The Church of England is to debate giving some of the same benefits to clergy in same-sex partnerships as currently apply to married couples.
A motion set for the forthcoming General Synod of the Church of England calls for the Church to pay the same pension benefits to “surviving civil partners” as spouses.
But the Revd Rod Thomas, Chairman of Reform, an evangelical group within the Church of England, expressed concern.
He said: “This proposal will be seen as a further loosening of the Church’s position on gay partnerships.”
“Given the current divisions in the Anglican Communion, the Church of England should avoid doing anything that’s likely to exacerbate these difficulties.”
The private members’ motion, brought by Revd Mark Bratton, says: “That this Synod request the Archbishops’ Council and the Church of England Pensions Board to bring forward changes to the rules governing the clergy pension scheme in order to go beyond the requirements of the Civil Partnership Act 2004 and provide for pension benefits to be paid to the surviving civil partners of deceased clergy on the same basis as they are currently paid to surviving spouses.”
At present the Church of England allows clergy to be in civil partnerships as long as they are celibate.
Around 200 priests have reportedly entered civil partnerships since the 2004 Act.
Revd Jonathan Clark, a trustee of Inclusive Church, a liberal group, supports the motion, saying: “Given that it is legitimate for clergy to be in civil partnerships, we should treat them in the same way as people who are married to each other.”
“Making provision for civil partners is not the Church making a big change to its moral or ethical teaching.”
But Alison Ruoff, a member of the General Synod, warned the motion could further dilute the Church’s position.
“It wouldn’t be right for the Church to provide gay clergy’s partners with the same pensions as it would mean that the Church would be recognising homosexual relationships in the same way as marriage,” she said.
“It would show that the Church is becoming increasingly liberal and moving further from Biblical teaching.”