THE Church of England response to the
Government's consultation on gay marriage, its status, and the
process that lay behind it came under close scrutiny during
Questions last Friday.
(Chelmsford) asked what steps would be taken to ensure that the
Church of England's teaching on marriage remained represented in
schools, in the light of the Government's proposals to legalise
The Bishop of Oxford,
the Rt Revd John Pritchard, described this as a "hot potato". The
Church was "much engaged in conversations" at different levels, and
he encouraged people to make their views known.
Canon Giles Goddard
(Southwark) suggested that "the continued uncertainty" over the
Church's position on civil partnerships "undermines the ministry of
loyal and faithful clergy in civil partnerships". What measures
were being taken to affirm those clergy in civil partnerships?
The Archbishop of
York, Dr Sentamu, recognised that Canon Goodard, like him,
was "frustrated", but suggested that the work of the review group
had "better be done thoroughly and fairly". The response to the
Government's consultation on same-sex marriage referred to civil
partnerships, and indicated "that in this everything is still in
The Archbishop of
Canterbury answered a group of questions together,
including those from Canon Anne Stevens
(Southwark) and the Revd Professor Richard
Burridge (Universities, London), reflecting on how the
response had claimed to represent "the Church of England". The
submission had been discussed in draft by the Archbishops' Council
and the House of Bishops, and amended to reflect comments made in
those fora. It had been signed off by him and by the Archbishop of
York, and sent to the Home Secretary, with a covering letter that
had described it, accurately, as the "official Church of England
response to the Government consultation document". This procedure
had been followed on House of Lords reform, the Crown appointments
process, and the abolition of the office of Lord Chancellor.
In a supplementary question, Professor
Burridge suggested that the Archbishop, in answering his question,
had failed to explain how the process for responding to
the consultation had been determined theologically and
Dr Williams said that the docu-ment
was not a document of the House of Bishops, but a document that had
been discussed with the House and with the Archbishops' Council,
and could thus be said to be an expression of the bishops in
Canon Stevens went on to ask whether
official responses in areas of controversy might "at least
acknowledge the presence of some diversity in the Church". She
acknowledged Canon B30 on marriage, cited by the Archbishop, but
suggested that diversity already existed in its interpretation, in
that some clergy were prepared to marry divorcees.
Dr Williams argued that there was an
acknowledgement of diversity in the response, in that the ongoing
discussion on ethics regarding same-sex marriage was "specifically
flagged": "It is not exactly a secret that the Church of England is
having some discussions about this." But many would argue that
"flexibility about how we respond to the breakdown of marriage is
different from the question of marriage itself."
(Southwark) asked: "During the drafting was any consideration given
to the pastoral care of the thousands of loyal An-glicans who woke
up [on the day the response to the consultation was published] to
discover that the Church officially demeaned and dis-criminated, in
their view, against permanent . . . relationships?"
Dr Williams found this
question-begging; but this had been very much in the Bishops'
minds. "Much has been made of our need to be affirmative of civil
partnerships". There had been "recognition that we have not always
got it right".
Canon Michael Parsons
(Gloucester) asked about the membership of the group that had
produced the submission.
Answering this with several other
questions from the Dean of Portsmouth, the Very
Revd David Brindley (Deans), Tom Sutcliffe
(Southwark), and others, Dr Williams said that the Archbishops'
Council had considered a paper last November from the staff on the
implications for the C of E of the Government's proposal, and that
further work had needed to be done on the rationale for resistance
to, or unhappiness with, it.
Staff had prepared the draft
submission, which had been considered by residential meetings of
the Archbishops' Council and House of Bishops in May, and shared in
draft with members of the Mission and Public Affairs Council.
The Archbishops' Council had agreed
that a "clear response" needed to be submitted, and that the draft
covered the necessary ground. Then the Bishops "agreed the general
shape of the response, considered a number of detailed suggestions
regarding the content of the draft, and invited the Archbishops to
finalise the draft". It was "not usual" to consult the Synod on
Canon Parsons then asked if the
Archbishop was aware of the "outrage felt by a significant portion
of the Church of England that this statement was issued . . . that
they wish to dissociate themselves permanently from it?"
Dr Williams said he was aware of this,
but "it remains the case that we are as the Church of England bound
by the law which governs us." The Government's consultation paper
had been "deeply flawed" in regard to the legal position of the C
of E and its clergy, and the "fundamental legal issues" raised by
it "will not go away".
Prebendary Rod Thomas
(Exeter) asked, "in the light of revelations . . . about the
suppression by the Government relating to the impact of same-sex
marriage on what is taught in schools", whether consideration would
be given to making "further representations to the Government".
Dr Williams told the Revd
Stephen Coles (London) that the House of Bishops had no
plans to invite the Synod to inititiate a revsion of Canon B30,
though there were many ways in which such a question could come to
the Synod and other bodies.
In answer to questions from
Joanna Monckton (Lichfield) and others, Dr
Williams said that discussions were ongoing with the Home Secretary
and Home Office, and that the basis of the mandate for changing the
state's understanding of marriage, given the lack of commitment to
this in the election manifestos, was a question that required a
more lucid answer than it had so far received.