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English Bishops on civil partnerships & same-sex relationships

English Bishops on civil partnerships & same-sex relationships

The House of Bishops of the Church of England put out a news release concerning civil partnerships and same-sex relationships in the UK with two goals. By 2012, review the 2005 pastoral statement “in light of recent developments”. By 2013 they plan to develop “proposals on how the continuing discussion within the Church of England about these matters might best be shaped in the light of the listening process.” There will be no openly gay candidates for the episcopate in the CofE until at least these reports are completed.

“Recent developments” include legislation prohibiting discrimination against gays and lesbians in the UK and the question of how much the Church of England is allowed to continue to bar women and GLBT persons from certain offices of the Church.

In response, Simon Sarmiento at Thinking Anglicans has asked about the connection between this statement and the previously released legal opinion that closed the door on priests in registered civil partnerships from being considered for the Episcopate.

The Church Times says the document is a “moratorium” on the ordination of any openly gay clergy to the episcopate.

THE House of Bishops has today issued a moratorium on the appointment as bishops of gay priests in civil partnerships at least until 2012.

The moratorium is part of a new review of the House’s previous statement on clergy in civil partnerships, issued in 2005. As part of the review, it says, it will examine “whether clergy who have registered civil partnerships should be eligible for nomination to the episcopate”.

The new statement goes on: “The House has concluded that it would be wrong to pre-empt the outcome of the review and that clergy in civil partnerships should not at present, therefore, be nominated for episcopal appointment.” The review will be completed “during 2012”.

The press release from the House of Bishops (emphasis added):

The House of Bishops today issued a statement about the continuing debate within the Church of England about same-sex relationships. Speaking on behalf of the House, the Bishop of Norwich, the Rt Revd Graham James, said:

“Contrary to popular perception the House of Bishops has spent very little time over recent years discussing homosexuality. The last substantive engagement with the issue was in 2005 when the House agreed to issue a pastoral statement prepared by a group under my chairmanship on the implications of the introduction of civil partnerships. The House has now agreed that the time has come to commission two new pieces of work.

“First it has asked for a review of the 2005 statement in the light of subsequent developments. The review will include examination of whether priests in civil partnerships should be eligible for appointment as bishops. The 2005 statement was silent on this issue and, while the relevant legal background was analysed in a recently published Legal Office note, the House acknowledges its responsibility to address the policy issue. To avoid pre-empting the outcome of the review the House has concluded that clergy in civil partnerships should not, at present, be nominated for episcopal appointment. The review will be completed in 2012.

“Secondly, the House has committed itself to a wider look at the Church of England’s approach to same-sex relationships more generally in the light of the listening process launched by the Lambeth Conference in 1998. The Bishops will produce a consultation document in 2013. The House’s decision is motivated by a desire to help shape the continuing debate constructively and not by any view about what the outcome should be.”

Sarmiento wrote to Church House for clarification about the legal ruling that defines the various ways the Church of England can legally discriminate against an openly gay priest otherwise qualified for the episcopate:

Third, there is the issue of being in a civil partnership as a specific item to be taken into account. See paragraph 29, second bullet, and also see paragraph 20, where this is distinguished ( by the conjunction “or”) from “a requirement related to sexual orientation”.

These wordings suggest that the authors of the opinion believe it is permissible to discriminate against a person who is in a civil partnership even if none of the other items listed in the document are applicable.

I am at a loss to understand the legal basis for such a position, unless all married candidates are to be similarly discriminated against.

This was the reply:

This was a piece of legal advice and the Legal Office stand by it as an accurate piece of analysis of the Equality Act and its application to the Church. It was produced to help those appointing bishops understand what they are and are not entitled to take into account within the law. In particular the Equality Act is quite explicit in making it clear that religious organisations can, in certain carefully defined circumstances, discriminate on the grounds of someone being in a civil partnership. The note offers no policy or operational advice on what appointment panel should do.


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