Anglican Church set to bless gay bishops

Open church? ... The Anglican Church will release a document approving the appointment of gay bishops but a controversy has arisen over the fine print.
Open church? ... The Anglican Church will release a document approving the appointment of gay bishops but a controversy has arisen over the fine print.

The Church of England is ready to approve the appointment of openly gay bishops, providing that they are celibate.

Britain's established church was to publish its legal advice on the issue yesterday in an attempt to clarify its policy following years of controversy and debate.

The document, Choosing Bishops - The Equality Act 2010, summarises the points that those involved in the nomination process ''need to keep in mind'' when considering candidates in order to avoid breaking the law.

It states there is no bar to the promotion of gay clergy to a bishopric as long as they are not sexually active and never have been while in the priesthood.

However, the document says a selection committee could veto a gay candidate if ''the appointment of the candidate would cause division and disunity within the diocese in question''.

The document reads: ''A person's sexual orientation is in itself irrelevant to their suitability for episcopal office or indeed ordained ministry'' but the Equality Act ''allows churches and religious organisations to impose a requirement that someone should not be in a civil partnership or impose a requirement related to sexual orientation … to avoid conflicting with the strongly held religious convictions of a significant number of the religion's followers''.

''It is clearly the case that a significant number of Anglicans … believe that a Christian leader should not enter into a civil partnership, even if celibate, because it involves forming an exclusive, lifelong bond with someone of the same sex, creates family ties and is generally viewed in wider society as akin to same-sex marriage. It is equally clear that many other Anglicans believe that it is appropriate that clergy who are gay by orientation enter into civil partnerships, even though the discipline of the church requires them to remain sexually abstinent.''

The guidance, to be presented to the General Synod in York next month, comes after damaging revelations about the church hierarchy refusing to accept the reality of gay clergy. Documents obtained by The Guardian showed the House of Bishops unable to agree on whether gay clergy should ever be appointed to the episcopate and that meetings about candidates descended into shouting matches.

Much of the debate has centred on Jeffrey John, a celibate priest who is in a longstanding civil partnership with another cleric. He was forced by the Archbishop of Canterbury to stand down after being appointed suffragan bishop of Reading eight years ago after conservative evangelicals objected.

Last year, the archbishops of Canterbury and York prevented him becoming the Bishop of Southwark, to the dismay of his supporters.

The guidelines have angered those campaigning for greater inclusion in the Church of England. General Synod member Christina Rees warned that the guidance was ''too open'' for people to exploit as they could argue that the appointment of a gay bishop could prove divisive at home or overseas.

The Anglican communion remains at odds over the issue of gay bishops, even though the Episcopal Church in the United States has made two such appointments in the past decade.

Guardian News & Media