Thinking Anglicans

civil partnerships: another bishop's view

For earlier bishops’ views see here.

Michael Nazir-Ali Bishop of Rochester has issued an Ad Clerum letter which is reproduced in full below the fold.

This was first reported on in the Church of England Newspaper (online yesterday, issue datelined Friday) by Jonathan Wynne-Jones in Civil partnership row erupts.

It is also reported today in The Times by Ruth Gledhill as Bishop attacks civil partnerships.

And in the Telegraph by Jonathan Petre and Jonathan Wynne-Jones as Gay weddings for priests ‘unbiblical’.

There has also been a Statement from Anglican Mainstream and the Church of England Evangelical Council and others in Support of Bishop Michael Nazir Ali’s Statement Ad Clerum. The signatories to this statement include Archbishop Peter Jensen, Sydney.

January 2006

Dear Colleagues
An Answer to some Questions about the Civil Partnership Act 2004

In recent weeks, I have been asked by more and more people, clergy and lay, about my views on the Civil Partnerships Act 2004 and the Church of England’s response to this by way of the House of Bishops’ Pastoral Statement but also in other ways.

It is widely recognised, on all sides, that people living together, for one reason or another, can face significant hardship and discrimination. For those in heterosexual relationships, one way to resolve these difficulties is to get married but this is not possible where the co-habitees are of the same-sex or closely related to one another. While some rights may belong to the married state in virtue of its nature, there are others, such as security of tenancy or rights of visitation, which need not be so restricted. The government’s proposals to remedy injustice and to remove unjust discrimination were, therefore, welcomed by many.

It was, however, the nature of the Civil Partnerships Bill, which was to become the Act, which has caused concern in several quarters. The Bill replicated for same-sex couples nearly all the provisions for marriage which are to be found in existing law. In particular, the prohibition on consanguinity reads very like the provision for marriage. Attempts in Parliament to widen the scope of the legislation so that siblings and other relatives living together might also benefit were fiercely resisted and were unacceptable to the government.

On the one hand, then, the Bill was portrayed as being about the removal of injustices and, on the other, as something as near to ‘marriage’ for same-sex couples as we could get. It has been noted that it is in its careful mimicking of marriage that the Bill can be said to undermine the distinctiveness and fundamental importance to society of the relationship of marriage. There is, then, at the very least, a studied ambiguity both in the text of the legislation and in the way it has been presented and promoted.

In such circumstances, what should have been the Church’s response? It was, I believe, open to the Church, in terms of the Human Rights Act, to derogate from the legislation on the grounds that its ambiguity was not consistent with fundamental Christian teaching on marriage. Also, it could have derogated on the grounds that the ‘marriage-like’ character of the Act would be unacceptable to a substantial number of its members.

In fact, the Church chose not to take either of these courses of action. Instead, first of all, it allowed the government to change church legislation by order so that the term ‘civil partner’ was added wherever the term the ‘spouse’ of a cleric occurred. Secondly, the House of Bishops was asked to agree to a statement prepared on its behalf by a group of bishops and others.

There is much in this statement that is good and entirely acceptable to a biblically-minded Christian. It reiterates basic Christian teaching on marriage and it sets out the Church’s position on issues of human sexuality by referring to authoritative resolutions or texts. It shows a proper pastoral concern for those facing difficult moral and spiritual dilemmas; so far so good. What then is the problem?

I have been somewhat uneasy about some of these actions and some aspects of this statement from the very beginning and have said so in the appropriate bodies and to appropriate people. I fear that the change in church law will have the effect of undermining that very teaching on marriage which the bishops are wishing to uphold and that it introduces another category of ‘partner’ covertly without any public or synodical discussion.

Secondly, inspite of the ambiguity in the legislation and the declared intention of the government, the House has been unable to say that civil partnerships entered into under this legislation would be inconsistent with Christian teaching. This is, and will continue to be, a recipe for confusion.

Thirdly, the Statement has given bishops the task of ensuring that clergy who enter into these partnerships adhere to church teaching in the area of sexuality without giving the bishops the clear means to do so. In the days to come, this step will both severely test the Church’s discipline and stretch pastoral relationships to breaking point.

