Majority of bishops conform with requirements of 2005 HoB pastoral statement on Civil Partnerships

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.


  1. Jeremy Pemberton says

    Dear Colin –

    I fear you are spinning about face a bit too quickly! Paragraph 19 of the Pastoral Statement (which I find a huge misnomer – Pastoral for who, I thin to myself? – Pastoral for worried Bishops, I think is the reply) says this:

    19. The House of Bishops does not regard entering into a civil partnership as intrinsically incompatible with holy orders, provided the person concerned is willing to give assurances to his or her bishop that the relationship is consistent with the standards for the clergy set out in Issues in Human Sexuality. The wording of the Act means that civil partnerships will be likely to include some whose relationships are faithful to the declared position of the Church on sexual relationships (see paragraphs 2-7).

    So they are expecting not only to ask things of clergy – but are also looking for those clergy being willing to give assurances relating to their most personal and private relationships. So I think Bishop WB was doing only what the Pastoral Statement says in trying to extract those assurances.

    Am I wrong? I used to read the Statement the way you have here, but now I think it is rather more intrusive and objectionable after all.

    Best wishes,

  2. Changing Attitude says

    Dear Jeremy,

    I agree, taken as a whole, the Statement is intrusive and objectionable. It seems to require bishops to ask very personal, improper questions about a person’s intimate life with his or her partner.

    However, either by mistake or by deliberate intent, in the critical sentence, it says that clergy must expect to be asked for assurances that their relationship is consistent with the teaching set out in Issues. It doesn’t require bishops to ask a question about sexual activity.

    As you and I both know, bishops, and not necessarily the bishops we might predict, do not ask specific questions about sexual activity.

    The current state of affairs allows lesbian and gay clergy and their bishops to arrive at the end of the interview with a fudge, in which no question has been asked and no assurance give. Quite the reverse – bishops are granting licenses to clergy they know perfectly well to be in a loving, warm, and almost certainly sexual relationship.

    If conservatives choose to push the issue further in the hope of imposing their will on the church, I’m certain their move will be counter-productive. Bishops are choosing to interpret their own Statement with as much latitude as it allows.

    Best wishes,

  3. William Fisher says

    The fullest licence of interpretation should be given to every man who is bound by the letter of a document.
    – Rev. CHARLES KINGLSEY, “What, then, does Dr Newman mean?”

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