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11 Sept 2006-  In an unprecedented move, a bishop has appointed an HIV-positive gay man as priest for a Church of England congregation in the UK. It is thought to be the first time a clergyman, known to have the HIV virus, has been appointed to lead a parish.

Appointed by a bishop known to support homosexual clergy, the priest, who wishes to remain anonymous, will take up his position in the London parish later this month.

The move may be seen as provocative by opponents of gay clergy – an issue that is threatening to split the global Anglican Communion.

The newly appointed priest said last week: “I’m under high pressure at the moment. This is not a good moment to talk about it though I am looking forward to the challenges that the parish will present and I am already stuck in to visiting.”

The previous parish priest, who died in office, lived with a gay companion – a common practice for the estimated 1,500 gay and lesbian Church of England clergy.

Between 25 and 30 Church of England priests are thought to have died of AIDS-related illnesses, but this is thought to be the first case where a man known to be HIV-positive has been appointed priest.

One Church of England bishop said the appointment “is a sign of the church being grown-up and living in the real world.”

“The priest has a ministry to offer and clearly there is a welcome for him in this parish,” he said.