The Church of Nigeria Anglican Communion has threatened to break away from the Church of England over a recent announcement that the latter has dropped its opposition to gay clergy becoming bishops.

On 4 January, The Church of England (CofE) dropped its prohibition on gay clergy becoming bishops, so long as they are in celibate or in celibate civil partnerships.

The announcement, from the church’s House of Bishops, would allow clergy in civil partnerships to become bishops if they promised to be celibate.

A Church of England spokesman told PinkNews.co.uk: “There technically has never been a ban on gay bishops, what there was an issue on was bishops in civil partnerships.”

Speaking at the Nigerian church’s 2013 retreat, Agbarha Otor, Delta State, the Bishops of the Church of Nigeria, said they were dismayed at the announcement by the CofE, reports Vanguard.

The Primate, Church of Nigeria, the Most Revd Nicholas Okoh said: “The decision to permit homosexual clergy in civil partnerships to now be considered for the episcopacy is one step removed from the moral precipice that we have already witnessed in The Episcopal Church (USA) and the Anglican Church of Canada.

“When the Church of England failed to exercise its legal and moral right to opt out of the civil partnerships legislation in 2005 warnings were given in England and around the Anglican Communion that this was a first step towards the recognition and institutionalization of behaviour contrary to the plain teaching of scripture and reaffirmed for all Anglicans by the 1998 Lambeth Conference in its Resolution 1.10.

“Sadly those warnings were ignored and we now face the next step in a process that could very well shatter whatever hopes we had for healing and reconciliation within our beloved Communion.

“We urge the House of Bishops to reconsider their decision so as to allow for a full, prayerful and sober reflection on the call on all clergy, especially bishops, to live holy lives and not encourage what are, at best, morally ambiguous partnerships that make it impossible for a bishop to be a wholesome example to the flock. Especially, since the supposed assurances of celibacy, while perhaps well intentioned, are both unworkable and unenforceable.

He went on to say that allowing bishops to be in celibate civil partnerships goes against Christian teachings. He said:

“As a House of Bishops, while we acknowledge that we all fall short of God’s call to holiness, we dare not compromise the clear teaching of our Lord on faithfulness within Holy Matrimony and chastity outside of it.

The address concluded that the Nigerian church would separate itself from the CofE if the decisionw as not reconsidered:

“Sadly we must also declare that, if the Church of England continues in this contrary direction we must further separate ourselves from it.”

In 2005, no mention was made of bishops and one candidate to be a bishop, the dean of St Albans, Dr Jeffrey John – a gay man in a celibate civil partnership – has been twice in line to become a bishop only to see his appointment repeatedly rejected amid outrage from social conservatives. He is reported to have considered legal action against the church.

In November, a bill to further criminalise same-sex relationships in Nigeria passed through a second reading in the country’s House of Representatives.