(Photo: REUTERS/Luke MacGregor)
The Church of England said it would "repent" for its previous homophobia in a major new report on human sexuality, but rejected the idea that traditional teachings on marriage should be seen as homophobic.
The Anglican Communion also rejected notions that the report, which recommends that clergy be allowed to "accommodate" same-sex relationships, contradicts traditional teachings, as some news headlines have suggested that clergy can start "blessing" gay marriage.
"The recommendations do not propose any change in the church's teaching on sexual conduct. They do propose that clergy, with the agreement of their Church Council, should be able to offer appropriate services to mark a faithful same sex relationship," a statement on the Church of England's website explains.
"The group does not propose an authorized liturgy for this purpose but understands the proposed provision to be a pastoral accommodation which does not entail any change to what the church teaches. No member of the clergy, or parish, would be required to offer such services and it could not extend to solemnizing same sex marriages without major changes to the law."
Some reports, such as an article from Reuters on Thursday, says that "Church of England clergy would be able to 'bless' same-sex relationships," however no such word is found in the 221 page report of the House of Bishops titled "Working Group on human sexuality."
The recommendations in question, found near the end of the report, state that "there can be circumstances where a priest, with the agreement of the relevant PCC, should be free to mark the formation of a permanent same sex relationship in a public service but should be under no obligation to do so. Some of us do not believe that this can be extended to same sex marriage."
"Whether someone is married, single or in a civil partnership should have no bearing on the nature of the assurances sought from them that they intend to order their lives consistently with the teaching of the Church on sexual conduct," the report adds.
It also directly outlines the church's official stance on sexual relationships, stating that "sexual intercourse, as an expression of faithful intimacy, properly belongs within marriage exclusively," and maintains that marriage is a union between a man and a woman.
The Rt. Rev. Justin Welby, the archbishop of Canterbury and spiritual head of the Anglican Communion, has warned that redefining marriage to include gay couples can weaken society.
"Marriage is abolished, redefined and recreated – being different and unequal for different categories. The new marriage of the bill is an awkward shape with same gender and different gender categories scrunched into it – neither fitting well," the archbishop of Canterbury warned of U.K. parliament plans in June to legalize gay marriage, which is set to become law in 2014.
"The concept of marriage as a normative place for procreation is lost. The idea of marriage as covenant is diminished. The family in its normal sense predating the state and as our base community of society is weakened."
At the same time, the House of Bishops report promises to take homophobia as a serious matter, and recommends that the church "repents" for such attitudes. It insists, however, that the church's traditional teachings on marriage and sexuality should not be taken as an example of homophobia.
The document further reflects that a traditional stance on marriage is challenged in a number of parts in the world, and that younger people are more likely to be more accepting of same-sex attractions, but that should not be enough to change church teachings on the matter.
"The whole Church is called to real repentance for the lack of welcome and acceptance extended to homosexual people in the past, and to demonstrate the unconditional acceptance and love of God in Christ for all people," another recommendation adds.