Today, legal advice will say that homosexual clergy in civil partnerships can become bishops – as long as they remain celibate. The legal guidance makes clear that it would be wrong for a cleric’s sexual orientation to be taken into account when considering their suitability as a bishop.
The guidance will say that homosexual clergy should be made to clarify that they are not in an active sexual relationship – effectively make a promise that they are and will remain celibate. It also means that those who want to be a bishop will be questioned over their previous sex life and asked whether they repent having gay sex. Before anyone gets the gun out, this is a standard question for priests and bishops, gay or not.
This news will almost definitely create an argument within the Church between conservatives and liberals.
Dr Jeffrey John, the Dean of St Albans, was forced to stand down from becoming the Bishop of Reading in 2003 after evangelicals argued the revelation he was in a long-standing same-sex partnership made him unsuitable to be promoted.
The guidance is being sent to members of the General Synod, the Church’s parliament, which meets in York next month and was produced by church lawyers in response to the Equality Act, legislation introduced last year which gives protection from discrimination on the grounds of sexuality. Hang on a minute… didn’t the Chariman Comissioner just recently say that his job and the role of the Equality acts aren’t to rule over Church matters in this area?
It admits that there are still deep divisions inside the Church on whether homosexual clergy can be consecrated, but says there is a legal need to provide some clarity. The Crown Nominations Commission, the body which recommends which bishops should be appointed by the Prime Minister, cannot legally stop gay men from becoming bishops.
There is no statement of the position of the Church of England that declares that a celibate person in a civil partnership cannot be considered for appointment as a bishop. A person’s sexual orientation is, in itself, irrelevant to their suitability for episcopal office or indeed ordained ministry more generally It would, therefore, be wrong if, during a CNC or a selection process for a suffragan see, account were taken of the fact that a candidate had identified himself as of gay sexual orientation.
The document, titled ‘Choosing Bishops – The Equality Act 2010’, says that “a significant number of Anglicans” believe that the Church should not allow bishops to be in civil partnerships, even if celibate. It also says that “it is equally clear many other Anglicans believe that it is appropriate that clergy who are gay by orientation enter into civil partnerships”.
Well, the problem I have with the whole thing is the fact that the Bishops are allowed to be in a Civil Partnership and be a Bishop, and at the same time not allowed to engage in sexual activity. This ‘compromise’ for want of a better word is flawed on two levels.
Dean is a Minister in the Anglican Church. Currently he is Curate in the parishes of Bedwas, Machen, Michaelston-y-Fedw and Rudry in South Wales. He was born and bred in Wales, is married to Megan, and has two dogs called Taliesin and Melyn, and two cats named Sinsir and Hâf. He graduated from Cardiff University with a BA Hons. in Theology & Religious Studies, and has studied for an MA in Theology, Ministry & Mission at Trinity College Bristol. He also holds a Cert.RSCM from the Royal School of Church Music. He loves playing music, walking, reading, blogging and horse riding as well as going to the cinema and theatre.
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