Celibate gay men 'could be bishops'
Celibate gay men in civil partnerships could be ordained as Church of England bishops.
A guidance paper has been sent out ahead of a meeting of the General Synod next month laying out advice in light of the Equality Act, which came into force between October 2010 and April this year.
It provides pointers for those who nominate bishops when dealing with candidates who are openly gay.
The legislation means employers cannot discriminate against someone on the grounds of sexual orientation, but provides for a "genuine occupational requirement" to be imposed.
This effectively allows the Church to exclude someone in a sexually active civil partnership, or to impose a requirement relating to sexual orientation to "avoid conflicting with the strongly held religious convictions of a significant number of the religion's followers".
Therefore while the note says "a person's sexual orientation is, in itself, irrelevant to their suitability for episcopal office or indeed ordained ministry more generally", candidates can be required to be celibate.
The guidance says that someone in a sexual relationship outside marriage cannot be ordained, but there is no such rule for a celibate person in a civil partnership.
"Someone in a sexually active relationship outside marriage is not eligible for the episcopate or other ordained ministry," the paper reads.
"There is, by contrast, no corresponding statement of the position of the Church of England that declares that a celibate person in a civil partnership cannot be considered for appointment as a bishop."
The issue of whether openly gay men should be ordained is highly contentious in the Church of England, and Archbishop of Canterbury Dr Rowan Williams has described divisions over the topic as "a wound in the whole ministry".