The first public admission by a Church of England bishop that he is in a gay relationship will put pressure on the Church of Ireland to abandon traditional teachings, it is claimed.
The Bishop of Grantham Nicholas Chamberlain revealed at the weekend that he is in a long-term, but celibate, relationship with his male partner – unprecedented for any Anglican bishop.
Yesterday liberal factions in the Irish division of Anglicanism voiced their support for the bishop’s revelations, while conservative elements expressed alarm.
There have been past warnings of schism in the Church of Ireland over the matter and a Select Committee on Human Sexuality in the denomination is examining the issues.
Rev Trevor Johnston, Rector of All Saints’ Church in Belfast, said the revelations have “caused deep concern amongst orthodox Anglicans”.
Rev Johnston is on the Select Committee, but was speaking in a personal capacity. He said that much is being made of the fact that the bishop is still within the legislative boundaries of the Church of England, “living chastely with his same-sex partner”.
But whilst the bishop’s appointment appeared to adhere to the letter of canon law, he said, “obeying the word of God in terms of living wisely and avoiding all possible reproaches and temptations doesn’t really seem to have been high on the agenda”.
Rev Johnston added: “Further drift away from the Bible’s teaching on sexuality will inevitably ensue and continuing pressure will continue to be exerted within Western Anglican provinces, including the Church of Ireland, to revise the church’s teaching.”
Rev Alan McCann of Holy Trinity Parish in Carrickfergus took a similar position, as a member of the conservative ‘Reform Ireland’ group.
He referred to a statement from GAFCON (Global Anglican Future Conference), which said there are aspects of the bishop’s appointment which are “cause for concern for biblically orthodox Anglicans around the world” and that it was “a major error”.
It added: “In this case the element of secrecy in the appointment to the episcopacy of a man in a same sex relationship gives the impression that it has been arranged with the aim of presenting the church with a ‘fait accompli’, rather than engaging with possible opposition in the spirit of the ‘shared conversations’.”
But Leo Kilroy, of Changing Attitudes Ireland – a pro-gay group within the denomination said: “Our thoughts and prayers are with the bishop and his partner at this time.”
He added: “There are gay members at all levels in the Church of Ireland and it is important they all have a voice.”
He added: “The Church of Ireland is at an important point regarding LGBT people in the church, as the Select Committee on Human Sexuality is currently considering these issues.”
He added that a sizeable proportion of the CoI back recognition of same sex relationships.
Canon Ian Ellis, editor of the Church of Ireland Gazette, told the News Letter that the bishop had not broken any church rules.
“I am surprised by the fuss over the fact that the Bishop of Grantham has indicated that he is a gay man living within the guidelines of the Church of England as far as his personal life is concerned,” he said. “I believe he deserves the support of the Church in exercising his episcopal ministry in an entirely proper way.”
Anglican clergy who disregard church teaching on this should not be surprised to be disciplined, he said, but added that “ members who are not clergy and who conscientiously decide to enter into a same-sex civil marriage should have the church’s teaching explained to them – but should still be assured of their place in the church as parishioners”.
The Bishop of Grantham told the Guardian that those who appointed him knew about his sexuality.
Rev Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury, said: “I am and have been fully aware of Bishop Nick’s long-term, committed relationship.”
He added: “He lives within the bishops’ guidelines and his sexuality is completely irrelevant to his office.