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Talks on sexuality need safeguards, says canon

04 July 2014

SAM ATKINS

Safe space: A group discussion about women bishops at the meeting of General Synod in York, last year

Safe space: A group discussion about women bishops at the meeting of General Synod in York, last year

GAY people who take part in the shared conversations on sexuality organised by the House of Bishops must be given assurance that it will be safe for them to do so, a gay priest said this week.

The Vicar of St Mary's, Battersea, Canon Simon Butler, came out at General Synod in February ( News, 21 February), when he sought reassurance that the conversations would be "based on truth and honesty, rather than a sort of dissembling". On Tuesday, after the publication of the roadmap for the conversations by the House of Bishops, he said: "We need to be confident that the people who identify in the process as LGBT are not going to find themselvs not being appointed to posts, not being considered for appointments, or hounded in their own parishes by neighbouring clergy."

The plan for the facilitated conversations, published last Friday, emphasises that the aim is to create a "safe place for all viewpoints to be expressed". The process, overseen by the Archbishop of Canterbury's director of reconciliation, David Porter, will be led by 20 trained facilitators. It will be piloted by the College of Bishops, in September, who will have access to "substantial theological material commissioned from scholars with differing viewpoints".

It will then be extended to the dioceses: 12 conversations will take place, each involving about 60 participants chosen by diocesan bishops. Each conversation will have an equal number of clergy and laity, and of women and men. A quarter of the group should be under 40 years old, the roadmap suggests, and LGBT people should be represented by more than one person. "The range and balance of views in the group should, as far as is possible, reflect the range and balance within the diocese itself."

The process wil conclude in July 2016, when the General Synod will spend two days in shared conversations.

At this month's meeting of General Synod, Canon Butler plans to ask "what procedures and processes are the House of Bishops establishing to ensure that sufficient confidence is given to its gay members [of the House of Bishops] to enable them to safely declare their sexuality?"

He said on Tuesday: "We won't get anywhere if the bishops aren't prepared to honour the sort of honesty and integrity that the rest of us need to come by. . . They may see it as their job to police the process, whereas they need to be fully participating in the conversations . . . The gay bishops need encouragement and support and assurance."

The chairman of the Evangelical network Reform, the Revd Rod Thomas, speaking on Tuesday, expressed concern about possibly having to sign up to a particular premise before participating in the conversations: "If the premise is that we have to recognise that we are all equally faithful disciples of Christ, it makes it very difficult for us to participate in something which accepts that you can disobey something in the Bible and yet be a good disciple of Christ. If by good disagreement the Archbishop simply means that we treat each other reasonably as we divide, that is one thing; but if he is saying we need to learn to live together despite our disagreements, that is not something I think is an option."

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