Church of England to allow blessings for gays: Decision could pave way for reversal of opposition to same-sex marriages

  • Report signals an end to Church stance that gay relationships are sinful
  • Recommendations could lead to actively homosexual priests and bishops
  • It was put together by former civil servant Sir Joseph Pilling
By Steve Doughty for the Daily Mail
Recommendations: The report was put together by former civil servant Sir Joseph Pelling, pictured

Recommendations: The report was put together by former civil servant Sir Joseph Pelling, pictured

Gay couples should be allowed to have their relationships blessed in church, the Church of England said yesterday.

Bishops should lift their official ban on ceremonies to mark civil partnerships and the relationships of gay and lesbian churchgoers, a long-awaited CofE report said.

It signalled an end to the Church’s longstanding insistence that gay relationships are sinful and less worthy than heterosexual marriage.

The report, written by former civil servant Sir Joseph Pilling and a team of senior churchmen and women, may now open the way for a reversal of the CofE’s opposition to same-sex marriage and the eventual appointment of actively homosexual priests and bishops.

It was published seven months after the Church first indicated it is looking at ‘accommodations’ for same-sex couples and four months after the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Reverend Justin Welby, told Church leaders that ‘we must accept there is a revolution in the area of sexuality.’

Archbishop Welby said yesterday that bishops will now ‘consider the report and decide how such a process might best be shaped.’

In its key paragraph the Pilling report declared: ‘We believe there can be circumstances where a priest, with the agreement of the parish, should be free to mark the formation of a permanent same-sex relationship in a public service but should be under no obligation to do so.’

Acknowledging arguments among the report team, it added: ‘Some of us do not believe that this can be extended to same-sex marriage.’

Current CofE guidance laid down by bishops forbids priests to conduct same-sex blessing services. Nevertheless, some estimates say 200 such services a year are carried out in Anglican churches.

Bishops could permit gay blessing services simply by changing their guidelines. Their first opportunity to do so will come at meetings next month and in January.

The Pilling report calls for two years of ‘facilitated conversations’ on a series of ideas that will sweep away the decades of opposition to gay rights if a majority in the Church accept them.

Such talks may prove ‘difficult and divisive’ a statement by Archbishop Welby admitted.

It called for the talks to end the rule dating from 1991 that says gays are welcome in the pews but that clergy must not be actively homosexual.

‘The Church’s present rules impose different disciplines on clergy and laity in relations to sexually active same-sex relationships,’ the report said.

‘It will be important to reflect on the extent to which laity and clergy should continue to observe such different disciplines.’

The report suggested that reforms might go ahead through bringing in different rules for junior clergy and for bishops - rules similar to those which currently allow women priests but not women bishops.

The row over gay bishops has been toxic for the Anglicans since the last Archbishop of Canterbury, Lord Williams, prevented the appointment of openly gay Canon Jeffery John as a bishop in 2003. Dr John is now Dean of St Albans.

Under consideration: The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, said the Church will now consider the recommendations

Under consideration: The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, said the Church will now consider the recommendations

In a series of calls for new thinking, the report said the Church should show ‘real repentance for the lack of welcome and acceptance extended to homosexual people in the past’.

However, it added: ‘No-one should be accused of homophobia solely for articulating traditional Christian teaching on same-sex relationships.’ The report suggested that the Bible does not condemn homosexuality and said no-one should teach that it does.

It also warned that liberal attitudes to homosexuality in western countries can cause trouble in countries where Christians are vulnerable to attack.

Congregations in countries like Nigeria and Pakistan, where homosexuality is universally condemned by Muslims, have been subjected to violence in recent years.

The report said: ‘It is important, for some a matter of life and death, that the Church and church people speak with great care and attentiveness to how their words will be received, not only in their own culture but in cultures where Christians are marginalised.’

The CofE set itself against the gay rights agenda in 1987, at a time when pressure for recognition of gay relationships by Anglicans was just beginning. Its parliament, the General Synod, said then that gay sex was sinful.

Last year the Church strongly opposed David Cameron’s same-sex marriage legislation, saying it would wreck traditional marriage and undermine families.

The Pilling report said that there should be no formal liturgy for same-sex blessing services, but consenting priests and parishes should be allowed to work out their own form of service.

It hinted strongly that full acceptance of same-sex marriage is on the way. ‘A willingness to offer public recognition and prayer for a committed same-sex relationship would, in practice, be hard to implement now for civil partnerships without also doing so for same-sex marriage,’ it said.

One member of the report team, the Bishop of Birkenhead, the Right Reverend Keith Sinclair, said he was unable to accept the recommendations.