Friday, 4 January 2013

Civil partnerships and eligibility for the episcopate in the CofE


The Church of England today issued a press release with this title: Statement Regarding Clergy in a Civil Partnership as Candidates for the Episcopate.

The Rt Revd Graham James, Bishop of Norwich, today 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 “House of Bishops issues pastoral statement on Civil Partnerships” can be found here:

When republished by the Anglican Communion News Service this article had the following additional note:

Editor’s note: From House of Bishops issues pastoral statement on Civil Partnerships 25 July, 2005 ‘The House of Bishops,’ [the statement] says, ‘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.’

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.’

And when republished by Episcopal News Service it had an even longer additional note:

…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.”…

Posted by Simon Sarmiento on Friday, 4 January 2013 at 9:58pm GMT | TrackBack
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Categorised as: Church of England | equality legislation

if I remember correctly (and I may not), the requirement that bishops should not be in a civil partnership was one of a list of several requirements that was developed around the time of the vacancy at Southwark and there were suspicions that those requirements were compiled with the sole purpose of disqualifying Jeffrey John from being eligible for the post.

I seem to remember that TA carried the whole list but I was unable to find it in the archives.

It would be helpful to see that list again, in particular if all the other requirements in it still stand.

My own suspicion is that the real issue here is that the CoE is currently lobbying against marriage equality that it has suddenly discovered its support for those Civil Partnerships it had previously opposed. And support of CPs is a lot more credible if being CPd is not a bar to becoming a bishop within the CoE.

And while a lot of people might see this latest announcement as the beginnings of official support for lgbt people and their relationships, it could be interpreted as a purely politically motivated move, in particular if nothing has really changed at all and there is still no realistic chance that any CPd priest would ever become a bishop.

Posted by: Erika Baker on Friday, 4 January 2013 at 10:40pm GMT

Do you mean this document?

Posted by: Simon Sarmiento on Friday, 4 January 2013 at 11:44pm GMT

“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.”

Unless, of course, they are female.

Posted by: Lionel Deimel on Friday, 4 January 2013 at 11:53pm GMT

It's still completely unacceptable because what it is advocating is a perversion.

Why not stipulate that all heterosexual bishops may be married but must live celibate lives? How unnatural would that seem? How outrageous? It is the same to make that demand for a gay or lesbian couple.

To applaud this decision is to collaborate in a disgusting discrimination requiring perverse and unnatural interference in two human beings' honest and natural love.

It is not a step in the right direction. It is an attempt to embed the discrimination more cosmetically.

How completely out of touch with ordinary, decent, and far more generous and compassionate people outside the church establishment.

The church is still, by these discriminations, vilifying the tender and intimate love that people naturally have for one another, and alienating the general public at the same time.

To be honest, this just disgusts me. I am embarrassed and ashamed of my church on this issue. My very sane, decent and open-minded friends are just aghast.

Posted by: Susannah on Saturday, 5 January 2013 at 2:22am GMT

yes, I think that is it, thank you.
What I wanted to refer to was point 29:

29. Relevant factors which can properly be taken into account include:

-whether the candidate had always complied with the Church’s teachings on same-sex sexual activity;
-whether he was in a civil partnership;
-whether he was in a continuing civil partnership with a person with whom he had had an earlier same-sex sexual relationship;
-whether he had expressed repentance for any previous same-sex sexual activity;
-and whether (and to what extent) the appointment of the candidate would cause division and disunity within the diocese in question, the Church of England and the wider Anglican Communion.

Because at the time it was clear to everyone that these requirements were put in place precisely to stop Jeffrey John from becoming Bishop of Southwark as every single one of them happens to apply to him and to him only.

And the crucial thing is that, while they might now state that it's acceptable for a bishop to be in a civil partnership, it is clear that as long as the last point stands there will never be a gay civil partnered bishop in the CoE.

