Gay bishops encouraged to come out in petition by Church of England priests and parishioners

More than 300 members of the clergy made the appeal to the episcopate, but warned against the involuntary outing of bishops

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Privately gay bishops have been told that if they publicly acknowledge their sexuality they will receive “support, prayer and encouragement” from a number of Church of England priests and parishioners.

In a letter signed by more than 300 members of the Church to its leadership and entire episcopate, Anglican, Methodist and other Christian signatories appealed to gay and bisexual bishops urging them to have the “courage and conviction” to come out.

The written plea, seen and reported by the Sunday Telegraph, is backed by at least 160 priests and promises to “stand by” and “welcome and embrace” those bishops who do decide to go public.

The Church of England teaches that sexual intercourse should occur within a marriage and that this “ideal” is not met by homosexuality. There are also currently no openly gay bishops.

A 1991 statement from the House of Bishops says: “Heterosexuality and homosexuality are not equally congruous with the observed order of creation or with the insights of revelation as the Church engages with these in the light of her pastoral ministry.”

Openly gay Jeffrey John, who is in a celibate homosexual relationship and the current Dean of St Albans, was appointed the Bishop of Reading in 2003 but withdrew from the post following the ensuing controversy over his sexuality.

He has previously been close to obtaining the position in both the Southwark and Exeter dioceses, and last month was revealed as one of four people chosen as a candidate for the next Bishop of St Edmundsbury and Ipswich, Christian Today reports.

The letter to the Church of England Bishops adds that it does “not advocate the involuntary outing of bishops”.

“We write to assure those bishops who may choose to openly acknowledge their sexual orientation as gay or bisexual that you will receive our support, prayer, and encouragement,” it reads.

Adding: “Sadly, we live at a time when those who are honest about LGBTI and Christian are treated with hostility by a vocal minority within and outside the Church.

“We have no doubt that the vast majority of Anglicans will welcome and embrace those of you who are gay or bisexual for your courage and conviction if you come out: weeping with you for past hurts and rejoicing in God’s call as witnesses to Christ’s transforming love and compassion.

“If you stand out we will stand beside you.”

It was spearheaded by Rev Dr Keith Hebden, a priest in Mansfield, Nottinghamshire, who will deliver the letter to the House of Bishops.

He said: “I’m a straight, white middle class man – I’m not saying to particular individuals ‘you should come out’.

“What this letter is saying is that if you feel it is the right thing, through your thought and prayer and conversations with people you love, there is an immeasurable number of people out there who will love and support you.”

Other signatories also include members of the Roman Catholic church, baptists, and members of the Jewish community.