Chaplain is blocked from new post after same-sex marriage

11 July 2014

JEREMY PEMBERTON

Honeymoon period: Canon Jeremy Pemberton (left) and Laurence Cunnington after their marriage ceremony in April  

Honeymoon period: Canon Jeremy Pemberton (left) and Laurence Cunnington after their marriage ceremony in April  ...

AN NHS chaplain, Canon Jeremy Pemberton, who in April became the first Church of England priest to marry a same-sex partner, is unable to take up a new post because his bishop is refusing him a licence.

Canon Pemberton is Deputy Senior Chaplain and Deputy Bereavement and Voluntary Services Manager in the United Lincolnshire Hospitals NHS Trust. He married Laurence Cunnington in April (News, 17 April), in defiance of House of Bishops pastoral guidance, issued in February.

He received an informal rebuke from the Bishop of Lincoln, the Rt Revd Christopher Lowson, but kept his general preacher's licence in the diocese. His NHS post at the trust is also unaffected.

The Acting Bishop of Southwell & Nottingham, however, the diocese in which Canon Pemberton lives, the Rt Revd Richard Inwood, withdrew his permission to officiate (News, 27 June).

On 10 June, Canon Pemberton was offered a new job as Head of Chaplaincy and Bereavement Services in the Sherwood Forest Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust. This was conditional on the Bishop of Southwell & Nottingham's issuing him with a licence. On Monday this week, he learned that Bishop Inwood had refused.

On Wednesday, Bishop Inwood stated: "In light of the pastoral guidance, and for reasons of consistency, I am unable to issue a licence to Jeremy Pemberton for the post of Chaplaincy and Bereavement Manager, in the Sherwood Forest Hospitals NHS Trust."

Canon Pemberton said that he had mentioned his application for the new job during his meeting with Bishop Inwood on 29 May, and that he was "not surprised, but disappointed", to learn that the Bishop had subsequently refused to issue a licence.

"The unequal positon that I find myself in is that I have a licence now, and am working in a trust in Lincolnshire; so I am a suitable person to work in the NHS; butif I attempt to move 30 miles away,I become unemployable, apparently."

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He went on: "It needs to be considered that the NHS is bound by the Equality Act 2010, and it does seem odd that, if this offer is withdrawn, it is because the Church has obliged the NHS to act in anunequal way. Is that proper or legal?

"My action has exposed a faultline here with an NHS that acts strictly under the rules of equality according to the law, and a Church that does not."

Chaplains are appointed by NHS trusts. The UK Board of Healthcare Chaplaincy, with whom Canon Pemberton is registered, states that: "It is usual for job descriptions and person specifications for chaplaincy posts that include a religious function to specify that a chaplain will have the endorsement of their faith community, often referred to as 'being in good standing'."

It continues: "The situation may arise that the standing of a chaplain in relation to her or his faith community or belief group changes during the term of employment. Whilst this may affect the official status of the chaplain as a 'minister of religion' or 'office holder' of a belief group, it may have no consequences in relation to their terms of employment so long as they continue to practise ethically and professionally."

NHS Employers was contacted but was unable to comment at the time of going to press.

On Wednesday, the Revd Justin Gau, a barrister specialising in both employment and ecclesiastical law, and Chancellor of the diocese of Bristol, said that the removal of Canon Pemberton's licence was, in his opinion, "unlawful, as there has been no breach of canon law".
 

Question of the week: Is Bishop Inwood right to withhold Canon Pemberton's licence? 

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