Disobedient clergy risk rebuke

20 February 2014

SHUTTERSTOCK

THE consequences for clergy who defy the guidance on same-sex marriage are unlikely to become clear until a test case is brought. Were the issue deemed to be a doctrinal one, proceedings could not be brought under the Clergy Discipline Measure (CDM), but the Ecclesiastical Jurisdiction Measure would be invoked instead.

The maximum penalty for a first offence under this Measure is a rebuke. Since a priest is unlikely to enter a gay marriage more than once, he or she might have relatively little to fear.

On Tuesday, the Revd Dr Will Adam, Vicar of St Paul's, Winchmore Hill, in north London, who edits the Ecclesiastical Law Journal, said that it could be argued that clergy had to comply with the prohibition on same-sex marriage because they had sworn the oath of canonical obedience.

If defiance was deemed to be a doctrinal offence, the case would have to be taken up by the Court of Ecclesiastical Causes Reserved. "It's a panel who are, or have been, very senior judges or diocesan bishops. So it's pretty big. Would a bishop be brave enough to bring such a case?" He said that it had met only twice since it was established.

A case could be brought under the CDM, Mr Adam suggested, if the offence was defined as sexual misconduct. The House of Bishops was on "pretty safe ground" with regard to equality legislation, he believed, given the exemptions that applied to religious organisations.

Speaking to the Sunday programme on BBC Radio 4 this week, the Bishop of Sheffield, Dr Steven Croft, said: "I would strongly suggest, and all the Bishops would prefer to have, conversations with people initially if they are contemplating going further."

On Tuesday, the Priest-in-Charge of St John's with St Andrew's, Waterloo, in London, Canon Giles Goddard, described the guidance as "mainly bluster. . . I don't think we view this statement as having any authority, either pastorally - we're not prepared to cross-examine people before baptising their children - or morally.

"So, yes, clergy will certainly get married: why on earth should we not, and what message is it sending if we don't? And we will certainly offer services in church: how could we respond pastorally without doing that?"

He warned that attempts to impose the standard would "hurt the clergy and damage the Church, but I'm sure some conservative bishops will try. The more progressive bishops will, I hope, quietly ignore it."

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