Finally, by declaring that lay people who enter such partnerships should not be asked about the nature of their relationship, in the context of preparation for baptism and confirmation, as well as for the purposes of receiving Holy Communion, it has compromised pastoral discipline at the local level and pre-empted the relevant canons. In doing this, the House believes that it is adhering to the teaching in Issues in Human Sexuality. It interprets ‘not wanting to exclude from the fellowship of the Church’ as equivalent to there being no discipline in terms of access to the sacraments. Such an interpretation, however, flies in the face of clear biblical teaching and the unanimous practice of the Church down the ages. All are welcome, of course, but this does not mean there is no guidance and discipline for the sake of the fellowship.

The statement leans towards a ‘folk’ understanding of the sacraments as rites of passage rather than as an entry into states of holiness and of discipleship. Bishops have a particular responsibility for holiness and I cannot see how this aspect of the statement will promote it. It should be perfectly possible, without undue intrusion, to set out the Church’s faith clearly and to guide those for whom we have pastoral care with compassion and understanding as to the future course of their discipleship.

As before, I will continue to support clergy and other ministers who seek to bring the fullness of the faith to bear on the pastoral situations they encounter. I know they do this with the greatest sensitivity and care. It is part of their ministry and mine to ‘declare the whole counsel of God’ (Acts 20:27) to the best of our ability and in complete reliance on the grace of God which has appeared with healing for all (Tit 2:11).

In Christ’s service
+Michael Roffen:


  • Merseymike says:

    It simply goes to show that the Bishops are divided on this issue – just like the rest of the Church. Nazir-Ali is well known for his homophobic views, so this comes as no surprise. Essentially, he appears to be wishing to implement the Reform line , extending the restrictions to the laity.

    Expect him to toddle off with Akinola and Sydney should the hoped-for split eventually occur. We can only hope!

  • Peter O says:


    I love this “homophobic” stuff you come out with all the time MM. Perhaps I should call you “bibliophobic”, “orthodoxiphobic” or even “anybodywhodisagreeswithmerseymikephobic”?

    It’s an interesting ad clerum, because it’s more a commentary on the HoB’s statement then a rejection of it (unlike Worcester). His last point is the most provocative, but even that could be read as “The way the Statement was phrased is ambiguous”.

    Interesting to see where this goes.

  • Merseymike says:

    Read ‘anti-gay’ for homophobic, then, Peter. Thats the way the word is now used in common parlance – its only church conservatives who still try and pretend it is about psychological fear.

    I am quite happy to be referred to as anti-evangelical. It describes my position fairly.

    I can’t actually believe that there’s many people who really agree with the statement but then it has managed to irritate everyone about equally.

  • Dave says:

    Dear Merseymike, It’s not the Reform line… it’s the biblical and traditional teaching of all the holy catholic and apostolic churches. You may have noticed that all of them are cutting off relations with ECUSA to some extent or other!

    The HoB pastoral statement claimed “no change” from 1991, but when it told clergy not to enquire with laity in CPs about the nature of their relationship wrt admission to communion and chldren’s baptisms, this WAS a change. Maybe that, and the equivocation on disciplining clergy, was done out of fear of legal action under secular legislation, but as the Bishop points out, that is only because the HoB has first fudged on the issue of whether to recognise CPs. The fudge is clearly wrong – given the church’s official position against homosexual sex, the biblical teaching to avoid any appearance of sin, and the actual nature of CPs as legislated for and represented publicly by the government.

    I think the whole situation could be simply resolved if the HoB put a revised motion to GS to not recognise CPs (in the light of the above and the previous resolutions of GS and Lambeth, Primate Meeting and ACC05). Even European HR gives religions the freedom to be “wrong” – after all noone’s obliged to join! CPs could be replaced with a voluntary code that was acceptable to the H.C.A. Churches; for instance giving certain rights to people living in mutual dependence… whilst retaining the right to spiritual discipline of members and loss of office for “unrepentant” clergy.

  • Merseymike says:

    Only as you well know, that wouldn’t be possible unless the CofE accepted your position wholesale, which it isn’t likely to do.

  • How fascinating! I would very much like to see the legal advice that led this bishop to his conclusions.

  • Dave says:

    Dear Martin, Liberals do love using the law to force people to conform in deed and word (and even thought if that were possible I guess !)

    If European HR law won’t allow religions to follow their beliefs on such firmly established issues as homosexual sex then there is no religious freedom any more! Maybe that is the case.. but better to find out now than just freeze into inaction for fear of finding out!

