The Church of England is planning to allow divorced clergy to become bishops for the first time, but critics have branded the move as “utterly unacceptable”.
The Church of England currently has a ban on divorced clergy, and those married to divorcees, becoming bishops.
But a report in The Sunday Telegraph has revealed the Church’s change of stance following last month’s meeting of the House of Bishops.
Dr Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, was in favour of relaxing the rules, but Dr John Sentamu, the Archbishop of York, is believed to have strongly opposed any change.
Critics have attacked the decision and warned that allowing divorcees, or those married to divorcees, to become bishops will undermine the Bible’s teaching on marriage.
Reverend David Phillips, chair of the Church Society, an evangelical group, said: “Though one recognises there are very difficult cases, in terms of the public ministry of the Church we should be modelling the standards Jesus set out, which is that marriage is for life.”
“I don’t think it’s appropriate for bishops to be divorcees”, he continued.
And Geoffrey Kirk, national secretary of Forward in Faith, said: “The doctrine of matrimony is closely associated with ecclesiology and so it would seem utterly unacceptable that divorce and remarriage be part of the regimen of those who are called to represent and effect the unity of the Church.”
Commenting on the House of Bishops meeting last month a Church of England spokesman said: “The house had asked previously for clarification of the relevant legal background and, in light of that, has now agreed that a statement setting out its approach to these issues should be prepared.
“The agreed policy is to pursue a discretionary approach on a case-by-case basis.”
Under the current rules trainee clergy who are divorced, or who intend to marry a divorcee, are required to gain official permission from the Church before they can be ordained.
But they remain ineligible to become bishops.
Last month the Archbishop of Canterbury said that the US Episcopal Church should face sanctions for consecrating the Anglican Communion’s first openly lesbian bishop.
Dr Rowan Williams’ comments followed the consecration of Mary Glasspool, who is in a same-sex relationship, as the Assistant Bishop of Los Angeles.
The consecration represented a breach of the Anglican Church’s moratorium on ordaining homosexual clergy.