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Scepticism and grief greet decision

11 January 2013

Sceptic: the Revd Colin Coward

Sceptic: the Revd Colin Coward

REACTIONS to the lifting of the moratorium of the appointment of priests in civil partnerships to the episcopate - provided they are celibate - have been sharply divided.

The director of Changing Attitude, the Revd Colin Coward, told BBC Radio 4's PM programme, on Friday: "In theory, I welcome the announcement. . . I'm not sure that I trust it. . . I think the Church has issued a statement which will be laughed at by the majority in this country. I think it's unenforceable, and I think it's totally inappropriate."

The LGB&T Anglican Coalition said that the lifting of the moratorium was "only a small step", but one that "removes a glaring injustice". It urged the Bishops to publish the report by the review group, chaired by the Bishop of Sodor & Man, the Rt Revd James Paterson, "as soon as is practically possible".

The Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement said that the statement was a "welcome first step . . . towards full inclusion of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and trans people in the life of the Church".

The Dean of St Albans, the Very Revd Dr Jeffrey John, who is in a celibate civil partnership, was quoted in The Guardian 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."

Conservative groups were quick to criticise the Bishops' statement. 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. . .

"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."

A statement from Anglican Mainstream, signed by its convener, Dr Philip Giddings, who chairs the House of Laity, and its secretary, Canon Chris Sugden, said: "Most people assume that civil partnerships are sexual relationships. It is casuistical to claim that they are not. . .

"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."

The Church of England Evangelical Council said that the appointment of priests in civil partnerships as bishops was "not a justice issue", but "an issue of example setting to the nation. . . The watching world may well conclude that same-sex relationships are simply OK for followers of Jesus Christ."

The Archbishop of Kenya, Dr Eliud Wabukala, who is the chairman of the GAFCON Primates Council, said on Monday that the Bishops' announcement would "create further confusion about Anglican moral teaching and make restoring unity to the Communion an even greater challenge".

And the Archbishop of Uganda, the Rt Revd Stanley Ntagali, described the news as "very discouraging". It was "really no different from allowing gay bishops", he said. "This decision violates our biblical faith and agreements within the Anglican Communion. . . [It] only makes the brokenness of the Communion worse and is particularly disheartening coming from the Mother Church. . . Our grief and sense of betrayal are beyond words."

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