The controversial new Bishop of London refused yesterday to say where she stands on the the Church of England’s most damaging division.
The Right Reverend Sarah Mullally left tens of thousands of worshippers in her new diocese guessing about her views on gay rights after giving a high-profile broadcast interview.
Arguments over the status of same-sex relationships and gay clergy have left the CofE and Anglican churches around the world hopelessly split, with breakaway movements threatening schism in England and elsewhere.
The Church of England’s parliament, the General Synod, has rejected compromise between liberals and conservatives who reject gay relationships.
The rifts caused by an argument that has been running for 30 years now go so deep that Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby has written that only a miracle, ‘the work of the Holy Spirit’, can reconcile the warring sides.
Bishop Mullally, whose new diocese includes some of the most determined campaigners on both sides of the gay rights debate, withheld her own thinking in an interview for BBC Radio 4’s Today Programme in which she was repeatedly pressed for her opinion.
Asked how she would vote when the Synod next considers whether churches should offer blessing for same-sex couples, Bishop Mullally said: ‘What we have to remember is that this is about people and the Church seeks to demonstrate love to all.’
She added: ‘This issue isn’t just an issue for London, not just the Church of England, but also the Anglican community.’
Bishop Mullally said the CofE has ‘a real diversity’ and is entering ‘a period of reflection’.
‘There is work going on and I am involved in that. It is important that we take a timely reflection while standing on the tradition of the Church of England,’ she said.
‘If we are going to take seriously the work of the two archbishops (Canterbury and York) to take a period of reflection we need to allow that process to go ahead.’
The voice of the new bishop, who will be number three in the Church’s hierarchy, is likely to count heavily in future gay rights debates both because of the status of her post and the importance of her diocese.
Bishop Mullally, 55, a former Chief Nursing Officer for the Health Department, is now the most senior woman in the Church and has become a favourite to succeed Archbishop Welby at Lambeth Palace some time in the next decade.
On the day of her appointment she described her new diocese as ‘a city of inequality and deprivation’, its people as ‘marginalised’, ‘voiceless’ and ‘angry’, and made one of her first actions a visit to a food bank.
She also made it clear that the traditional place of her diocese as a bastion for opponents of women priests – its previous bishops have all refused to ordain women – is at an end.
Bishop Mullally declared: ‘If our churches are going to be more relevant to our communities, that means increasing churches that are led by priests that are women, who come from black, Asian and minority ethnic groups.’
The new bishop dropped a hint that the CofE may plunge into its next row over same-sex blessings early in the New Year.
A call for same-sex blessing services to be produced has been put to the Synod by the diocese of Hereford and is waiting to be scheduled for a full debate likely to generate another corrosive CofE row. The timing of the debate is as yet unannounced.
However Bishop Mullally said yesterday when asked how she will vote: ‘At that point I won’t be on the Synod so I won’t have a vote.’
Bishop Mullally, who is currently the junior Bishop of Crediton in the Exeter diocese, does not have a place on the Synod.
However she will have an automatic Synod seat, alongside a place in the House of Lords, when she is installed as Bishop of London some time over the next few months.
The timing suggests that the vote on same-sex blessings may be scheduled for the next Synod sessions in early February.
SOURCE: Daily Mail, Steve Doughty