The announcement by the church’s House of Bishops would allow a homosexual clergyman in a civil partnership to become a bishop as long as he promised to remain celibate.
“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,” said the Bishop of Norwich, Graham James.
The issue has divided England’s state church since 2003, when gay priest Jeffrey John was named bishop of Reading, in southeast England.
The move outraged conservatives within England’s state church, and John was forced to resign. He was also a candidate for bishop of Southwark in London in 2010, but traditionalists again blocked his appointment.
All clergywomen, regardless of their sexuality, remain banned from becoming bishops in the Church of England after its governing body, the General Synod, failed to vote through the change in November.
Gay men and women who are in civil partnerships — legal unions giving them similar rights to those of married couples — have been allowed to join the clergy since 2005 so long as they vow to remain celibate.
The church has spent the past 18 months determining whether the conditions should also apply to gay clergymen who wish to become bishops.
The House of Bishops announced the change on December 20 but it was brought to light by the Church Times, an Anglican newspaper, on Friday.
Gay couples have had the right to enter into a civil partnership in Britain since 2005, offering them the same legal rights as married heterosexual couples on a range of issues such as inheritance, pensions and immigration.
The British government proposed last month to allow same-sex marriages in religious institutions that wish to provide them, but the established Churches of England and Wales would be exempt from the plans.
Married heterosexual clergy in the Church of England are not expected to remain celibate. Justin Welby, the incoming Archbishop of Canterbury who takes charge of the church in March, is married with five children.