The CofE and SSM

Another week, another story about the Pilling report, this time in the Daily Mail (and this time nothing to do with me).

A ChurchA panel of bishops is set to spark a fresh row over homosexuality by paving the way for the Church of England to relax its stance on gay clergy.

Sources said the group will recommend that clerics wanting to enter civil partnerships should no longer have to promise their bishops that they will abstain from sex.

Four bishops have been examining the Church’s teaching on sexuality as part of an official commission and will hand over their conclusions in a report to the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby next month.

They will argue that gay clergy should not be treated any differently than other clerics who do not face intrusive questioning about their sex lives – and that they should be able to follow Church teachings without having to make a solemn vow.

But the move is likely to provoke fury among conservatives, who will regard it as another step towards the acceptance of actively gay clergy by the Church.

One traditionalist said: ‘This is a slippery slope. It will mean that gay clergy will have even less incentive to remain celibate. The next step will be gay clergy marriages.’

The long-awaited report, being drawn up by the bishops and independently chaired by former senior civil servant Sir Joseph Pilling, is also likely to urge churches to be far more welcoming to gay people,  and encourage vicars to support them with prayers.

It will not call for a change to the Church’s current teaching that sex outside traditional marriage is sinful, but sources said it will open the door to further liberalisation by calling for a fundamental review.

However, the report will stop short of recommending that formal services are drawn up to bless civil partnerships as that would be seen as too similar to gay marriage, which the Church strongly opposes.

Interesting final line. If the media furor of a few weeks ago meant that the final report dropped any notion of liturgy, then so much the better. But another battle is still looming and that is over same-sex marriage and clergy.

When the Civil Partnership Act became law, the House of Bishops issued a statement and pastoral guidance which set out the rules for clergy. Simply put, clergy were allowed to enter Civil Partnerships but they should expect to be asked by their Bishops whether the relationship was sexual or not.

19. The House of Bishops does not regard entering into a civil partnership as intrinsically incompatible with holy orders, provided the person concerned is willing to give assurances to his or her bishop that the relationship is consistent with the standards for the clergy set out in Issues in Human Sexuality.  The wording of the Act means that civil partnerships will be likely to include some whose relationships are faithful to the declared position of the Church on sexual relationships (see paragraphs 2-7).

20.The Church should not collude with the present assumptions of society that all close relationships necessarily include sexual activity. The House of Bishops considers it would be a matter of social injustice to exclude from ministry those who are faithful to the teaching of the Church, and who decide to register a civil partnership.  There can be no grounds for terminating the ministry of those who are loyal to the discipline of the Church.

21.Nevertheless, it would be inconsistent with the teaching of the Church for the public character of the commitment expressed in a civil partnership to be regarded as of no consequence in relation to someone in- or seeking to enter- the ordained ministry. Partnerships will be widely seen as being predominantly between gay and lesbian people in sexually active relationships. Members of the clergy and candidates for ordination who decide to enter into partnerships must therefore expect to be asked for assurances that their relationship will be consistent with the teaching set out in Issues in Human Sexuality.

22. While clergy are fully entitled to argue, in the continuing debate, for a change in that teaching, they are not entitled to claim the liberty to set it aside, simply because of the passage of the Civil Partnerships Act.  Because of the ambiguities surrounding the character and public nature of civil partnerships, the House of Bishops would advise clergy to weigh carefully the perceptions and assumptions which would inevitably accompany a decision to register such a relationship.

The question now arises what the House of Bishops are going to do about Same-Sex Marriage? Given that marriage is intrinsically a sexual relationship, will they go to the extent of banning clergy from entering into them? Remember, if a priest already has a Civil Partnership he/she simply needs to pop down to the local Registry Office, fill in a form and voila the Civil Partnership is a Marriage. I imagine there are lawyers in Church House already scratching their heads on this one and the reason we haven’t heard anything yet is that the House of Bishops will discuss this alongside Pilling (or indeed, within Pilling) before coming to a position. If indeed they can come to a position.

We’re about to enter very testing times for the Church of England. Removing the request for an assurance of celibacy is ridiculous (and indeed all we need to do is ask all clergy whether their sexual lives are in line with the teaching of the Church to get round the “anti-gay” label on this one; we do this to all Ordinands already don’t we?) and it’s not in any sense demeaning to ask a priest whether he or she is living to the sexual standards expected. I had no problem answering such a question when I was single and I have no problem answering it now as a married husband. The only people who have a problem answering it are those who disagree with the Church’s teaching and have chosen to disobey it.

But the bigger issue of course is whether we permit clergy to enter gay marriages. If we do the pressure to bless them will be relentless.

It strikes me that the Church of England needs to decide what it’s doctrine of marriage and sex is and then it needs to stick to it. Either we believe that sex is reserved for within the marriage of a man and a woman (and we then expect our clergy to hold to such a teaching in their sexual lives) or we believe that sex is holy outside of such a relationship (and we get on with blessing such relationships, though watch the fireworks when that is put on the table). And yes, in many places there is an unofficial blind eye when looking at some clergy on this issue, but to introduce an official blind eye? It’s such a ridiculous illogical notion, especially if we still expected to discipline clergy for sex outside of marriage.

Pray for the House of Bishops. They will have a tough time of it over the next few months.


A bit cheeky, but I do like Julian Mann’s proposed liturgy for those who come for a church service for a same-sex relationship.

Almighty and eternal God, who through your servant the Apostle Paul has taught Christian people to flee sexual immorality, we ask that you would give all of us who profess the faith of Christ grace to be obedient to your word. If we have chosen to have sexual relations outside the honourable estate of holy matrimony between one man and one woman for life, give us, we pray, the grace of repentance. Empower us, we beseech you, by your life-giving Holy Spirit to exercise self-control and to honour you with our bodies, through Jesus Christ your eternal Son our Lord.

Posted in Church of England, Gay Marriage, UK News