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Friday, 30 June, 2000, 17:35 GMT 18:35 UK
Gay rights in the pulpit

A gay vicar is in hiding after facing a campaign of hate to drive him from his parish. But what is the Church's attitude to homosexuals?

Father Neil Follett, vicar of St Paul's, Knightsbridge, is in hiding on police advice after finding himself the victim of a hate campaign.

Police are investigating allegations of blackmail and intimidation after Fr Follett told the parochial church council he was gay.
Fr Neil Follett
Fr Neil Follett was forced from his Knightsbridge parish

The incident is set to put further strain on relations in the Church of England between those in favour of homosexual clergy and those against.

Rules governing acceptance of gays in the Anglican Church are complex and, in some minds at least, unclear.

Although the Church regards all sex outside marriage, and therefore all homosexual sex, as falling short of God's ideal, it has been more prescriptive.

The last set of clear guidelines came in a 1991 bishops' statement, entitled Issues of Human Sexuality.

The statement, which received the backing of the 1998 Lambeth Conference - the worldwide conference of Anglican Bishops - says homosexual relationships do not match up to heterosexual ones.

But the decree does allow same sex relationships among lay members in extreme circumstances. Clergy however, are forbidden from having homosexual sex - they are expected to show a greater conscience than others.
Bishop of York, David Hope
David Hope admitted his sexuality was a "grey area"

The Reverend Richard Kirker, general secretary of Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement, says the terms of the statement are begrudging and half-hearted.

"It sort of says, yes you are allowed to practice gay sex if the only alternative would be that you went out and raped every person you saw," he says.

It is widely accepted though, that many bishops operate a "no questions asked" policy when ordaining clergy they suspect might be homosexual.

In essence, it means they choose not to find out whether ministers are gay.

But there is then an onus on the vicar to be highly discreet for fear of making his sexuality known. Those who overstep the mark risk embarrassing the bishop and losing their job.

Mr Kirker is confident of a change in the Church, but not under the current Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr George Carey.
Peter Tatchell arrest
Gay rights campaigner Peter Tatchell arrested while protesting against the Church

Gay and lesbian campaigners see Dr Carey as hostile to their cause and at the last Lambeth Conference he was among those who voted for strengthening a motion against homosexuality.

For many liberal campaigners, the case of David Hope, the current Bishop of York, highlights the inconsistencies in the Church

Faced with threats that he would be "outed" by the gay rights group Outrage, Dr Hope, then Bishop of London, called a news conference and referred to his sexuality as a "grey area".

Although Mr Kirker's organisation estimates 30% of the clergy are gay, none will speak out.

"I know of nobody in a same sex relationship now who is ordained and on the Church payroll who is prepared to talk publicly about being a homosexual."

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