The Church of England has an "unhealthy obsession" with sexual sin, a panel of bishops suggested on Tuesday in a document exploring cross-dressing, bisexuality, gay marriage and homosexual clergy.
Launching the long-anticipated guide, the clerics -- led by the Right Reverend Richard Harries, the Bishop of Oxford -- betrayed their frustration at the way in which the Anglican communion was being torn apart by what some consider to be a peripheral, theological debate.
The guide, Some Issues in Human Sexuality, was published in the wake of the consecration in the US of Gene Robinson, the first openly gay bishop. Within hours of that ceremony on Sunday in New Hampshire, leaders of the Anglican church in Africa condemned his elevation and threatened to cut ties with the Anglican community in the US.
The discussion document, released at Church House in central London yesterday, is primarily intended for use within the Church of England.
It derives its framework from a 1991 policy statement which declared that gay people should not be excluded from the church, but required gay clerics to remain celibate.
The authors of the 320-page "study guide" -- the bishops of Oxford, Winchester, Chester and Guildford -- insisted it was not meant to direct the debate towards any specific position, but to "help Christian people think through different aspects of gay, lesbian and transsexual relationships."
The index contains references to a bewildering array of sexual activities -- including bestiality, castration, prostitution and rape.
The guide contains a robust defense of the status quo. Under the headline Maintaining the present policy, it says the church has been criticized both for being "too permissive" and "too restrictive."
The policy has "three big advantages": it reflects the consensus of Christian opinion, allows for "sensitive care" of homosexual people and enables the Church of England to "maintain internal unity and its relationships with its Anglican partner churches."