At the recent November group of sessions Mr Justin Brett (Chichester) asked the Secretary General, Mr William Fittall:
The Second Church Estates Commissioner recently told Parliament that: “there is no Church of England rule that prevents a celibate person in a civil partnership from being considered for appointment as a bishop. The issue is whether someone in that position could act as a focus for unity in a diocese. That would have to be considered by those responsible for making any episcopal appointment”.
In the light of that statement and the recent coming into force of the Equality Act 2010, is the Secretary General aware of any guidance from those involved in episcopal appointments processes on how to approach these matters consistently with the law.
Mr Fittall replied:
The Legal Office stands ready to provide legal advice to those responsible for overseeing episcopal appointments exercises. The Equality Act, like the 2003 Regulations before it, permits those making appointments for the purposes of organised religion to apply a requirement related to sexual orientation so as to avoid conflicting with the strongly held religious convictions of a significant number of the religion’s followers. The Church of England’s policy on same sex relationships and civil partnerships is set out in the various well known formal statements dating back to 1987, of which the most recent is the House of Bishops pastoral statement, issued in 2005, when civil partnerships were introduced. Any requests for clarification would be for the House to consider.
Mr Brett then asked Mr Fittall a supplementary question:
Within the procedure for appointing bishops, what is the understanding of what it means to be a focus of unity in a diocese.
Mr Fittall replied:
That’s a very good question and it’s a phrase that I think is allowed to speak for itself. It is a canonical requirement that a bishop should be a focus of unity. And it is for the judgment, in the case of a suffragan bishop, of the diocesan bishop, advised by those who support him in that process. And in the case of diocesan appointments it is for the judgment of the Crown Nominations Commission. And those making appointments have to take account of a wide range of considerations, including statements made by the House of Bishops. It is at the end of the day a judgment.