Church of England to publish guidance on appointment of celibate gay bishops

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The Church of England is due to publish advice tomorrow that gay clergy who are in civil partnerships will be entitled to become bishops, so long as they promise to remain celibate.

The document is understood to state that it is wrong to discriminate against gay clergy because of their sexual orientation when appointing bishops but that they must declare that they are not in an active sexual relationship.

Last year, Dr Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury revealed he has “no problem” with homosexuals becoming bishops, but only if they remained celibate. A leader column The Times criticised Dr Williams for his treatment of a homosexual twice rejected from becoming a bishop and calls on Dr Williams to affirm that discrimination against homosexuals is wrong.

The Sunday Telegraph reports that last month a private meeting of bishops failed to reach agreement on how far the Church of England should comply with eqialuty legislation.

Guidance will be sent to the members of the General Synod, the governing body of the Churh of England which is due to meet next month in York. The guidance will be in response to the Equality Act which gives protection from discrimination on the grounds of sexuality.

According to the newspaper, the guidance says that the Crown Nominations Commission (CNC), the body which recommends the appointment of bishops by the prime minister can not bar gays from becoming enthroned as bishops.

“There is no statement of the position of the Church of England that declares that a celibate person in a civil partnership cannot be considered for appointment as a bishop,” the document states.

“A person’s sexual orientation is, in itself, irrelevant to their suitability for episcopal office or indeed ordained ministry more generally.

“It would, therefore, be wrong if, during a CNC or a selection process for a suffragan see, account were taken of the fact that a candidate had identified himself as of gay sexual orientation.”

The document states that the CNC should take into account whether a candidate “had always complied with the Church’s teaching on same-sex sexual activity” or “whether he had expressed repentance for any previous same-sex sexual activity”.

The document argues that despite opposition from a number of traditionals, “many other Anglicans believe that it is appropriate that clergy who are gay by orientation enter into civil partnerships”.

Dr Williams was accused last year of “betraying” a gay cleric for the second time. He refused to support his old friend, the Rev Jeffrey John, the openly gay Dean of St Albans for the post of Bishop of Southwark.

In 2003, Dr Williams forced Dr John to stand down from his appointment as Bishop of Reading even after it had been announced by Downing Street because Dr John was in a same sex, but celibate relationship. Dr John has since entered into a civil partnership.

Last year, Dr Gene Robinson, the first openly gay Anglican bishop said that Dr Williams’s approach to homosexuality was almost as if he had been “abducted by aliens” compared to his previous pro-gay stance.