Church of England bishops to review gay policies

AP News
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Posted: Jul 01, 2011 3:07 PM
Church of England bishops to review gay policies

Church of England bishops say they have temporarily barred priests in civil partnerships from being appointed as bishops.

The statement Friday from the House of Bishops said a review of civil relationships would be completed next year and a broader review of the church's attitude toward homosexuals is to be published in 2013.

The Right Rev. Graham James, the bishop of Norwich, says bishops have devoted little time to the issues of homosexuality since they issued a statement in 2005, though deep disagreements the issue have strained the global Anglican Communion.

The Church of England's policy is that gay male priests who are celibate are eligible to become bishops, though no openly gay candidate has been advanced to a bishopric.

The temporary ban on promoting priests in civil partnerships would exclude a number of clergy including the Rev. Jeffrey John, the dean of St. Albans, who has been considered for advancement twice and rejected both times.

The church is still debating whether women, gay or not, can become bishops.

The bishops' statement on civil partnerships in 2005 said that "sexual intercourse, as an expression of faithful intimacy, properly belongs within marriage exclusively." It defined marriage as "a faithful, committed, permanent and legally sanctioned relationship between a man and a woman, is central to the stability and health of human society."

The statement said any candidate for holy orders who is in a civil partnership can expect to be asked whether the relationship is celibate, in accord with church teaching.

A law adopted in 2005 allows same sex couples to enter into civil partnerships that give them the same legal rights and obligations as married couples.

An opinion issued by the church's legal office last month noted that there had never been a statement that "a celibate person in a civil partnership cannot be considered for appointment as a bishop."

The legal opinion went on to say that present or past personal relationships of a candidate could be considered in deciding whether he could "act as a focus of unity."

Although homosexuality has been a prominent issue in the church, Bishop James said he and his colleagues have devoted little time to it since 2005.

"The bishops will produce a consultation document in 2013," James said. "The House's decision is motivated by a desire to help shape the continuing debate constructively and not by any view about what the outcome should be."