Concern over Church move to allow bishops in civil partnerships


The Church of England is to allow clergy in civil partnerships to be bishops.

In a statement today, the House of Bishops said: "The House has confirmed that clergy in civil partnerships, and living in accordance with the teaching of the Church on human sexuality, can be considered as candidates for the episcopate."

There had been a moratorium on clergy in civil partnerships being considered as candidates for the episcopate over the past year and a half while the working party undertook a review of the issue.

The statement from the House of Bishops continued: "The House believed it would be unjust to exclude from consideration for the episcopate anyone seeking to live fully in conformity with the Church's teaching on sexual ethics or other areas of personal life and discipline.

"All candidates for the episcopate undergo a searching examination of personal and family circumstances, given the level of public scrutiny associated with being a bishop in the Church of England.

"But these, along with the candidate's suitability for any particular role for which he is being considered, are for those responsible for the selection process to consider in each case."

The statement has prompted warnings of division from traditionalists in the Church.

Rod Thomas, Chair of Reform, said that it would be "difficult" for a bishop in a civil partnership to be a focus of unity.

Chris Sugden, of Anglican Mainstream, said it was "odd" that the change was being made without reference to the Church's parliamentary body, the General Synod.

He dismissed the notion that the move should be supported because it would bring the Church more into line with the views of wider society.

He told the BBC: "The Church is not an episode of Strictly Come Dancing or X Factor.

"The notion that public opinion should set the Church's doctrine is quite frankly rather strange."

The former Bishop of Rochester, the Right Reverend Michael Nazir-Ali, questioned how the Church will be able to enforce the requirement for bishops in civil partnerships to remain celibate.

"In the context of same-sex relationships, what exactly does 'celibacy' mean?" he said.

"Does the admission of those in civil partnerships to the episcopate, who state they are celibate, include those who were previously in actively homophile relationships including with their present partner?

"The House of Bishops statement does not elaborate on this point but it is crucial to an understanding of what celibacy might mean in this context."