Marriage of clergy to same-sex partners

On 24 June 2014 the Church of England issued the following statement in relation to weekend press reports concerning the marriage of clergy to same-sex partners:

“The recent press report that the Bishop of Norwich has been asked to keep a blacklist of clergy who marry same sex partners is untrue. The House of Bishops agreed in February to establish a small informal monitoring and reference group which is available to diocesan bishops who may wish for information or advice. The group has no formal powers. The Archbishops of Canterbury and York asked the Bishop of Norwich to chair the group and for the Bishops of Sheffield and Willesden to be members.”

Ends

We covered the action taken against Canon Jeffrey Pemberton as a postscript to our 22nd June news round-up, but made no reference to any blacklist of clergy. The updated version states:

 “Pink News reported today that Canon Jeremy Pemberton, who married his long-term partner in a civil ceremony in April, has had his Permission to Officiate, (PTO), removed by the Acting Bishop of Southwell and Nottingham, the Rt Rev Richard Inwood, thereby revoking his permission to perform services in the diocese.  His position as a lay clerk at Southwell Minster is unlikely to be affected.  The BBC quotes the bishop as saying “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 . . . In view of this I have spoken to Jeremy Pemberton and subsequently written to him to tell him his permission to officiate in the Diocese of Southwell and Nottingham has been revoked.”  Canon Pemberton declined to comment but subsequently confirmed that the reports are “basically accurate”.

Permission to Officiate is issued under Canon C 8 (3) entirely at the discretion of the bishop, creates no employment-like rights, and can be withdrawn at the absolute discretion of the bishop without the need for a disciplinary process. In contrast, Canon Pemberton is employed as Deputy Senior Chaplain with the United Lincolnshire Hospitals NHS Trust in the diocese of Lincoln, under the Extra-Parochial Ministry Measure 1967, for which he holds a licence from the Bishop of Lincoln.  However, although employed by the hospital, that employment is generally dependent upon the Bishop’s licence which can only be terminated following a disciplinary process, s8(2) Clergy Discipline Measure 2003. No public announcement has been made regarding this licence.

Comment

The CofE statement has been greeted with scepticism by some of those commenting on the Thinking Anglican report of the announcement.  Against such concerns, however, it would be unusual if the Church had not established a group to monitor developments in a sensitive area such as this, and would be subject to criticism if it did not adopt a consistent approach in the interpretation of the House of Bishops Statement of Pastoral Guidance on Same Sex Marriage: there is a degree of uncertainty in the sanctions that may be applied under ecclesiastical law and a further degree of complexity is added through the range of possible employment situations as these current examples demonstrate.

With regard to comments relating to “blacklisting”, on 13 March 2013 the House of Bishops issued Personal files relating to clergy: Guidance for Bishops and their staff which considers inter alia the requirements of the Data Protection Act 1998.  Paragraph 2 states:

“[t]he guidance deals only with personal files about clergy (“clergy personal files”). It does not cover personal files relating to readers and other licensed lay ministers, although the same general principles apply to these. Nor does it cover files relating to those who are exploring a vocation to ministry or who are in training but not yet ordained. Ministry Division issues guidance to DDOs [Diocesan Directors of Ordinands] about record keeping in this context.”

Of relevance in the present context are paragraphs 3 to 11 which concern “Circumstances in which personal information will be shared”, and in particular the following:

3. Where a bishop (‘the receiving bishop’) submits a request at any time for personal information about a priest or deacon to another bishop (‘the sending bishop’) and the receiving bishop confirms in writing that the sharing of the information is in the substantial public interest and is necessary (a) for the prevention or detection of any unlawful act or (b) for the protection of the public against dishonesty, malpractice, or other seriously improper conduct by, or the unfitness or incompetence of, that priest or deacon or another person, then the sending bishop will share that information with the receiving bishop. In these circumstances data protection legislation permits personal information to be shared without the individual’s consent being sought.

