irresponsible and disrespectful and I deeply regret this. I have now closed my account down."

Born in Swansea in 1960, Dr Penberthy was one of the first women to be ordained as a priest in Wales in January 1997.

She had been a deaconess since 1984, and was ordained deacon in 1987, after studying at Newnham College, Cambridge, and for ordination at Cranmer Hall, Durham.

She also studied at the University of Nottingham, completing a Masters in theology in 1984, and a PhD in quantum physics in July 2019. In January 2017, Dr Penberthy became the first woman to be consecrated as a bishop in the Church in Wales.

Her diocese covered a significant area which extends to 2,266 square miles in the three counties of Pembrokeshire, Ceredigion and Carmarthenshire. It is made up of the archdeaconries of St David’s, Cardigan and Carmarthen.

Dr Penberthy will retire formally on Jul 31 and a new bishop is likely to be elected in October.