Saturday, January 05, 2013

Yesterday's news reports about CofE and gay bishops on the main terrestrial TV channels -

BBC News at Six (lead story)

Fiona Bruce: The Church of England agrees for the first time to allow gay men to become bishops. Even those in a civil partnership will be eligible. While welcomed by some, the move is already proving controversial.

Alan Wilson, Bishop of Buckingham: I think it's good news for clergy who are in civil partnerships, who are now able to become bishops.

Prebendary Rod Thomas: It will be much more divisive than what we have seen over women bishops. If you thought that that was a furore, wait to see what will happen the first time a bishop in a civil partnership is appointed.

Fiona Bruce: Also on tonight's programme ....

Fiona Bruce: Good evening, and welcome to the BBC News at Six. The Church of England is, for the first time, to allow gay men to become bishops, but only on condition they remain celibate and repent for any homosexual relations in the past. The move is likely to prove divisive with traditionalist Anglicans. And for women, the ban on becoming a bishop remains. Here's our Religious Affairs correspondent, Robert Pigott.

Robert Pigott: This is a church under pressure, divided about fundamental issues and under attack from a secularising society. In recent months it's been battered by a series of events, leaving it increasingly isolated from mainstream life. In November Anglicans were locked in bitter recriminations as their attempt to introduce women bishops ended in failure. (short clip of Maria Miller speaking in the Commons) Last month the Government exempted the church from presiding over future gay marriages, prompting anger among progressive Anglicans. That followed the collapse of an attempt to create agreement in the worldwide Anglican Communion about how to approach homosexuality.

Robert Pigott: The bitter dispute about homosexuality in the church began with the appointment of the cleric, Jeffrey John, as Bishop of Reading. He stood down, but the issue led to a steadily deepening rift in the church. Attention surrounding the dispute gives the decision by Anglican bishops all the more significance. There's been an angry reaction from conservative evangelicals. They've said that they will bring in their own bishops from overseas rather than serve under a gay bishop at home.

Prebendary Rod Thomas: It will be much more divisive than what we have seen over women bishops. If you thought that that was a furore, wait to see what will happen the first time a bishop in a civil partnership is appointed.

Robert Pigott: The church says future bishops in civil partnerships must acknowledge any active homosexuality in the past, and repent of it and promise to be celibate in future. Progressive Anglicans say the church's concession is partly an acceptance that it's far adrift of mainstream attitudes to homosexuality.

Bishop of Buckingham: I think it is a problem for a national church if it falls out of step with the moral instincts of a large number of people in the country, who are very committed to equality and to treating people fairly, and feel that perhaps our conventional practice has not been fair or just or moral.

Robert Pigott: Progressive Anglicans say the concession represents only a small step towards sexual equality in the church. But given the tension surrounding sexuality in the Church of England, it's also a very symbolic one and will lead to further angry division among Anglicans.

Fiona Bruce: Well Robert joins me now. Robert, this is clearly going to be controversial. And these rules about gay bishops having to be celibate - I mean how is that enforceable?

Robert Pigott speaking to Fiona Bruce - BBC News at Six (4th Jan 2013)

Robert Pigott: Well in a sense it's not, Fiona. In one way it is. That is if clergy are going to be asked not to teach that active homosexual sex is OK - so that could be monitored. But how can the church possibly tell whether they're going to keep a promise to remain celibate? Several clergy who've been in civil partnerships have frankly refused to make such a promise, and have made a great show of not doing so. And certainly Jeffrey John - the person who set all this off in a sense - he refused to acknowledge whether he'd had any past homosexual acts. And certainly refused to repent of them as the rules suggest. But in a way the church is in a very difficult position. It's very aware of being isolated and on a limb, separate from society. And I think they also worry that possibly the way they treated Jeffrey John when he went for a job as Bishop of Southwark, and decided that he couldn't be appointed because of his homosexual past, possibly because of his civil partnership, they decided that they might be on very dodgy ground as far as employment law was concerned. So I think the church is very nervous. That's why it's preempted a study set up specially to look at this problem of civil partnerships. The report hasn't yet come out. But the House of Bishops has come up with this decision anyway. So I think that suggests quite a lot of anxiety.

