Questions of sexuality and abuse to dominate Church of England synod

Sex and abuse dominate questions to bishops and senior church figures on Friday evening with the biannual meeting of the Church of England's General Synod beginning in York.

The four-day meeting will be overrun with issues around sexuality with calls for transgender renaming services for people who have transitioned and for the CofE to condemn gay conversion therapies as 'unethical, harmful' and having 'no place in the modern world'. 

The Archbishop of York and Archbishop of Canterbury at an earlier meeting of the General Synod of the Church of England.Andrew Winning/Reuters

In a Q&A session with seniorChurch figures on the opening evening of synod, sex is mentioned 32 times in 85 questions and issues around abuse and safeguarding another 18 times. 

A debate around gay 'cure' therapies on Saturday evening is likely to cause controversy with conservatives saying no evidence exists that counselling to change sexual orientation is harmful.

But Jayne Ozanne, who tabled the motion that could see the Church sign up to a statement condemning the therapies as 'not supported by evidence', told Christian Today: 'It is incredibly important that religious organisations follow the clear lead set by the health care professions in standing against this highly damaging and unethical practice, which reinforces stigma and prejudice against the LGBTI community.

'The Bible teaches that we are each fearfully and wonderfully made, and we should therefore look to celebrate God's gift of diversity in creation not treat those of us who are non-heterosexual as having mental disorders that need to be "cured".'

Andrea Williams, a conservative member of synod and chief executive of the Christian Concern lobby group, asked the Bishop of Willesden whether such evidence of harm existed.

In written answers published on Wednesday he responded saying the evidence 'is elusive and what there is, is often ambiguous', adding: 'The key point is that when people are vulnerable they must be safeguarded from manipulation or exploitation by anyone with an agenda of their own.'

The synod meets weeks after its Anglican partner in Scotland, the Scottish Episcopal Church, passed same-sex marriage, raising tensions between the two bodies.

It also comes after a former Archbishop of Canterbury, George Carey, quit his role in the CofE following a damning report into the Church's handling of the case of convicted abuser Peter Ball, a former Bishop of Gloucester.