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Last Updated: Wednesday, 23 March, 2005, 12:16 GMT
Scottish church backs gay priests
Bishop Gene Robinson
Openly gay Gene Robinson was ordained in the US last year
The Scottish Episcopal Church has said being a practising homosexual is not a bar to a person becoming a priest.

It is believed to be the first time the Scottish church has publicly declared its position on the subject.

The church's College of Bishops made the statement on its website and said clergy had occasionally responded to requests to bless same-sex couples.

The view differs from the Anglican Communion worldwide, which is arguing over the consecration of a US bishop.

The Scottish church said it "had never regarded the fact that someone was in a close relationship with a member of the same sex as in itself constituting a bar to the exercise of an ordained ministry".

If someone who was of a homosexual orientation felt a sense of call to the ordained ministry then we would begin the process of testing that vocation
Most Rev Bruce Cameron
Primus of the Scottish Episcopal Church

Gay rights group Stonewall welcomed the Scottish church's announcement, a response to a February meeting of 35 world Anglican leaders.

Spokesman Alan Wardle said: "We are not theologians but we welcome the sensible approach taken by the Scottish Episcopal Church.

"It strikes us as a real pity that the Anglican Church has been tearing itself to pieces over what seems a relatively trivial issue when they could be tackling more pressing matters like world poverty or the Aids epidemic."

The statement from the church is in contrast to the Church of England, which will only ordain homosexuals not in a physical relationship.

Anglican leaders have criticised the US Episcopal Church over the consecration of Gene Robinson and the Anglican Church of Canada for its blessing of same sex unions, demanding they withdraw from the Anglican Consultative Council (ACC) for three years.

Member of the worldwide Anglican Communion
An estimated 45,000 members
Autonomous and rooted in the pre-Reformation church in Scotland
Adopted the 1637 Scottish Book of Common Prayer
Persecuted following the 1715 and 1745 Jacobite uprisings
Theological College founded in Edinburgh in 1810, the first in the Anglican Communion
General Synod established in 1982
Ordained first Episcopalian woman priest in 1994
Passed motion allowing woman bishops in 2003

But the Scottish bishops said: "We are conscious that as a church we are much indebted in our life both to a significant presence of persons of homosexual orientation, and also those whose theology and stance would be critical of attitudes to sexuality other than abstinence outside marriage.

"We rejoice in both."

The Most Reverend Bruce Cameron, Primus of the Scottish Episcopal Church and Bishop of Aberdeen and Orkney, said the church was simply encouraging debate by stating the beliefs on which the Scottish Anglican tradition already operates.

He said: "We do not have a synodical decision like the Church of England has, which it made a number of years ago, and therefore if someone who was of a homosexual orientation felt a sense of call to the ordained ministry then we would begin the process of testing that vocation.

"We wouldn't bar him or her simply because they were homosexual."

'Sect' warning

But the Reverend David McCarthy, rector of St Silas Church in Glasgow, said he had concerns about the statement.

He warned: "If we align ourselves with the north American church and the stance they have taken, I think we may find ourselves becoming something of a sect."

Church service
Gay rights campaigners have praised the Scottish bishops

Father Richard Jenkins, director of Affirming Catholicism, an Anglican organisation co-founded by Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams in the 1990s, believes it is a positive step.

"The Scottish Episcopal Church is just recognising that lesbian and gay people are made in God's image and have gifts to share," he said.

A spokesman for the Church of England said: "The clergy are held as models or examples of Christ-like behaviour.

"Given the present understanding of active homosexuality it is not an acceptable mode of behaviour for someone who is ordained."

Members of the church debate the announcemet

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