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Last Updated: Wednesday, 23 March 2005, 15:50 GMT
Church risks censure over gay priests
By Robert Pigott
Religious Affairs Correspondent

The issue of homosexual priests has divided the Anglican Church
The Scottish Episcopal Church has publicly declared its liberal view that a practising homosexual is not a bar to a person becoming a priest - but what will the implications of this move be?

Last month the leaders of the Anglican Communion took a far-reaching step, calling on the American and Canadian Churches to withdraw from meetings of an important representative body while they re-considered their liberal policies on homosexuality.

The decision, which was reached at the Anglican Archbishops' meeting in Northern Ireland last month, was the first official recognition that the 70-million-strong Communion was formally split.

Many saw it as the first step towards schism.

Now it has emerged that in a response to that meeting the Anglican Church in Scotland, the Scottish Episcopal Church, acknowledged its own liberal policies towards homosexuality.

If there is someone who was homosexual, of a homosexual orientation...we wouldn't bar him or her simply because they were homosexual
Bishop Cameron

Its College of Bishops said that it had never regarded the fact that someone was in a close relationship with a person of the same sex as in itself constituting a bar to being ordained.

The bishops also accepted that the Church provided blessings for the relationships of same-sex couples.

The statement has been interpreted as indicating a willingness to ordain actively homosexual men and women as priests.

Anglican orthodoxy does not rule out ordaining someone with a homosexual orientation, but requires that they be celibate. That is the official policy of the Church of England.

The American Anglican Church helped precipitate the current crisis in the Anglican Communion by ordaining the openly gay cleric Gene Robinson as Bishop of New Hampshire, and was asked to stay away from meetings of the Anglican Consultative Council as a result.

The same request was made to the Canadian Church because of its blessing of gay relationships.

It represented a partial victory for traditionalist archbishops - many of them from the developing world - who had been calling for the North American churches to admit they were wrong, or face expulsion.

Church leaders
Anglican Church leaders gathered in February to discuss gay priests

Now the leader - or primus - of the Scottish Episcopal Church, Bruce Cameron, apparently left room for an alternative interpretation of the bishops' statement about people in a "close relationship with someone of the same sex".

Bishop Cameron said "if there is someone who was homosexual, of a homosexual orientation...we wouldn't bar him or her simply because they were homosexual".

Referring to the bishop's acknowledgement that clergy provided blessings for gay couples, Bishop Cameron stressed that the Church had not authorised special liturgies for blessing same sex relationships.

However, he said: "We recognise that in pastoral situations that there may be a response by a priest to a homosexual couple to offer a prayer of blessing. Now that's not a public service, that's not officially authorised."

Tensions rise

In what was seen as a conciliatory gesture, the bishops of the American Church said last week that they would suspend all appointments of bishops for 15 months to avoid ordaining another gay bishop, and they admitted they were wrong not to consult the wider Communion before appointing Gene Robinson.

Although it is thought to be the first time the Scottish Episcopal Church has publicly acknowledged its liberal approach to homosexuality, its attitude has been widely known.

However, tensions are so great in the Anglican Communion that simply making such a statement on this divisive issue is a significant step.

Traditionalist Anglicans could now demand that the Scottish Church officially toe the line on homosexuality or face similar sanctions to the Americans.




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Members of the church debate the announcemet



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