LONDON (CNS) — A working group for the Church of England recommended gay couples should be permitted to celebrate their relationships with public services in Anglican parishes.
The report said no formal liturgy should be drawn up and suggested that individual pastors and parishes decide how best to celebrate same-sex relationships.
The “Report of the House of Bishops Working Group on Human Sexuality,” issued in late November, also hinted at the abolition of the requirement that homosexual clergy live celibate lifestyles.
It said that although the Bible has no “positive depictions” of same-sex relationships, “Jesus himself is not recorded as mentioning the subject at all” and that Scripture is inconclusive on the morality of homosexual acts.
Noting that “the issues with which the report grapples are difficult and divisive,” Archbishops Justin Welby of Canterbury and John Sentamu of York, the two most senior Anglican leaders in England, issued a joint statement stressing that the report is “not a new policy statement.”
The report called for two years of “facilitated conversations” to eradicate opposition to same-sex relationships in the church.
It said there could “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 disagreements among members of the working group, it said: “Some of us do not believe that this can be extended to same-sex marriage.”
However, it added: “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.”
The report, commissioned in January 2012, offers 18 recommendations, the first of which affirms the presence and ministry of gay and lesbian people, both lay and ordained.
The House of Bishops will discuss the report for the first time later this month and in January.
On the subject of gay clergy, it said: “The church’s present rules impose different disciplines on clergy and laity in relation to sexually active same-sex relationships. … It will be important to reflect on the extent to which laity and clergy should continue to observe such different disciplines.”
Anglicans must show “real repentance for the lack of welcome and acceptance extended to homosexual people in the past,” the report said.
Factions within the Church of England are hopeful that the report will result in gay blessings in churches, and eventually gay marriages, and also the appointment of sexually active gays and lesbians as priests and bishops.
The 221-page report contained a 30-page statement of dissent by Anglican Bishop Keith Sinclair of Birkenhead, one of four bishops to sit on the eight-member working group under the leadership of Sir Joseph Pilling, a retired civil servant.
Bishop Sinclair said he was not persuaded that church teaching on sexuality was unclear and said that Scripture and tradition offered Christians a clear vision of human sexuality at a time of “major cultural change.”
He warned the church that the adoption of the recommendations of the report might further fracture the unity of the Anglican Communion.
“I believe the trajectory in the report will undermine the discipleship and pastoral care of many faithful Christians and, by leading the church into the kind of cultural captivity which much of the prophetic writings warn against, weaken our commitment to God’s mission,” the bishop wrote.
The Anglican bishops could allow blessings of same-sex couples and services to celebrate their relationships simply by changing their policies, but it would require amendments to Britain’s Marriage (Same-Sex Couples) Act 2013 for gay marriages to be legally allowed in Anglican churches in England and Wales.
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