LONDON – Being a practicing homosexual is no bar to becoming a priest, the Scottish Episcopal Church (search) says, a stance that puts it at odds with the Anglican Communion (search) in other parts of the world.
In a response to a February meeting of 35 top world Anglican leaders, posted on the church Web site, the College of Bishops of the Scottish Episcopal Church said it had "never regarded the fact that someone was in a close relationship with a member of the same sex as in itself constituting a bar to the exercise of an ordained ministry."
The bishops also said clergy on occasion responded to requests to give a blessing to same-sex couples.
It is believed to be the first time the Scottish church has publicly declared their position on gay clergy and blessings of homosexual couples, which have long been unwritten but commonly held acceptances.
The announcement comes at a delicate time for Anglicans worldwide and is in contrast to the Scottish Episcopal Church's sister body, the Church of England (search), which will ordain homosexuals only if they are not in a physical relationship.
At last month's crisis meeting of Anglican leaders in Northern Ireland, the issue of homosexuality threatened to split the international Anglican Communion (search).
Anglican leaders, meeting near Belfast, asked the U.S. Episcopal Church (search) and the Anglican Church of Canada (search) to withdraw from the Anglican Consultative Council (search) (ACC) for three years — a move some fear could be the first step toward a permanent split in the communion.
The two churches were also invited to explain to the council in June the theological reasoning behind the consecration of V. Gene Robinson (search) as Bishop of New Hampshire and the decision by one Canadian diocese to authorize the blessing of same sex unions.
The Scottish bishops expressed regret at the decision to request the withdrawal of U.S. and Canadian Churches from the ACC.
"We are conscious that as a church we are much indebted in our life both to a significant presence of persons of homosexual orientation, and also those whose theology and stance would be critical of attitudes to sexuality other than abstinence outside marriage."
"We rejoice in both," the bishops' response said.