Being quite cynical about the CoE by now I believe that the statement that bishops may be civil partnered (but celibate) has its roots in the church opposition to marriage equality and its discovery of its own long standing firm support of Civil Partnerships. That support doesn't look credible if you don't allow your own bishops to be civil partnered.
And as the removal of that requirement does not make it remotely likely that a single civil partnered priest will become a bishop in the CoE, it has absolutely no actual consequences at all.

I am concerned about the many lgbt people who have seen this is a softening of the CoE stance and I firmly believe that they will only be disappointed yet again.

Posted by: Erika Baker on Saturday, 5 January 2013 at 9:36am GMT

Requiring celibacy of only one group is morally unacceptable because it is supposed to be a calling, not something that can be imposed. To be consistent, why not require all straight candidates for the episcopate be limited to civil partnerships and promises of an intent to be celibate? Why do white straight males have special privileges?

The C of E seems intent on alienating every different camp.

Better no religion than one which makes people feel bad about themselves.

Gary Paul Gilbert

Posted by: Gary Paul Gilbert on Saturday, 5 January 2013 at 10:03am GMT

If I was a woman priest in the C of E, I would be outraged right now.

If I was a gay male priest in the C of E, I would be unimpressed.

The tone deafness of the C of E hierarchy continues to astound me.

I suggest two possible solutions.
To my mind, the best solution is simply to consecrate open and partnered gay persons who qualify and who are duly chosen or elected to be bishops. Make all the orders of deacon, priest, and bishop open to all the baptized and end the arbitrary disqualifications of entire populations.
A second solution, less desirable, would be to imitate the Eastern Orthodox model and require celibacy for all bishops.

Posted by: Counterlight on Saturday, 5 January 2013 at 12:54pm GMT

I suppose that for many this is a very serious policy move. It may open up the English episcopate to at least one person who has long merited a mitre.

That said, this announcement twists the CofE into an ever-more-ridiculous position. At best, such contortionism is at once comic, prurient, and mendacious.

Posted by: Jeremy on Saturday, 5 January 2013 at 2:10pm GMT

I fear that none of this reflects at all well on the C of E. The original press release came out on the Thursday before Christmas but did not seem to be picked up at all by the general media. The apparent change of position on gay bishops was picked up and discussed in these columns at the time, but the national media did not catch on until it was published in the CT yesterday, after which it formed the main item on most news broadcasts for the rest of the day, and continuing unabated today. Only after the media storm had started did the HoB feel it necessary to issue a further press release clarifying and expanding on this one matter buried in the original wider-ranging release.
Perhaps the HoB, realising what a hot potato this issue could be, deliberately buried it within a larger press release issued at a time when not many people would be looking. If so, they should have left it at that. As it is, coming out with a later release in the midst of the media storm only makes it look as if they are being driven by the news, rather than making it.

Posted by: Malcolm Dixon on Saturday, 5 January 2013 at 2:33pm GMT

This is one of those cases where one feels that half a loaf may be worse than no bread. The conditions on which a gay man can become a bishop are insulting.
No one asks a heterosexual bishop to repent of having sex with his wife and promise not to do it again.
It is fine that gay clergy must be in a civil partnership to show their commitment before becoming a bishop as long as they cannot be married.It is wrong and insulting to ask them to repent of any sexual acts with their partner or to promise not to do it again.
It shows that the bishops are still not able to grasp that for some people gay sex is their natural expression.They still labour under a wrong feeling that it is sinful.It really is time that they grew up!

Posted by: Jean Mayland on Saturday, 5 January 2013 at 5:59pm GMT

Eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven... or the See of Durham?

Posted by: Tobias Haller on Saturday, 5 January 2013 at 7:34pm GMT

"The church is still, by these discriminations, vilifying the tender and intimate love that people naturally have for one another, and alienating the general public at the same time."

Susannah, a beautiful description of an ugly policy.

Posted by: JCF on Monday, 7 January 2013 at 7:17am GMT
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