Thursday, August 04, 2005

andrew carey on the church of england bishops' approach to civil partnerships

There are a number of red faces in the House of Bishops this week and there will be more next year when they realise what an embarrassing piece of pastoral advice they have issued this week on Civil Partnerships.

The headlines themselves are confused on what the pastoral advice actually means ranging from “‘Marriages’ but no sex for gay clergy” to “No blessings for gay marriages” to “Bishops forbid blessings for same-sex partnerships”.

On the question of homosexual clergy entering into civil partnerships, the Bishops say that clergy will have to give an undertaking to uphold Church teaching in order to take advantage of the new arrangements. For laity, the same distinction is maintained in line with the 1991 report ‘Issues in Human Sexuality’ that the Church gives greater freedom of conscience to lay people and will not penalise or excommunicate those who enter into civil partnerships.

In some senses, nothing has changed with this advice. There have always been anomalous relationships among disobedient clergy which are not officially blessed by the Church. Especially in dioceses like Southwark since the 1960s hordes of practising homosexual people have been ordained and diocesan bishops in turn have gone native and either turned a blind eye to the problem or actively encouraged it.

Next year, however, when clergy enter into the form of quasi-marriage represented by the Civil Partnership Act, there can be no pretence that these relationships are any more anomalous. By allowing clergy to enter into a form of relationship which so closely resembles civil marriage – to the extent that the same prohibited degrees of affinity apply, and that in individual cases the withdrawal of one partner from a sexual relationship could be considered grounds for dissolution – the Church of England is effectively in a changed situation.

Let us not forget that it is a problem which the Bishops themselves have helped to create. While a small number of Bishops supported amendments in the House of Lords to broaden civil partnerships to include siblings, carers and so on, most of the Bishops who participated voted all the way for this pale imitation of marriage for homosexual couples.

Thus without a single debate in the councils of the Church of England, next year we will effectively have given the green light to homosexual ‘marriages’ among the clergy – leaving it up to individual conscience as to whether those relationships are actually sexual in nature.

In fact what the Bishops should have done is to publicly prohibit clergy entering into civil partnerships, taking the risk that some would defy them, while engaging in theological study and debate on same-sex friendship.

Perhaps then the Church could bless ‘friendships’, as it seems to have done in the past, according to the research of Boswell and Bray, rather than being dragged in confusion into an endorsement of this government’s faulty and two-faced legislation.

–The Church of England Newspaper (via T1:9)

"Engaging in theological study and debate on same-sex friendship"? Debating what, exactly? Whether same sex friendships are licit? I sure hope they are, as I am an open and unrepentent friend of many people of the same gender.

Anyway, I also agree partially with Andrew Carey, in the sense that the C of E bishops do seem to be turning a blind eye more than anything else. I mean, I don't think most of them actually mean what they say, that they expect celibacy. But what do I know? Maybe they do. It does seem, though, to be a step in a bad direction. But that still doesn't justify ++Akinola's threats to my mind. I think he should reserve that kind of polemic for the ECUSA.

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