Law and religion round-up – 19th February

“Church law is therefore intimately connected to the life of the Church, as one of her necessary aspects, which is justice in conserving and transmitting the goods of salvation.”

Vatican News reports that when greeting students in a course organized by the Roman Rota, Pope Francis recalled the relationship between the Church’s evangelizing mission and Church law.

Church, state and same-sex marriage

In the course of his presidential address on the first day of the Anglican Consultative Council in Ghana, the Archbishop of Canterbury said that he had been under political pressure over the issue of same-sex marriage:

“In the last few weeks, as part of our discussions about sexuality and the rules around sexuality in the Church of England, I talked of our interdependence with all Christians, not just Anglicans, particularly those in the Global South with other faith majorities. As a result, I was summoned twice to Parliament and threatened with parliamentary action to force same-sex marriage on us, called in England ‘equal marriage’.”

No comment.

Clergy Discipline Measure 2003: Revd Dr Stephen Sizer

On 6 December, following a complaint to the Diocese in 2018 by Mrs Marie van der Zyl, President of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, the Bishop’s Disciplinary Tribunal for the Diocese of Winchester ruled that the Revd Dr Stephen Sizer had committed misconduct under the Clergy Discipline Measure 2003. The Decision on Penalty was published on 30 January; the Tribunal determined that the appropriate penalty should be a prohibition from exercising any of the functions of his Holy Orders for a period of 12 years from the date on which the Bishop of Winchester withdrew his permission to officiate, 14 December 2018. 

COVID restrictions in Canada

In New Brunswick v His Tabernacle Family Church Inc. & Ors 2023 NBKB 3 Feb, the church had moved its services to a commercial tent in order to avoid COVID restrictions on gatherings in “public indoor spaces”. Initially the sides of the tent were raised, but as weather became colder, the church lowered the sidewalls, which were weighted down to keep them in place. The Province contended that once the sidewalls of the tent were down the tent became an enclosed space [8] and wrote to the church explaining that the tent was then a “public indoor space” and that it would have to comply with the terms of the Mandatory Order on COVID restrictions [9]. When the church held another service with the sidewalls down, the Province filed a motion alleging that the respondents were in contempt of the previously-signed consent orders and were not complying with the Mandatory Order [9].

The Court found for the church. The Province should have advised the church at what point it would be in breach of the Mandatory Order [26]. The Court noted that the contempt power was “an enforcement of last resort” [28] and felt that it was difficult to conclude “beyond reasonable doubt” that the respondents realised that they were breaching the Order [29]. If the Province had provided guidance on what constituted “private indoor space” and the church had breached it, the argument that the Order had been knowingly breached would have been stronger – but that was not what happened [32]. Motion dismissed [34]. [With thanks to Howard Friedland.]

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