The Church of England came under renewed pressure from its own clergy yesterday to update its stance on homosexuality and gay priests.
In a debate at the General Synod in London, speaker after speaker urged the church to become more inclusive and less judgmental and accept that society was moving at a faster pace. Calls for the church to adhere to a "more traditionalist" approach were muted.
The tone of the debate will increase the problems for Dr Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, who has attempted to avoid deepening splits by simply urging the church to continue to consider the issue carefully.
Yesterday's debate was the first time that the synod has argued over the issues since the row over the appointment - later withdrawn - of Canon Jeffrey John, a gay but celibate priest - as Bishop of Reading. There was also a controversy in the United States over the appointment of a practising gay, Gene Robinson, as Bishop of New Hampshire.
The church accepts the reality of same-sex relationships, but does not accord them equal status with heterosexual ones. It says that while gay clergy can be appointed, they should remain celibate.
Yesterday's debate was on a report, Some Issues in Human Sexuality, which calls for more education about the issues to help discussion at the grass roots of the church.
In what appeared to be open defiance of the policy, the Rev Paul Collier, a south London priest, told the synod that his long-term relationship with another man reflected the real world that the church was failing to keep in step with.
Describing the church's position as hopeless, he said the report "held nothing" for lesbian and gay Christians because they had not been consulted on its contents.
He said: "I am not a heterosexual gone astray. I am a gay Christian, with a Christian life and relationship with God. I was elected to the synod as an openly gay priest. The reality is out there in the church; it must become inclusive.'' He was given sustained applause.
Similar applause greeted Sister Rosemary, an Anglican nun making her first speech to the synod. She said: "From the point of view of someone who has chosen celibacy as a way of expressing my love for God, the idea of forced celibacy is as abhorrent as forced marriage."
Gay Christians who chose to remain celibate, she said, were forced into a "life of misery" and a withering of their ability to love anybody, and yet those in committed relationships had the same quality of life as those in heterosexual relationships. "Isn't it time to find the humility to learn from them?" she asked.
Representing the traditional wing, the Rev Ian Paul, from Poole, in Dorset, said there had to be "boundaries to legitimate diversity".
He added: "If that puts us out of step with public opinion, so be it. Young people do not want to join a church to be trendy; they want a church that offers an alternative.''
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