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Canterbury Cathedral canon emeritus John Bond calls for Lambeth Conference to be "temporarily celibate" over gay spouse ban

By Anna MacSwan

Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby has been urged to make a major conference "temporarily celibate" to diffuse a row over gay spouses.

The Lambeth Conference, which will bring Anglican leaders from around the world and their spouses together in Canterbury next year, has sparked widespread controversy after it emerged that partners of gay bishops would not be invited.

John Bond, canon emeritus of Canterbury Cathedral, has said anti-gay discrimination could be avoided by uninviting all spouses from the event, which is held once every ten years and is being hosted at the University of Kent's campus in the city.

Canterbury Cathedral (8617180)
Canterbury Cathedral (8617180)

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, said over the weekend that he found himself in a "lose-lose situation" over the decision, because the vast majority of the Anglican communion is "conservative on issues of sexuality".

Calling the choice "difficult and painful", he said that inviting all spouses could risk "some provinces not coming because they felt I was pushing the envelope too far."

Writing in today's Times, Mr Bond said: "He could turn it into a win-win situation by disinviting the spouses of straight bishops, thus avoiding the taint of any anti-gay discrimination while saving the church the not inconsiderable cost of travel, accommodation and entertainment of hundreds of spouses.

"A low-key, temporarily celibate episcopal retreat is perhaps what the church needs its Lambeth Conference to be."

Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby
Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby

Equal rights campaigners within the church have called on the Lambeth Conference to publish its legal grounds for the ban, while students have urged the University to use its leverage as the conference host to force a change in stance.

The University of Kent's Vice Chancellor, Professor Karen Cox, and Chair of Council, Sir David Warren, met with the Archbishop of Canterbury to raise "concerns" about the event on March 29, but has yet to disclose what was agreed at the "private meeting".

It has previously said the conference is lawful because of a loophole in the Equality Act applying to religious organisations.

University Vice Chancellor Karen Cox
University Vice Chancellor Karen Cox

A spokesman for Canterbury Cathedral, which will be used as a place of worship during the conference, declined to comment on Mr Bond's suggestion.

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