    In the end I think the HR courts and lawmakers would look extremely totalitarian to the rest of the world – to whom they preach openness and “tolerance” – and pretty stupid – if they tried to insist that well established religions would not be tolerated if they didn’t change to conform to liberal humanist thinking!!..

  • Merseymike says:

    Well established religions really don’t have anything much to offer, though, if they cannot temper their ageing superstitions with liberal humanist input.

  • Joan says:

    How sad it is to see some members of the ‘low church’ (such as the Archbishops of Nigeria & Sydney) trying to force their anti-gay stand on everyone else.

    London does have a Nigerian Lesbian and Gay community, which is even more so the case for Sydney.

    It is becoming increasingly clear that neither the Archbishop of Nigeria nor Syndey are able to provide adequate pastoral care to Lesbian or Gay people in their mist. TEA should be considered for these poor souls.

    Furthermore, there is evidence of same-sex relationships in the early church: e.g. between a Christian Roman soldier and his slave.

    So it can be seen that the Victorian age values that linger in the Nigerian and Sydney Anglican Church leadership as a result of British colonialism are NOT representative of the Church view through the ages.

    Those in favour of restoring a more inclusive church should not let highly organised ‘low church’ propaganda win the day.

    As Christians we are all called to see Christ in those we meet in the world around us, particularly those that are less fortunate than us.

    Perhaps when either Archbishop find out that one of their immediate or extended family (or friends network) is Lesbian or Gay their views will change.

    Faith without love is dead.

  • Sean Doherty says:


    Blow the legal advice (if any). It is up to the church to be faithful, not to avoid being taken to court. If one can be faithful and avoid it, great. But if being faithful means being taken to court, that should hardly surprise us if we have more than a passing familiarity with Scripture and tradition. As I mentioned before, the ultimate court is not in Strasbourg.

    Furthermore, a Christian understanding of ordination means living a life of integrity, i.e. in obedience to the teaching of one’s church. It should hardly be a surprise that bishops regard one’s moral decisions and behaviour as materially relevant to one’s suitability for Christian ministry (even though this is a role that many bishops have hitherto eschewed with a shocking cowardice).

  • badman says:

    Respect for fundamental human rights is not in conflict with our Christian beliefs – quite the contrary. All modern human rights instruments have their origins in the same movement, the movement which produced the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Christian organisations were amongst the most active promoters of this movement: see, for example, the history told by the World Council of Churches at

  • Sean Doherty says:


    I feel you are imposing on others your own standard of ‘pastoral care’, which doesn’t seem to allow for a lot of room for inviting people to take up their cross and follow Jesus, no matter how costly or counter-cultural that might be. Pastoral care is not simply caring for people (though that is indispensable) but caring for them in such a way that they are able to grow in their faith. You do the same with your definition of love as you seem to imply that anyone who disagrees with you is not loving which, I venture to suggest, is hardly true.

    I have very little time for Peter Akinola’s foul-mouthed abuse. It seems to me he is pretty directly responsible for part of the odious attitude and behaviour towards people experiencing same-sex attraction in Nigeria. I feel no more comfortable with being in the same communion as him as I do with many extreme liberals. Yet I don’t really think that Peter Jensen falls in the same category though, unless that category is quite broad, e.g. “everyone who disagrees with Joan”.

    The evidence for acceptance of same-sex relationships in the early church is thin, not to say non-existent. Even more difficult to support is the thesis that they are affirmed in Scripture, which is surely what is really relevant.

    I find your category of ‘restoration’ of some kind of pre-Victorian inclusiveness quite bizarre. Are you seriously claiming that Christians never really thought same-sex sexual activity was wrong until Queen Vic hit the throne?!

  • David & Sean

    I read the ad clerum carefully and noted that it contained important statements on both civil and ecclesiastical law. I am assuming that the bishop has taken legal advice to come to his conclusions; I am expressing a wish to have sight of his advice. He evidently thinks these matters are of importance, and so do I. Such advice is occasionally published.

  • Dave says:

    Dear Badman, I seem to remember that Christian groups were also on the side of the red revolution after the Russian civil war; and there was justification for opposing the Czar’s running of the country. However, Christians were eventually pushed out of the public arena as “the revolution continued” and found to be a threat to the state! This is what is now happening in the UK and at the European level.

