Every Church of England cleric who could be promoted to become a bishop is to be asked to provide details of their sex life to the Archbishop of Canterbury or York, it has emerged.
In an effort to avoid “the appearance of discrimination” against gay priests – who are required to claim to be celibate if they are in civil partnerships – all future candidates for the episcopate will also be subject to a “test” to ensure they have no sexual skeletons in the closet.
Before they can be considered for a mitre they will have to persuade an archbishop that they are not involved in activity which might be considered sinful – and are not planning to do so.
The questioning, likely to be conducted by a serving bishop on behalf of one of the two archbishops, is to determine whether their private life “is and will remain consistent with the teaching of the Church of England”.
Church teaching only permits sex between a husband and wife and explicitly rules out any kind of gay or lesbian sex, extra-marital affairs or, officially at least, cohabiting couples sleeping together before marriage.
But some passages in the book of Leviticus are much more detailed: specifying a ban on sexual relations with various “beasts” or humans if they are members of the extended family.
It is unlikely, however, that these will fall within the scope of the Church of England’s hiring procedures.
Details of the new requirement emerged in a written answer to a question before the Church’s governing General Synod.
It follows the disclosure last month that, under new arrangements agreed by the House of Bishops, people in same-sex civil partnerships must satisfy either the Archbishop of Canterbury or York that they are not sleeping with their partner before they can become a bishop.
Similar arrangements are in place for divorced clergy being considered for episcopal appointment.
The Rev Canon Giles Goddard of St John’s church in Waterloo, central London, asked why such “assurances” are sought only from clerics in civil partnerships or divorcees.
William Fittall, the Secretary General to the General Synod, replied that the questions for divorcees were are “to determine that there are no issues from the breakdown of the previous marriage that might constitute an obstacle to episcopal appointment”.
He added: “In relation to civil partnership the test is of a different character namely whether someone’s conduct is and will remain consistent with the teaching of the Church of England.
But, he explained: “To avoid the appearance of discrimination that assurance is in fact now sought in relation to all candidates for episcopal appointment.”