That sound you just heard on the other side of the Atlantic was the million or so people who still sit in pews in the postmodern Church of England picking up a copy of the Sunday Times and shouting, in unison, "Say WHAT!?!?!" This will be followed by a louder response to the same headline at altars in the more traditional Anglican Third World.
The headline on reporter Christopher Morgan's exclusive says it all: "Church to let gay clergy 'marry' but they must stay celibate." And here is the opening of this amazing story, which will almost certainly infuriate all kinds of people on both sides of the church aisle.
Homosexual priests in the Church of England will be allowed to "marry" their boyfriends under a proposal drawn up by senior bishops, led by Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury.
The decision ensures that gay and lesbian clergy who wish to register relationships under the new "civil partnerships" law -- giving them many of the tax and inheritance advantages of married couples -- will not lose their licences to be priests.
They will, however, have to give an assurance to their diocesan bishop that they will abstain from sex. The bishops are trying to uphold the church doctrine of forbidding clergy from sex except in a full marriage. They accept, however, that the new law leaves them little choice but to accept the right of gay clergy to have civil partners.
You have to hand it to Williams, that bookish Oxford don with the knack for splitting hairs -- poetically. This compromise is really going to calm things down before that tense June 21 conclave that is supposed to sort out all of the loose ends about sacraments and sexuality (and major donations from the rich Episcopal Church in the United States). Things were tense enough in the Anglican Communion as it was.
"Married," but with mandatory celibacy. I wonder who came up with that compromise? Try to figure out the theological logic of it, beginning on either the left or the right. In other words, Pope Benedict the XVI may want to check his voicemail for calls from England.
Which raises another question. Anyone want to predict what Andrew Sullivan will have to say about this? I asked him, a year or two ago, why he had not left Rome in order to join the C of E. He never answered back.