THE moratorium on the appointment as bishops of gay priests in
civil partnerships has been lifted.
The House of Bishops announced in 2011 that clergy in civil
partnerships should not be appointed as bishops until the outcome
of a review of its 2005 statement on clergy in such partnerships (
News, 8 July 2011). The Bishop of Sodor & Man, the Rt Revd
Robert Paterson, was subsequently appointed to chair the review
News, 2 December 2011); its other members were the Bishop of
Portsmouth, the Rt Revd Christopher Foster, and the Bishop of
Dorchester, the Rt Revd Colin Fletcher.
Shortly before Christmas, Church House published a 13-point
summary of business conducted by the House of Bishops when it met
on 10 and 11 December. Point 7 of this, which has caused some
confusion in online forums and among campaigners, said that the
Bishops "considered an interim report from the group chaired by Sir
Joseph Pilling on the Church of England's approach to human
sexuality". This group was set up in January 2012, with a wider
remit than the group chaired by Bishop Paterson, which was looking
specifically at civil partnerships (
News, 6 January 2012).
The summary said that the Bishops did "not intend to issue a
further pastoral statement on civil partnerships" until the Pilling
group concluded its work later this year. It did not mention the
work of Bishop Paterson's group.
The summary, however, went on to say that the Bishops "confirmed
that the requirements in the 2005 statement concerning the
eligibility for ordination of those in civil partnerships whose
relationships are consistent with the teaching of the Church of
England apply equally in relation to the episcopate".
This amounts to a lifting of the moratorium on the appointment
of clergy in civil partnerships as bishops. The 2005 statement on civil partnerships states:
"The House of Bishops does not regard entering into civil
partnership as intrinsically incompatible with holy orders,
provided the person concerned is willing to give assurances to his
or her bishop that the relationship is consistent with the
standards for the clergy set out in Issues in Human
Issues in Human Sexuality, compiled by
the House of Bishops in 1991, is the Church's definitive statement
on same-sex relationships. It states that "the clergy cannot claim
the liberty to enter into sexually active homophile relationships,"
and calls on "all clergy to live lives that respect the Church's
Reports last year suggested that the Dean of St Albans, Dr
Jeffrey John, was considering a legal challenge to the moratorium (
News, 20 January 2012).
Update: At 5 p.m. on Friday, Church House
issued a statement from the Bishop of Norwich, the Rt
Revd Graham James, on behalf of the House of Bishops. It said:
"The House of Bishops' Pastoral Statement on Civil Partnerships
issued in 2005 did not address specifically whether clergy who
entered such partnerships should be considered for the episcopate.
What the House has now done, following the work undertaken by the
group chaired by the Bishop of Sodor and Man set up last year, is
to look at the matter again last month.
"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 such candidates for the past year
and a half while the working party completed its task.
"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."
Shortly after the statement was issued, the director of Changing
Attitude, the Revd Colin Coward, told BBC Radio 4's PM
programme: "In theory I welcome the announcement. . . I'm not sure
that I trust it. . . I think the Church has issued a statement
which I think will be laughed at by the majority in this country. I
think it's unenforceable and I think it's totally inappropriate. .
"I would have the Church welcome, equally. . . gay clergy as
bishops in loving, faithful, committed relationships. The important
thing is the fidelity of relationships and the Church ideally
should accept civil partnerships as equal to marriage, and should
accept equal marriage when that becomes law in 2014."
Dr John was quoted in The Guardian on
Saturday as saying: "If it is genuinely true that all levels of
ordained ministry are now more open to gay people than they were
before, then this is a very good thing."
The Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement said in a statement that the Bishops' announcement
was a "welcome first step. . . towards full inclusion of lesbian,
gay, bisexual and trans people in the life of the church".
The chairman of Reform, Prebendary Rod Thomas, told the BBC on
Friday evening: "This is a very serious step indeed, because the
Church has never agreed that people in civil partnerships should
ever become bishops in the Church of England. For most people, this
is just the same as saying it would be alright if they were married
to gay partners, and that's never been decided. So to slip
something in like this is hugely worrying. It would be much more
divisive than what we have seen over women bishops. If you thought
that was a furore, wait to see what will happen the first time a
bishop in a civil partnership is appointed."
Anglican Mainstream issued a statement on Friday evening, signed by
its Convenor, Dr Philip Giddings, who is Chair of the House of
Laity, and its Secretary, Canon Chris Sugden. The statement said in
part: "Most people assume that civil partnerships are
sexual relationships. It is casuistical to claim that they are not.
This is presumably why many clergy in such partnerships refuse to
'give assurances' to their bishops that theirs is a 'non-sexual'
"Since a decision to move from the current position would
be a grave departure from the Church's doctrine and discipline,
it should be made by Bishops in Synod not by Bishops alone.
Otherwise it looks too much like salami-slicing away at the
Church's teaching. A bishop known to be in a civil partnership
could hardly be a focus of unity nor be a bishop for the whole
church. Such an appointment would be a very divisive move both
within the Church of England and in the wider Anglican
Mixed messages from polls. A survey carried out
by ComRes, published on Boxing Day in The Independent,
suggested that 62 per cent of respondents thought that C of E
clergy should be allowed to marry same-sex couples. The newspaper
did not specify how many people were questioned.
A poll of 2500 Conservative Party members, carried out by the
Conservative Home website, found that 71 per cent of those who
replied thought that same-sex marriage was splitting the Party, and
78 per cent believed that the Prime Minister had underestimated the
strength of feeling about the issue.
Question of the Week: Do you think it is right to lift the
moratorium on making clergy in civil partnerships