June 20th, 2011
06:29 AM ET
By Richard Allen Greene, CNN
The Church of England cannot refuse to appoint bishops simply because they are gay, but it can insist that they remain celibate, the denomination's lawyers have told it.
It would be wrong for boards appointing bishops to take account "of the fact that a candidate had identified himself as of gay sexual orientation," says the legal advice, which the Church of England published Monday.
But church rules do bar anyone in a sexual relationship outside marriage from becoming a bishop - which implies that a gay man can become a bishop only if he is celibate.
The compromise is unlikely to satisfy either conservatives or liberals in the global church, which is deeply torn over the role of women and gay men in church leadership.
Canon Chris Sugden, a leading voice in the conservative group Anglican Mainstream, told CNN that the insistence on celibacy made sense, drawing a distinction between orientation and practice.
"There's no discrimination on the basis of orientation, nor should there be," he said, arguing that it was behavior that mattered.
"This applies in many areas - gambling, drink, marital infidelity," he said. "One wouldn't condone the promotion of someone who advocates adultery."
He said gay candidates for bishop posts would have to be honest about whether they were celibate.
"The whole issue is, are the clergy giving honest answers to their bishops in this? Some clergy have said they won't answer that, which raises a question of honesty," he said.
He argued it was reasonable to ask candidates for posts as bishops whether they were having gay sex, adding: "It's just as appropriate as to ask them whether they have a mistress."
The Anglican Communion - of which the Church of England is the English member - is the world's third-largest Christian denomination, with between 75 million and 80 million members in the United States, Canada, England, Australia, Africa and elsewhere.
The legal advice, dated December 2010, comes in response to Britain's Equality Act, parts of which came into force in October. It was published ahead of the meeting of the church's governing body, the General Synod, next week.
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