4. Where a priest or deacon is being considered for an appointment or permission to officiate in the receiving bishop’s diocese, and the sending bishop receives a request from the receiving bishop for an Episcopal Reference and Clergy Current Status Letter (‘CCSL’) , the sending bishop will share with the receiving bishop such personal information about that priest or deacon as is necessary to provide a full and accurate response.

8 thoughts on “Marriage of clergy to same-sex partners

  1. The comment you make on the establishing of a monitoring group is as extraordinary in its tone and content as the creation and revelation of this group itself.

    If, as has been suggested, this is the first group of its type then there might be some interest in what specifically caused its creation. Particular concern has been expressed that the existence of the group, if not secret, was not declared at its creation.
    In saying as you do that the group exists to promote a “consistent approach” you make a claim that members of the group have distanced themselves from. This implies the existence of some sort of sentencing guidelines being developed as cases come to bear.
    Indeed, what we have had has been the rehearsal of just how independent the local ordinary is in these pastoral matters, denying any locus to the metropolitan or others. So one wonders how consistency can be achieved to avoid the criticism you expect? Further, we also know there are no terms of reference or guidance for this group so it is rather dangerous, isn’t it, and could well do far more than what you claim, or indeed for less than I imagine.
    As I understand it, the bishops have been thoroughly inconsistent in the application of their statements on clergy in civil partnerships, producing wildly differing responses. In some cases bishops and partners have attended the ceremony, present in hand, witnessing promises of undying love and celebrating at the party afterward. While other clerics who have been civilly partnered report a barrage of letters, unpleasant interviews with senior staff, intrusive interviews and loss of the ability to function. As far as anyone knows, no committee was ever established to give this important change in the law the support you see as normative. Nor have I seen any criticism of the Church for inconsistency, rather the understanding that the local bishop will follow his own approach has prevailed.

    One might argue that the result of proscribing political parties would also inspire the House of Bishops to establish a monitoring group, for this too fulfils the criteria you lay down above that you claim justifies such a committee.

    I wonder, now we have a clearer picture of the groups declared lack of purpose and in the light of the novelty of this committee, if you might reconsider the dismissive response you take above and weigh more carefully what such a group might actually do?

  2. Thank you for your comments. The purpose of the piece was to: reiterate the Church’s view; indicate that not everyone accepted its assurances; suggest that a central register has the potential to assist a consistent approach; and indicate that the exchange of personal information such as through Clergy Current Status Letters (‘CCSL’) is currently addressed in House of Bishop and other guidance. Changing Attitude’s piece Bishops of Willesden and Manchester reveal truths about the “blacklist” that isn’t and the associated comments make interesting reading on the development of media/Twitter interest following Andrew Brown’s piece in the Guardian.

  3. Thank you for the graciousness of publishing my comment and the courtesy of a response.

    Many are grateful for the factual reports here and the learned analysis.

    In this case my comment was concerned to challenge the claims you made in your own Comment above.
    I believe them to be completely ill considered and misleading as I hope I have made clear.
    This would not be important, but I notice that on an earlier, similar occasion Church House apparatchiks took comfort in your supportive opinion and broadcast it widely.

    I think you should reconsider.

    • Thank you for your further comments. As with most of our posts, Frank and I discussed the version prior to publication and any comments that were submitted. With regard to your comments on our post on the CofE’s approach to the marriage of clergy to same-sex partners, this is an area on which we will have to agree to disagree. A further post considering the legal issues associated with blacklist will be published shortly.

      • I understand that opinions vary wildly!
        But on this matter, my concern is that there are facts, a few of which I lay out above.

        I say that you are wrong as a matter of fact, and on the facts.

        I enjoy, even relish, a robust exchange, but here I am keen to see error corrected.
        As I say, others take encouragement from these errors.

        • Not being an Anglican (or even, for that matter, a Trinitarian Christian) I have no view on this matter whatsoever. But I do know an impasse when I see one: and I think that the time has come to leave this one alone. Irreconcilable views cannot, by definition, be reconciled.

  4. Pingback: Clergy blacklists, blue files and the Archbishops’ List | Law & Religion UK

  5. Pingback: Marriage of clergy to same-sex partners – update | Law & Religion UK

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