UK

Gay Couples 'Should Be Accommodated' By Church Of England Priests, Bishop Says

10/04/2013 07:10 BST | Updated 10/04/2013 08:26 BST

Church of England priests have been told to provide "accommodations" for gay couples in a new report.

This will include "prayer" and "compassionate attention" but not "formal public blessings" in the report, written by the Bishop of Coventry and entitled "men and women in marriage".

It is understood that these prayers could take place inside parish churches.

The Right Revd Dr Christopher Cocksworth, Bishop of Coventry said the church remained against same-sex marriage but wished to set "disagreements against a more positive background of how Christians have understood and valued marriage."

Setting out guidelines, Rev Cocksworth writes: "The form of prayer will depend upon the particular circumstances of the particular case.

"But we are talking about that sort of pastoral care if you like, and prayer, rather than something which is more formal and more public. This is part of the private, the personal, compassionate attention that a priest would give to people. It is not about public, formal recognition."

The bishop said it is up to parish priests "to make informed, sensible, loving and careful judgments".

But "what the church doesn't offer the parish priest is a service of blessing or public recognition".

The church vigorously opposed the government's plans for gay marriage, describing the proposals in February as "the reshaping and unnecessary politicising of a fundamental social institution".

The "men and woman in marriage report", from the Church's faith and order commission and agreed by the house of bishops, states that the Church "does not treat questions of what is possible in hard circumstances or exceptional conditions as simply closed".

It adds: "What it can do is devise accommodations for specific conditions, bearing witness in special ways to the abiding importance of the norm."

Bishop Cocksworth said the report does not signal a change in the Church's approach to the public recognition of gay couples.

But he said that a commission on same-sex relationships, set up in July 2011 under Sir Joseph Pilling, will report at some point later this year.

"There is thought going on at the moment to the sort of prayer, if you like, that might be offered in that private, personal, pastoral care. There is thought being given to that," he said.

Stonewall Director of Public Affairs Ruth Hunt said: "At Stonewall, we know many church leaders who provide personal and compassionate attention to all their parishioners, including those who are gay, and won’t feel obliged to abide by the suggested restrictions in this latest edict."

Senior clergy have previously questioned the official ban on public blessings for gay couples in civil partnerships.

In an address to the Diocese of Liverpool Synod in March, the Rt Rev James Jones, the outgoing Bishop of Liverpool, said: "If the Church now recognises civil partnerships to be a just response to the needs of gay people then surely the Church now has to ask the question whether or not it can deny the blessing of God to that which is just.

"There is such a deficit of love in the world today that it seems to me that the Church should bless true love wherever such love is to be found, believing what the Bible says that 'where there is love there is God'."