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Archbishops issue apology over civil partnerships statement

31 January 2020

CHURCH TIMES

The Archbishop of Canterbury addresses the General Synod at Church House, Westminster, in February last year. The Archbishop of York looks on

The Archbishop of Canterbury addresses the General Synod at Church House, Westminster, in February last year. The Archbishop of York looks on

THE Archbishops of Canterbury and York have apologised for the release of last week’s pastoral statement on civil partnerships, acknowledging that it “jeopardised trust”. The statement will not be withdrawn, however, after the College of Bishops voted against a proposal to do so.

Issued on Thursday evening, at the end of a two-day meeting of the College, the Archbishops’ statement recognised “the division and hurt” the statement had caused.

The Archbishops’ statement says that they, “alongside the bishops of the Church of England, apologise and take responsibility for releasing a statement last week which we acknowledge has jeopardised trust. We are very sorry and recognise the division and hurt this has caused.”

The statement (in full below) sets out their commitment to the Living in Love and Faith project, a process “intended to help us all to build bridges that will enable the difficult conversations that are necessary as, together, we discern the way forward for the Church of England.”

In a letter to his diocese, the Bishop of St Edmundsbury & Ipswich, also released on Thursday evening, the Rt Revd Martin Seeley, says that he and a number of colleagues asked that the statement be withdrawn, “but this was decided against by the majority”.

Bishop Seeley is on the Delegation Committee — a group of nine bishops who would have examined the draft civil partnerships statement before circulating it to the rest of the House of Bishops in its finished form. Bishop Seeley was on sabbatical when the statement was discussed, though he said: “I share in the corporate responsibility for its production.”

He writes to his diocese: “Whilst I accept it expresses the existing official position of the Church of England on the place of sexual activity in our lives, I cannot grasp why it needed to be stated now and in this way, particularly since we are currently in the process of questioning, learning and reflecting as part of the ‘Living in Love and Faith’ project. . .

“Personally, I would hope that we can move away from this narrow focus on sexual activity towards encouraging relationships which embody and reflect God’s love for us, in which we support one another, and those who seek our help, whether single or in a faithful and committed relationships, to deepen lives in which we ever more truly know and show the fullness of God’s love for us all.”

It is not known who else called for the statement to be withdrawn, but the Bishop of Liverpool, the Rt Revd Paul Bayes, wrote on Twitter that he agreed with all that Bishop Seeley had said. Bishop Seeley said that the College of Bishops meeting had begun and ended with “expressions of great sorrow and distress” about the statement’s publication. He was “very sorry” not only for its publication but that it had been “produced in the first place”.

There has been strong episcopal criticism of the civil partnerships pronouncement since it’s release. On Sunday evening, the Bishop of Gloucester, the Rt Revd Rachel Treweek, described its release as “perplexing and upsetting”.

The Archbishops’ statement in full:

”We as Archbishops, alongside the bishops of the Church of England, apologise and take responsibility for releasing a statement last week which we acknowledge has jeopardised trust. We are very sorry and recognise the division and hurt this has caused.

”At our meeting of the College of Bishops of the Church of England this week we continued our commitment to the Living in Love and Faith project which is about questions of human identity, sexuality and marriage. This process is intended to help us all to build bridges that will enable the difficult conversations that are necessary as, together, we discern the way forward for the Church of England.”

Read more in Andrew Brown’s press column and our Letters to the Editor

On this week’s edition of The Church Times Podcast, Madeleine Davies explains how the pastoral statement story unfolded. It was recorded on Thursday afternoon, but there is an update about the Archbishops’ statement at the end. 

The podcast is also available on the Church Times app for iPhone and iPadApple PodcastsGoogle PodcastsSpotify, and most other podcast platforms.

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