Homosexual clergy in celibate civil partnerships could be ordained as bishops in the Church of England, according to controversial new guidance.
The Church has issued controversial legal advice on choosing bishops, in light of last year’s Equality Act, ahead of next month’s General Synod.
The document, entitled Choosing Bishops – The Equality Act 2010, reaffirms that “someone in a sexually active relationship outside of marriage is not eligible for the episcopate”.
It continues: “There is, by contrast, no corresponding statement of the position of the Church of England that declares that a celibate person in a civil partnership cannot be considered for appointment as a bishop.”
But Revd Rod Thomas, chairman of Reform, has called for the contentious legal advice to be withdrawn.
He said: “This goes far beyond anything the Church has decided to permit and opens up the possibility of a bishop being appointed who, whilst being celibate, is in a civil partnership and openly opposes the Church’s teaching on marriage.
“To be in a civil partnership is to be seen as having forged a lifelong bond with someone of the same sex; to have created family ties; and to have engaged in a commitment similar to marriage.
“A bishop vows to protect the church’s teaching both by what he says and by the way he lives. This is immediately compromised when he engages in a civil partnership.”
The Equality Act bans discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation but a difference of treatment is allowed where there is a “genuine occupational requirement” to do so.
The Church could impose a requirement relating to sexual orientation to “avoid conflicting with the strongly held religious convictions of a significant number of a religion’s followers”.
The Church’s guidance document does advise that an appointment could be blocked if it “would cause division and disunity within the diocese in question, the Church of England and the wider Anglican Communion”.