CLERGY should be permitted to provide a public service to mark
same-sex relationships, a House of Bishops working group has
The recommendations in The Report of the House of Bishops
Working Group on Human Sexuality, known as "the Pilling
report" after the group's chairman, Sir Joseph Pilling, are modest.
They speak of the need for "pastoral accommodation", but do not
propose any change in the Church's teaching on sexual conduct.
Although the report does not speak of "blessing" gay relationships,
Sir Joseph said on Thursday that he would not write a letter of
complaint to a journalist who used such a term.
Other recommendations include repentance for homophobia within
the Church, the avoidance of "intrusive questioning", and further
debate (for full recommendations, see below).
As the Pilling report was published, the Archbishops of
Canterbury and York issued a statement to draw attention to the
report's status: "The document offers findings and recommendations
to form part of [a] process of facilitated conversations. It is not
a new policy statement from the Church of England" [their
The long-awaited report was published on Thursday with hardly
any warning. Bishops received their copies only at nine that
morning. The report suggests that "the Church of England's travails
over these issues are becoming an increasing scandal to many and .
. . a massive missiological challenge." It also lists the working
group's observations after their research:
* that the Church of England's current teaching and practice is
"deeply off-putting to those outside the Church and therefore a
serious impediment to mission";
*that opposition of gay and lesbian relationships was "simply
not an issue for most young people";
*that the "the Church's current discipline, with regard to
ordinands and clergy, was inconsistently applied, encouraged a
culture of dishonesty within the Church, and was particularly
difficult for the partners of those concerned";
* that the views of conservative groups and individual
members of congregation were preventing church authorities from
appointing gay and lesbian people to posts with the same freedom as
* but also that the C of E's current teaching was "helpful to
those with same-sex attraction who believed that scripture forbade
same-sex sexual relationships because it assisted them in resisting
sexual temptation. They would experience any change in a more
permissive direction by the Church of England as a betrayal."
Perhaps as a result of this diversity of opinion, the report
recommends no change to the Church's general teaching on
homosexuality, and offers no encouragement for anything that would
look like a gay marriage. All its recommendations are subject to a
consultation period "conducted without undue haste but with a sense
of urgency, perhaps over a period two years".
On the subject of permitting gay blessings, Sir Joseph said on
Thursday: "If a priest and a priest's PCC agree together that a
couple in a permanent, faithful, stable relationship, typically a
civil partnership, come forward and say they would like their
relationship to be marked in an act of public worship, that should
The report does not recommend that the Church of England
authorise a formal liturgy for use in such services, until such
time as the Church agrees to "some modification of its current
teaching". Nevertheless, it suggests to the Bishops that they
consider issuing guidance to the clergy about what form a service
might take. It states that "such a service should not be capable of
being mistaken for the marriage service." No member of the clergy,
or parish, would be required to offer such services.
The report contains a long exploration of the evidence on
sexuality from scripture and science. At its conclusion, the report
states: "At the level of declared doctrine, we are agreed
that there is not sufficient consensus to change the Church's
teaching on human sexuality."
The Church of England's current stance is that those who are not
married should practise abstinence. Resolution I.10 of the 1998
Lambeth Conference describes homosexual practice as "incompatible
with scripture". A pastoral statement issued by the House of
Bishops in 2005 stated: "The Church of England should not provide
services of blessing for those who register a civil partnership."
But it also said: "Where clergy are approached by people asking for
prayer in relation to entering into a civil partnership, they
should respond pastorally and sensitively in the light of the
circumstances of each case."
On Thursday, Sir Joseph acknowledged that some clerics were
already conducting the services envisaged in the report: "I think
it is happening in a limited way in some churches, but it is
happening against official guidance." If the recommendation of the
report was taken up by the House of Bishops, "people who take
official, central guidance more seriously than others might feel
free to do it who do not do it at the moment."
He sought to draw attention to the working group's exploration
of "pastoral accommodation". A "human and humane" pastoral response
was not the same as saying that the recipient was "in the
The Pilling group was established by the House of Bishops in
2012 to review its 2005 Pastoral Statement on civil partnerships
and reflect on discussions that had taken place since the 1998
Lambeth Conference undertaking to listen to the experience of gay
and lesbian people. The group was small and episcopal, comprising
the Bishops of Gloucester, Birkenhead, Ebbsfleet, and Warwick.
