The C of E, ordination, episcopacy and civil partnerships

We shared the puzzlement of Gillan Scott in his post Why is the media in a frenzy over the gay bishop ‘news’?  and were likewise undecided on whether to write on an issue that “has been public knowledge since the 20th of December having been recorded in the House of Bishops summary of decisions on the Church of England website”.  This was reported on our web blog on 21 December as

“the House [of Bishops] considered an interim report from [Sir Joseph Pilling’s] group, but pending the conclusion of its work in 2013, (i.e. the preparation of a consultation document), announced its intention not intend to issue a further pastoral statement on civil partnerships. However, it 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.”

The issue here was the “rapid response” given by the HoB to the “women bishops crisis” in comparison to the more leisurely pace of their considerations of aspects of human sexuality, which at that time were not in the media spotlight.

Gillan summarizes the subsequent growth in media interest

“ . . . . . in the build up to Christmas this appears to have been overlooked by pretty much everybody until Ed Thornton wrote about it in the Church Times yesterday, [4January 2013].  The BBC got hold of the story in a big way which prompted a clarification from the Church of England and now it’s reached the front pages of the national newspapers”.

We reported on this latest move by the CofE in our Religion and Law roundup: 6th January which is reproduced below

“The House of Bishops’ Pastoral Statement on Civil Partnerships issued in 2005 did not address specifically whether clergy who entered such partnerships should be considered for the episcopate. What the House has now done, following the work undertaken by the group chaired by the Bishop of Sodor and Man set up last year, is to look at the matter again last month.

“The House has confirmed that clergy in civil partnerships, and living in accordance with the teaching of the Church on human sexuality, can be considered as candidates for the episcopate. There had been a moratorium on such candidates for the past year and a half while the working party completed its task.

“The House believed it would be unjust to exclude from consideration for the episcopate anyone seeking to live fully in conformity with the Church’s teaching on sexual ethics or other areas of personal life and discipline. All candidates for the episcopate undergo a searching examination of personal and family circumstances, given the level of public scrutiny associated with being a bishop in the Church of England. But these, along with the candidate’s suitability for any particular role for which he is being considered, are for those responsible for the selection process to consider in each case.”

Media comment was, as ever, well reported in Thinking Anglicans in its series of posts from point at which the story broke on Friday.  In her Spectator blog Gay bishops and women bishops are not the same issue, Melanie McDonagh put her finger on the issue saying,

“give most papers, most pundits, a sniff of a row about gay clergy or women bishops and they’re off”.

and noting

“[b]ut politically, one of the most interesting aspects of this debate is whether the CofE was, as the BBC Religious Affairs editor, Robert Piggott suggests, influenced by the possibility that it could be breaking employment law by discriminating against those in civil partnerships in the running for bishoprics.”

To a lobbyist, [dp], the Church did not appear as though it was in control of the media agenda and had to catch up with its confirmatory statement on Friday.  By contrast, in the same week the Roman Catholic Church got off quite lightly despite its statement on the ending of the “Soho Masses”, strongly criticized by some Catholic bloggers.  The degree to which a religious organization adopts a proactive stance with the media is a difficult call. Whilst some might advocate the approach of The Thick of It character, Malcolm Tucker, others would follow the advice of Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia who recently commented

“the diversity of ideas inherent in church circles sometimes assumes absurd forms in the internet environment.”

 “In the web space groups of church liberals and conservatives are appearing that are not looking for the truth, divine truth but a means of finding fault, stinging each other. This is a very sad tendency,” he said at a diocesan assembly in Moscow ahead of New Year.

He said that divisions and feuds within the church “are evidence of infantility, childishness in faith which sometimes assumes ruffian forms.”

“But if for the media format of contacts such phenomena are quite natural as they comply with modern ideas of the freedom of thought they are deeply alien to our centuries-old church tradition, as they are alien to the very spirit of Evangelical teaching.”

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