I’m happy to admit that I’m doing a total volte-face.
Changing Attitude has been challenged by various people to confirm whether or not we can prove that a majority of bishops currently license partnered lesbian and gay clergy in disregard of the 2005 House of Bishops’ Pastoral Statement.
The relevant section of the Pastoral Statement is paragraph 21 in the section titled:
Those wishing to be in ordained ministry and to register a civil partnership
21. Nevertheless, it would be inconsistent with the teaching of the Church for the public character of the commitment expressed in a civil partnership to be regarded as of no consequence in relation to someone in- or seeking to enter- the ordained ministry. Partnerships will be widely seen as being predominantly between gay and lesbian people in sexually active relationships. Members of the clergy and candidates for ordination who decide to enter into partnerships must therefore expect to be asked for assurances that their relationship will be consistent with the teaching set out in Issues in Human Sexuality.
Changing Attitude notes that there is NO OBLIGATION in this paragraph on bishops to ask anything. It only seeks to place an expectation on those who decide to enter Civil Partnerships to be asked. It doesn’t even place an obligation to respond on them . There is no legal requirement for bishops to ask clergy any questions about their relationship or civil partnership.
Therefore, Bishop Wallace Benn was contravening the House of Bishops Pastoral Statement when he quite inappropriately asked the Revd David Page a direct question about sexual activity in his relationship. Bishop Mark Sowerby of Horsham, in marked contrast, was following the Pastoral Statement by not asking David such a personal question, relying instead on a general statement about understanding the teaching of Issues in Human Sexuality.
Changing Attitude is now compiling a list of all bishops who are known to conform to the Pastoral Statement by not asking an inappropriate question. There are some surprising names in the list.
Changing Attitude fell into the trap of claiming that the majority in the House of Bishops act in defiance of the Pastoral Statement. What we meant, of course, is that they act in accordance with the Pastoral Statement – and I write this with contrition and my tongue in my cheek.
Our research is already providing the evidence to prove that indeed, the majority of bishops ordain and licence without asking them to reveal anything about their sexual behaviour.