Church of England Faces Huge Split as Gay Clergy Defy Bishops

The controversy shrouding the Church of England over homosexuality deepened even further this weekend, as gay clergy openly announced to the world that they would defy Anglican head Dr Rowan Williams over civil partnerships.

Published 08 August 2005
It has appeared as though the controversy shrouding the Church of England over homosexuality in the Church deepened even further this weekend, as gay clergy openly announced to the world that they would defy Anglican head Archbishop Rowan Williams, and other leading bishops over civil partnerships.

The latest news further blurs the line over the issue in the Church; one that was already extremely hazy since Dr Rowan Williams and leading Church of England bishops agreed to a publication last month. The release from the House of Bishops gave guidance on the Civil Partnerships Act in the UK, which will offer same-sex couples legal rights similar to marriage when it comes into force on 5 December 2005.

It also advised that clergy could also enter into homosexual partnerships, but only if they first assured their leading bishops that they would abide strictly by Church teaching that sexual relations should be confined to heterosexual marriage.

Clergy were also told that they should not offer formal services of blessing to couples who had been through a civil partnership ceremony.

The Daily Telegraph has reported that a number of clergy have told how they had no intention at all of assuring their bishops that they will remain sexually abstinent when they “marry” their partners.

One unhappy Church leader stated to The Daily Telegraph how he was “furious” with the way that homosexual clergy were being treated, and in addition, gay rights activists have also predicted that a widespread revolt would soon result.

One of the most powerful men in the Anglican Communion, Primate of Nigeria, Archbishop Peter Akinola has renounced firmly the direction that the Church of England seems to be taking.

Last week Rev Akinola stated that the Church of England was basically allowing homosexual marriages to take place and warned that it was possible the Church could suffer the same punishment as that given to the American and Canadian wings earlier this year.

Earlier this year the Anglican Church of Canada, and the Episcopal Church of America (ECUSA) were threatened with expulsion from the Anglican body for going against traditional Church doctrine by extending homosexual rights.

The bishops that authorised the advice given to Church members defended their decision, stating that the new law would not technically introduce gay marriage as it did not presuppose sexual relations. However, the seeming “compromise” on the issue has caused the guidance to be widely condemned by worldwide Anglican and Church leaders.

It has already been rumoured that hundreds of clergy across the UK would take advantage of the new law when it comes into force, and homosexual rights campaigners have stated that most of these would refuse to tell inform their bishops of their bedroom behaviour, report The Daily Telegraph.

The vicar at St Thomas in Finsbury Park, north London, Rev Stephen Coles, who is also a member of the Church Synod was one of the leading out-spoken clergymen to rebut the compromise. He said, “If a bishop asks me if I am having sex I will say, it's none of your business. Frankly, it is a breach of my human rights for him even to ask.”

In further defiance of the Church’s leading bishops’ ban on the practice, more than 20 clergy have also signed a petition that promises that they will offer formal blessings to couples that enter civil partnerships.

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Williams’ “compromise” seems to have divided the Church on the issue even further, and he now finds himself in an even more alarming position; one that he will have to quickly resolve if a full-scale schism is not to result.

In a clear and blunt statement to the Church of England, Rev Akinola, who leads the largest congregation on the Anglican worldwide body, stated, “While I have great affection and respect for the historic role that the Church of England has played in all our lives, no Church can ignore the teachings of the Bible with impunity and no Church is beyond discipline.”

He continued, “The language of the Civil Partnerships Act makes it plain that what is being proposed is same-sex marriage in all but name. I find it incomprehensible therefore that the House of Bishops would not find open participation in such 'marriages' to be repugnant to Holy Scriptures and incompatible with Holy Orders.”

Akinola rebuked the Church of England’s bishops’ efforts to compromise on the issue. He rebuked, “The proposal that the bishops will extract a promise from clergy who register that there will be no sexual intimacy in these relationships is the height of hypocrisy.”

Officials at Lambeth Palace stated that the Archbishop of Canterbury was currently away and so it could make no comment on the matter.

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