Clergy could be allowed to bless same-sex relationships, if the recommendations of the Pilling report are accepted by the House of Bishops.
The report, published today, recommends that ‘clergy, in agreement with their PCC, should be free to mark the formation of a permanent same sex relationship in a public service.’ However, the report stresses that clergy should be under no obligation to do so.
Interestingly, the role of the diocesan bishop will be removed from the decision, in a move that could see splits emerge.
The long-awaited report says that the Church should repent of its history of homophobia, but also argues that no one should be accused of homophobia ‘solely for articulating traditional Christian teaching on same sex relationships.’
The review of the Church’s teaching on human sexuality was commissioned by the House of Bishops in January 2012, and Sir Joseph Pilling was appointed to chair it. Four bishops were part of the review: the Bishops of Gloucester, Fulham and Warwick. However, the fourth bishop, the Rt Rev Keith Sinclair of Birkenhead, dissented from the report and his reasons for dissenting are included in a separate chapter.
One of his criticisms was that terminology used was vague and although the word was carefully avoided, would indeed be viewed as a ‘blessing’.
He also criticized the view in the report that the Bible teaching on the subject was ‘inconclusive’.
Another of the 18 recommendations said that clergy should not be questioned ‘intrusively’ about their sex lives.
Sir Joseph told us today that the ‘most important’ of the recommendations was the first: “We warmly welcome and affirm the presence and ministry of gay and lesbian people, both lay and ordained.”
But the review also threw out a major challenge to the Church. They propose that a Church-wide consultation on the report be carried out over a period of two years. Sir Joseph pointed to the success of the Indaba process at the 2008 Lambeth Conference, and suggested that this pointed a way ahead for these consultations.
He also welcomed the proposal for the Church to engage in ‘close dialogue’ with the Anglican Communion on the subject, but admitted that both sides in the debate “will be disappointed in this report,” because it steers a middle path, when both sides would have preferred a stronger response.
The 203-page report will be debated by the House of Bishops next month and by the full College of Bishops in January.
In a joint statement, the Archbishops of Canterbury and York said: “This is a substantial document proposing a process of facilitated conversations in the Church of England over a period of perhaps two years. The document offers findings and recommendations to form part of that process of facilitated conversations. It is not a new policy statement from the Church of England.
“The House of Bishops will be meeting next month and the College of Bishops the following month to consider the Report and decide how such a process might best be shaped. In view of the interest in the Report we have decided that it should be published now, without delay.
“As the chair notes in his foreword, the issues with which the Report grapples are difficult and divisive. In Sir Joseph’s words their ‘disagreements have been explored in the warmth of a shared faith’. Our prayer is that the process of reflection that will now be needed in the Church of England, shaped by the House of Bishops and the College, will be characterised by a similar spirit.”