The Church of England announced Friday it has lifted a ban that prohibited gay male clergy who live with their partners from becoming bishops, on the condition that they remain sexually abstinent.
The House of Bishops, one of the church’s most senior bodies, “confirmed that clergy in civil partnerships, and living in accordance with the teaching of the Church on human sexuality, can be considered as candidates for the episcopate,” said Graham James, the Bishop of Norwich.
“The House believed it would be unjust to exclude from consideration for the episcopate anyone seeking to live fully in conformity with the Church’s teaching on sexual ethics or other areas of personal life and discipline,” he added, in a statement on behalf of the House of Bishops.
The decision was made in late December but received little attention until the church confirmed it on Friday.
Groups representing gay Anglicans have welcomed the move but questioned a requirement that the new bishops will have to be celibate.
The Rev. Colin Coward, director of Changing Attitude, a group that campaigns for the church to fully accept LGBT people, told The Guardian that he gave the news a guarded welcome, in that it was significant but unlikely to prompt a rush of gay bishops.
“I don’t trust what they have said. I don’t believe they are serious about opening the door to someone in a civil partnership becoming a bishop. I would only believe they are serious when it happens,” he said.
Conservative evangelicals have called the announcement “divisive.”
The Church of England is the officially established Christian church in England and the Mother Church of the worldwide Anglican Communion. It has an estimated 26 million baptized members.