BISHOPS in Oxfordshire have admitted the Church has ‘failed’ LGBT people and urged Christians to be respectful of all gender identities and sexual orientations.

Four bishops in the Diocese of Oxford, including Oxford’s Steven Croft and Dorchester’s Colin Fletcher, have penned a joint letter to 1,500 ministers setting out expectations of inclusion and respect.

They have also announced a plan to set up a new LGBT chaplaincy team in the diocese to listen, support and advise clergy and congregations.

As wider debate about inclusion in the Church of England rumbles on, the letter states: “LGBTI+ Christians have always been, and remain, actively involved as clergy and laity in all areas of church life, and at all levels.

“We are conscious as bishops of the pain felt by many LGBTI+ people and their families in the midst of these debates.

“As a Church we have continually failed our sisters and brothers in Christ.”

The letter, which totals almost 1,700 words, stresses that nobody should be denied a leadership role in the Church due to their sexual orientation or gender identity.

However, last month the Oxford Mail reported that the Diocese and Bishop Steven had accepted an application from St Barnabas and St Paul with St Thomas the Martyr in Jericho that its new priest must be a man and not a woman.

The bishops' letter was sent last week and encourages ‘an attitude of inclusion and respect’ and ‘spirit of love and mutual care’.

It acknowledges that talking about sexuality and gender identity in the Church is ‘often difficult’, adding: “Conversations about these matters often bear a weight of pain and distrust caused by the past and present experiences of hurt, exclusion and misunderstanding.

“Bullying and harassment are damaging and not acceptable as part of the reasoned and loving debate the Church needs.”

The bishops said the letter was written ‘with humility and some hesitation’, and acknowledged some people have ‘strongly held views grounded in deep convictions’.

But their message added: “Remaining silent on these issues is not serving the Church well.

“We wish both to acknowledge the great contribution that LGBTI+ Christians are making and have made to the Church in this diocese, and highlight the need for mission within the LGBTI+ community more broadly.”

The Ozanne Foundation, which was set up by gay Christian and LGBT campaigner Jayne Ozanne, who lives in Littlemore, welcomed the letter.

A statement released by the charity said the move was an ‘important step’ towards inclusion and a ‘sign of hope to many who have been hurt and discouraged by other more recent letters’.

It encouraged other dioceses to ‘follow Oxford’s lead’ and said the creation of dedicated chaplaincies will reassure the LGBT community that a ‘truly inclusive welcome is sincerely being offered for all’.