Monday, January 14, 2013

Civil partnerships: ‘We should have shown workings’

Click to enlargeTHE Bishop of Sodor & Man, the Rt Revd Robert Paterson, expressed his disappointment this week with the way in which the news emerged of the opening of the episcopate to priests in civil partnerships as bishops.

Bishop Paterson was appointed to chair a group looking into whether clergy in civil partnerships should be eligible for nomination to the episcopate. 

The House of Bishops had recommended a moratorium on such appointments until the group reported.

Speaking on Monday, Bishop Paterson said that the group - whose other members were the Bishop of Portsmouth, the Rt Revd Christopher Foster, and the Bishop of Dorchester, the Rt Revd Colin Fletcher - had produced a 20-page report for the House of Bishops in May last year.

The group's report examined three questions: should the moratorium be maintained or not? 

If not, should there be any additional requirements made of candidates for the episcopate that would not be made of those seeking a parish appointment? If so, what should those additional requirements be?

Bishop Paterson said that although the group "did make a proposal", he could not say what it was. In addition, it had assumed that it would be asked to produce a final report. In May, however, the House of Bishops standing committee took over responsibility for the review.

The standing committee produced a shorter document, which was discussed by the Bishops when they met in December at Lambeth Palace. 

The Bishops issued a paragraph, included in a summary of decisions, on 20 December, which "confirmed that the requirements in the 2005 statement concerning the eligibility for ordination of those in civil partnerships whose relationships are consistent with the teaching of the Church of England apply equally in relation to the episcopate".

Bishop Paterson said: "It is fair to say that what came out at the end did not represent the fairly considerable amount of work by our group and the standing committee. But something had to be said by the end of the year, because it had been promised."

The House of Bishops had been preoccupied with making amendments to the draft women-bishops Measure, meaning that "civil partnerships inevitably took a back seat", he said.

The Bishop of Norwich, the Rt Revd Graham James, issued a statement last Friday clarifying the Bishops' decision to allow clergy in civil partnerships, who live "in accordance with the teaching of the Church on human sexuality", to be eligible for episcopal appointment.

Bishop Paterson said: "The problem with the document that we are left with now is that it doesn't show the workings. What the House thought would be an eirenic statement has angered liberals and conservatives alike."

The Bishops have said that a pastoral statement on civil partnerships will not be issued until a wider report by Sir Joseph Pilling on the Church's approach to sexuality is published later this year.

Bishop Paterson said that his group's papers had been passed to the Pilling group. He hoped that it would "produce such a good result" that it would compensate for the "obvious inadequacies" of the Bishops' statements thus far.

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