The Telegraph and the BBC have today reported on the advice given back in May to The House of Bishops as to their legal obligations with respect to bishops in civil partnerships. An article by Jonathan Wynne-Jones in The Telegraph claims that the Church of England is to officially approve the appointment of "openly homosexual bishops". Before you throw your hands up in amazement at this, it should be noted that it is illegal for the Church to refuse to appoint a candidate on the grounds that they are in a civil partnership, it does not represent any change in attitudes. It is also likely that candidates will have to clarify that the partnership is not sexual and it is possible that candidates will be required to repent of any former homosexual activity.
The requirement for bishops in civil partnerships to state that they are celibate is standard for priests in civil partnerships, but the requirement to "repent" of any former sexual activity is not. I personally think both requirements are discriminatory, but I have particular problems if the second were to be required. Is the past sex life of each and every heterosexual married candidate going to be raked over and scrutinised with a need for a formal "repentance" for any sexual act outside of marriage before they can be appointed? Also what about single people appointed as bishops? Why are they to be "trusted" to have been celibate in their previous and current lives when those in civil partnerships are not?
The practical effect of this new guidance will be that a) the Church of England will comply with equality legislation b) the majority of gay priests who have their sights on the Episcopate will be seriously deterred from entering into a civil partnership.
In short, this is likely just to perpetuate the "don't ask, don't tell" policy with no regard for - what was it - encouraging faithful committed partnerships? If priests and bishops "tell", then they will be asked, it is a simple as that. If some requirement to show "repentance" is introduced then that process will be even more humiliating and intrusive. I cannot, in all honesty, believe that the Church of England would go down that route?
I do not know yet whether the idea of "repentance" is a suggestion for consideration or likely policy. It does seem that the Church seems set upon acting in a way that could be seen as cruel, cowardly and rewards dishonesty.