[Anglican Communion News Service, Episcopal News Service] The Church of England issued a statement Jan. 4 confirming that gay priests can be appointed bishops as long as they live in accordance with the teaching of the Church [of England] on human sexuality.
The Rt. Rev. Graham James, bishop of Norwich, issued the following statement on behalf of the House of Bishops of the Church of England:
“The House of Bishops’ Pastoral Statement on Civil Partnerships issued in 2005 did not address specifically whether clergy who entered such partnerships should be considered for the episcopate. What the House has now done, following the work undertaken by the group chaired by the Bishop of Sodor and Man set up last year, is to look at the matter again last month.
“The House has confirmed that clergy in civil partnerships, and living in accordance with the teaching of the Church on human sexuality, can be considered as candidates for the episcopate. There had been a moratorium on such candidates for the past year and a half while the working party completed its task.
“The House believed it would be unjust to exclude from consideration for the episcopate anyone seeking to live fully in conformity with the Church’s teaching on sexual ethics or other areas of personal life and discipline. All candidates for the episcopate undergo a searching examination of personal and family circumstances, given the level of public scrutiny associated with being a bishop in the Church of England. But these, along with the candidate’s suitability for any particular role for which he is being considered, are for those responsible for the selection process to consider in each case.”
The House of Bishops issued a statement detailing the business carried out at their meeting on 20 December 2012 which can be found here. Paragraph 7 of that statement reads: “The House considered an interim report from the group chaired by Sir Joseph Pilling on the Church of England’s approach to human sexuality.
Pending the conclusion of the group’s work next year the House does not intend to issue a further pastoral statement on civil partnerships. It confirmed that the requirements in the 2005 statement concerning the eligibility for ordination of those in civil partnerships whose relationships are consistent with the teaching of the Church of England apply equally in relation to the episcopate.”
The statement follows on from the House of Bishops consideration of this matter on 1st July 2011 “Civil partnerships and same-sex relationships: a statement by the House of Bishops of the Church of England” which can be found here.
The 2005 statement said in part that House of Bishops “does not regard entering into a civil partnership as intrinsically incompatible with holy orders, provided the person concerned is willing to give assurances to his or her bishop that the relationship is consistent with the standards for the clergy set out in Issues in Human Sexuality.”
That 1991 document said that “clergy cannot claim the liberty to enter into sexually active homophile relationships. Because of the distinctive nature of their calling, status and consecration, to allow such a claim on their part would be seen as placing the way of life in all respects on a par with heterosexual marriage as a reflection of God’s purposes in creation. The Church [of England] cannot accept such a parity and remain faithful to the insights which God has given it through Scripture, tradition and reasoned reflection on experience.”
Despite the need “to avoid public scandal,” the document rejected possible calls for bishops to be “more rigorous in searching out and exposing clergy who may be in sexually active homophile relationships,” First of all, the bishops said, it would be “grossly unfair” to assume that two people of the same sex living together were “in some form of erotic relationship.” Second, “it has always been the practice of the Church of England to trust its members and, and not carry out intrusive interrogations in order to make sure they are behaving themselves.”
Issues in Human Sexuality made it clear that, while the same standards apply to all, the Church did not want to exclude from its fellowship those lay people of gay or lesbian orientation who, in conscience, were unable to accept that a life of sexual abstinence was required of them and instead chose to enter into a faithful, committed relationship. “The House considers that lay people who have registered civil partnerships ought not to be asked to give assurances about the nature of their relationship before being admitted to baptism, confirmation and communion,” the bishops said in their 2005 statement.