The Church of England has announced that it will allow gay priests in legal same-sex-relationships to become bishops, as long as they remain celibate.

The decision was made by the House of Bishops, one of the Church’s decision-making bodies, at a meeting held on 10 and 11 December.

While the statement was placed on the Church’s website on 20 December it was only noticed by the media last week.

The Bishop of Norwich, the Rt Revd Graham James, issued a statement on behalf of the House of Bishops on Friday confirming the news.

“The House 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. There had been a moratorium on such candidates for the past year and a half while the working party completed its task.”

He added that, “All candidates for the episcopate undergo a searching examination of personal and family circumstances, given the level of public scrutiny associated with being a bishop in the Church of England.”

The decision follows one in November that barred women from becoming bishops and is set to lead to further division between liberal and conservative elements in the Church.

Leading conservative Church leaders have already threatened dire consequences if the Church appoints a civil partnered gay priest as a bishop.

Writing on the website for Changing Attitude, an organisation working towards the full inclusion of LGBT people in the Anglican Communion, Colin Coward said that he did not believe the change would have much impact.

“Herein lies one reason why I don’t think yesterday’s revelation will lead to any gay priest in a civil partnership being appointed as a bishop any time soon,” he wrote. “How many priests in civil partnerships where sexual intimacy is an integral part of the relationship will willingly abandon sex with their partner in order to become a bishop?”

He also went on to question whether a priest in a celibate civil partnership nominated as a bishop would be willing to subject themselves to the inquisition of the Church and all its bodies, as well as the public.

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