Bishop defends civil ceremonies stance

A BISHOP accused of misguided support for civil partnerships between same-sex couples spoke out last night to defend his position on the issue, saying his views were in line with the teaching of the Church.

A BISHOP accused of misguided support for civil partnerships between same-sex couples spoke out last night to defend his position on the issue, saying his views were in line with the teaching of the Church.

The Rt Rev Richard Lewis, bishop of the St Edmundsbury and Ipswich Diocese, upset some members of the clergy with his outspoken views on homosexuality and backing for civil partnerships, which became legal last month.

One Suffolk vicar told the EADT of his “anger and dismay” that the bishop chose to concentrate on an issue “that undermines the fabric of our society and threatens to split the Church of England”.

But last night, Bishop Richard said the vast majority of people who had written to him about the matter were supportive of his views.

He told the EADT last month that people should concentrate on the positive aspects of relationships, both gay and straight, and said some of the best clergy in Suffolk were homosexual.

His views have prompted criticism from evangelical Christians and a number of clerics, who claim the introduction of civil partnerships - which two people of the same sex can form by signing a registration document - eroded the status of marriage.

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But Bishop Richard said last night: “The article in the EADT triggered quite a lot of response although some correspondents paid too much attention to the misleading headline which suggested that I supported 'gay marriage'.

“The actual legislation on civil partnerships is about establishing a legal and financial binding contract between two people and although it is very similar to the provision for marriage, it is not the same.

“I welcome the legal and financial provision which correct a situation which has been unjust. A number of people have written to me to express their opinions and the letters are roughly five to one in support of what I actually said.

“I am sad that some people have been upset by the original article but I have not actually said anything which is contrary to the position of the Anglican Communion as stated at the Lambeth Conference in 1998 and which remains the benchmark for the Church of England.

“I was correctly reported as saying that I am daily thankful for the ministry of all the clergy in this diocese and that of course includes gay clergy who are amongst the best that we are privileged to have.”

Following the publication of the bishop's views, the EADT has received a number of letters in support and opposition.

David Gardner, vicar of Woodbridge St John and Bredfield, said the remarks were further evidence of the decline of the “unique status” of marriage.

He said: “At a time when there are so many other issues that require the Church's attention I was surprised and angered that Bishop Richard chose to concentrate on an issue that undermines the fabric of our society and threatens to split the Church of England.

“The former president of the High Court Family Division, Dame Elizabeth Butler-Sloss with 35 years specialising in family cases, recently claimed that one of the outcomes of the legislation that covers civil partnerships has been to 'contribute to the downgrading of marriage'.”

He added: “I had hoped that the New Year would start with our bishops courageously and consistently holding out to society the teaching of the Bible and the Church as expressed, for instance, in the most recent Church of England report Some Issues in Human Sexuality (2003).

“This lengthy and detailed report continued to endorse the view that 'there is in Scripture an evolving convergence on the ideal of lifelong, monogamous, heterosexual union as the setting intended by God for the proper development of men and women as sexual beings. Now that to my mind is something worth celebrating and affirming.”

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