Comments: more on the Worcestershire employment tribunal case

"…This case has shown that Church of England vicars are not subject to any employment contract, but are free to exer­cise their ministry as they see best within the framework provided by the law of the land,” he said."

Would this then not include the vicars' right to Bless Same-Sex Unions - if they thought there was a primary pastoral ministry involved? After all, I understand that Same-sex relationships are legal in British law!

Posted by Father Ron Smith at Friday, 24 February 2012 at 9:06am GMT

Good point Fr Ron

Posted by Fr John at Friday, 24 February 2012 at 12:24pm GMT

The answer to Ron's question is "yes and no".

The nub of this case is indeed that there are no constraints on what a freehold incumbent can do beyond those provided by the law of the land.

But the law of the land makes it illegal (and the union invalid) for a C of E cleric to officiate at a Civil Partnership ceremony.

However there is very little that a bishop (who was so minded) can do by way of sanction to a priest who undertakes to provide "pastoral ministry" to a couple; not least since liturgical matters are exempt from the Clergy Discipline Measure.

And for completeness the CDM itself (as with the cumbersome and almost never used bits of law that govern doctrine, vesture and liturgy) is of course parliamentary legislation not a consequence of any contract entered into by two parties.

Posted by David Walker at Friday, 24 February 2012 at 4:03pm GMT

Re. Father Ron's post of 2012.02.24 : 0906,

However, so to do would put them in breach of the Declaration of Assent made by them at their ordination and on each occasion when they take up a new appointment and which reads (in part), "I, AB, do so affirm ... and in public prayer and administration of the sacraments, I will use only the forms of service which are authorized or allowed by Canon."

I would not be surprised if it were to be shown that some CofE clergy already bless, in private, same-sex relationships; but to do so publicly could be to court serious consequences.

Change will come, of that I'm sure, but it has to be remembered that the CofE is much like a super-tanker - changing direction takes a long time and a lot of energy but once started is almost unstoppable.

Posted by RPNewark at Friday, 24 February 2012 at 5:57pm GMT

Although this all really has nothing at all to do with the Sharpe case, I fear some of our readers outside the UK may be confused by the last two comments.

DW refers to the formal, legal registration of a Civil Partnership which can only be undertaken by a person designated by a government authority for the purpose, and known as a Registrar. This is an entirely secular i.e. government procedure, and absolutely no religious element is permitted in the course of it.

Very recently, the law has been changed to remove the previous total ban on the use of religious premises for such registrations, but not the ban on religious elements during the registration procedure. This was in response to requests from Quakers, Liberal Judaism, and the Unitarians. The Church of England has taken the position that none of its premises may be so used until or unless General Synod so decides. So the question of whether or not a CofE cleric can also be a Registrar for CPs is somewhat academic at the present time. It is quite normal for such Registrars to come (for an extra fee) to authorised premises away from their own offices (though not to CofE churches) for either Weddings or for the registration of CPs.

The foregoing civil procedure is not to be confused with any religious ceremony or other activity which might occur subsequent to (or possibly prior to) registration. The Declaration of Assent mentioned by RP would apply only to such religious ceremonies.

Posted by Simon Sarmiento at Friday, 24 February 2012 at 6:32pm GMT

'However, so to do would put them in breach of the Declaration of Assent ... which reads (in part) ... "I will use only the forms of service which are authorized or allowed by Canon." ' [RPNewark]

Only if they used a form of service other than allowed by canon, but there is no reason why blessing a same-gender union entails by definition such a transgression. As I've noted time and again, the fact that no new liturgy is necessary to do so is precisely what belies the conservative objection that such unions constitute a "change." If the words work as given, where's the change?

Posted by Geoff at Friday, 24 February 2012 at 10:09pm GMT

"But the law of the land makes it illegal (and the union invalid) for a C of E cleric to officiate at a Civil Partnership ceremony."

I do hope that David Walker has just mistaken his phrasing here.

This statement (as it stands) is completely untrue.

I am among several clerics in the CofE and CinW
seeking to be designated by my local authority as a civil partnership registrar. I have posted the Registrar General's guidance for this on an earlier thread.

