London, England, Jan 4, 2013 / 06:05 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The Church of England has decided to permit gay male clergy in civil partnerships to become bishops, provided that they promise to be celibate.
“The House (of Bishops) believed it would be unjust to exclude from consideration for the episcopate anyone seeking to live fully in conformity with the Church's teaching on sexual ethics or other areas of personal life and discipline,” Graham James, Anglican bishop of Norwich, stated Jan. 4.
“All candidates for the episcopate undergo a searching examination of personal and family circumstances, given the level of public scrutiny associated with being a bishop in the Church of England.”
The decision was published Dec. 20, and was made by the Church of England's House of Bishops earlier that month.
Civil partnerships were introduced in the United Kingdom in 2005, at which time those in civil partnerships were allowed to become priests of the Church of England so long as they promised celibacy.
The Church of England holds that clergy “cannot claim the liberty to enter into sexually active homophile relationships,” according to a 1991 document “Issues in Human Sexuality.”
The Church of England teaches that “sexual intercourse…properly belongs within marriage exclusively” and that marriage is “between a man and a woman,” according to its 2005 statement on civil partnerships.
The Church of England's new policy is the result of controversy surrounding Jeffery John, a priest of the church who is gay.
In 2003 he was appointed bishop of Reading, but was forced to withdraw. Then in 2010 he was nominated for bishop of Southwark but was rejected because of his sexual orientation. He has been in a civil partnership since 2006, and maintains that his relationship is celibate.
The move has drawn criticism from both Anglo-Catholic and evangelical factions within the Church of England, who in November successfully opposed plans to allow women bishops in the church.
Rod Thomas is chairman of the evangelical group Reform, and told the BBC that the decision is a grave one and will further split the Anglican Communion.
“It would be much more divisive than what we have seen over women bishops. If you thought that was a furore, wait to see what will happen the first time a bishop in a civil partnership is appointed.”
Gay advocates within in the Church of England greeted the announcement with mixed reviews. Colin Coward, a Church of England priest and director of the group, Changing Attitude, stated that the celibacy requirement was a poor one.
“Jesus, the Holy Spirit, advocates deeply loving faithful committed relationships in which people express their love sexually, and that is Biblical teaching,” he said, according to the BBC.