Church clears the way for celibate gay bishops

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The Church of England is expected to confirm that openly gay clergy can be made bishops, if they are celibate.

Legal advice is due to be published as early as Monday saying homosexual clergy in civil partnerships can become bishops.

The move is in response to the Equality Act, which protects from discrimination on the grounds of sexuality.

But it risks deepening divisions over gay clergy, which threaten to split the Anglican Communion worldwide.

The legal advice is due to go to the General Synod next month.

Some liberals could be wary of any move which shows a difference in approach between homosexual and heterosexual people, while conservatives wish to avoid anything which is at odds with Church teaching.

'Cop-out'

Start Quote

Unless [the Church] is able to accept clergy in relationships on the same terms as marriage, this sore won't be healed”

End Quote Reverend Canon Giles Goddard Inclusive Church

Canon Chris Sugden - a key critic of openly gay clergy - said if bishops were "faithful to the teaching of the Church" it was "unexceptionable".

Christian teaching, he said, made "a distinction between inclination, orientation and attraction on one hand - and practice and behaviour on the other".

The problem over the last 10 years, he argued, was that gay activists had taken "great exception to the distinction being made between same sex attraction and same sex behaviour".

"Some of the current activists for the gay cause are saying this distinction between attraction and behaviour is an unacceptable denial of human rights if, A, they cannot express it and, B, they don't have access to high posts in the Church," he said.

However, Reverend Canon Giles Goddard of Inclusive Church said the move was a cop-out.

"Unless [the Church] is able accept clergy in relationships on the same terms as marriage this sore won't be healed," he said.

The confirmation of the Church's policy would be "nothing new", he added.

"In a way it's a backwards step - it's firming up this celibacy requirement," he said.

'Hesitations'

Rev Rod Thomas, chairman of the conservative evangelical group Reform, said: "If someone is gay by inclination but doesn't engage in any sexual activity - then there is nothing to say that that is wrong."

However he had "hesitations" because of what had "happened in the past with guidance for bishops on civil partnerships".

"Civil partnerships ministered in the Church must undertake with a vow of celibacy but that guidance has not always been followed with rigour," he said.

"People who are in civil partnerships say their sex life is none of the bishop's business and often bishops in turn show no intention of finding out.

"Why should we believe that no inquiries will be made about their private lives in this instance?"

'Smokescreen'

Christina Rees, who is a senior Synod member, said she thought this area was "the most controversial".

"People like Rod Thomas already think that the Church has gone too far and that there should be much more rigour applied," she said.

"Many others in the Church find it incredibly distasteful that just because someone is known to be same-sex oriented and in a partnered relationship, that means the Church still is able to question them about their current sex life and their past sex life."

Keith Porteous Wood, executive director of the National Secular Society, said the law did not permit discrimination against homosexual orientation or practice.

"So either the bishops are subject to the law and this does not meet it, or they are not and the Equality Act is being used as a smokescreen," he said.

Last year the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, said he had no problem with gay people being bishops as long as they were celibate.

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