Bishop sacked over gay blessing

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The Church of England's civil war over homosexuality escalated yesterday when the Bishop of Ripon, the Rt Rev David Young, said he had dismissed one of his assistant bishops for blessing gay couples.

The Rt Rev Derek Rawcliffe is the only practising bishop in the Church of England to have admitted being homosexual, which he did on television in March 1995. Since then Dr Young has not asked him to perform any confirmations, the chief occupation of assistant bishops. This week he sacked him altogether after learning he had recently blessed a gay couple in a ceremony at a hotel.

"I did it because I was asked to," Dr Rawcliffe said yesterday. "There are priests all over the country who do this." Dr Rawcliffe, a widower, had served as an assistant bishop in the diocese of Ripon since 1991, when he retired as Bishop of Glasgow. It is customary for bishops to be commissioned as assistants in the dioceses where they retire.

Dr Young, who has taken a strong public line against homosexual clergy since 1988, said yesterday: "It is clear to me that my understanding of the episcopal role in this diocese and Bishop Derek's understanding cannot be reconciled. It is therefore right that he should cease to have my commission."

Dr Rawcliffe is also believed to be the first assistant bishop anywhere in the church to have his commission revoked for doctrinal reasons.

The moves come as traditionalist forces increase their campaigning against the Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement's planned 20th-birthday celebration in Southwark Cathedral next month.

The Church of England's press office last week made an unprecedented complaint against the Thought for the Day programme on BBC Radio 4 after an evangelical speaker on it, Anne Atkins, attacked the proposed ceremony.