    I think the original Human Rights were a great way to define the outer limits of what is acceptable way for a state to relate to it’s citizens. But now the HR concept is being pushed along as a tool of humanistic neo-liberalism into areas where it becomes oppresive. In the UK they now have thought police phoning and visiting people to tell them that they had created a “homophobic incident”.. and not by attacking anyone physically, or urging others to do so, not by saying that homosexuals are perverts, or even that homosexuality is a threat to society. One “incident” was someone saying on public radio that they though that two men living together would not be suitable “parents” to adopt a child !

    Freedom of Speech ? Open discussion ? Tolerance of other views and perspectives ? NO – just an extreme form of societal manipulation through “controlling the discourse” justified in terms of protecting the rights of a particular group!!

  • simon dawson says:

    There seems to be working assumption on this thread that somehow the church is above the need for control by secular law. That is not an assumption I share.

    Is it the church or the secular law of libel which is protecting Davis MacIyalla in Nigeria?

    Closer to home, in the many hundreds, if not thousands, of cases of child sexual abuse by priests in recent decades, it was the secular police authorities that finally took took effective action. Time and time again when complaints were made to bishops they protected the priest, not the child (so as not to damage the reptation of the church!!).

    The church is a human institution. It can do wonderful things and it can do awful things. I for one am glad that the law is there to limit its ability to do awful things.


  • J. C. Fisher says:

    “Such an interpretation, however, flies in the face of clear biblical teaching and the unanimous practice of the Church down the ages.”

    When are the “non gay-relationship-accepting” (*cough* homophobes *cough*) like +Nazir-Ali going to recognize that just because they run the above tagline up the flagpole, it doesn’t mean that *faithful Anglicans* are going to salute it?

    The Bible is evidently NOT CLEAR/the practice of the Church is evidently NOT UNANIMOUS—or we wouldn’t get into these shouting matches on every “Issue”-oriented thread!

    :::waits for the inevitable ‘No, you’re just Unfaithful/Unbiblical/Unorthodox’ charge::: {sigh}

  • Peter O says:

    Quick question Simon Dawson – Is Gaia a real god?

  • Sean Doherty says:

    Hi Simon

    Of course the church should be subject to civil law. Bishops who cover-up sex abuse should suffer the full penalty of the law, etc. But unless you are prepared to side with the German Christians that doesn’t mean mindless, uncritical obedience in every circumstance. When to be faithful to the civil law would be to be unfaithful to Christ, then the church must be willing to suffer, else it is no church.

    Pete – Huh?!

  • Peter O says:


    Go read his website.

  • simon dawson says:

    Peter O asks

    “Quick question Simon Dawson – Is Gaia a real god?”

    Those puzzled by this comment will need to look at my website, and in particular

    This is about the “Service of Blessing and Covenant” between my partner David and me, in which we invoke rainbow imagery – and include the text “Green is the colour of grass and leaves, and the colour of Gaia the ancient earth goddess. Green expresses the desire to live in harmony with the earth, and not to offend her.”

    The quick but unsatisfactory answer to your question Peter is Yes, in my view Gaia is a real God (or more properly Goddess).

    A fuller answer involves a discussion of what is a god. To me “god” involves a set of ideas, image, beliefs, values, emotions experiences etc projected by us humans onto something ultmately indescribeable. There have been (and still are) many gods – Zeus, Dionysus, Jahweh, Siva to name a few, and Gaia fits in this pantheon.

    Whether any of them is “real” is a matter of personal faith, and agreement on the meaning of the words real or god.

    I find Tillich’s discussion of “that which is of ultimate concern” to be very useful. After some struggle I have come to accept that the set of ideas, image, beliefs, values, emotions experiences etc connected with Christianity is of ultimate concern to me. However the set of modern environmental ideas connected with Gaia is also of concern to me. Luckily I belong to a church where I can combine the two.


  • Fascinating though this digression is, I am going to ask that further discussion about it be taken elsewhere, as I don’t think it is germane to the original TA article.

  • Peter O says:

    Fascinating though the PV is (and it genuinely is) I just *love* the use of the language of “pantheon” on a Christian forum. I really don’t need to go on do I?

    Right that’s all done – let’s get back to business. Has there actually been any negative fallout from Rochester’s Ad Clerum?

