Gays prepare secret survey of the clergy

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Gay activists in the Church of England are to carry out a secret survey of Anglican clergy in order to pile further pressure onto the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr George Carey, to abolish the Church's ban on ordaining practising homosexuals.

In a letter sent out today to 1,000 supporters, the Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement (LGCM) is urging gay and lesbian clergy to sign a confidential statement if they have been ordained or employed by a bishop who knew they were not celibate.

According to the Rev Richard Kirker, general secretary of LGCM, it is an "open secret" that many bishops who signed Issues in Human Sexuality in 1991, which includes the "no gay relationship" rule for clergy, have in fact knowingly ordained and employed clergy in same-sex relationships.

"We believe that this may well be the case with the majority of bishops," writes Mr Kirker. "It is crucial that the hypocrisy behind this position is exposed, and that the bishops stop victimising in public the clergy whom in private they have professed to support."

Mr Kirker assures respondents, who may or may not be members of LGCM, that their statements will be kept "in the strictest confidence". The purpose of the initiative is, he says, to "get a proper debate off the ground" at the General Synod in York in July, rather than publicly expose individual bishops.

The survey follows the bombshell dropped by Rt Rev John Baker, the former Bishop of Salisbury, at a lecture entitled "Homosexuality and Christian ethics - a new way forward together" on Monday. Bishop Baker, who chaired the group which produced the celibate rule for gay clergy, announced that he now feels "obliged to dissent from that judgment".

"I cannot see that married heterosexual clergy have a right to deny their homosexual brothers and sisters the potential spiritual blessing of a sexual relationship when they themselves enjoy that blessing," he said.

The results of the survey could provide the gay rights lobby with ammunition against Dr Carey, who only last Sunday reiterated his traditional stance. "Practising homosexuality is not to be condoned in the priesthood," he said. "We recognise two lifestyles. One is marriage and the other is celibacy and there can't be anything in between."

The Bishop of Oxford, the Rt Rev Richard Harries, who chairs the House of Bishops' group, yesterday described Dr Baker's lecture advocating "gay marriage" as "a thoughtful contribution to a continuing discussion in the church".

Mr Kirker has also written to the Archbishop of Canterbury to request a dialogue. "The rising degree of frustration among many within the Church towards your attitude is beginning to lead many to the conclusion that your refusal to meet has more to do with being obdurate than with a genuine desire to learn and listen," he wrote.

"If you wish to be believed when you say that you are not homophobic you must provide real evidence for this claim."