A panel of bishops is set to spark a fresh row over homosexuality by paving the way for the Church of England to relax its stance on gay clergy.
Sources said the group will recommend that clerics wanting to enter civil partnerships should no longer have to promise their bishops that they will abstain from sex.
Four bishops have been examining the Church’s teaching on sexuality as part of an official commission and will hand over their conclusions in a report to the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby next month.
They will argue that gay clergy should not be treated any differently than other clerics who do not face intrusive questioning about their sex lives – and that they should be able to follow Church teachings without having to make a solemn vow.
But the move is likely to provoke fury among conservatives, who will regard it as another step towards the acceptance of actively gay clergy by the Church.One traditionalist said: ‘This is a slippery slope. It will mean that gay clergy will have even less incentive to remain celibate. The next step will be gay clergy marriages.’
The long-awaited report, being drawn up by the bishops and independently chaired by former senior civil servant Sir Joseph Pilling, is also likely to urge churches to be far more welcoming to gay people, and encourage vicars to support them with prayers.
It will not call for a change to the Church’s current teaching that sex outside traditional marriage is sinful, but sources said it will open the door to further liberalisation by calling for a fundamental review.
However, the report will stop short of recommending that formal services are drawn up to bless civil partnerships as that would be seen as too similar to gay marriage, which the Church strongly opposes.
The report is set to be considered next month at a full meeting of the House of Bishops, chaired by Archbishop Welby, which will decide how to take the matter forward.