THE Church of England is set to approve the appointment of gay bishops, providing that they are celibate. Following years of controversy and debate, in an attempt to clarify its policy, the church published its legal advice on the issue on Monday.

The document summarises points that those involved in the nomination process “need to keep in mind” when considering candidates in order to avoid breaking the law. It reiterates there is no bar to the promotion of gay clergy to a bishopric as long as they are not sexually active and never have been during their time in the priesthood.

At Bournemouth’s Metropolitan Community Church (MCC), Rev Dwayne Morgan is disappointed at the advice being given.

“It’s unedifying and betrays a deep unease about the wonderful diversity of human sexuality,” he says.

“Heterosexual candidates for bishoprics are not being asked to repent of any sexual activity.

“Even when gay Anglican priests keep the rules, they’re still discriminated against; Jeffrey John, an outstanding priest, has publicly stated he remains celibate out of fidelity to the church’s teaching, yet he was still blocked from preferment.”

Dwayne feels that the policy of requiring celibacy will make the Church of England look ‘even more ridiculous’.

“What exactly does gay celibacy require?” he asks.

“Could, for example, a gay bishop kiss his partner? Do the bishop and his partner need to sleep in separate rooms? If twin beds are acceptable, what would be a ‘celibate’ distance between the beds? And do any lapses in this celibacy rule have to be reported and, if so, to whom?

“The failure of the Church of England to embrace the reality of the diversity of sexuality repels people from the wider Church as we are all deemed to be intolerant.

“MCC is a predominantly gay and lesbian church, yet we talk far more about spirituality and service of others than we do about sexuality. Maybe that’s why we’re growing.”

At Bournemouth’s Town Centre Parish, Rev Dr Ian Terry said that the Church reaches big decisions ‘slowly’.

“I’m impatient for God’s justice and would like to see faster progress,” he told me.

“But the Church of England tries painfully hard to keep a wide and diverse spectrum of opinion holders on board and it does not do ‘fast’ in its processes.”

“Lots of traditionalists still find the position of women in ministry difficult and it amazes me that 50% of the population could be regarded as ministerially ‘second-class’, yet I work hard to respect and not to hurt or offend those with whom I disagree quite fundamentally.

“Similarly, with our Church’s official attitude towards the sexual orientation of its ministers; I am amazed that some are so prurient, so judgmental, and so unaware of the glass-houses in which we all live in terms of our relationships.

“Are there any perfect relationships this side of the grave? I don’t think so.”