  • Well, Peter, what do *you* mean by negative fallout?

    Does hostile reporting in the CEN, D Tel, and Times count as negative or positive?

    Is silence from the Guardian a good thing or a bad thing?


  • Merseymike says:

    I would have seen Rochester’s statement as being the bad-tempered grousing of someone who didn’t get his own way, Maybe he could go on the Today programme to publicise his views again? Oh, no, sorry – last time he did that he finished his chances of Canterbury, didn’t he?

    Maybe he can be Akinola’s Vicar on Earth in his new church in a couple of years time?

  • Peter O says:

    What, you want to pick my every words? What are you? Some kind of journalist?

    I guess I’m just interested that the Rochester letter has picked up little if no media interest.

  • I should also have mentioned that the Church Times has a short article this week too, can’t link to it until next week.

    That’s five media mentions.

    Most bishops would kill for a single mention 🙂

  • Dave says:

    Dear Simon, I think that most Bishops would probably happily trade any mention in CT for a return to their predecessors’ less “interesting”, pastoral, lives of after-dinner speeches, garden parties and popping along to parishes to meet the submissive, loyal faithful.

    Bring back Christendom ?

  • John-Francis says:

    Having read the Ad Clerum,, I have sent my own response to the bishop from someone outside his diocese. I offer my words here and hope they might be heard and be of help:

    “I read your statement to the clergy of your Diocese, ‘An Answer to some Questions about the Civil Partnership Act 2004’, with a mixture of weariness and sadness that, yet again, gay and lesbian people are the brunt of condemnation. Whilst the ‘Answer’ may have concerned the CPA, the clear message from what you wrote is that, somehow, we (and we alone of humanity) are flawed at the deepest part of who we are within Creation.

    I am sure you must be aware of our suffering as a significant minority within our country and abroad. Developments in the UK over the past forty years have removed much of the injustices and begun the long and slow process of acceptance. A climate of discrimination, fear and loathing is gradually being replaced by that of acceptance. Yet some church leaders seem intent on questioning the rights and dignity of a minority. I have just returned from an assembly at our local Junior School where the children were reflecting on ‘Pride’. I was moved by the way they understood that all people should be accorded respect and reminded, yet again, how children accept others until taught by adults to discriminate. I am proud to be a gay man: should our children be taught otherwise?
    You, Bishop, coming from a culture where Christians suffer from various degrees and forms of violence, must surely understand the horror of inbred intoleration. Much of what is said about gay and lesbian people by “biblically minded Christians” could be said by Muslims about our Faith. You must also realise that it is “biblically minded Christians” who are seeking to challenge the church to look again at it’s stance on homosexuality: such a phrase cannot only be claimed by only one section of the church.

    You state that change in church law will undermine: “that very teaching on marriage which the bishops are wishing to uphold”. What is your evidence? Like many clergy I prepare couples for their weddings and, when appropriate, speak to them about my partner. I have no evidence that their marriages are being undermined by my commitment. Can you, at some point, explain to an abused people how their desire to publicly declare their binding love by a “careful mimicking of marriage” will undermine “the distinctiveness and fundamental importance to society of the relationship of marriage”? Strangely, people seem to be able to make the distinction and, even in Romford (not known for its liberal views!) seem to be able to accept that gay and lesbian people need to make commitments, too. In fact, members of my own congregation are delighted that I am considering a Civil Partnership. I have no doubt that they, like many, consider that we would be ‘married’ and will accord us the respect that comes when people make public vows. (As an ex. religious I know the importance of these.) They also seem to be able to make the distinction between relationships of consanguity (though they may not have heard of the word!) and covenantal love.

    Could you place yourself in the shoes of a gay person and reflect on how we hear your comment about “states of holiness and of discipleship”? Maybe I misunderstood what you meant, but it sounded as if two Christians of the same sex who enter into a Civil Partnership are outside such a state. Is this really what you meant? If so, I would ask you to consider such an assertion in the light of experience. I am sure there are holy, disciplined clergy in your diocese who are gay or lesbian and desirous of making a commitment with their life-partner. Your ‘ad clerum’ will just push them back into the shadows, relics to the prey of blackmailers and spies.