These were assisted by advisers.
The report is not unanimous. It contains a dissenting appendix
from the Bishop of Birkenhead, the Rt Revd Keith Sinclair, a
conservative Evangelical, in which he warns that "the trajectory in
the report will undermine the discipleship and pastoral care of
many faithful Christians and, by leading the Church into the kind
of cultural captivity which much of the prophetic writings warn
against, weaken our commitment to God's mission." There follows a
second appendix, written by the Revd David Runcorn, which states
the more liberal view of "Including Evangelicals".
The House of Bishops will meet next month, and the College of
Bishops the following month, to consider the report.
Findings and Recommendations
The foundation of the report
1. We warmly welcome and affirm the presence and ministry within
the Church of gay and lesbian people, both lay and ordained.
On the next steps for the Church of
2. The subject of sexuality, with its history of deeply
entrenched views, would best be addressed by facilitated
conversations or a similar process to which the Church of England
needs to commit itself at national and diocesan level. This should
continue to involve profound reflection on the interpretation and
application of Scripture.
3. Consultation on this report should be conducted without undue
haste but with a sense of urgency, perhaps over a period of two
4. The Church of England should address the issue of same sex
relationships in close dialogue with the wider Anglican Communion
and other Churches, in parallel with its own facilitated
conversations and on a similar timescale.
On the teaching of the Church and the missiological
5. Homophobia - that is, hostility to homosexual people - is
still as serious a matter as it was and the Church should repent
for the homophobic attitudes it has sometimes failed to rebuke and
should stand firmly against it whenever and wherever it is to be
6. No one should be accused of homophobia solely for
articulating traditional Christian teaching on same sex
7. The Church should continue to pay close attention to the
continuing, and as yet inconclusive, scientific work on same sex
8. Since Issues in Human Sexuality was published in 1991
attitudes to same sex attraction, both in English society
generally and also among Christians in many parts of the
world, have changed markedly. In particular, there is a great deal
of evidence that, the younger people are, the more accepting of
same sex attraction they are likely to be. That should not of
itself determine the Church's teaching.
9. The Church should continue to listen to the varied
views of people within and outside the church, and should
encourage a prayerful process of discernment to help determine the
relationship of the gospel to the cultures of the times
10. The Church of England needs to recognize that the way we
have lived out our divisions on same sex relationships creates
problems for effective mission and evangelism within our culture,
and that such problems are shared by some other Churches and in
some other parts of the Anglican Communion. The Church of England
also needs to recognize that any change to the Church's stance in
one province could have serious consequences for mission in some
other provinces of the Communion.
11. Whilst abiding by the Church's traditional teaching on human
sexuality, we encourage the Church to continue to engage openly and
honestly and to reflect theologically on the circumstances in which
we find ourselves to discern the mind of Christ and what the Spirit
is saying to the Church now.
12. Through a period of debate and discernment in relation to
the gospel message in our culture, it is right that all, including
those with teaching authority in the church, should be able to
participate openly and honestly in that process.
On the Church's pastoral response:
13. The Church needs to find ways of honouring and affirming
those Christians who experience same sex attraction who, conscious
of the church's teaching, have embraced a chaste and single
lifestyle, and also those who in good conscience have entered
partnerships with a firm intention of life-long fidelity
14. The whole Church is called to real repentance for the lack
of welcome and acceptance extended to homosexual people in the
past, and to demonstrate the unconditional acceptance and love of
God in Christ for all people.
15. The Church's present rules impose different disciplines on
clergy and laity in relation to sexually active same sex
relationships. In the facilitated conversations it will be
important to reflect on the extent to which the laity and clergy
should continue to observe such different disciplines.
16. We believe that there can be circumstances where a
priest, with the agreement of the relevant PCC, should be
free to mark the formation of a permanent same sex relationship in
a public service but should be under no obligation to do so. Some
of us do not believe that this can be extended to same sex
17. While the Church abides by its traditional teaching such
public services would be of the nature of a pastoral accommodation
and so the Church of England should not authorize a formal liturgy
for use for this purpose. The House of Bishops should consider
whether guidance should be issued.
18. Whether someone is married, single or in a civil partnership
should have no bearing on the nature of the assurances sought from
them that they intend to order their lives consistently with the
teaching of the Church on sexual conduct. Intrusive questioning
should be avoided.