The Church of England faced a rebellion from its clergy Thursday over a ban on gay civil partnership ceremonies on its premises.
Nearly 100 clergy from the London diocese, which has 470 stipendiary priests, signed a letter to The Times newspaper urging that priests be allowed to follow their individual conscience on whether to hold civil partnership ceremonies in their churches.
The Church of England said in December it would not permit civil partnership ceremonies on its premises without the express permission of its general assembly.
New laws allowing same sex “weddings” in places of worship in England and Wales came into force that month, though no religious group is obliged to host them.
Civil partnerships for same-sex couples were introduced in Britain in December 2005, giving them similar rights to married heterosexual couples. However, the partnerships cannot legally be referred to as marriages.
The Times said the letter illustrated the growing anger running through mainstream Anglicanism on the issue and the scale of the protest would likely be mirrored in many of the church’s 44 dioceses, creating tension between ordinary priests and the church leadership.
“We, the undersigned, believe that on the issue of holding civil partnership ceremonies in Church of England churches, incumbents/priests in charge should be accorded the same rights as they enjoy at present in the matter of officiating at the marriage of divorced couples in church,” the letter read.
“Namely, that this should be a matter for the individual conscience of the incumbent/priest in charge.”
The Church of England is to review its approach to same-sex relationships this year to clarify its position on an issue which has threatened to tear the worldwide Anglican communion apart.
Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, the Church of England leader and the Anglican communion’s spiritual head, has struggled to maintain unity amid disagreements over the consecration of female bishops in Britain, and of openly gay bishops in the United States.
Brian Leathard of St Luke’s in Chelsea, west London, was among those who put their names to the letter.
“Our motivation in sending this letter is pastoral,” he told The Times.
“For those of us at the front line, there is no sense of hiding behind a blanket ban on holding civil partnership ceremonies in Church of England churches.
“More and more people are coming to us, and feel that we are turning them away without actually being able to hear their story. They have a genuine desire for the Church’s fullest ministry, for us to bless their loving relationships.”