- 10 updates
The Church of England has decided it will now allow homosexual male priests in civil partnerships to become bishops, on the condition that they stay celibate.
Evangelicals in the church remain opposed to the idea, saying the condition is unenforceable and will divide the church - as the issue of female bishops has in recent months.
ITV News Correspondent Neil Connery reports:
Gay rights campaigner Rev Colin Coward said the Church of England's statement on gay bishops, and in particular the demand for celibacy, will be "laughed at by the majority in this country."
Speaking on BBC Radio 4's PM programme, he welcomed the move "in theory" but added: "I'm not sure that I trust it."
Rev Coward, who heads the Changing Attitude group that campaigns for the full inclusion of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people in the Church, attacked the content of the new rules.
"I think the requirement, for example, that somebody needs to repent past homosexual activity is absolutely absurd," he said. "I think it is unenforceable and I think it is totally inappropriate."
Evangelical campaigners have described the Church of England's decision to lift the ban on gay bishops as a "very worrying development" that could prove "very divisive".
Rev Rod Thomas, a spokesman for Reform, said the demand on homosexual bishops to remain celibate in their civil partnerships was "unenforceable," adding:
Gay human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell has welcomed the Church of England's lifting of a ban on gay bishops, but said the lack of an "official statement" from the House of Bishops or the Archbishop of Canterbury is "perplexing".
"If the policy has been changed, it is a significant development and should be officially confirmed by Anglican leaders," he said, adding: "I hope this means the way is now open for (Dean of St Albans) Jeffrey John to be appointed as a bishop."
Ruth Hunt, director of public affairs for gay rights campaigners Stonewall, has said:
The Church of England has confirmed that "clergy in civil partnerships, and living in accordance with the teaching of the Church on human sexuality, can be considered as candidates for the episcopate".
The statement, issued by the Rt Revd Graham James, Bishop of Norwich, on behalf of the Church of England's House of Bishops, added:
The Church of England's lifting of its prevention of gay clergy to become bishops was announced by the House of Bishops before Christmas, but rose to public attention today in the Church Times newspaper.
The move comes after the General Synod, the church's governing body, controversially rejected proposals to allow women bishops in November.
Today's announcement on gay bishops by the Church of England lifts a moratorium that was reportedly due to face a legal challenge from within the church's own ranks 12 months ago.
Reports last year suggested that that the Dean of St Albans, Dr Jeffrey John, who is in a celibate civil partnership, was considering legal action.
Dr John, regarded as Britain's most senior openly homosexual cleric, had accused the church of hypocrisy and publicly urged the Archbishop of Canterbury to take a stand.
The Church of England has confirmed a moratorium on the appointment of gay priests in civil partnerships as bishops has been lifted.
It therefore now stands behind a 2005 statement on civil partnerships, which had been the subject of a church review until today's clarification. The statement reads:
The Issues in Human Sexuality, which was compiled by the House of Bishops in 1991, is described by the church as its "definitive statement" on same-sex relationships.
It states that "the clergy cannot claim the liberty to enter into sexually active homophile relationships" and calls on "all clergy to live lives that respect the Church's teaching".
The Church of England has confirmed it is dropping its prohibition on gay clergy in civil partnerships from becoming bishops.
The Church's House of Bishops said gay clergy can rise to the role if they pledge to remain celibate.