Reports have suggested that the Church of England plans to consider allowing gay couples to have their civil partnerships blessed in churches.
The Church has put in place a panel of top bishops specifically to review its policy on homosexuality, reported the Mail on Sunday.
A reform could mean that vicars were allowed to conduct formal blessing services in church for gay couples who have already had a civil partnership at a registry office.
One option which has been suggested that the panel might consider is whether gay couples would be required to to promise to remain celibate, in order to receive a blessing.
It has been suggested that gay couples may find questions about their personal lives demeaning, and also that allowing such blessings would extend a growing divide in the church emerging out of approval or disapproval of issues surrounding gay churchgoers.
A source close to the Bishops’ working party reportedly said that a “wide-ranging discussion” around a “whole range of options” was already underway. The source went on to say that recommendations would be made to the House of Bishops later this year.
The five-Bishop board was brought together because of pressure on the church of its policies on gay people.
A growing list of CofE clergy members have called for ceremonies to be allowed for gay couples. The Dean of St Paul’s cathedral Dr David Ison called on the church to embrace equal marriage back in March, and last week The Dean of Worcester wrote an opinion piece laying out his reasons for supporting marriage equality.
Christina Rees, a member of the Archbishops’ Council, said: “If this happens it is long overdue. If we allow something, it is only logical that we can bless it.
“We need to debate this fully before deciding whether we should put any further requirements on couples in civil partnerships.”
Traditionalists have suggested, however, that allowing such blessings could create further divides within the church, and that they would be more serious than those created last year by the church’s decision to allow gay people in civil partnerships to become bishops.
One such tradtionalist, who was not named, said: “If the bishops lift the ban on blessings it will be far more serious than the divisions we have seen so far.”
Critics think that the issue will prove contentious for the upcoming Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, who takes up the post next month.
One senior cleric said: “Many in the Church will never believe civil partnerships are moral.
“There is an element of unreality about treating gay civil partnerships as a celibate arrangement, and it puts the Church in a very difficult position if it is required to ask intimate questions. If the bishops lift the ban on blessings it will result in deep divisions of a kind that has not been seen in the Church of England for centuries. People are already close to setting up an alternative Church.”
The church released a statement denying that any decision, or consideration, of blessings for gay couples was final.
It said: “To presume that these discussions will even find a way into the final conclusions of the working party is pure speculation. Meanwhile the Church of England continues to serve this country and its people through daily acts of devotion in schools, hospitals, churches and communities.”
The CofE declined to comment further on the matter.
The issue has already proven to be divisive. Vicars last year threatened to find a way of bypassing the ban on the church performing same-sex weddings in upcoming marriage equality legislation, by blessing ceremonies held in Quakers and Unitarian churches.