A LEADING Church of Ireland canon has welcomed a decision by the Anglican church to drop its ban on gay clergy becoming bishops.
Although the move has the potential to upset conservative Anglicans, retired canon of St Anne’s Cathedral in Belfast Charles Kenny has enthusiastically welcomed the move.
Canon Kenny said: “I think it’s a healthy development in the right direction.
“I think it would be the wish of probably the majority of church-going people in Britain that don’t like the idea of this very unreasonable prejudice that appears to be driving a very small number of very zealous people to want to be in the past on this issue.
“Largely it’s the same people who object to women being made bishops and so on. That’s just the conservative tendency.”
The decision was announced before Christmas but spotlighted yesterday in the Church Times newspaper.
A summary of business conducted by the House of Bishops when it met last month included that they lifted the moratorium on the appointment of clergy in civil partnerships as bishops — as long as they are celibate.
The move comes after the General Synod controversially rejected proposals to allow women bishops in November.
But although Canon Kenny feels the majority of mainland Britain’s Anglican community would support it, what about just Northern Ireland?
“Perhaps not,” he said. “It’s hard to say.”
The 73-year-old married minister, living in south Belfast, was ordained more than 40 years ago.
He is one of the founding members of the Northern Irish branch of Changing Attitude, a largely-Anglican group which supports the acceptance of gays in the church.
He added: “It’s a step in the right direction, another sign of the way things are falling into place; the way this period is moving. It’s obviously a difficult subject. It’s a change and change is often hard for many people.”
Human rights campaigners have welcomed the move. However, critics said it was “unenforceable” and could prove divisive, not only in England, but within the Anglican Communion.
Opposing the change Rev Rod Thomas, a spokesman for Church of England evangelical network group Reform, said: “It’s a very worrying development. If someone were to be appointed who was in a civil partnership, that would be a very divisive step, both within England and across the Anglican Communion.
“Although the Church says they would be required to declare that they are celibate as part of their appointment, the fact is that this is unenforceable. At the moment, clergy in a civil partnership have to say they are celibate, and time after time they say publicly that not only are they not questioned about it, but would refuse to answer it if the question was put. If it’s unenforceable for the clergy, it will be unenforceable for bishops.
“To appoint someone in a civil partnership as a bishop would be seen by the world at large as appointing someone who is in an active gay relationship, and undermine the Church’s teaching on the exclusiveness of sex within marriage.”
Rev Colin Coward, director of the Changing Attitude group that campaigns for the full inclusion of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people in the Church, told BBC Radio 4’s PM programme: “I think the Church has issued a statement which will be laughed at by the majority in this country. I think it is unenforceable and I think it is totally inappropriate.”