The Bishop of Buckingham, the Right Reverend Dr Alan Wilson, has criticised the Church of England’s refusal to allow blessings for civil partnerships, and said that some parishes were ignoring the ban in order to avoid conflict.
Saying that some within the church felt that blessing same-sex civil unions was “logical, natural and compassionate,” Dr Wilson, said the church was “too frightened… to engage with the real world.”
Dr Wilson’s statement went against the stance of the new Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, who has voiced opposition to the government’s plans to legalise equal marriage.
The Bishop of Buckingham said that some bishops had been ignoring the ban on blessing civil unions, in order to avoid confrontation between the Archbishop of Canterbury and more traditionalist leaders in Africa and South America, who have voiced strong opposition to the practice.
He said: “At the moment the policy is, ‘Don’t ask, don’t tell’. We all know that in many dioceses there are one or two places these gay blessings have been happening. It’s hypocrisy, although it is understandable.
“Underlying the crisis there is believed to be a need for the archbishop to say to conservative elements in the Anglican Communion, ‘Oh no, we don’t do that sort of thing. It’s only the naughty Americans do that.’”
He went on to say: “It is very difficult when an institution is too frightened of its own shadow to engage with the real world.
“True leadership is about coping with reality. On the ground, parish churches often deal with these things really well.”
The Telegraph reported that dozens of churches across the country were going against the ban on blessing civil unions, however, some churches offered services, but denied they were breaking the rules.
Father Andrew Cain, the vicar of St Mary’s Kilburn and St James, West Hampstead cited a 2008 legal opinion produced by the chancellor of the London diocese, which said that clergy could conduct a service around civil partnerships provided it “does not amount to a ‘service of blessing’”.
Father Cain said: “I think it is a matter of semantics because we undoubtedly have a blessing as part of the service. But what we are consciously not doing is pretending it is a marriage ceremony.
His parish had produced a leaflet titled Services of Thanksgiving and Dedication after Civil Marriage and Civil Partnerships, which provided guidance for heterosexual and homosexual couples.
Leadership in the Church of England has previously indicated that it supports civil unions as a way for gay couples to show their commitment to one another, as opposed to equal marriage.