Archbishop Peter Smith of Southwark has clarified that a plea for the rights of Catholics in civil partnerships should not be interpreted as a shift in the Church’s position on the subject.
Archbishop Smith’s intervention came after a bishops’ conference statement was taken as being an endorsement of same-sex civil partnerships.
The bishops’ statement, a submission to a government consultation, said existing civil partnerships should not be abolished or merged into same-sex marriages.
The bishops said: “Some lesbian and gay Catholics do not wish to enter into civil same-sex marriage because of their deeply held belief that marriage is between a man and a woman only, but still wish to have the legal rights that are contained in a civil partnership.
“The removal of the option for same-sex couples to enter into civil partnerships could cause great harm to those Catholics and others.”
The statement was signed by Archbishop Smith, the bishops’ chairman of the Department for Christian Responsibility and Citizenship.
Archbishop Smith, in a statement issued on Friday, said: “My recent comment on civil partnerships was solely in response to a specific government consultation on whether to abolish civil partnerships or convert them all into marriages in law.
“My comment should not be misunderstood. The question at issue is one of individual conscience for those who are in same-sex civil partnerships and who do not want to enter into same-sex marriage because of their deeply held belief that marriage is between a man and a woman only.
“In requesting the government to respect their consciences by leaving the existing civil partnership law unchanged, I was dealing solely with this issue of conscience which has now arisen given the current law, and my response should not be misinterpreted as a wider commentary on civil partnerships in general.”