While the law quite specifically prohibits clergy from registering civil weddings that prohibition does not extend to clergy entering a civil partnership onto the schedule.

It may be that the CofE and CinW can withold permission for the buildings they own to be registered for civil parterships and it is true that a civil partnership needs to take place in an approved premises and any registration would be invalid if held in a garden or premises that had not been approved.

But unlike civil marriages where buildings of a religious nature cannot be registered, the new regulations allow a whole range of independent private, regulated by Trust and local authority owned chapels to be put to this good and lawful use.

So we are presently pursuing the registration of a magnificent Victorian chapel owned by the local Health Authority where I hope to be able to conduct services and registrations and I am encouraging several families with glorious private chapels on their estates to follow suit.

Surely it will seem ever more mean spirited when clergy can do services and enter civil partnerships on the register everywhere EXCEPT in their own church. I am not sure people will put up with that for long!

Posted by Martin Reynolds at Saturday, 25 February 2012 at 12:13pm GMT

"So the question of whether or not a CofE cleric can also be a Registrar for CPs is somewhat academic at the present time."

No, I don't think this is the case Simon.

If you cannot use your Parish Church - you may be happy to have your Vicar preside elsewhere! It presently looks as if the regulations say that clergy designated as a civil partnership registrar will be able to officiate everywhere and one must assume that even includes at a Registry Office - Heaven Forbid!!

It is a lot more than "academic" my friend.

Posted by Martin Reynolds at Saturday, 25 February 2012 at 12:21pm GMT

Martin I stand corrected. I was thinking of course only in terms of CofE clergy officiating in CofE churches. That situation is what I termed "academic".

Posted by Simon Sarmiento at Saturday, 25 February 2012 at 3:16pm GMT

Yes, quite so Simon.

But, at the risk of being repetitive, I press my case. The power to prohibit the use of their buildings without any power to prohibit clergy from acting as civil partnership will prove to be an wholly unhelpful reservation.

Regrettably the Church will once again be cast in a poor light. It will appear for what it is: mean and spiteful.

Posted by Martin Reynolds at Saturday, 25 February 2012 at 5:46pm GMT

Thank you, Martin (Reynolds), for clearing the air here. My initial question related to clergy with freehold. However, very few clergy in future, I understand, will have freehold status in the Church of England. Does that make their tenure that of 'employment'by the diocese, one wonders?

Will this alter, in any way, the right of a Church of England clergy-person to offer a 'Blessing' on already contracted Same Sex Civil Partnerships - in a properly-designated place other than their parish Church?

If this can be established, then the matter of 'obedience to the wishes of the Ordinary' may be a 'non-issue' - as we say in New Zealand.

Roll on the day when the Anglican Churches around the globe can offer the hospitality of God to ALL people, regardless of ..... (you name it).

Posted by Father Ron Smith at Sunday, 26 February 2012 at 10:59pm GMT

Clarity is something we are still searching for. The Registrar General's office is still not responding to detailed enquiries - in fact, apart from referring to the published guidance, they don't want to say anything at the moment - and all agree the present guidance is confusing and rather unhelpful.

In all other matters I think David Walker tells it as it is.

There is little if anything that a bishop can do and even less that a bishop will do.

There are no services to "bless" same sex civil unions (of any sort) in the CofE.
The Church in Wales does not show the same reluctance to offer this .....
and while our Primate is on record as saying he looks forward to the day etc ... he does not look willing to make that day soon.
Loyalty to Rowan and all that, you know old boy!

Posted by Martin Reynolds at Monday, 27 February 2012 at 12:04pm GMT

And yet, St David blessed same sex couples, and blessed them and the poises as the great Hanesion Hen, Dafydd Mawr Enwog attests.

Soon people will be following Dewi Sant's beautiful practice

all over Wales &

across the globe !

Posted by Laurence Roberts at Monday, 27 February 2012 at 9:35pm GMT

Dydd Gŵyl Dewi hapus i bawb!

Posted by Martin Reynolds at Thursday, 1 March 2012 at 11:14pm GMT
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