The Church of England looks set to allow openly gay clergy to become bishops. But there’s a catch: unlike their heterosexual counterparts, they will have to remain celibate.
Conservatives in the Anglican Communion will be wary of anything that goes against church teaching, says the BBC, while liberals in the organization may balk at anything that smacks of inequality between gay and straight clergy.
The church is responding to the UK’s Equality Act, which prohibits discrimination in employment based on sexual orientation.
The issue is due to go before the church’s governing body, the General Synod, next month after legal advice, which is expected to be published today.
The move comes nine months after the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams – head of the worldwide Anglican Communion – hinted that there was nothing wrong with gay bishops, provided they didn’t have sex.
Williams said at the time: “There’s no problem about a gay person who’s a bishop. It’s about the fact that there are traditionally, historically, standards that the clergy are expected to observe.”
Asked by the Daily Telegraph what was wrong with a homosexual bishop having a partner: “I think because the scriptural and traditional approach to this doesn’t give much ground for being positive about it.”
An opponent of openly gay clergy, Canon Chris Sugden, tells the BBC that, if bishops were “faithful to the teaching of the Church,” it was “unexceptionable.”
He said Christian teaching “makes a distinction between inclination, orientation and attraction on one hand, and practice and behaviour on the other.”
Gay activists, he said, “take great exception to the distinction. Some of the current activists for the gay cause are saying this distinction between attraction and behaviour is an unacceptable denial of human rights if (a) they cannot express it and (b) they don’t have access to high posts in the church.”
The BBC quotes the Rev. Rod Thomas, chairman of Reform, a conservative evangelical group: “If someone is gay by inclination but doesn’t engage in any sexual activity – then there is nothing to say that that is wrong.”
Vow of celibacy
But he had some doubts, he said, “because of what’s happened in the past with guidance for bishops on civil partnerships. Civil partnerships ministered in the church must undertake with a vow of celibacy. But that guidance has not always been followed with rigour.”
He continued: “[Clergy] who are in civil partnerships say their sex life is none of [their overseeing] bishop’s business and often bishops in turn show no intention of finding out. Why should we believe that no inquiries will be made about their private lives in this instance?”
Britain’s National Secular Society said the law does not permit discrimination against homosexual orientation or practice.
Its director, Keith Porteous Wood, said: “So either the bishops are subject to the law and this does not meet it, or they are not and the Equality Act is being used as a smokescreen.”