Same-sex Marriage (Priests) – Church Commissioners’ Questions

On 27 March, Sir Tony Baldry (Banbury, Con) representing the Church Commissioners, provided the House with the following information relating to priests of the Church of England who enter same-sex marriage, [HC Hansard, 27 Mar 2014 : Vol 578 Col 457]:

Mr Ben Bradshaw (Exeter) (Lab): What the Church of England’s policy is on priests entering a same-sex marriage; and what guidance has been given on what would happen to a priest who did so.

Sir Tony Baldry: Clergy and ordinands remain free to enter into civil partnerships. The House of Bishops in its pastoral guidance distributed on 15 February said that it was not willing for those in same-sex marriages to be ordained to any of the three orders of ministry—deacon, clergy or bishops—and that

“it would not be appropriate conduct for someone in holy orders to enter into a same-sex marriage, given the need for clergy to model the Church’s teaching in their lives”.

As with any alleged instance of misconduct, each case would have to be considered individually by the local diocesan bishop.

Mr Bradshaw: In light of the recent Pilling report, does the right hon. Gentleman believe it would be sensible if a hard-working, popular priest got married with the full support of his or her parish and congregation and was then disciplined, sacked or defrocked?

Sir Tony Baldry: The situation is clear. The Church of England’s understanding of marriage remains unchanged: marriage is a lifelong union between one man and one woman, and under the canons of the Church of England marriage is defined as being between a man and a woman. The canons of the Church of England retain their legal status as part of the law of England and I would hope that no priest who has taken an oath of canonical obedience would wish to challenge canon law and the law of England.

Comment

No surprises then for readers of this blog, but there is now a clear formal statement in the public domain.  Not perhaps the clarity that was being sought by Mr Bradshaw and the priests mentioned in Pink News, but as we have indicated earlier: there are a number of uncertainties relating to the law in this area; these will be addressed on a case-by-case basis; discussions between bishops and their clergy have only just commenced.

Other information from the Second Church Estates Commissioner

The following are extracts of the other information provided by the Second Church Estates Commissioner.

Cost of cathedral repairs

Martin Vickers (Cleethorpes) (Con): What the current estimated cost is of necessary repairs to cathedrals in England; and what steps are being taken to ensure that cathedrals remain open to the public.

The Second Church Estates Commissioner (Sir Tony Baldry): The current estimated shortfall in the cost of repairs to cathedrals is £87 million over the next five years, over and above what the cathedrals are currently spending on repairs annually.

Return on investments

Mr David Nuttall (Bury North) (Con): What the anticipated return is on the Church Commissioners’ investments for the current financial year.

Sir Tony Baldry: The Church Commissioners are finalising their asset valuations and anticipate the total return for 2013 to be about 15% to 16%. The continued steady return will enable the Church Commissioners to continue the level of support that they give the ministry of the Church of England.

Diocesan Support

Miss Anne McIntosh (Thirsk and Malton) (Con): How much money the Church Commissioners anticipate they will be able to distribute to dioceses across England to support their mission in 2014.

Sir Tony Baldry: The Church Commissioners support the mission of each diocese depending on its need. Each diocese generally receives between £1 million and over £3 million, but that covers only a small proportion of the cost of running the Church. We must never underestimate the importance of the generous giving of church congregations, which accounts for most of the rest.

Church Growth Research Programme

Andrew Selous (South West Bedfordshire) (Con): What steps are being taken to help dioceses and parishes engage and take action with reference to the Church growth research programme.

Sir Tony Baldry: The findings from the Church growth research programme have been disseminated widely within the Church, and are informing diocesan strategies and practices at parish level. Further practical online resources are being developed and events are being planned to help dioceses and parishes to engage with the research and take action.

The role of the Second Church Estates Commissioner

For those uncertain on the role of the Second Church Estates Commissioner, during the Westminster Hall debate Women’s Contribution to the Ordained Ministry (Church of England) reported here, Sir Tony Baldry described his position as follows, [HC Hansard 20 Mar 2014 : Vol. Col. 374WH]

“…. For anyone reading the debate in Hansard, I should explain that, although I am effectively responding to the debate, I am not a member of the Government. I am by statute appointed by the Crown as Second Church Estates Commissioner, so I am accountable neither to the Government nor to the Archbishop of Canterbury. Indeed, as the Bishop of London pointed out to me shortly after I was appointed, I am, like the Dean of Westminster, accountable only to God and the Queen—that is how he put it. This is not a ministerial response, then, but one I make in my capacity as Second Church Estates Commissioner.”

A useful insight into the practicalities of how this works was revealed in a Twitter exchange reported by Thinking Anglicans:  Peter Ould asked “Who gives Tony Baldry MP the steer on what to say in response to questions in the Commons?” and churchstate (the Church of England Parliamentary team) answered “Process in a nutshell: we make suggestions after consulting senior colleagues & specialists. He then decides what to say.”

With regard to the follow-up question, in which Peter Ould asked “So how much am I to read into his response to Ben Bradshaw?” the Parliamentary team replied “Sorry Peter, but we don’t give out guidance on such things”.  Neither do we, but would observe that he is a practising barrister and head of chambers at 1 Essex Court, and as stated above, provided a clear formal statement of the law as it stands: no more, no less.

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