LONDON, June 18, 2013 ( – At the same time as it faces legislation that some say will likely force them to participate in gay “marriage,” the Church of England issued a legal document last week illustrating the fine lines that must be walked by those responsible for appointing new bishops.

To be admitted to Holy Orders, the document says, a person must be “of virtuous conversation and good repute and such as to be a wholesome example and pattern to the flock of Christ.” It adds, “Bishops are seen within the Anglican Communion as those who have the responsibility ‘to guard the faith, unity and discipline of the whole Church’.”

Nevertheless, the document warns those on appointment committees that a clergyman’s “sexual orientation” is officially “irrelevant to their suitability for episcopal office,” and that it may not be taken into account when considering nominations for bishops.

“It would, therefore, be wrong if, during the consideration of a nomination to a diocesan see by the CNC [Crown Nominations Commission] or the selection process for a suffragan see, account were taken of the fact that a candidate had identified himself as of homosexual orientation,” says the document.


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In January, the Church of England’s General Synod voted to drop its ban on ordaining “openly gay” clergy in legal civil partnerships, adding the caveat that they must be willing to remain celibate, even if they live with their “partners”. The decision ended a moratorium on ordaining homosexuals to the episcopate that had been put in place after the US Episcopal Church appointed Gene Robinson, a flamboyant open homosexual, as bishop of New Hampshire, a decision that triggered a global crisis in the Anglican Communion.

The legal office reminded readers of the celibacy clause, adding, “It follows that clergy in civil partnerships who are living in accordance with the teaching of the Church on human sexuality can be considered as candidates for the episcopate.”

However, the document acknowledges that in some cases an openly homosexual bishop may offend the religious sensibilities of a significant portion of his flock, and urges the committee to be cautious in considering candidates.  

As well, “The archbishop of the province in which he is serving will wish to satisfy himself, following discussions between the diocesan bishop and the clergyman concerned, that his life is, and will remain, consistent with the teaching of the Church of England.”

The UK’s Equality Act recognizes nine “protected characteristics,” including gender reassignment and sexual orientation. Due to the nature of religious employment, the document said, there are circumstances under which “discrimination” is not unlawful, but those in decision making capacities have to be cautious.

The legal office explained that under the requirements of the Act, the Church of England is still allowed to hire clergy who believe the teachings of Christianity.

As well, under the law, consideration can be given to the issues of “divorce and further marriage, and homosexuality and civil partnership” status when hiring or appointing clergy. However, if the appointment committee is to take into consideration such issues, the criteria must be well established before any lists of candidates are drawn up, the document warns.

“Where those responsible for a particular nomination exercise wish to consider applying a requirement in relation to a protected characteristic, they should come to a decision at an early stage in the process before they begin their collective consideration of individual candidates. A requirement must be justifiable in law in relation to the particular episcopal office in question and then be applied evenhandedly.”

Conservatives within the Church of England Synod vociferously objected to the decision to allow openly “gay” bishops, pointing to the celibacy clause as impossible to enforce.

Rev. Rod Thomas, chairman of the evangelical group, Reform, said at that time, “To appoint someone in a civil partnership as a bishop would be seen by the world at large as appointing someone who is in an active gay relationship, and undermine the Church's teaching on the exclusiveness of sex within marriage.”

The legal document noted that the Church of England Synod had stopped short of actually endorsing homosexual relations, saying, “The Church of England’s teaching in relation to same-sex relations and, more recently, civil partnerships … make it clear that someone in a sexually active relationship outside marriage is not eligible for the episcopate or, indeed, other ordained ministry.”