    Perhaps the weariness that many of us feel is replicated by a society that seemingly finds the church has little good news to offer educated and accepting people. It has been the ‘secular’ world that has led the church, kicking and screaming, to a position where it has to confront issues in human sexuality. When our children are taught not to discriminate, what are they to make of those in the church who tell them that there is a group of people in the world who are intrinsically disordered and, unless they change, flouting God’s law by their very nature? There is, of course, “clear biblical teaching” from Leviticus 20:13 as to how such people are to be treated. Whilst the verse may be interpreted by “biblically minded Christians” such a logical outcome for those who wish to ‘declare the whole counsel of God’ cannot be ignored: they cannot abrogate responsibility for their part in maintaining prejudice and, ultimately, violence against gays and lesbians. And, for evidence of this, one just needs to look at countries like Nigeria.

    An example to us all.

  • Andrew Carey says:

    Simon Sarmiento wrote:

    “Does hostile reporting in the CEN, D Tel, and Times count as negative or positive?”

    Could you explain to me how you come to the conclusion that the reporting of the ‘Ad Clerum’ was hostile. Certainly it was hyped-up in the CEN as a breaking of ranks (whereas the letter didn’t in actual fact make his policy towards clergy seeking a civil partnership absolutely clear). However, I certainly didn’t see it as hostile reporting in either the CEN or Telegraph.



  • John-Francis, you make some good points.

    Perhaps you might have asked his Lordship, as he seems so vexed by this matter, why he had not been bothered enough to turn up to vote on the final stage of the Civil Partnership Bill.

  • I think Andrew Carey both asks and answers his question.

  • Andrew Carey says:

    No, Martin I don’t think I did. I daresay when Simon has time he’ll be along to answer my question.

  • Yes. I think Andrew has a fair point. I possibly over-reacted – it was in a comment not a blog article – to what he aptly calls the hyping-up in the CEN report. I probably should have called JWJ’s reporting style “aggressive”. The Telegraph story is broadly similar.

    In both cases more is made, as Andrew says, of one issue, i.e. partnerships directly involving clergy, than the overall balance of the bishop’s text justifies.

    I was actually expecting a more outspoken letter than we got. Perhaps JWJ was expecting that too.

    Anyway, as Andrew says, we still haven’t been told exactly how +Rochester proposes to deal with a civil partnership involving one of his clergy.

    What puzzled me most about the letter though, was his claims about the Human Rights Act and what is legally possible. I really would appreciate somebody explaining this to me, as all the lawyers I have talked to about this have expressed a quite different view. Surely he wouldn’t express that view if he didn’t have some advice to support it?

  • Merseymike says:

    Of course he would, Simon. Its called ‘spin’and ‘putting the frighteners on’

  • badman says:

    The Bishop of Rochester wrote: “It was, I believe, open to the Church, in terms of the Human Rights Act, to derogate from the legislation on the grounds that its ambiguity was not consistent with fundamental Christian teaching on marriage.”

    The Bishop must mean that, had the Church been able to persuade the Government to exclude clergy from the legislation, the legislation would nevertheless have been Human Rights Act compliant. No doubt this would have been on the grounds that freedom of religion and belief is one of the fundamental freedoms, as well as the right to family life and privacy. Of course, whether the government would ever have allowed such an express exemption from a political point of view is another matter – it might have done, given ecclesiastical exemptions from the Sex and Sexual Orientation discrimination legislation.

    It would, however, be odd to exclude clergy from the right to enter into Civil Partnerships. The only class excluded from the right to enter into heterosexual civil marriage was, formerly, the Royal Family, and when the Lord Chancellor confirmed that the civil marriage of the Prince of Wales to Camilla Parker-Bowles was lawful, part of the reasoning was that the Human Rights Act now means that there is a presumption in favour of allowing civil marriage to all, including royalty.

    The in my view insuperable obstacle to the church claiming any sort of Human Rights Act exemption from Civil Partnership legislation is that civil partnerships do not have to be sexually active, and non-sexually active partnerships are not contrary to the teaching of the church. So it could not plausibly be argued that a civil partnership is ipso facto contrary to church teaching and therefore to be denied to the clergy without exception. I believe this is the advice received by the bishops, as several of them have referred to this point.

  • Jeremy says:

    I’m afraid that all I can say is that I support my Bishop and thank him for putting his head above the parapet in order to fulfill his role as a Bishop to banish false teaching.

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