London-The Church of England has issued a set of “legal guidelines” that pave the way for openly gay clergy to become bishops…as long as they remain celibate. Details of the internal report were carried on the website of Christian Today, an independent London-based publication.
The new guidelines aim to bring church policy in line with Britain’s Equality Act, passed in 2010, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, Religion News Service reports. The guidelines say “openly gay clergy can become bishops so long as they are celibate,” according to the Christian Today report. The Equality Act would not allow gay clergy to be prohibited solely on the basis of being homosexual.
“A person’s sexual orientation is, in itself, irrelevant to their suitability for episcopal office,” the guidelines, entitled “Choosing Bishops,” said. “It would be wrong if account were taken of the fact that a candidate had identified himself as of gay sexual orientation.” The document continues that while the earlier guidelines “make it clear that someone in a sexually active relationship outside marriage is not eligible” to become bishop, that does not necessarily apply to a celibate relationship.
The church makes a strong distinction between “sexually active” and “celibate.” As one observer put it, the new guidelines demand that gay clergy are being asked to “make a promise that they are and will remain celibate.”
The legal advice in “Choosing Bishops” is expected to go before the church’s General Synod when it convenes in York, England, in July.