Anglicans rule that abstinent gay men can be bishops
A decision by Anglican church leaders looks set to add fuel to an already heated debate.
- Peter Walker
- United Kingdom
- January 7, 2013
The Church of England has agreed that gay clergy in civil partnerships can become bishops so long as they remain sexually abstinent, a decision that looks likely to reignite one of the Anglican community's most bitter internal debates.
The decision was taken by the House of Bishops, the section of the General Synod responsible for church teaching. Evangelical Anglicans immediately signalled their opposition to the idea, leaving the church with the prospect of two simultaneous internal rows following the synod's decision in November to block women from becoming bishops.
A summary of the House of Bishops' meeting on the church's website said members considered an interim report from a group led by Sir Joseph Pilling, a retired civil servant commissioned last year to look into the church's attitudes to sexuality.
While the bishops said they would not issue more guidance on civil partnerships before the final report, they said being in a civil partnership was not necessarily a bar to becoming a bishop. The summary read: "[The House of Bishops] confirmed that the requirements in the 2005 statement concerning the eligibility for ordination of those in civil partnerships whose relationships are consistent with the teaching of the Church of England apply equally in relation to the episcopate."
The 2005 document gave guidance for clergy, for example if they were asked to bless civil partnerships, which had come into being the previous year. It also stated that the House of Bishops did not see being in a civil partnership as "intrinsically incompatible with holy orders" provided those concerned could give assurances the relationship was not sexually active, but did not extend this to bishops.
The change was welcomed by Jeffrey John, dean of St Albans, whose decision to stand down from his appointment as bishop of Reading in July 2003 amid an outcry from church conservatives sparked a near decade of frenzied debate. John is in a long-term relationship with another clergyman, which he has affirmed is celibate. The pair had a civil ceremony in 2006.
John said: "If it is genuinely true that all levels of ordained ministry are now more open to gay people than they were before, then this is a very good thing."
Shortly after John stepped down as bishop of Reading, the issue became still more contentious after the US Episcopal Church approved the appointment of the openly gay Gene Robinson as a bishop.
There has been speculation that bishops eventually felt under pressure to move owing to the possibility of John taking legal action on equalities grounds after he was passed over to become bishop of Southwark in 2010.
The decision was made in mid-December, with a summary of the meeting placed on the church website before Christmas. However, the key section was some way down the summary and was missed until now. A church spokesman said there had been no intention of burying the news.
Source: The Guardian