The Bishop of Burnley, the Rt Revd John Goddard, admitted on the R4 Sunday that he has various clergy in civil partnerships in the diocese living according to the rules, has many personal friends who have partners but live a celibate life and quite a few gay people who live with a degree of loneliness.
I think John Goddard is getting himself into a spot of unintended bother here, and into potential conflict with his diocesan, the Rt Revd Nicholas Reade, Bishop of Blackburn
I know of least one priest in John Goddard’s area who is in a civil partnership and who was most definitely not asked whether he is celibate nor told that he must be. I know of other priests elsewhere in the diocese in civil partnerships whose partners are welcomed as members of the diocesan family with the knowledge of Nicholas Reade. Bishop Nicholas did not ask the celibacy question of these couples.
Thanks to Bishop John’s revelations on Sunday morning, we now have on public record information about what Changing Attitude knows to be the widespread reality of the Church of England. If bishops know which of their clergy are in civil partnerships, the majority either don’t ask or fudge a question about celibacy and sexual activity. It would be better, of course, if they didn’t ask at all – it’s no business of theirs, whatever the House of Bishops think.
There’s another category of bishop – those who think they don’t have any gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender priests in their diocese or are unaware of those who are in civil partnerships.
From my conversations with many partnered lesbian and gay clergy I can say with confidence that the majority (if not all) have either been asked to assent to a form of words or are asked a question in a certain way which has not required them to say whether or not they are celibate. Most bishops deal with the question by not asking or by being ignorant of the fact that the person being interviewed is gay.
The Bishop of Burnley admits he is not ignorant, and gains a couple of stars as a result, but loses them for thinking that his partnered gay couples really are celibate and suggesting that it’s admirable for some gay people to live with a degree of loneliness. As a friend commented, wouldn’t it be better to offer a rich, gift-filled life which rejoices in the gift of love, and is able to grow, support, and nurture people of all shapes and sizes, and bring them to Christ who seeks to draw ALL people to himself?