Fiona Bruce: OK, thanks very much.

ITV News at 6.30pm (third story after man with hand transplant and news that girl who was targeted by the Taliban is out of hospital)

Alastair Stewart: .... The Church of England says 'yes' to gay bishops. But serious divisions remain.  .....

Alastair Stewart: The toxic issue of homosexuality for the Church of England was re-ignited tonight after the Church dropped its opposition to gay men in civil partnerships becoming bishops. They must remain celibate, but evangelical Christians are still threatening to fight the significant change of policy in the General Synod. Neil Connery has our report.

Neil Connery: The Church of England will soon see Justin Welby take over as the new Archbishop of Canterbury. But at the start of this new year the age-old issues of sexuality and faith remain a source of strife. Today the church announced it will allow gay clergy in civil partnerships to become bishops if they promise to be celibate. The move follows similar practices in place for those wanting to become clergy. Vicar Gareth Jones welcomed the move as a sign that the church was in touch with modern society. 

Gareth Jones: I think it's a positive reflection on a church which is seeking to be more transparent. It's not really a hidden matter that we have gay men and women within the church. We always have done. I've often said to my congregation here that if it wasn't for our gay clergy the church would collapse. 

Neil Connery: The issue has split the church for many years, and was highlighted in 2003 in a row over gay cleric Jeffrey John becoming Bishop of Reading. He was forced to step down from the role after protests from traditionalists. 

Neil Connery: The news today follows the church's decision in November not to allow women to become bishops, and the ongoing tensions over gay marriage.

Peter Tatchell: The caveat that they must be in celibate relationships strikes me as grossly unfair.

Neil Connery: This decision by the Church of England's House of Bishops to allow gay clergy to become bishops if they promise to be celibate represents a major concession. But conservative evangelical Anglicans have already said they'll fight the move. Neil Connery, ITV News, Lambeth Palace.

Note that the ITV News at 10.15pm was very similar to above 6.30pm report, but was then shown as the fourth story.

Channel 4 News (7pm - second story)

Krishnan Guru-Murthy: The Church of England is to allow gay clergymen to become bishops, so long as they promise to remain celibate. It's a question that has divided the church for decade at least, and comes amid the ongoing row about gay marriage. Let's go live now to Lambeth Palace and our correspondent Simon Israel.

Simon Israel: Yes, Krishnan, well this about-face decision has emerged, yet it was in a press release back last year, just before Christmas that it was actually announced. It's only just caught the attention of everybody today. But, in effect, the House of Bishops has decided that any male member of the clergy in a gay partnership can now apply to be a bishop. And that is something that tonight a statement from Lambeth Palace made clear. And I'll read that "The House [of Bishops] believed it would be unjust to exclude from consideration for the episcopate anyone seeking to live fully in conformity with the church's teachings on sexual ethics or other areas of personal life and discipline." Well this is hardly a sudden U-turn, more a snail's pace transition from the days going back a decade to 2003 when, you may remember, Jeffrey John had to withdraw as Bishop of Reading under pressure from the Archbishop of Canterbury then, Doctor Rowan Williams. Well, today, the decision has been welcomed by some members of the clergy.

Father Gareth Jones (Vicar of Great Ilford): Personally speaking I think it's a positive step - and it's a step towards greater transparency within the church. You know, it's no surprise to a lot of people that, like in society, we have gay men and women and straight men and women, so we do within the church.

Simon Israel: So, another attempt to bring the church into the modern era. And so soon after the Synod turned the plan to introduce women bishops into an embarrassing failure to embrace equality. And I suspect that this decision on gay bishops is also going to have a rough ride. Already some of the traditionalists are talking about it being a divisive decision. And I quote from a particular organisation, Reform, tonight that said "if the church doesn't stick to the authority of the Bible, it is difficult to see what the church is in business of doing."

Krishnan Guru-Murthy: Simon Israel at Lambeth Palace.

BBC News at Ten (lead story - see clip below)

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