From the Revd Paul Burr
Sir, - If the Church is to maintain any confidence in its
bishops on the vexed ethical issues of our day, they will have to
sharpen up their act. Their decision over gay bishops, issued both
without consultation of the wider Church and without formal
announcement (beyond inclusion in a summary of business posted on a
website), has left the Church (and media) incredulous.
"Women bishops" takes years of debate in Synod; "gay bishops"
(even more divisive) can be sorted out in a routine business
meeting. The Bishops look not just out of touch with the Church:
they appear to show contempt for it.
There are important procedural issues. The Bishops "confirmed"
that their 2005 statement on civil partnerships will apply to the
episcopate: had they made a previous decision that the rest of us
were not aware of? Had they made the decision before the interim
Pilling report? Why no mention of the Paterson report? How can any
such decision on civil partnerships be right with- out addressing
the imminent redefinition of marriage?
And there are obvious substantive issues.
First, the 2005 Statement was expressly premised on the
understanding that the Government had no intention of introducing
same-sex marriage. That premise no longer obtains: instead, we now
face fundamental redefinition of marriage by statute.
Second, the 2005 Statement managed to find an ambiguity that no
one else had spotted: does civil partnership imply sex? It was
always absurd to suggest such ambiguity, but it put Church and
clergy alike in an impossible position (presumably intentionally),
to the ridicule of those outside the Church. To persist in
pretending civil partnership does not ordinarily imply a sexual
relationship is perverse. Are the Bishops intent on finding the
same ambiguity in gay marriage?
Third, the 2005 Statement claimed that the Church's teaching on
sexual ethics remained unchanged: if this was tenuous at the time,
it is now utterly unconvincing.
The development of separate theologies of the episcopate over
women bishops proved troublesome, but pretending specific issues do
not obtain in relation to bishops is simply silly. Bishops are
symbols of unity and are appointed in a way that parish clergy
gener-ally are not. Anglicans value tolerance, but there are
limits: the Jeffrey John débâcle - and more recently the stepping
down of the Revd Philip North - should demonstrate that.
A full and urgent statement from the House of Bishops is
Norwich NR14 8EB
From the Rt Revd Dr Colin Buchanan
Sir, - On Friday and Saturday last week for a short time, the
headline news on radio and TV was that the Church of England had
"changed its policy" on whether men in a civil partnership can be
made bishops. A slightly more careful form of this was that the
House of Bishops had "decided" the new policy, or had "changed the
rules". But each such statement not only gave us bad publicity, but
was fundamentally untrue; and some leading church figures
interviewed failed to challenge the form in which the media were
presenting it, but, instead, more or less connived at it. I have
seen no correction issued by any official body.
The simple truth is that there are virtually no "rules" about
who can be consecrated as a bishop. Any (male) presbyter over 30
years of age meets the canonical requirements. After that, the
monarch has absolute power to nominate whom she will, and the only
question is by what convention a name shall be recommended (via
Downing Street) to her.
For a suffragan bishop, the name will come from the diocesan
bishop via the archbishop of the province; for a diocesan, the name
will come from the Crown Nominations Commission. Neither of these
nominating bodies is bound by any rules: they simply have to seek
the best-qualified person for the particular office, and it is
their part to judge whether any feature of one person's life or
ministry sets him above or below another's as a prospective
That includes the question whether the person concerned will be
generally accepted by the people of the diocese (a point well
illustrated in relation to the recent nomination for the bishopric
The House of Bishops knows all this, and all it has done is to
proffer "advice" (see the website). The House has no power to
"change the rules"; indeed, there are virtually no rules to
21 The Drive
Leeds LS17 7QB
From the Revd Matthew Duckett
Sir, - The House of Bishops' 1991 statement Issues in
Human Sexuality was commended for study by the General Synod
in 1997, with the acknowledgement that it was "not the last word on
the subject". This was quoting what the Archbishop of Canterbury
(George Carey) had said in his preface to Issues, where he
also noted that the bishops themselves held a wide variety of
opinions, and hoped "that the Statement would do something to help
forward a general process, marked by greater trust and openness, of
Christian reflection on the subject of sexuality".
It is debatable whether, and to what extent, that process has
actually happened in the Church of England in the 21 years since
Issues was published. Nevertheless, Issues in Human
Sexuality remains what it was stated to be, a position
document intended to facilitate a process in which a wide diversity
of views is already acknowledged; its authority is that of a state-
ment from the House of Bishops which has been commended for
That is not nearly as snappy as "the Church's definitive
statement on same-sex relationships" (News,
4 January), but it is more accurate.
Little Ilford Rectory
124 Church Road
London E12 6HA
From Canon David Rogers
Sir, - As a partnered gay priest about to retire from
stipendiary ministry, I am at no risk of becoming a bishop. But
were I invited to be, and presented with the terms of the Bishops'
Statement (News, 4 January 2013), I would have to decline.
First, I would not give an undertaking of celibacy which would
not be asked of a heterosexual candidate, on the principle that all
should be treated even-handedly.
Second, I could not make an absolute promise about a
circumstance I could not predict at a time that has not yet
The Bishops of the Church of England have a thankless task in
attempting to steer us through turbulent water, and predictably
have pleased no one by the current statement. But there is a degree
of naïvety in swapping one dysfunctional position - "Gay men may
not become bishops" - for another - "Gay men in sexually active
relationships may not become bishops."
My 40 years of ordained ministry have been blessed with many
opportunities to accompany and support LGBT people in the fraught
business of coming out, forming relationships, and persevering with
the Church. While most fellow-Anglicans at all levels have been
welcoming and accepting, official pronouncements have been
universally unhelpful, and seem consistently to be characterised by
an absence of realism and common sense.
Sadly, the current statement is simply more of the same. The
pity is that men whose instinct is to be caring end up sounding
comical or, worse still, cruel.
St Leonard's Vicarage
Redditch B98 9AR
From Mr Brian Anker
Sir, - A great deal has been said and written about the
government proposal to redefine marriage so that it becomes an
institution available to people of the same sex. The proposal is
that churches would be able to apply to use their buildings as
venues, and have their ministers officiate at such ceremonies,
while the Church of England would not be legally permitted to make
such use of its buildings and personnel.
One aspect that I have not heard addressed so far is what would
apply when there is a local ecumenical partnership or
shared-building arrangement. Would a non-Anglican congregation that
worships in a building shared with Anglicans be disbarred from
applying for permission to hold the ceremonies there? Would the
Anglicans be compelled to have these ceremonies take place in their
place of worship against their sincere theological convictions?
There are ecumenical partnerships where shared clergy are
sometimes Anglican and sometimes non-Anglican. How would the
legislation apply in such cases?
It seems that the proposals are being framed with a
stereotypical assumption that no progress has been made towards
visible Christian unity. This matter needs to be addressed with
some urgency, as there are indications that legislation will be
hastened through Parliament which could promote years of discord
between Churches. Or is that the intention of the political
BRIAN ANKER (Reader/LLM)
10 Golding Road
Cambridge CB1 3RP