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CHURCH OF ENGLAND: Synod to be asked to bless cohabitation

CHURCH OF ENGLAND: Synod to be asked to bless cohabitation

Church of England Newspaper

The Church of England could overturn its traditional teaching on sex
outside marriage at the forthcoming General Synod by giving its approval
to contractual rights for cohabiting couples.

Divisions between traditionalists and liberals are likely to be
exacerbated by a number of key debates on the sexuality issue at next
month's meeting in London.

A York Diocesan Synod motion, asking for people living together to be
given the same legal status as married couples, will be the most
fiercely contested. While the proposal was tabled before the
Government's Civil Partnership Bill that wants greater recognition to be
given to gay partnerships, it would extend the Church's support to
homosexual couples if successfully carried.

It argues that cohabiting couples exist "whether approved by the State
and t he Church or not and that the absence of a legal contract for such
a relationship is a potential cause of injustice and misery". Such a
provision is "socially desirable", the motion states, and asks the
Archbishops' Council to investigate the issues involved in contractual
partnerships, other than marriage, between two cohabiting adults, and
then to report back to Synod.

Richard Seed, the Archdeacon of York, said: "The church has to accept
the fact that couples are living together without any formal bonds of
marriage. I would want to support those who are in a relationship that
is stable, loving and affirming.

"This stable union applies just as much to gay relationships. It makes a
lot of us extremely nervous if we accept that all gay relationships are
on an equal par, but it is something I look forward to being properly
discussed in the debate."

Margaret Brown, a prominent traditionalist on Synod from Chichester
diocese, described such a move as "one more nail in the coffin for the
Church of England". She said: "This is the first step on the road to gay
marriages. It would seem that the Church of England is giving moral
authority for any changes that the Government makes if it goes along
with this motion."

Bruce Saunders, Canon Pastor at Southwark Cathedral, warned that the
findings of his diocese's report on cohabitation last year had shown
cohabiting relationships to be vulnerable. "I sympathise with the
impulse behind the motion because I can see that culturally the Church
can look dogmatic and out of touch with the variety of relationships
these days, but we need to reinvent marriage as an attractive option to
young people. We need to affirm people i n other relationships without
making marriage seem less important."

The liberals have risked re-opening fresh wounds in the Church by
sending out to all Synod members a copy of Canon Jeffrey John's book,
Permanent, Faithful, Stable, which challenges the Church's ban on the
ordination of homosexual clergy.

It is being distributed by Affirming Catholicism, the pressure group of
which Canon John and the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams,
are founder members, to promote their cause ahead of the debate on the
House of Bishop s' report, Some Issues in Human Sexuality.

A covering letter, from the group's senior members, including its
President, the Rt Rev David Stancliffe, the Bishop of Salisbury,
suggests the book will help issues to "be better addressed from an
informed perspective".

Although the bishops' report is being presented as a study guide rather
than an attempt to change Church policy, some traditionalists have
expressed concern that it is opening the way for a more liberal approach
to the stance on sexuality.

The Doctrine Commission's report, Being Human, is being debated the same
day , and deals with the changing attitude towards sex in culture. It
says that it has been created to be "a whole person relationship of love
and loyalty involving body and self". It continues: "We teach a realism
about the goodness and joy of sex together with the ways it can go
wrong. Where sex occurs outside the meaning and purpose God has given it
in his created order, dangers arise for the participants."

Power, money and time are also key themes in the report, which says that
wisdom is the most important gift in discerning how to be human.


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