Church of England archbishops acknowledge pastoral guidance ‘jeopardised trust’
The archbishops of Canterbury and York have apologised over a statement issued by Church of England bishops last week which declared that only married heterosexuals should have sex.
Justin Welby and John Sentamu said they took responsibility for releasing the statement which “jeopardised trust”. They added: “We are very sorry and recognise the division and hurt this has caused.”
The archbishops’ statement did not retract the substance of the “pastoral guidance” issued by the bishops, but implied it should not have been issued while the C of E is in the midst of a review of its teaching on sexuality and marriage.
The guidance said “sexual relationships outside heterosexual marriage are regarded as falling short of God’s purpose for human beings”, and that people in gay or straight civil partnerships should be sexually abstinent.
The guidance was prompted by the introduction of opposite sex civil partnerships. The C of E’s sexuality review, Living in Love and Faith, is due to report on its findings later this year.
The archbishops’ statement said: “We as archbishops, alongside the bishops of the Church of England, apologise and take responsibility for releasing a statement last week which we acknowledge has jeopardised trust. We are very sorry and recognise the division and hurt this has caused.
“At our meeting of the College of Bishops of the Church of England this week we continued our commitment to the Living in Love and Faith project which is about questions of human identity, sexuality and marriage.
“This process is intended to help us all to build bridges that will enable the difficult conversations that are necessary as, together, we discern the way forward for the Church of England.”
The bishops’ guidance was a reiteration of traditional doctrine about sex and marriage. It delighted conservatives who are determined that the C of E should adhere to traditional biblical teaching in the face of rapid change in the law and social attitudes.
But supporters of LGBT+ equality in the church were dismayed that the bishops appeared to have pre-empted the outcome of the Living in Love and Faith review.
Responding to the archbishops’ apology, Jayne Ozanne, a leading campaigner for LGBT+ inclusivity in the church, said she was grateful for the statement but added: “I fear that more than words is now needed”.
Ozanne, one of the authors of an open letter saying the guidance had made the C of E a “laughing stock”, added: “We await the evidence that they have truly heard and taken onboard our concerns by what comes out of the Living in Love and Faith report.
“I – along with thousands who signed our letter – look forward to understanding what a ‘new radical Christian inclusion’. means for those of us who have been excluded for far too long.”
In recent days, a number of bishops broke ranks to distance themselves from bishops’ guidance. Rachel Treweek, the bishop of Gloucester, issued a statement saying “I recognise that it has fanned into flame unnecessary pain and distress and I wish to acknowledge my part in that.”
Publication of the guidance “in cold isolation from anything else … has been perplexing and upsetting”, she added. At least eight other bishops supported her comments.
The C of E’s ruling body, the General Synod, is scheduled to be updated on the Living in Love and Faith review when it meets in London next month.