Fresh storm hits C of E after move to allow gay bishops

Celibacy condition sparks unholy row between gay members of the church and traditionalists

Still reeling from its failure to pass legislation on women bishops, the Church of England was engulfed in another controversy about its future yesterday, after a decision to allow gay clergy in civil partnerships to become bishops.

The House of Bishops has ruled that gay men in civil partnerships can be admitted to the episcopate, provided they promise to remain celibate. The decision was taken by the House of Bishops just before Christmas, but news of it emerged only on Friday.

The condition of celibacy – which is already imposed on homosexual clergy – has caused consternation among gay Christians and their supporters. At the same time, the thought of gay men in relationships taking on senior roles in the church has outraged traditionalists.

The Rev Sharon Ferguson, from the Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement, welcomed the lifting of the moratorium on gay clergy rising in the ranks of the church, but said the insistence on celibacy showed that "there is still discrimination". She added that the church needed to focus more on relationships than sex.

"It's one of those crazy, crazy situations and I'm not sure why the church gets so hung up about it," she said. "The important thing is not what people do with their dangly bits, but whether their relationship is faithful and loving."

Canon Chris Sugden, secretary of the conservative group Anglican Mainstream, said he was concerned that in practice the ruling on celibacy would simply be ignored: "It's almost a case of 'who are they kidding?' to assume that [gay bishops] will follow celibacy to the letter. Many clergy openly defy the House of Bishops on this already."

The furore comes days before the Right Rev Justin Welby, currently Bishop of Durham and 57 today, begins his formal election to the role of Archbishop of Canterbury. A ceremony will take place at Canterbury Cathedral on Thursday. He takes on the role formally after a service at St Paul's Cathedral on 4 February.

Canon Sugden said the timing of the latest revelations were unfortunate for Dr Welby, whose opinions on homosexuality are largely in line with the conservative evangelical branch of the church. He said: "It seems very unfair to the new Archbishop of Canterbury to announce this at this time, before he's even in post."

The Very Rev Jeffrey John, Dean of St Albans, looks likely to become the first cleric to take up the new opportunity. He is in a celibate same-sex relationship and has come close to taking on a bishopric once before. In May 2003 he was nominated to become Bishop of Reading, but after a backlash from conservatives he turned down the opportunity several months later, under pressure from the Archbishop of Canterbury.

Symon Hill, associate director of the religious think-tank Ekklesia, and editor of the website Queers for Jesus, said: "It's insulting to clergy who are in same-sex relationships that they have to abstain from sex. What constitutes celibacy and how will it be policed? Would a bishop be able to kiss his partner? Or hold his hand?

"I've known priests who are gay or bisexual and have been asked very intimate questions about what they do or don't do with their partners, in a way that heterosexual priests are not asked about their wives. I know of at least one person who, on living with his same-sex partner, had all sorts of unfounded allegations made by other Christians. He even had his car window smashed in on Christmas Day and had to move parishes when a fellow Anglican priest refused to condemn the attacks."

Susie Leafe, a member of the General Synod for Truro, said that the condition of celibacy was essential for "the majority" in the Church of England and that its removal would mean that many would feel compelled to leave. "For the church to condone homosexual practice would be to go against the teaching of scripture – and that is the point at which we'd have left biblical teaching behind," she said.

A spokesman for the Church of England said that the rules for gay bishops were the same as those for straight ones – that unless they were married they had to remain celibate. Since civil partnerships are not recognised by the church as equivalent to marriage, this means gay couples working in the church are expected to stay celibate.

Case study

The Rev Colin Coward, 67, from Devizes, Wiltshire, Director of Changing Attitude

"I've been in a civil partnership for two years and I won't answer the church's celibacy questions. The Bishop of Salisbury has twice refused my Permission To Officiate licence, which means I'm not allowed to function as a priest in my diocese. I can't perform my vocation because it would provoke dissent in the diocese as I'm such an active campaigner, and it's very sad.

"This insistence on celibacy is a very conditional acceptance of gay people in the church. Any gay person considering becoming a bishop would have to go through a kind of purgatory during which they would be under an enormous amount of public scrutiny. I can't imagine anyone wanting to do it.

"It's deeply unrealistic and intrusive and it sends a very hostile message to someone who's gay. Clearly it also looks insane to the general public".

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Telesales Executive - OTE £25,000

£13000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Would you like to be part of a ...

Recruitment Genius: 1st Line Technical Support Engineer

£19000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This IT and Telecoms company ar...

Recruitment Genius: Assistant Manager - Visitor Fundraising

£23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The Visitor Fundraising Team is responsi...

Recruitment Genius: Developer

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join ...

Day In a Page

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation: Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation

Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places
House of Lords: Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled

The honours that shame Britain

Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled
When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race

'When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race'

Why are black men living the stereotypes and why are we letting them get away with it?
International Tap Festival: Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic

International Tap Festival comes to the UK

Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic
War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border
Doris Lessing: Acclaimed novelist was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show

'A subversive brothel keeper and Communist'

Acclaimed novelist Doris Lessing was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show
Big Blue Live: BBC's Springwatch offshoot swaps back gardens for California's Monterey Bay

BBC heads to the Californian coast

The Big Blue Live crew is preparing for the first of three episodes on Sunday night, filming from boats, planes and an aquarium studio
Austin Bidwell: The Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England with the most daring forgery the world had known

Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England

Conman Austin Bidwell. was a heartless cad who carried out the most daring forgery the world had known
Car hacking scandal: Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked

Car hacking scandal

Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked
10 best placemats

Take your seat: 10 best placemats

Protect your table and dine in style with a bold new accessory
Ashes 2015: Alastair Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

Aussie skipper Michael Clarke was lured into believing that what we witnessed at Edgbaston and Trent Bridge would continue in London, says Kevin Garside
Can Rafael Benitez get the best out of Gareth Bale at Real Madrid?

Can Benitez get the best out of Bale?

Back at the club he watched as a boy, the pressure is on Benitez to find a winning blend from Real's multiple talents. As La Liga begins, Pete Jenson asks if it will be enough to stop Barcelona
Athletics World Championships 2015: Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jessica Ennis-Hill and Katarina Johnson-Thompson heptathlon rivalry

Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jess and Kat rivalry

The last time the two British heptathletes competed, Ennis-Hill was on the way to Olympic gold and Johnson-Thompson was just a promising teenager. But a lot has happened in the following three years
Jeremy Corbyn: Joining a shrewd operator desperate for power as he visits the North East

Jeremy Corbyn interview: A shrewd operator desperate for power

His radical anti-austerity agenda has caught the imagination of the left and politically disaffected and set a staid Labour leadership election alight
Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief: Defender of ancient city's past was killed for protecting its future

Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief

Robert Fisk on the defender of the ancient city's past who was killed for protecting its future