The Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement has expressed serious concern about legal advice being offered to the Church of England regarding gay bishops.
This week, lawyers for the Church of England indicated that in line with the 2010 Equality Act, the Church cannot allow sexual orientation in itself to be grounds for preventing a priest being promoted to the role of bishop.
However, consistent with provisions contained within the Act for a religious organisation to act in accordance with its doctrine, the document, 'Choosing Bishops – The Equality Act 2010', makes clear that those considered for promotion must be celibate and to have been celibate during their time as a priest.
Being in a civil partnership is not a bar to becoming a bishop as long as this condition is met. Candidates will be asked about their past and will be required to repent of any past sexual activity which took place before ordination.
The Rev Sharon Ferguson, Chief Executive of LGCM, commented: “In the light of our recent call that the Church of England should at least honour its own position in Issues in Human Sexuality, LGCM recognises an attempt to achieve that in these guidelines. While they do at least attempt to address the requirements of the law and help prevent the ongoing cycle of deception and dishonesty about which we have expressed concern, they are still setting a standard for bishops whose orientation is homosexual which is not required of bishops who are heterosexual."
She continued: "It is particularly concerning that gay candidates for the bishopric must repent of relationships they had in the past when no such requirement is placed on heterosexual candidates who may have engaged in extramarital relationships.”
LGCM says it is concerned that the guidelines would still exclude people like Canon Dr Jeffrey John who while now in a celibate relationship has been open that this relationship was not always so.
Furthermore the guidelines, in keeping with rights contained within the Equality Act, would allow promotion to be blocked where the appointment of even a celibate gay bishop would be seen as divisive.
Ms Ferguson added: “The additional provision is so general it would effectively allow many of the same dioceses who currently block the appointment of gay bishops to continue to do so. Also, as the provisions only apply to those clergy who are either known or suspected to be gay it is likely to continue to encourage an atmosphere of denial and lying since the honesty and integrity of people like Jeffrey John could still prohibit promotion to the the bishopric.”
Further concerns for LGCM arise from how such guidelines could be implemented and enforced without considerable intrusion on a person's private life. Again, something that would not even be considered for a heterosexual candidate, they point out.
* More on LGCM: www.lgcm.org.uk