The group's report, which warns against "judgmental" attitudes, has infuriated evangelicals and traditionalists. George Carey, the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Church's most prominent evangelical, yesterday distanced himself from his Church's first full investigation of the family for 20 years.
Dr Carey said he was grateful for the working party's reflections but added: "Their report is not, and does not purport to be, the Church's authoritative teaching. It is offered by the working party as a rich resource in a continuing process of debate and soul searching."
Others were less polite about the conclusions of the group led by the Rt Rev Alan Morgan, Bishop of Sherwood. A spokes-man for Ecclesia, the Anglican Catholic society, said: "The Church of England should be calling those who cohabit to repentance and encouraging them to marry, not waffling on about understanding 'the complicated reality of people's lives'". He said the report was "an incitement to young people to lead immoral lives" and further undermined the institution of marriage.
Colin Hart, director of the Christian Institute, said the report, which urged a "ready welcome" for gay men and women, plunged "into new liberal depths". He called on the General Synod to disown it when it considers it later this year.
Phil Gore, a member of the Synod from Manchester Diocese, called the report "an obituary on the traditional family".
However, the report claims family life is not disintegrating but changing, despite dramatic social changes and pressures. At its launch yesterday, the Rt Rev James Thompson, the Bishop of Bath and Wells, said he expected it to be controversial. Its conclusions led to the resignation in April of a member of the 13-strong working party, sociology lecturer Dr Alan Storkey. The group refused to publish his minority report which contradicted its liberal stand and emphasised the crisis caused by the breakdown in marriage.
The Bishop of Sherwood emphasised that marriage was central to the Christian tradition but insisted the Church must face reality. There could be no looking back to a "golden age of the family", he said.
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