The Church of England yesterday suggested it will offer transgenders ‘re-christenings’ with their new names.
Vicars cannot re-baptise those who have changed sex but could use existing ‘services of welcome’ to announce a new name before God, the most senior official said.
The advice is likely to be endorsed next month by the Church’s parliament, the General Synod.
It will ease pressure on Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby from liberals who want to see the church’s conservative rules on sex and marriage swept away. But it is likely to provoke a furious backlash from traditional Christians.
The CofE’s most senior official, Synod Secretary General William Nye, said in a paper sent to Synod members: ‘It is a fundamental belief of the Church that baptism can only be received once.
‘There is therefore no possibility of the Synod approving a form of service for the re-baptism of transgendered persons in their new gender who have already been baptised.’ But he said the CofE can have no objection if they want to have an ‘Affirmation of Baptismal Faith’ service in a new name.
He said: ‘This service refers to the fact that the individual has already been baptised, asks them to repeat their baptismal vows and re-affirm their faith. The focal point of this service is on the individual’s faith in Jesus Christ, rather than on the individual’s name or gender – regardless of whether or not it was different from when they were baptised.’
He added: ‘There is no legal or doctrinal difficulty about a baptised transgendered person re-affirming their baptismal vows using a name different from the Christian name given at baptism. A member of the Church of England may be known by, and use, different names from those given at baptism or confirmation provided that they do not do so for fraudulent or other similar purposes.’
Mr Nye said that the Synod meeting in York next month may ‘conclude that existing liturgical materials provided sufficient flexibility to meet this pastoral need’.
The affirmations would benefit senior bishops because the decision to carry out the service would be left in the hands of local priests. Bishops would not need to permit the service or take part.
The Synod is to debate a proposal from the Blackburn diocese which calls for liturgical material to mark a person’s gender transition. Diocesan priest the Rev Chris Newlands said the call came after a transsexual called George had been ‘wrestling with the spiritual dimension of what was happening to him’ as he was changing sex and ‘felt the need to reintroduce himself to God, with his new name and gender identity’.
The move follows humiliation for Archbishop Welby in February when his attempt to secure a compromise in the Church’s 30-year struggle over gay rights collapsed. Liberals did not accept a refusal to allow same-sex marriage while traditionalists rejected the idea that churches might say prayers to celebrate gay relationships.
Last year a parliamentary committee said all rules that might hinder people changing sex should be abolished.
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